You Say You Want a Revolution
The town I grew up in is both ordinary and extraordinary – extraordinary enough for a succession of artists to come and observe the inhabitants, and to use our lived experiences to comment on our existence.
First we have Stanley Spencer’s paintings of Clyde Shipbuilders, which he did as an official war artist. Taken with the sense of community he observed, he returned to Port Glasgow after the war to paint the Resurrection at Port Glasgow. His painting of Port Glasgow cemetery is a favourite – mum, dad, and two grannies are buried there. It still looks like that.
Then we have a photographer, Mark Neville’s Port Glasgow Book Project. Whatever his good intentions might have been, this just makes me want to spit. Finally, we have Ken Loach with the film Sweet Sixteen. Here’s Loach talking about the politics of making Sweet Sixteen.
Blueprint for revolution
Did the artists tell us how we might begin to go about finding our own voices and changing things? No, not as far I can see.
My particular irritation is towards well-meaning politicians, especially left-leaning and Oxbridge educated, who I always experienced as speaking on our behalf. I think that people must learn to speak for themselves, to self-organise to make a difference for themselves and others – no matter how futile their efforts might seem, and ultimately might be. Otherwise others will carry on speaking and acting on their behalf, and mine.
My husband and I now live a nomadic life, with bases in the UK, France and Switzerland. Materially, we have both come far from our working-class roots. Mentally, for me anyway, not so much. My attitudes were powerfully forged in a place and time.
I’m in Switzerland just now. Rummaging through my husband’s books, I found Blueprint for Revolution. While this is about how to organise popular, peaceful uprisings against dictators, I can see a lot of parallels with what I’m trying to do with my business. I want to see if it is possible for people to take responsibility for developing their own skills and shaping their experience of work through very small projects – Tiny Triumphs.
The origins of the Tiny Triumph Toolkit that I’ve been creating go back to a walk through Paris last year with an old friend, who has grown a successful small business. She recommended that I start with something very small, my own Tiny Triumph – in truth, I did my usual complicating thing and developing the toolkit has taken me longer that it should have done.
I’m about a third of the way through reading Blueprint for Revolution. Several things already resonate:
- “Dream big, start small”. How wise my friend is!
- “Assume most people are disinterested, unmotivated, apathetic or downright hostile” – that’s always been one of my fears that hold me back.
- Why should anyone else care about Tiny Triumphs? That’s my thing. Mobilise around something that people do care about. What’s that? Learn to listen. Make that the focus.
- “People who know how to break their strategy into small, achievable tasks are more likely to succeed than those who shout platitudes and form drum circles”.
Hobbits change the world
I’m not stupid. I know that systemic forces are strong. Although people can, together, catalyse change, this change might not be sustainable. The status quo can be too strong. That isn’t always the case, though. The author of Blueprint for Change, Srdja Popovic, talks about how Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is his “scripture”. He lists several peaceful warriors who have revolutionised something. None of them was an elite. Popovic says that “it’s not just in Tolkien that hobbits change the course of the future”.
Seemingly ‘small’ people can change the course of the future, starting with small, easy wins, attracting attention and allies, doing something else, and who knows what could happen? It’s worth a try. The status quo might defeat us in the end. It might not.
I recently had another masterclass with my successful friend, in London this time. I’d already broken down my strategy into small, achievable tasks. Her insights have given me more suggestions for things to do. It seems fitting to end this post with another Beatles reference. With a Little Help from My Friends? No, revolution can only happen together, and with a lot of help that we give and receive from friends.