Tweet "in solidarity" if you want, but don't kid yourself it changes anything

If you want things to change, if you want to end austerity, your tweet of solitary solidarity is as good as writing your wishes in your teenage diary. You do not change the world by telling people that you wish you could. You express your solidarity with people by marching at their side. 

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As we chew on the bones from Saturday’s anti-austerity demo in London, there will no doubt be quibbling over the number of attendees. Six men and a dog, say the police. Literally everyone who has ever lived or died on this island, say the organisers. Whatever number we agree to disagree on, it will be a mere Lilliput to the number of people who chose to mark their commitment to ending austerity by “expressing solidarity” with the protestors on Twitter.

There are many good and valid reasons why you might not have marched. If you can’t afford the grotesque burden that is a train ticket in 2015 or to miss work for one day, then austerity has successfully used itself to stop you protesting it. Would that I had an immune system so effective - my alarmingly precarious health decided, I wouldn’t be stumbling to the corner shop, let alone marching on Parliament Square. However if you had both opportunity and motive to attend the demonstration, a single tweet “in solidarity” ends austerity like a single tear ends a house fire.

Solidarity is for when you agree with something of which you are not actively part. You can express solidarity with protests in other countries. You can express solidarity with people striking in sectors in which you don’t work. You cannot tweet in solidarity. You cannot eat HobNobs in bed while watching Orange is the New Black in solidarity.  If you love a band, you don’t “express solidarity” with their audiences. You turn up to the concert. You don’t wear the t-shirt but bin the records. Agreeing with and taking pride in something you were able to be part of, but weren’t, is tokenism, is slacktivism and achieves nothing but to make you feel better because you can say you have “done something”. It apportions political engagement the same status as bad jokes, prissy customer service complaints and photographs of your own face.

If you were to look at my Twitter and Facebook feeds in April and early May, we were comfortably expecting not only to elect a Labour government, but for them suddenly to lurch considerably further left the moment they took office. Twitter would not have been completely surprised if the Prime Minister were now Ed Miliband, Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon, standing on each others’ shoulders and wearing a big overcoat. If Nye Bevan had risen from the grave to repeatedly strike Jeremy Hunt about the face, while a front bench of fifteen or so Tony Benns looked on approvingly, wreathed in pipe smoke, we would have considered it largely plausible.

What we didn’t consider plausible was a Conservative majority and whoops! Looks like that’s what happened.

The left will to continue to be in for these shocks if we continue to believe that 140 characters is worth one person’s actual protest on the street. Social media is an echo chamber. You tweet your disdain for government policy and your own hashtags come flying back at you like ninja throwing stars. It is too easy to believe that we are changing the country because the few hundred people we have personally selected to follow share our own sentiments. We become complacent because we only hear what we have chosen to hear. Twitter tells me that austerity is moments from being over. That an actual socialist could be the next leader of the Labour Party. That Tony Hart is able to die more than once.

Last week, for the first time in my life, I emailed my MP. I had spent the preceding fortnight almost exclusively tweeting about Jeremy Corbyn in emphatic block capitals. This was achieving nothing but slowly losing me followers. I asked my MP to nominate him. She did. It was small, but that one email with an answerable request in it seems to have contributed to doing something. 

If you want things to change, if you want to end austerity, your tweet of solitary solidarity is as good as writing your wishes in your teenage diary. You do not change the world by telling people that you wish you could. You express your solidarity with people by marching at their side.