James Belchamber

To recover, Liberals must rediscover their power - individually, and then together

Liberals can disagree on a lot (as the joke goes, put four Liberals in a room and you'll land up with six different opinions), but one thing that unites every Liberal is the concept of Individual Liberty. In very broad strokes, most of what Liberals do - at a local level, with oppressed groups, internationally, or wherever else - is about empowering individuals: equalising power between people, and distributing power away from where it's been concentrated.

I suspect many Liberals have forgotten their own power - and to recover, we must find it again. Let's start with a thought experiment.

I would like you to imagine a perfectly Liberal world - one where you are empowered to do anything you like. You have a complaint - a problem you've noticed. It doesn't seem to bug anyone else, but it bugs you - it could be a humming sound on your fridge, or a flickering street-lamp. It could be that your company isn't testing a new idea, or your political organisation isn't campaigning for something you want. What do you do?

In our world, we know what we'd do - we complain, we raise it with others, we ask permission to do something about it and badger people in authority until they're sick of us and fix it (or don't, and block us out). We have been trained, through byzantine bureaucracy that we don't understand (and through varying levels of aggression for transgressing norms or boundaries we might not even know existed) to wait - to patiently consume, to ask for permission and wait for someone else. But what does our Liberal, in our parallel world - what do they do?

Our Liberal, empowered, fixes the problem. Complaints are sidelined to small talk and venting, and are constantly changing (as the complainer is empowered to resolve their own complaint). With easy access to information and plentiful inventories of equipment, our Liberal fixes the humming fridge. With our local community engaged with the local council and the streetlight provider, our Liberal reports the issue (and brings out a cup of tea to greet the engineer at the kerb). With flat organisational hierarchies, our Liberal spends some of their free time testing their new idea (it doesn't go well, and they learn, and they share that learning with their colleagues). With their political organisation, they search out what policy has already been agreed - and then get to work designing campaigns, trying to engage with voters and find a way to frame it that has widespread appeal.

Our Liberal, with all the power in their own hands, doesn't wait - they just do.

Now, consider the problems you've noticed. The things that bug you. How much reality do you share with our Liberal? Is there a campaign you've been dreaming about, or a project you think someone should start? What's stopping you from doing it? How much are you already empowered?

Conservatives and Fascists have realised, over the last decade, that many "rules" were actually just guidelines. They have parked their tanks on the front lawn of Liberal Democracy. To counter this we need a million ideas, tested by thousands of people - but first we need to snap out of this "consumer" approach to activism. Stop waiting for the perfect leader to come along, for a party or an office or a committee or a law, or a policy or a judgement or a who-knows what else. You are empowered - not totally, but more than so many of our forebears ever were. We don't all need to succeed, so long as some of us succeed, and so long as we learn from each other's mistakes along the way.

Rediscover that power, and - even if only a little bit - try to change the world.


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