The Whole City Catalogue
CITIZENSHIP
What happened to citizenship, as in a responsible citizen of a place, city, a community? What happened to the civic imagination?  in this regard  What is it we need to ask ourselves? That is what we want to look at here.

So while the goal is always to find some practical solutions  for people to get a foothold in or develop what they already know. Things need to be put in context First I would like us to look at two statements concerning rights and how fickle they can be and why they should never be taken for granted

The first statement is from the Declaration of Human Rights

Everyone has the right to work, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection for himself and his family [and] an existence worthy of human dignity.. everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

The next statement is from the same year from a US cold war planner
 
We have 50 per cent of the world's wealth, but only 6-3 per cent of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality... we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation.
George Kennan, US Cold War planner, 1948
 
So both of these statements were written at the same time and are in complete contradiction to each other. They should warn us we can never take for granted what is our right under declarations or otherwise. Rights are in constant conflict with the forces who profit from the denial that they exist. So rights are constantly negotiable and to protect them they need to be persistently claimed, improved on, and protected. They do not come as gifts but through constant struggle.
 
So these things need to be taken on board when we think of  rights. These fundamental rights need some consistency, they need a language, they need a set of principals, understanding and institutions on which they can grow, develop and be sustained. Much of those we had, have been destroyed or disconnected in the neoliberal purge of the social conscience and its replacement with among other distractions, an obsession with things.  


It would seem less and less we no longer have a basic language for understanding democracy and thus defending it. All around we see the collapse of our institutions being replaced by an ideology that stripes people of the need to define themselves as collective agents, who can act collectively against problems they can not solve alone. We are being pushed in many directions towards the idea that all problems are our own personal problems. This blanket attitude denies us of many of the tools we need to solve the impending problems that will require a coherent collective response. Such as climate change, which connects to practically every other problem we have on our plate at the moment.

One of those tools that we need to encourage the emergence of is more active citizens. People motivated by an interest in public issues, and a desire to make a difference beyond their own private lives. Active citizens are a great untapped resource, and citizenship is a quality that should be nurtured from childhood.

Why?

Well first let’s look at the state of the world - and how those in charge without our guidance and the lack of public involvement got us into the mess we are in today.

Even if we just look at a snippet of the last 10 or so years. We have had financial crisis after financial crisis particularly the 2008 global financial crisis. And if we look at those who created all of the political and economic mayhem, the corporations the hedge funders, the banks, the governments and the businesses, those who robbed the pension funds, who bankrupted the small businesses, who took peoples homes from them and destroyed countless lives in the financial carnage they left in their wake. Those chiefly involved and the cause of the destruction are all walking free. Not only are they walking free, they are ten times richer after all of the misery they inflicted on so many. The corporate press which the elite also own, which may have at one point given us some perspective on reality, is always at hand to point the blame at the innocent, the victim, while protecting the real perpetrators of corporate crime. Take the Sun newspaper where many get their daily fix of hate. The Sun has payed little if any corporate tax in the last 20 years and at the same time accuses on its front pages the poorest in our communities of defrauding the government in order to stay alive. Add to this. The UK is the biggest enabler of corporate tax avoidance in the world. The bank of England is one of the most corrupt institutions in the world. And has the same title for money laundering. Remember Britains biggest banking scandal with BCCI which  led to the Bank of England being sued by creditors for one billion pounds. These are the banks our collective wealth is entrusted too. And that is only a tiny bit of it. A person could go on for hours and hours and never reach the end of the corruption these elite institutions have consistently sucked dry from our communities resources to pay for their fraudulent dealings. Or we could put it another way. Scotland the country we live in, three quarters of its land is owned by forty eight families. We think it bad when our schools, our community centres are closed or privatised. Well we can also walk across the country we live in coast to coast without going through any land owned by someone who was born here. This is the urgency here? How does three quarters of our country, the very land under our feet, end up in private hands. By whose orders, By whose decision?

Where is it we come in here. Where is the citizen in all of these dealings. Why is there such a failure of historical consciousness, in our politics, our education and in our communities that allows this to happen?

It may be because Not only our land is occupied, but a  great part of our lives is also occupied by the lives of the rich. We tend to think more of their lives than we do of our own. Another fascinating distraction is their flaunting of power and money as entertainment for the masses and the millions that engage in it is testimony of the power of persuasion that distract so many from seeking their own agency around what is happening in the world, or their community, or their work place and in public life.


But putting the elite to one side for a moment. The point is there is no need for us to be passive victims of the crimes of banks, if the idea is to get back to the principal of a decent life, which most people seem to seek. But no one is going to serve it up to us on a plate. Like rights, no one is going to give us them. Like woman rights, or the eight hour day, they need to be fought for, but first it s important to understanding where our power lies.

