Exaggeration and falsehood have long been tolerated in the world of politics. This culture is so ingrained that removing it from the system is no straightforward task. On the other hand, the internet has provided the world with an invaluable tool; information is no longer a privilege of the rich, and political claims can be corroborated or refuted in mere seconds.
These two factors both act as fuel to the Grassroots movement. In numerous countries, people are disregarding the political class and, instead, looking to each other for the truth. Social media, blogs and an increased number of camera phones all allow the everyday person to be part of the political discussion unlike ever before. The question now is whether that conversation can translate into systematic change.
Most government systems are set up so no one person can truly affect change. In the US, this can be seen in the division of power between the Executive Office, Congress and the Supreme Court. While this is essential to ensure true democracy is never overthrown, it also has an adverse effect. If a Government official is faced with controversy, he merely disappears from the cabinet and out of public vision. Take, for example, the UK Parliament expenses scandal of 2009, which saw Conservative MP, Lord Hannington, quietly reinstated to the House of Lords, 12 months after he was convicted of false accounting. This glaring systemic flaw is only magnified by the ruling elites’ tendency to look after their own.
Scott Bloch was a controversial member of the Bush Administration who was accused of manipulating the system many times before he was finally charged with contempt of Congress in 2013. Alongside allegations that he wiped incriminating information from his computer, his sexist newsletter content and claims that he threw away legitimate whistle-blower cases also surfaced. Initially, Bloch faced voluntary resignation and 30-day prison time but was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea when he discovered this fact. Instead, Bloch received probation and, after complaints from watchdog groups, spent one day in jail, received a $5,000 fine and 200 hours community service.
Bloch’s case is not a rarity. The legal repercussions for misuse of power are hardly ever severe. This lack of accountability has created a culture in which lies and deceit are often overlooked. As average citizens have watched the incarceration rate grow by 20 percent worldwide since 2000, this inconsistency of justice has not gone unnoticed.
The last few years have seen this rise of political parties and candidates whose extreme views and controversial beliefs would not have been tolerated a decade ago. The far right has restarted a conversation about race, which harks back to eras long passed. However, with increasing lives lost to terrorists performing acts in the name of Islam, it's understandable that many feel this dialogue is necessary.
In the UK, the effects of the migrant crisis saw citizens of port towns struggle to get their children into schools and doctor's practices. It was this strain that resulted in places like Margate, Nigel Farage’s constituency, vote for UKIP MP's in the 2015 general election.
Similarly, following an increasing number of devastating ISIS attacks in France, the support for National Front leader, Marine La Pen, grew significantly. Nowhere is this mounting feeling clearer than in the US, where Donald Trump and his controversial ‘Muslim ban' secured one of the most surprising political victories in recent years. While accusations of racism surround all of these politicians, it's clear that the majority of their followings are not voting on pure prejudice. In reality, this increasing support is an expression of fear, and a call for the political class to pay attention to these issues.
On the other side of the fence, many countries are seeing a rise in far-left candidates as a protest against the continual austerity. The international economy has been under strain since the banking crash of 2008. While many countries have seen ongoing cuts to public services, many people don’t feel any richer. Simultaneously, they can’t help but note the luxurious lifestyle many politicians lead, complete with tax cuts, expense accounts, and hefty bonuses. In the UK, the public sector has seen pay stall, while MP's continue to enjoy an exponential increase.
Unsurprisingly, this has inspired significant support for socialist Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has called for an end to offshore accounts and tax breaks. It was similar crippling financial conditions that prompted Greece to vote in the radical-left party, Syriza. This lean towards socialism/marxism is a clear protest vote; a cry of disgust at the fact that everyday people are the ones paying for the government and banker's mishandling of the country’s financial affairs.
Another key issue for both sides of the fence has been Government snooping. Since the Snowden leaks showed the world the true extent of the violations of our online privacy, many have highlighted the hypocrisy. While politicians and secret services grossly abuse their online power, citizens in some part of the world are being arrested for using proxy services to protect their privacy. US nationals rated blocks on illegal wiretappings as one of the most important issues under the Obama administration, yet no changes in legislation have occurred.
All of these situations paint the same picture: the people are trying to hold the government accountable on certain issues, but their only forum is to vote for radical candidates. The grassroots conversation is an essential voice to have in international politics, and appropriately cultivating it has already significantly affected the government front line. Perhaps the best example of this is in the recent UK general election. Jeremy Corbyn began the race as a laughing stock but ended up prompting the biggest Labour swing seen since 1945. The election also saw record numbers of voters, including an incredible 72 percent of young people.
This incredible surge by the youth vote was largely a result of Corbyn utilizing the full force of grassroots. After speaking with many underground musicians and counter-culture artists the #Grime4Corbyn campaign saw rappers and other street icons break through apathy in some of the most politically disenchanted parts of society. Bernie Sanders made a similar attempt during his race to be the US Democrat candidate. Although he could not ensure the same hold on power, his use of volunteers and financial contributors saw a campaign that was grassroots to its very core.
Both of these examples demonstrate the increasing need for more grassroots opportunity. As citizens continue to be turned off by the status quo, more and more and willing to put their money and their time into their political beliefs. This voice is one that politicians can no longer ignore; if that can’t properly cultivate its power, it could mean the end of their reign.
The End Of Political Apathy
It's clear we live in a time where conventional politics is no longer tolerated. After decades of most Western governments hovering around the center, voters and politicians are demanding a change. Whether this has been a direct result of the current world problems - or a repercussion of the internet age and its ability to spread information and ideas - our political future has never looked so unsure.
However, for the ordinary voter, this time of uncertainty is a valuable opportunity to make your voice heard. You can opt to join local groups and parties, get involved with your preferred candidate or even just continue the political dialogue on social media. Each of these tactics has already proved successful for many groups and ideologies, and our culture of connectivity suggests that many future campaigns will also look to harness the power of grassroots. We have entered an era having your say has never been so important, and the chances of actually being heard have increased significantly.
The time for bottom-up politics is approaching, and expressing your beliefs is only going to become increasingly important as we continue to face a world of evolving threat and instability. Political decision-making is no longer isolated to the four walls of government; distrust of the system is starting to facilitate change on an international level.