“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.
Recent criticisms calling the founder of nonviolent theory a Cold Warrior are way off the mark. To rightly evaluate him, we need to understand the role he chose for himself.
A six-week strike by teachers has bolstered a movement against proposed austerity measures targeting Lebanon’s dangerously underfunded education system.
Drama helps movements draw attention to their issues, but it won’t come without creativity and direct action tactics that reach beyond the choir.