A picture of a stunningly beautiful girl at a university graduation popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday, which caused me to think about a number of things, and also to celebrate the fact that at least one of my old friends never lost his ideals and, yet, has won against all the odds.
The girl was the daughter of a university class mate of mine, Clive, and the picture was posted by the proud parents. Though some of our background was different, we had a few things in common – especially an interest in practical political action rather than abstract theory, talked often, and graduated on the same day.
Clive is black, grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness family and escaped it to study. At the same time he joined the Socialist Workers Party, and most of the time he wasn’t in class he was at SWP or anti-racist meetings, selling papers, or picketing alongside the workforces of many a public or private sector scumbag employer.
Like a few others I knew at the time, he brought that hands-on experience to the classroom and argued every middle class student (and a few lecturers) to a standstill in seminars. Though we disagreed about the SWP as the favoured “vehicle for change” we did share a contempt for the way such privileged kiddies drifted into college, would drift on into safe careers and would never, ever, know what it is to struggle for what you want or need – or even have to think about it in many cases. Clive was almost equally contemptuous of his fellow black students who eschewed politics in favour of safe careers in government underwritten and controlled “community projects”.
After graduation, we never saw each other again and, if I’m honest, until we encountered each other on Facebook a couple of years back thanks to a mutual friend I was too wrapped up in my own struggles against dark forces to wonder what happened to him. I knew he married an SWP “comrade” during his graduation year and they both went into some sort of public sector work, but that was about it.
From what I now know, Clive and his wife stayed with the SWP and will have been involved at grassroots level with every bitter fight to protect the NHS, education and the rest of what we used to call the Welfare State. Because of such political activism, both will have been unofficially blacklisted for even public sector management jobs, and on principle will never even have applied for jobs with the kind of private/third sector parasites who have taken over traditional public sector work. Thus, they never got on the property ladder and still live in a council house, and their children went to schools in less affluent areas. But, as yesterday’s photo shows, those kids have known since birth how much good education and health matter and not to waste them.
That photograph is a little reminder that decent people do still exist, do fight back against power and privilege, and do raise decent kids who will go on to do the same. From the moral and intellectual vacuum in which, of necessity, I have to earn my living for a few more years such examples matter.