“Revolution” is in the air, and it’s coming from an rather unexpected source: comedian and actor Russell Brand. Having recently guest-edited an issue of British political magazine the New Statesman on the theme of revolution, his fiery interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman has proven a hit online. It took no time at all before the term “Brandwagon” was coined and hashtagged on Twitter, as people flocked to raise him up as the new face of political change.
On top of his verve and flamboyance Brand has never been known to be particularly concise. Case in point: his 4,500-word piece in the New Statesman, where he argues that revolution is on the horizon, calling for inclusivity and spiritual change ahead of political change. Missing in his message, though — both in the Paxman interview and the magazine story — are concrete suggestions for change. We know what he wants, but not how he thinks we can get there. The only concrete action that he calls on people to take is inaction; that is, not to vote.
For Brand’s critics this lack of ideas is an indication of yet another celebrity attempt at “being political,” all style and no substance. Perhaps they’re right. After all, Brand dodged Paxman’s question about alternatives without any attempt to even come up with something.
But his failure to come up with solutions doesn’t invalidate the discussion he’s sparked off. As pointed out by other commentators, his condemnation of the political class and flawed systems of governance echoes and resonates with views held by many young people all over the world. He might not have said anything particularly original, but he’s brought it straight into the mainstream press. For the first time on the BBC we’ve seen someone criticize not just a particular government or a particular party, but say, “Hang on, it’s all broken, and we want something new. Radically new.”
This is an opportunity for a conversation far beyond Brand. At this point his participation isn’t even required. He might have no answers for us, but we should be more concerned with finding our own.
The Brandwagon may be more a fad on social media than an actual movement, but it would be silly for organizers and activists not to capitalize on the attention. We don’t need a new Brand-led movement, but there’s nothing stopping us from engaging those whose interest has been piqued by his proclamations. There are many different ways in which we can do so.
Brand urges people not to vote, to follow his lead and “opt out” as a way to demonstrate a rejection of a broken system. One can see where he’s coming from, and respect his right to express his political opinion. However, concerns that fans might then take this as an excuse for apathy and inaction are real.
While one might strongly disagree with Brand, his point about a broken system and a disenfranchised segment of society still stands. His argument about the need for a new direction holds. It is up to organizers and activists to build upon it and move everyone past the starry-eyed awe for a celebrity with a social conscience towards real action.
If whole segments of society are being underserved by the political elite, can they then be served by other groups? Grassroots movements all over the world show that they can. They don’t just exist, they are also thought-provoking and creative and above all, nonviolent.
Waging Nonviolence is hiring a writer to interview leading movement figures and analysts and produce one Q&A-style article per week. The writer will work with our small editorial team to identify the interview subject each week. For the most part, we’ll be looking to hear from activists, organizers and scholars who can shed light on… More
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Surprised there is no mention of Brand’s sexism here, can you really call him non-violent if that’s how he got to where he is today?
Does this whole ‘Great Man’ anthropology really build healthy movements?
Short answer: No! With leaders like Brand it’s kind of like reverse anarchism, building a movement of followers. As Han points out, Brand’s comments are as broad as they are shallow. Take for example his one action item, “don’t vote.” If you believe – as me an Emma do – that voting changes nothing, then not voting is less than nothing. Surely, not voting changes things even less than voting. I suppose that for some people, the idea of a coming revolution is an apocalypse. But, for most people who are minimally in touch with reality this is hardly a revelation. Han correctly summarizes Brand’s tempest in tea pot as a question of not when but how. In that regard, there may well be more to “not voting” than me, but probably not Emma, think. I agree with Han, that the real importance of what Brand is saying has to do with legitimacy. When enough people, particularly those who are followers of the hierarchical leadership, begin questioning the legitimacy of authority then the “how” of revolution becomes a very clear.
If you’ve been following the Brandwagon saga this follow up is worth a read:
Russell Brand we deserve more from our democratic system
Following his appearance on Newsnight, the comedian explains why he believes there are alternatives to our current regime
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 November 2013 12.57 EST