I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to be ‘one of those people’. Whether it was a person with a placard outside an embassy or the person at school that could eat the entirety of a pear (core/pips included) without so much as a flinch, there have been lots of little and much bigger things that I have wished I could do.
Seeing myself as perhaps rather a sedentary bystander (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron) of life in general, there has always been a kind of knot of frustration deep below the sheltered layers of quilted laziness and fatigue in my under-achieving brain.
I want to do good stuff, great stuff even.
I read history books, I get Wikipedia ‘Articles of the Day’ and that’s not to mention the constant reminders in the news – they are all showing me images, footage and sound of those kind of people out there doing really important things, while I sit under the glow of halogen office lights, my biggest success of the day being typing at a ridiculously fast rate and buying my favourite soup from the food trolley before it sells out. It’s not quite what I had in mind when I drooled half-asleep over A-level set texts and stayed up buzzing on Pro Plus at uni believing that all that shit really did matter.
It’s a curious thing, watching people. And I don’t mean in a creepy, follow-you-home kind of way. The ones around me now are consumed by the screens before them, some plugged in with headphones too, hypnotised by the modernity of technology. But I am talking about those other people again – the ones who find themselves in warzones, in protests, in conversations about things that matter.
How? I have always thought. How do they end up there and how did I end up here? No-one in sandals approaches you when you hit adulthood with a big signpost asking ‘Do you want to do something worthwhile with your life or do you want to focus on you for a bit longer?’ If they did, I was too busy sleeping or watching Eastenders.
And as much admiration as I had for those other people, I couldn’t help but hate them a little bit too. The irony hey? I didn’t just do nothing, but I also resented the people who were doing something.
So it was surprising, even to me, to see myself breaking out of this mould last weekend and becoming ‘one of those people’ who seemed so intangible previously.
There I found myself, among around 7,999 other women walking down Regent Street towards Trafalgar Square, the wind whipping up the passion in our cheeks, the crisp colours of marble statues striking a pose against the sky radiant in blue. It sounds fantastical, magical, and it was.
In my previous experiences as an outsider to days such as this, I had always suspected, and actually hoped, that the event itself was rather dull; that the excitement seen on the faces of those involved was just because they so desperately wanted to be having fun; that really their feet were aching and they were dying for a cup of tea.
Yet on London’s Million Women Rise march on 6 March 2010, as cold as the temperature was that afternoon, I didn’t care one bit.
On a purely personal level, the sense of purpose and unity that arose from being part of ‘something’ that wasn’t an office party or a queue for a bus was really quite enlightening.
Listening to the voices of women whose lives had been about plights of passion and fights for rights seemed to lock into place that knot of frustration that had been tightening in my brain, and it made more sense. The frustration could become motivation instead.
It’s not so hard to be part of something. It only takes finding a cause that you believe in (and there’s a million out there) and actually participating in it, – whether that’s through signing petitions, attending rallies, emailing MPs or telling friends, the gain far outweighs the effort every time.
We are always told that today’s generation lacks that sense of community that existed in previous decades. I don’t personally agree with that, I think we have just become more global and network more extensively through the aid of technology. Yet there is something special about being part of something that matters.
I have chosen women’s and gay rights as my principal areas for concern because I believe deeply in equality. Along with my usual daily grind of work and more work, I am finding time to develop my interests in these areas and, in doing so, have met some wonderful people and learnt some fascinating stuff. The more I learn, the more awake I feel. That empty coma-inducing mentality that I survived on before is learning how to really think and feel again – that incredible self-awareness so key to human beings is no longer being wasted on flickering screens and chit-chat alone.
My individual actions as a fledgling feminist may not make a discernable difference, but knowing that, as a collective, I am part of a movement that has and continues to empower and demand change, is motivating in itself.
So if you’re feeling a little lost/bored/intellectually and morally deadened/any of the above, then just consider becoming ‘one of those people’. I can certainly recommend it.