Metro News recently released an article about a “surge of…civic engagement groups in London”. Groups like Citizen Corps, the Citizens Panel, Better London, and City Symposium are all worthwhile and are doing great things for our city; however, they will do little to actually change the way London operates.
I should state that I often participate in the events organized by these groups. I am a regular attendee of City Symposium, I have attended Citizen Corps’ Pints & Politics events, and I’m a member of Emerging Leaders. If you were to attend some of these events, you will quickly notice you keep running into the same people. This isn’t unusual given that the most “engaged” people will want to be everywhere, all the time, but it does create a problem when real action needs to be taken: in Fall 2014.
Let’s take a moment to recall the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement. In the Spring of 2009 the Tea Party sprang up as a grassroots movement in American politics. Tea Partiers tended to be Republicans, but also had a “dissatisfaction with mainstream Republican leaders”. A year and a half later, tea partiers effectively organized during the 2010 Congressional elections to have tea party Republicans elected across the United States. Today, there is a 66 member Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and moderate Republican incumbents are being knocked off during their nominations by tea party candidates.
In contrast, the Occupy movement began to develop in the Fall of 2011, protesting social and economic inequality. The protests spanned across the globe, some larger than others, but they mostly fizzled out over the Winter months. Today, less than a year later, Occupy has all but faded from the media spotlight. It remains to be seen if the Occupy movement effectively organizes during the 2012 election cycle but, as the primary season comes to a close, I think it’s safe to say they will not.
What can be learned from this comparison? Citizen engagement gets you no where without political action.
It’s fine to talk about the 0% tax plan, and to imagine some great city with artists and playwrights and world-class museums, but if you want it to change you’re going to need a new City Council, a different City Council. The citizen “engagement” groups must start engaging more people. New people, different people.
Two years from now, if the 0% tax plan doesn’t succeed, if we’re still languishing in high unemployment with no vision of a better future, Londoners will be ready for change. The only question is: will we be ready to lead it?