As polling day nears, co-chair of Sheffield Labour Students Katharine Swindells takes a personal look at how campaigning on the left can be a burden.
It’s the morning of April 18. I am in work. I hear someone mention something about an “important announcement”, but my barely awake brain shoves it aside in favour of the hangover-cuppa I am nursing. When my coworker casually says, “Hey, there’s going to be a General Election,” I have to ask him to repeat himself, surely I must’ve heard wrong. As the meaning of the words sink in, I space out – my mind running a mile a minute. A rush of people come in at that moment and I pull myself back into reality. But my hands shake as I pour coffee, and I grit my teeth as I stretch my face into a customer-service smile. I’m trying to hold it together, but all I can think is, “Not again, I cannot go through this again.”
I’ve been passionately left-wing and part of the Labour party pretty much my whole life. And I love it, really I do. I devote so much time to a party with the odds stacked against them, and there’s this overwhelming sense that even if by some miracle they do win, they’ll never live up to my expectations. Between Brexit, Trump, Labour-infighting, this year seems to have been an endless cycle of stress.
But it’s more than current events. Something inherent in leftist ideology is causing this self-punishing exhaustion that runs so deep in our community. I almost laughed when a friend told me her 16 year-old sister blames herself for Trump’s rise to power but I see this mindset time and time again, in myself and others. For each door-knocking session we skip, we think “what if that one door could’ve changed the result”. Every email I get from the Labour Party is full of encouragement to go just that little bit further “Every vote counts!”, “Just give one hour of your time!”, “Just donate £1!”.
Something inherent in leftist ideology is causing this self-punishing exhaustion that runs so deep in our community.
It’s rhetoric that shifts the burden of entire social movements onto the individual, it says that we alone make a difference. But the fact is that, most of the time, we can’t. In elections powered by multi-millionaires and the media, operating in non-representative electoral systems, individual activists are just a drop in a bucket.
Tories seem to understand this better than us – when they lose they see it in terms of overarching trends, or the fault of the political system, not a failure of their members and supporters. Maybe it’s something to do with leftist values that place so much importance on taking responsibility for others, or perhaps you can simply chalk it up to the fact that the Tories have more money, so Labour has to lean more heavily its members. Either way, while my friends felt irrationally guilty for the Brexit result, it seemed like the only Conservative that blamed themselves was Cameron.
The left runs on a spirit of collectivism, grassroots action. We thrive off the idea that every individual has the power to enact change. And that’s an incredible, empowering thing. It can give you strength when you feel most hopeless, give you a reason to carry on when you can’t see the point anymore. So, perhaps at the expense of everything else in my life, I will keeping fighting for what I believe is a better future. But I can’t help but worry that this all-or-nothing culture may burn us out altogether and in 10 years, will we find a whole generation of activists missing?
Comment pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Forge Press.
Image credit: Sophie J. Brown