We are entering an age of protest

When I do a talk or run a workshop, I introduce myself by talking about my journey from activist to entrepreneur.

It’s a neat little phrase which communicates a few important points. I wasn’t born on a market stall selling nearly-out-of-date bananas.

In fact I didn’t think I’d get involved in business at all until my mid 20’s. I thought I’d be a campaigner, and spent my early 20’s trying to work out how I could work for Oxfam. That’s how I got involved as a volunteer at a fair trade shop, and, not intentionally, my life in social business took off from there.

I never made a particularly good campaigner. For all that I like to stir things up a bit on the blog, I’m not very good at confrontation. Demonstrating, shouting, confronting, challenging, they don’t come that naturally to me. I’m much more comfortable trying to work out ways to make good ideas work.

If I’m honest I was a bit sniffy about campaigning for a few years after my move into the entrepreneur camp. I think it was partly because, with others, I was desperately trying to hold together a social business which was immensely popular but which showed no sign of making any money.

I felt like I was caught up in the real world of paying bills to keep the shelves stocked, whilst others walked round town with banners and had photo opportunities with the Lord Mayor.  

I think I had a point, but clearly not a particularly good one. Activism/entrepreneurship doesn’t need to be an either/or. And if you’re an entrepreneur who really understands why you do what you do, then you will probably stick with what you do for longer.  

Personally, I’ve made sense of the activist/entrepreneur thing by being more explicit (some would say naive) in how I describe what I do – and what I do it for. So, for example, my business card has a few words on the back, starting with the phrase: We need to change the world.

I always hand my cards out with that side showing. I like the response that it gets.

It feels like we’re entering an age of protest. I’m sure many seasoned campaigners will say we’ve been in an age of protest for years, but to me at least it feels like we’re all moving up a gear.

I’m interested in how technology – web 2.0, fund managers with camera phones, blogs and twitter – are fuelling more effective and massive protest.

Without ordinary citizens taking pictures of the police – part of what’s been termed inverse surveillance or sousveillance – we wouldn’t be challenging the police about their handling of demonstrations in the way that we are now.

I watched the Hillsborough memorial service on Sky Sports News yesterday and found it very moving. I feel proud to be from a city which expressed itself as it did yesterday.

I also felt proud of the way Andy Burnham was challenged with chants of Justice for the 96. It seemed that he wasn’t due to be there  – I can only assume that Gordon gave last-minute orders – in order to show how his Government is in touch with the people.

I don’t blame Andy Burnham himself – by all accounts he’s a decent man who, as an Evertonian, understands Liverpool. But I can’t remember seeing a politician look so uncomfortable, and so out of touch with people’s concerns.

To turn up, with a speech full of platitudes and empty words, but without the words which people really wanted to hear – that the Inquiry into what happened at Hillsborough will be re-opened – demonstrates how far removed the political classes are from the real concerns of the people.

The relationships between the police and the people, and politicians and the people – are shifting. That in some ways is worrying, but in others, it promises real, positive change.  


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