Politics is too important to leave to the politicians. Writer Matthew Bolton’s Living Wage campaign changed the lives of tens of thousands of people. So read this and learn how to take back control.
Politics is coming alive and people are desperate to change things. There's no shortage of things to be angry about: low-paid jobs and zero hours contracts, spiralling rents and rip-off landlords, corruption, racism, sexism, climate change, the list goes on.
But just because you've got a placard in your hand or 50 likes on your Facebook rant doesn't mean that anything's gonna change. Resistance means making political action a part of your life so that you don't need to rely on politicians: you can be the one to lead the fight back in your community, your constituency, your workplace. What's the point of getting angry if nothing changes and you can't make an impact?
In my book How to Resist I outline a tried-and-tested method for campaigning that makes a real difference, and has been helping people change the world for the better for decades. It's got its origins in the US civil rights movement. These are the tactics we used during the UK Living Wage campaign that won hundreds of millions of pounds for low-paid workers and got the Labour and Tory parties to sign up to 10% pay rises for the lowest paid workers in the UK.
So, here is how to resist:
It starts with you and what you care about -- and the way to figure that out is to know what makes you angry. What makes you so angry that you'll put some time into doing something about it? Channel that anger into action. For me, I was furious that people would have to work two jobs because their pay was so crap, and that then they wouldn't have time to spend with their kids. People deserve a Living Wage.
Get others on board.
If you want change, you need people power. That means getting a team of your friends together, figuring out whether you can join an existing campaign or whether you need to start your own. With the Living Wage, that meant getting workers together with students, churches, trade unions, everyone who agreed that work should pay enough to live.
Break it down into something specific.
So many protests come and go because the organisers never get specific. You can't solve 'poverty', 'racism' and 'climate change' all in one go. Break it down into a specific proposal that you can make an impact on. The Living Wage is a number, currently £9.75 per hour in London, and you either pay it or you don't.
Who has the power?
It's not just about raising awareness. It's about shifting decision-making and that means figuring out who has the power to make the change you need. For the Living Wage campaign, that often meant skipping out the actual employer, the cleaning company, and going straight to the Chief Exec of the bank or Principal of the University that was hiring in the company and setting the terms with them. Figure out who's got the power, and you've figured out who can help you change things.
So you've got your proposal and you know who you need to influence. But you write a letter and guess what? They don't respond. So, action is needed -- to raise the tension and demand that they listen -- and the more unexpected and focussed the better. When HSBC bank wouldn't meet us to talk about the Living Wage we got 50 people to each change £20 into penny pieces and go into the Oxford Street branch and open accounts, blocking all the counters for hours.
Change doesn't come overnight. It can take months or even years to make something big happen, and to quote Mandela: 'It always seems impossible until it's done.' So, keep motivated, keep the campaign together and keep taking action. After the action in the HSBC branch, we bought shares in the bank and went with a low-paid cleaner called Abdul who stood up in front of all the executives and shareholders and confronted the Chairman directly on his £2m salary and Abdul's £5 per hour wage. It was front page news and that was the turning point.
Win, and aim higher.
Winning feels good; it builds confidence and builds people power. So, it's better to be realistic about the power you have and start with something specific and achievable. Then when you win, you can build up to something bigger. We didn't start with trying to get the whole country paid a Living Wage, we started with one high profile target - the cleaners in the HSBC headquarters. Now there are over 3,000 Living Wage Employers, the Conservatives have committed to £9 per hour and Labour are seeing that and raising them to £10 per hour. Change can happen. So, what makes you angry?
Matthew Bolton is Deputy Director of Citizens UK and Lead Organiser for London Citizens. His book, How to Resist: Turn Protest to Power, is out now.
Text Matthew Bolton
Photography Holly Falconer