Activism has loomed large in politics in recent years. People organised to support others in their communities, movements took to the streets and online, and all in the midst of a period of tremendous change to daily life.
This period will reverberate for years to come. New activists, new causes, new battlegrounds. Activism will continue to play a greater role in public life, from discussions on climate change to trans rights, from the war in Ukraine to the cost of living.
Demos seeks to understand how people are and can be brought into politics, and so we spoke to fifteen activists working on issues either created or magnified by the pandemic. They came from big NGOs and small grassroots groups, using campaigns, direct action and much else.
We believe these conversations are essential for understanding not just our recent past and still turbulent present, but for getting a glimpse at what the future might hold.
Developing, not denying, people power
After a decade defined by fears of populism, democracy’s erosion, and growing division, our conversations present a different picture going forward. As more turn from despair to defiance and are driven to take action to care for others, distinctions between ‘fringe’ activists and the public will become harder to draw.
This future, in which we are all activists at times, demands that activism be nurtured, protected, and improved, so that it can continue to be a vital engine for upholding and furthering democracy. Yet, at present, we are witnessing the passing of the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will curtail political expression through protest.
Going forward, policymakers must reject the precedent this policy sets to undermine the public’s ability to engage in dissent. They must seek reform of legislation, new and old, which allows this part of democratic life to continue.
They must recognise the valuable insights for policy grassroots activists and civil society as a whole have, remain receptive to these, and protect, rather than constrain, their ability to communicate them.
We want this to be the start of a much bigger conversation and programme of work about the future of activism in the UK. If you want to be part of this, get in touch at: [email protected].