Last night I attended a debate between AWL organizer Ed Maltby and journalist-cum-activist Laurie Penny. I won’t pretend it was the most interesting debate in the whole world, but nonetheless it was one of a number of fora in which activists are coming together to discuss theoretical issues in the emerging anti-cuts movement. The event culminated, though, with Laurie Penny saying, “we all have to work with people we don’t agree with” and then gesturing at me, “for example, I think Jacob is a cunt.” When it was suggested, after the meeting, by another activist that she offer some kind of apology, her response was, “no, he is a cunt.”
I’m not going to claim I’ve never called anyone a cunt, but I certainly haven’t in a public meeting, and wouldn’t. There were about 100 people at the event, of whom I knew perhaps a quarter. Laurie Penny seemed to know even fewer. Now the issue comes that I, as an activist, have to work with these other people. If I had a cushy job at the New Statesman, if I could do all the activism I wanted without working with other people, whilst promoting my own personal (or personality) brand as “the voice of a generation”, then maybe I wouldn’t be so concerned about being so rudely denounced at a public meeting. But the fact is that these fora of debate are the places where we make links crucial to effective activist work. They are not places for mud-slinging or attempts to viciously sideline people from what has so far been a wonderfully inclusive movement. For Laurie Penny it seems that “solidarity” is just a throw-away piece of rhetoric used to make her voice “authentic”; it certainly doesn’t influence how she behaves.
So this is what many years of activism has come to. I’m not going to claim to be the greatest activist in the world, but I’ve been involved in a whole range of struggles for many years, ranging from environmental work, to student politics, to anti-capitalist movements as well as solidarity work for international struggles. I also wouldn’t use a press card to get out of a kettle, as Laurie Penny has been known to do. Quite clearly I do not take this lightly; in a political context I expect to be taken as seriously as I take the politics. I most certainly do not expect to be the victim of arbitrary personal attacks made by platform speakers, which bear no relation to substantive and important ongoing political arguments. Apart from anything else, if Laurie Penny had ever attempted to address any issues she has with me (i.e. speak to me if you have a problem with me – I’m hardly unapproachable.) then maybe I’d be more forgiving. For the moment I can only wonder how long she will get away with abusing her new-found power and popularity.