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A Guide to Banishing Apathy

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Chloë has been thinking about the three things we can all do to make Bristol a better place.

I’m sure none of us is a stranger to apathy.

I’m sure none of us is a stranger to apathy. Often it feels like an illness reborn with the digital age, with social media forcing us to grapple ever frequently with our own timelines. Indeed, every week we’re exposed to friends, and even distant acquaintances, reaching new milestones, forever compelling us to consider if we’re measuring up to traditional and self-imposed timelines of where we should be. It can feel as though each time someone assigns a ‘life event’ to their name, another milestone, they set in turn a chain reaction that flips another’s hourglass over.

And at the same time, like some great puppet master, someone sits above forever shifting the goalposts.

Older relatives make me feel like an entitled brat for saying that: young people don’t work hard enough, they’ll say. But it is no secret that the doors they watched open are sharply shutting around us. And in this sense apathy spirals into apathy: the disempowerment I feel in my own sphere of existence, becomes about those bigger spheres too. The question becomes do I feel powerless, or is it that I am powerless? 

Indeed, tuition fees, long after my parents’ day, and already triple those my older siblings paid, are set to rise again. The deposit I’d be expected to find to finance just a grotty studio flat in Bristol will exceed the entire cost of my parents’ first house in Durham. And I’m on the fortunate end of the scale. For some the doors come fitted with bigger bolts. Indeed, just this week it was announced that individuals from some Muslim majority countries will no longer be able to enter a country that was once hailed “the land of opportunity”.

The doors slam shut.

And it feels unstoppable. Each year, like the vast majority of young people around me, I watch another government I didn’t vote for enact another policy that will hit my generation harder than the one before. I watch, powerlessly, as they cut away at our futures and stretch the gaps between inequalities. And in these dark hours, sometimes the only optimism I can find is that our Leader is not, in fact, Donald Trump, even if she is happy enough to rub backs with him.

If you’re looking for optimism, it’s not there: it is not in the shambles of government, nor to be found in the seemingly endless flat social-media posts of distant acquaintances who seem to be living their best lives. But it is – and I say this earnestly – around us. Even as new policies dampen the floor around us, there still exist within us the tools to keep the fire burning.

Local initiatives show that there is still much to feel optimistic about, and there are still tools we can harness to empower ourselves and the people around us. Here are my top three:

Collective Action

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The last year has seen collective action bring about big changes. Activists at UCL used a five month rent-strike to place pressure on their university to put an end to exorbitant rent prices, and succeeded in securing a rent freeze for the following year.

In Bristol, collective action from student groups saw a local agency shut its doors for an afternoon, pushed to commit to ethical practice or lose business. And Community Organisation, ACORN, have relied on the age old adage ‘safety in numbers’, lining the streets, to prevent revenge evictions.

It goes to show that we can get things moving, even on ‘big world’ issues when we collectively shift our feet.

A disclaimer: collective action may not always be accompanied by a success story, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. When protesters marched against Trump’s Muslim Ban and for women’s rights, people asked: what is the point, when he is already in power? But as a result of those marches thousands of people got to feel a little bit more empowered, and much less alone. Those are the very building blocks of building a successful opposition.

Volunteering

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Volunteering reminds us what we can do as individuals, and that we do have power to effect change.

You might not be able to dedicate yourself to a weekly shift pattern. But volunteering doesn’t just take this – sometimes inaccessible – form. It might simply mean giving five minutes of your time to chat to someone sleeping rough on your way home, or dropping your old winter clothes to an organisation that helps Keep Bristol Warm.

With just small acts you can bring big changes to the individual.

Whilst these things may not feel like enough – not when people are still forced to sleep on the streets, and when an absence of mental health provision leads to people having to rely on volunteer support – but it is positive change you have the power to enact. And whilst the injustice will still hit you, at the very least you are awakening yourself to the problem. Maybe that knowledge will only be enough to banish your apathy some days – still powerless to erect the homes around the needy (unless you’re super rich, in which case what the heck are you complaining about anyway?) – but you’ll be amazed at what your help means to the people receiving it who are on the raw end of the system. With just small acts you can bring big changes to the individual.

And you can always rely on the wonder of collective action to push for more: join lobbying organisations; write to your MP, and; hold Parliament to account. In 2015 Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, called a woman a ‘sore loser’ when she expressed concern about rising homelessness under another Tory term. As an individual you might not be able to end homelessness or austerity, but come 2020 you can remind the constituents of Reading East to replace their MP.

And this brings me to the second role volunteering can play in banishing apathy: it reminds us of the depth of social solidarity.

In December, volunteers from Keep Bristol Warm put on a market for the homeless. They had marquees and tables piled high with donations, anything from warm blankets to shoes. It’s not a perfect solution, far from it, but it goes to show that when the government turn their backs on members of society, ordinary people will step up to ensure no one gets left behind. You might not have power, but you can be powerful.

Use Your Online Platform

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Social media can be an incredible tool for restoring power to the many and creating transformative change. Indeed, the harnessing of social media enabled the Victoria Islamic Centre to raise enough money to restore their building, which was destroyed in a fire just hours after the Muslim Ban was signed in earlier this week.

But social media can also hold the key to banishing that apathy that affects so many young people: that feeling that we’re not enough. Often, outside of political postings, people only take to social media to share their success stories. This means newsfeeds are often filled with a two dimensional image of emotions, that only shows progress. It doesn’t show regression, and it sure as hell doesn’t show when people are standing still. But by using social media honestly, or at the very least using it to present a fully three dimensional view of yourself, you can stop contributing to that feeling of apathy, and show others that they are not alone. It is transformative when we realise that we’re not the only one feeling behind on their milestones, and solidarity is created through knowing that even the most ‘together’ appearing people may be struggling with those feelings too.

It’s time to discard of those hourglasses. Time to stop measuring our value against the milestones that defined our parents generation, and rebuild the timelines we aspire to to match up to values instead. Instead of clumsily clinging to the Career Ladder or the Housing Ladder, or the Spouse-Kids-and-School-Runs Staircase (ok, I may have made that one up), we should instead seek to climb the rungs of empathy, honesty and compassion.

We may not be a generation of homeowners or vote-definers, but using the tools above, we can at least ensure we do not become one of apathy. Let the voice of our generation instead be empathy.

Got any other tips for saving the world on a local level? Now’s the time to tell us: @rifemag

Here’s a list of projects in Bristol trying to save the environment, if you are thinking of becoming a volunteer