When the world is too much, where would you turn to for comfort? When you see a problem, who would you trust to help? If you need advice who would you ask? Would you turn to politics?
I read recently that the Pokemon generation look for all their answers on google. When asked if they would lobby government to solve an issue, most of them said they would be more likely to invent an app sooner than they would see politics as a way to fix anything. I wonder why?
Recently I was at an event in City Hall when an ex-politician bumped into a young rising star. Chatting with both of them, I meekly asked the woman with real experience behind her, what advice would you give him?
“Do not attempt to go into politics” she said to the enthusiastic young man, “unless you have skin like a rhinoceros and you have the heart of a hunting shark!” She then continued to elaborate on the cruel world of dog eat dog, cat fights and snakes in the grass. I shrank away, sorry I asked, watching the young hopeful’s eyes grow ever wider in alarm as she laid out all the gory details. And that’s just the City Council, so it’s hard not to be cynical!
I was only once tempted to join a political party. It was after the Mary Robinson election. I had campaigned with gusto for our first woman President as part of a network of women’s groups, Labour Party activists and local volunteers. There was a wave of euphoria after it, much like the recent Equal Marriage Referendum.
I began to turn up at meetings of the local branch looking for the next adventure in making modern Ireland. When the National Conference came to Waterford, I was handed a bunch of leaflets to deliver to delegates and told that I was “a great girl to go on a message.” My dreams of smoke filled rooms plotting our next move were set back that night as I couldn’t make head nor tail of the back slapping between the lads at the bar and I went back to my more radical women’s group instead.
Legend has it that until the mothers of young people who had died as a result of drug tycoons in Dublin, challenged the Minister face to face, not to stand by with blood on his hands, that the tide turned in their favour. Years of media ranting about drug deaths hadn’t helped. It isn’t until ordinary people who are affected by issues stand up to be counted that anyone listens. That goes the same for creating better cancer services, anti-smoking campaigns, LGBT rights, fatal foetal abnormality issues. It’s only until we hear the heartfelt story behind the issue that we can walk in someone else’s shoes.
Away from mainstream politics there is a world of activism. It comes from the tradition of the meitheals of the past where neighbours helped each other to save the hay or dig drains. I imagine it was like what happens at the traditional Irish funeral, where everyone turns up with sandwiches, cake and a bottle of something. This was the foundation of the vast network of volunteers that most of us turn to in a crisis. They run our charities and our community services.
Change is a slow and painful process. There are no quick fixes. Anyway politics isn’t the place for the likes of myself. I don’t have the hide of a rhinoceros or the heart of a hunting shark. Like a lot of people, schmoozing and making deals would leave me cold. And yet I admire the rare politician who still find any smidgen of idealism to drive them forward.
We were devastated in our house when the Dáil recently upheld the legality of hare coursing by voting down a bill to ban it. Only 20 deputies agreed. I suddenly found myself in an argument on Facebook about the killing of any animal. Why do you care about hares and yet eat meat, they asked? That can’t be humane to animals either, can it? Is it right for the planet to keep growing beef for those of us in the west who love it, when the corn we feed cattle could keep the whole planet fed? Do you want to save hares just because they are cute?
Everything you try to do to make the world a better place turns out to have complications. I want hares to live to a ripe old age and yet I love roast lamb! I am holding two sides of the same argument. Is this what stops politicians doing the right thing instead of the popular thing? We all want to have our cake and eat it?
Good they have that rhinoceros skin then isn’t it.
Perhaps it is just my own brand of justification, but I rather think there is a difference between wanton killing for sport and eating. I do not at all like the disgusting food processing industry, but I am ill equipped to grow my own food in order to humanely kill it. (And I do think there is such a thing–one of the most inspirational things I ever read was about “hunting cleanly.”) It is a bit like the old greyhound racing sport here in the States, and in the end, the poor rabbit was torn to bits so someone could collect a win on the dog race. I see that as quite separate from wringing the neck of a chicken in order to eat dinner–what I grew up seeing my grandmothers do.