Monday, 5 November 2012

Which Side Are You On?

There's an election in the US tomorrow and, although I do my best to steer clear of party political American shenanigans, I've not been able to distance myself from it completely.

Sorry, wrong Romney! This is Mitt's dad, politician and chairman of the American Motors Car Company. who  ran for president in 1968. No wonder Mitt loves "family values"! 

America is very polarised country. Mitt Romney famously poured scorn on the 49% of Americans who don't pay taxes and were therefore worthy of his derision and contempt. The divides in the US are not just economic--political difference also means a profound diversion on issues that are ostensibly "religious" such as reproductive rights, gay marriage, the teaching of non-scientific creation stories, etc. However, for all conservatives, even those of a more libertarian bent, being poor, and particularly having to rely on any kind of government assistance is also "moral" issue. It's just wrong, dammit. It's a sin. It's taking money from the pockets of hard-working, decent, honest American taxpayers.

Mitt Romney and other hard-working taxpayers at Bain Capital 
This attitude has not softened in my lifetime. It has hardened considerably, in fact. It is also, to some extent, crossing the Atlantic. Emotive or  pejorative terms such as "taxpayer" (good) and "welfare" (bad) are now used regularly in the UK.

Well, what does that have to do with writing for young people, you may ask?

A lot, in my opinion.

I think that as writers we must be advocates for our readers. Here in the UK, cuts in education, in library services, the dropping of EMA and the rise of tuition fees, have had a profound implications for virtually all young people. The cuts that are directed specifically at the poor or vulnerable--for example, the forced displacement of inner London families due to draconian cuts in housing benefit, the axing of benefits and programmes for young people with disabilities--have even more impact.

This doesn't mean, of course, that our writing should be "political", or we should only write about the poor and dispossessed, or make rich people the bad guys. My own writing isn't particularly political and in "At Yellow Lake" the bad guys are as poor, if not poorer, than the "goodies." It also doesn't mean that well-off people don't have problems. Many issues that affect young people--depression, eating disorders, family break-up, neglectful parenting, drug or alcohol abuse--don't discriminate between rich or poor.

But I do think it's important to keep our eyes open and think about the many political decisions that affect young people. We can do this actively. Many writers have worked tirelessly against UK library cuts. Others may blog about education. I know writers who work with Amnesty and refugee organisations.

We can also reflect this in our own practice. I don't mean we have to be joylessly "worthy" but I think somewhere, in our subconscious writing minds, we have to be aware that while life for all young people is full of challenges, there are others for whom life is even more daunting. When a government or political party  disregards or disrespects the needs of some groups of  people, while privileging the desires and wants of other groups, I think writers should take sides.

And the side we should be on is the side of the disregarded or disrespected. The privileged can take care of themselves.

They usually do.

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