Watching ‘The Great Hack’ on Netflix has helped diversify my understanding of radical social change and how it can be achieved. As the intricate web began to develop between Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Leave.EU and the proponents of right-wing populism, a principle from the former White House Chief Strategist, Steven Bannon, struck a chord with me. If you want to achieve real social change, you must first break the system; from there, you can remould it into your desired vision. Stepping back from the mass siphoning of our personal data without our consent and the use of psy-ops described as ‘weapons-grade technology’ outlined within the documentary, this insidious principle started to make some degree of sense. The electorate siding with Trump and Brexit was seen as both a constitutional crisis and a significant victory in the culture war, and it would be remiss to think that these events have not radically altered the social fabric of Western society. If this could take place in a largely invisible arena, surely we can achieve so much more when we all pull together towards a common goal?
These feelings have resurfaced in the context of the recent protests and widespread trauma. There is a palpable sense of urgency in getting those in power to enact sweeping legislation to cover everything from oppressive policing powers to a severely whitewashed curriculum, which has been long overdue given how long these things have been examined under a microscope and deemed ineffective in the context of racial inequality. The most difficult thing, as expected, will be to keep the flame of this message alive, and the collective fear is that rampant momentum now will eventually wind down into unremarkable apathy. The irony of multinational corporations sharing a hashtag when their own hierarchy is bereft of any meaningful diversity that reflects wider society has been largely overlooked, and it is an example of such apathy that worries me. With the media’s focus on the physical presence of the movement on the streets, it has become easier for these giants to look outward in solidarity, rather than peer inwards in self-reflection of how they perpetuate the same failings that the protestors are marching for. It is the easiest way to do something without doing anything.
Although the powerful images of the dismantling of slave traders, previously venerated for their involvement in the degradation of humans, will no doubt prove to be iconic and utterly important, whether the creeping apathy persists will be dependant on the average person’s engagement, not just those with the power to mend the system. It has been positive to see the active steps that many are taking to educate themselves, understand the different experiences people of colour are facing and to challenge the assumptions that both they themselves and their immediate surroundings hold. But as many are demanding politicians and influential citizens to delve into their political will and pockets, it remains to be seen whether the wider British and global population will choose to see these protests as the straw that broke the camel’s back concerning decades of second-class treatment, or simply as the latest youthful political movement that blindly wants to ‘get rid of the police’. This perception amongst the average onlooker, who is neither deeply concerned or deeply offended, will dictate the long-lasting effects of this particularly seminal moment. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail in 16 April 1963:
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
What if you’re right, and they’re wrong?