I was no Lego maestro when I was little. I just stuck bricks together in rudimentary shapes; producing nothing elaborate like a building, street or town. The bricks I had were never numerous enough for that. If, though, I did have an abundance of blocks to build a municipality, it would have been based on my hometown, amalgamated with picturesque locales from across the Atlantic in films like E.T. and Gremlins: The classic small town. I wouldn’t have strived for realism, rather used Lego to construct a town of my own imagination drawn from my life and the movies I related to; filled with all the iconic buildings that were once regarded as essential – police station, fire station, train station, post office, school, hospital, bank, church; I could go on.
It’s with a heavy heart then that every week I read more stories of closures to public buildings and town institutions – in my hometown and across the country. I can’t help but mourn what has and is being lost. This is about much more than nostalgia and aesthetics; it’s the very infrastructure of community that is vanishing. Public services and spaces bring people from all walks of life within close proximity, even just in passing; whether it’s existing in the same space at a park, or queueing next to one another at a post office, there is value in being in each other’s company.
I was a small town kid and admittedly I’m looking at this from a small town perspective, but the change in cities over the last two decades has also been huge – with words and phrases like social cleansing and gentrification now intrinsically part of the city lexicon.
Villages, towns, cities – our society is being destroyed, brick by brick, through the government’s idealogical agenda; a never-ending barrage of public spending cuts and privatisation that devastates communities. Yet behind the brick and mortar of this reconstructed (or should it be deconstructed) Britain, lies even more loneliness, segregation and despair. For the most vulnerable in our society (including the disabled, the elderly, the poor and children) are being victimised through the withdrawal of vital support and funds which they need to be independent, safe and in many cases to survive. Be it the end of the Independent Living Fund, reduction in care packages, cuts to home visits, or closures to youth clubs, to name but a tiny number of austerity outcomes, large sways of the population are being segregated as a direct result of cuts.
Beyond the literal separation of people in society, the Conservatives have been masterful in developing and perpetuating the divisive rhetoric of the deserving and undeserving. A narrative of lazy unemployed scrounging chavs who want nothing more than to live off benefits; all the while, hard working families are made to pay. And then there’s those migrants and refugees all coming for our jobs. And the greedy junior doctors. The attacks by the government on its own people just keep on coming.
It’s little wonder then that watching a video like Together is so powerful.
US Senator and Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ political ad, which edits together head-shots of a diverse range of people at lightening pace, all the while Sanders voice-over explains how groups of people have been separated by race, sexual orientation, gender and national origin, is not only a brilliant piece of art, it confronts a method by which the establishment retains power: Divide and Rule! This has been an effective political strategy for centuries, and it continues to be so today.
While we might not have the power, influence or funds of the establishment; what we do have is each other. That might sound trite but it really is essential. For whatever our differences we must look to the issues that we can unite behind and make those our focus. When people are hurting, suffering and dying through the actions of the ruling powers – as they are in this country, and far worse in other countries across the world – it would be a dereliction of a citizen’s duty to stand by and focus purely on themselves and their own interests.
Our differences can make us stronger, but it depends on whether we are willing to stand together and listen and learn from each other. I applaud the Together video in this regard for championing diversity while promoting community. Homogeneity is as much an enemy of society as ignorance, so standing up for people who are different is vital in the fight for a better world; otherwise all we are doing is protecting ourselves, and that would make us no better than the establishment itself.
Today if I was to give a child some Lego bricks and asked them to build a town, I don’t know what they would construct. Would they think my town, filled with public service buildings, a creation of the movies? Would it seem as fictional to them as Lego Middle Earth or Lego Marvel Universe? All right, we’re not quite there yet. But the way things are going, where children will grow up in areas where the infrastructure of society is mere vestige, the idea of community could seem like fiction. Which is why we need to help the next generations in the present, for their future as one people, not just a collection of individuals and divided groups, depends on it.