Whether you got the result you wanted or you didn’t, there’s always work to be done to ensure the issues you care about get attention, get policy change. There’s also always more to learn about just what the hell is going on.
Irish Political History
England is extremely insular when it comes to what topics are included in education, and that’s no different when in comes to Irish history (even though Northern Ireland is part of the UK and its representatives form part of our parliament). After this election, suddenly Northern Ireland has a bigger part to play and England is finally starting to take notice.
As books can take a while to catch up, this article is a good summary of the current situation and what it means if a Northern Irish party has a part in the government in Westminster (TLDR: the government can’t be neutral in peace talks, which have been unstable over the past few months, so it really fucks stuff up).
I haven’t read any books on the Troubles, but someone recommended Armed Struggle: A History of the IRA by Richard English, though said it was a bit biased. And also Making Sense of the Troubles by David McKittrick & David McVea, but that it lacked a bit of background to help you understand the different perspectives. I’ll probably pick up the McKittrick/McVea, but if you have any good recommendations I’d love to hear them. I don’t really know where’s good to start.
Activism & making changes
Hope is often seen as naive or ‘weak’, but it’s not. Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit is a beautifully written book about how hope means action, and that action works because it has done so many times before, even if you don’t get to see the broader changes in your lifetime. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I find it very motivating and uplifting. As she says, it’s despair, not hope, that’s unhelpful because “if the world is totally doomed no matter what, little or nothing is demanded of you in response.”
The book I’m picking up after I finish my current read is Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez. It’s a book about how the ‘lottery of birth’ (you don’t choose where to be born, what your genes will be, how much money your family has, etc), undermines our cultural/societal beliefs in freedom (free markets, free media, free thought, free will, etc). It’s about how we need to understand the limits on our freedom so we can transcend them, and calls for deep and radical change in so much of our current system, from education and prison reform to change in the structure of society. And about optimism and empathy. Looking forward to getting stuck in.
Protest: Stories of Resistance edited by Ra Page isn’t out until July but is definitely one to pick up. It’s a collection of fictional stories about characters in the middle of a range of different British protests, from the Peasant’s Revolt to the Suffragettes to the Anti-Iraq demo and everywhere in between. What makes me excited about this are the great authors involved (like Kit de Waal), and that they’re each paired with a historian or witness so the story is factually correct, and each story comes with a short non-fiction afterword about the event. It looks ace.
Another great example of activism can make a change is the Green Carnation Prize-winning How To Survive a Plague by David France. This is about the activists and campaigners who fought for research and treatment in AIDS against incredible amounts of stigma and homophobia, and beautifully balances reporting and France’s own experiences as a gay man and reporter at the time. Another one I haven’t read yet, but it’s very high on my list and comes highly recommended.
If you have any other recommendations, I’d love to hear them. Just leave a comment below.