The one thing the rich and powerful fear most is strong communities. That is why most of what they do is to keep us apart, keep us isolated, away from each other. In our own wee cubby-holes, watching the news that usually tells us there is nothing we can do. The thing these people fear most is the thing they spend a great deal of their money on that is propaganda. A system of propaganda that is mainly aimed at the person on the street, in persuading them that there is nothing they can do about it. That ordinary people are too stupid to do anything for themselves. That they need to leave everything to the experts. That it is just the way it works, as thatcher reminded us. There is no alternative.

Propaganda more commonly known today as public relations is not just designed to sell us stuff we don’t need. It is also a process of pushing an ideology that works against our best interests. We need to ask. Why do so many working class people vote for rich toffs? Rich toffs related to banking families and who blame most of particularly our economic problems on the poorest people in society? How does that happen? Where do people go for advice when it is only the lackeys and apologists of rich toffs who are giving it out?

We need to ask. Where are the institutions that once represented working people, the unions the working class politicians, the left wing educational institutions. These are and still are, among the things that needed to be vilified and crushed over the last fifty years so, in order for the corporations, the hedge funders, the banks and the venture capitalists to run wild and unrestricted. The industries destroyed, privatisation of public resources, like public transport, the national health service and many other developments that are completely meaningless and have no interest to the ruling elite. Apart that is from what money and profits they are allowed to squeeze out of them.  

So how are people supposed to organise for a better life for themselves, under these circumstances, by voting for a different set of toffs? We do not have the industrial infrastructure we once had to arouse the same kind of mass unionisation that fought for better conditions and pay, which mostly we have now lost. And the jobs are not coming back in these numbers. We need to create new avenues of resistance and solidarity and these now need to be found not in the factories but in the heart of our communities. Because this is where we will find what Gilda Hass calls the sleeping giants of political power.

So let’s look at one of these giants here. Rent! Capitalism is a rentier concept, it is based on ownership, it is based on making money while you sleep, making money for doing nothing, making money just because you own something. How many people are paying rent to private landlords, for substandard properties which costs the biggest part of their earnings? How many investors are investing not in creating employment, businesses, that improve the economy but are investing in property to exploit renters. How many are using their small investments in second montages to buy flats just to rent to students?

Our subservience to paying rent is is one of the reasons why we can’t do things, plan things, have time to ourselves, engage in public life. It is why our young folk have no time to volunteer, to innovate, they are too busy working for the rent. The fear of homelessness exacerbates very other problem people have in their lives. We are living in, not living in, but ensconced in Margaret Thatchers neoliberal dream, or nightmare for the rest. We have surpassed by miles all of Thatchers expectations in controlling the population mainly by destroying working class infrastructure and privatisation, particularly in housing which was one of her main goals.

But fighting agains the rentier is only one aspect. Where can we find the other sleeping giants? education, health, the environment. Where are the things that we all have in common that can build real power, that supersedes identity politics, the farce of representative democracy and leads to a politics of human endeavour for its own sake? A politics where we are not just seen as subservient cogs in the wheels of profiteering corporate oligarchies, or fodder for their propaganda, but full and creative players in planning our futures.

Political scientists describe our system of voting every few years but otherwise leaving everything up to government as weak democracy. It is weak democracy because citizens have no role, nor any real part in decision-making between elections. Experts assume responsibility for deciding how to deal with important public issues. Not the people the issues most affect, nor those who have raised the issues in the first place. Not the scientists and doctors in the present covid disaster where the politicians demand to wear the white coats and decide who is to live and who is to die. If public administrators are allowed to do what they want after being voted in, that is exactly what they will do. Any honest politician would agree. In the present system voting alone is no solution to anything.

The reality is Families and individuals from all walks of life and situations need to make decisions as soon as they get up in the morning till they go to bed at night. Do they have enough to live on to get through the day; are the kids clothed properly, does Tommy need new shoes against other family expenses and outputs. Can we plan for a holiday, or can we only see to the end of each month, week, day. To be sure all of these economic pressures, from zero hour contracts to predatory rent are designed to make profits for the rich, but they are also part of the design to keep us occupied, to keep us worried, to fill up our time, and afford us little time for much else. But the fact is. The same people who go through these trials of living from day to day know much more about economics and how it relates to their lives than the shysters running the economy, or the corporate banking systems or their government enablers. Ordinary people know more about the economics that effects their lives, than the banks will ever know. In this context economics becomes another sleeping giant. A citizen led economy

So the question of how do we become more effective citizens could be a lot easier than we think. It can be a bit daunting where to start. But you just start with what you know, or what you know to be wrong, or support what you think is right. No one can tell you what to do nor would you want them to. And there are too many options even if that were the case. Sometimes or most of it is just about turning up, doing what you can with what time you have. We all have something unique to offer, to share, to try and if it doesn’t work try something else. Start small, small achievements and soon we find the urge to go on. And there is no reason it should not be enjoyable. That’s really all citizenship is about.