In an age of loud dissent where polemicists, activists, and many others like to proclaim, “enough’s enough,” the irony of much of these strident demands for change is that they are driven by the expectation that in fact, nothing will change.
After 9/11, George Bush insulated himself from protesters by having them/us penned inside “free-speech zones” — the message was: shout as much as you want, but the government will ignore you.
Even though this was perceived as an affront to People Power and an insult to the democratic spirit, at the same time it was a patronizing accommodation that dovetailed with the fact that a great deal of dissent has as its goal nothing more than speaking out. It’s a cathartic exercise in which sending a message matters more than where it’s going, whether it will be delivered, or to what effect.
There’s no doubt that last Thursday, a lot of votes were cast in Britain by people who believed that once they dropped their ballot paper in the ballot box, they’d made their point. Indeed, some made doubly sure by making their point in pen. They didn’t actually believe that every vote counts because they were convinced they were taking a symbolic stand against a rigged system and pushing hard against an unmovable establishment.
Quite forgivably, people whose daily experience tells them they have virtually no power have a hard time shedding that notion as they cast a vote.
Emily Tierney describes what happens when you discover that protest votes count too:
That evening, I headed to a friend’s house to watch the result. We’d all voted Leave as a protest. We stocked up on jam, scones and tea, and ironically decked out the room with Union Jack bunting.
As the first results came in from Sunderland, we all cheered. We were winning, we were right. People had had enough.
Then as more results came in, the reality started to bite. Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, Scotland and London had decided they wanted to remain. This wasn’t funny any more, the Union was at stake, and the economic powerhouse of our country thought it was a terrible idea.
At around 4am, the BBC declared it a win for Leave. Panic set in.
The slightly more sensible Vote Leave campaigners disappeared from the TV screens, awaiting David Cameron’s official speech. For about three hours, we were left with re-runs of Farage making that moronic victory speech about no bullets being fired, despite a Labour MP being tragically killed the week before. I started to feel sick.
The pound went in to freefall. The FTSE dropped. David Cameron resigned, and he’s set to be replaced by a far more right-wing alternative. Donald Trump arrived in the UK to declare this a “great victory”.
What have we done? If I could take my vote back now, I would. I’m ashamed of myself, and I want my country back.