New Internationalist

Going to Glastonbury is NOT political activism!

Issue 450

Our superb new columnist, comedian and writer Josie Long, on her political awakening and not having a smock.

My name is Josie Long and I am a stand-up comic. I’m also a clumsy, novice political activist. For most of my life I’d felt pretty certain that I was someone with a good social conscience. I felt deeply that I was a feminist and a socialist. I cared about green issues and social justice and all of those things that people whose hearts are in the right place care about, that that was me done. Obviously I was on the right team, obviously I was nice, so I could get on with baking rye bread and watching foreign films.

Idil Sukan
Josie Long Idil Sukan

I began to feel unsettled when Boris Johnson got voted in as mayor of London. (I hate Boris so much I cannot enjoy London’s bike share scheme.1) I felt suspicious of everyone around me for the first time. Growing up under a Labour government, I’d been used to regarding the authorities with a kind of complacent half-approval. I saw them a bit like dear old friends, albeit dear old friends whom I deeply suspected had betrayed me.

At the same time, I moved to Hackney, a part of London famous for its lefty political roots. I thought it would be full of 45-year-old ex-punks, ex-squatters and first-wave feminists who’d see me, know I was on the same page and take me under their wing. I thought I wouldn’t be able to move for activist meetings. Instead, I just sat in coffee shops working on my laptop.

Feeling uncomfortable about who and what I was, I tried to talk tentatively about it on stage. I just shouted at people, confused and frustrated. I had a neighbour whom I regarded with contempt for several (absolutely acceptable) reasons:

  1. She bought the Times and the News of the World (and so was probably bang into phone-hacking)
  2. Her boyfriend once wore a ‘Playboy’ t-shirt. (Exactly! Unacceptable conduct!)
  3. She bragged a lot about owning her flat, while I was renting. (Thatcherite!) (Said neighbour turned out to be most sweet and kind, making me feel even worse about myself.)

I had an encounter while walking across London Fields, where hipsters go to picnic. A 40-year-old Rasta guy with his young son walked past me and tutted: ‘Look at these yuppies, taking over our neighbourhood.’

Luke MacGregor / Reuters
Glastonbury Festival Luke MacGregor / Reuters

I nodded in agreement before I realized he meant me. I had a kind of epiphany there and then. I realized that going to Glastonbury music festival is not, in itself, political activism. And that’s even if you spend the whole time in the Greenpeace field. I wasn’t any different from the people I thought were wankers with no conscience, wandering around in smocks. I didn’t even have a smock, I was worse.

Since then, activism is like my new favourite hobby. Action makes you feel better. Taking any kind of positive action is the only way to deal with feeling distraught and frustrated at the government. The current British government’s malice and incompetence serves as constant fuel to my activism.

Josie Long is a comedian, writer and BBC radio presenter. Web: josielong.com Twitter: @JosieLong

  1. Johnson was mayor at the time of the scheme’s launch and the bicycles are often referred to as Boris bikes.

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