Why are gesture politics so prevalent?

Are performative gestures linked to a capitalist society?

During the height of the lockdown, in the U.K, the country was urged to stand outside of their houses, and clap for the NHS. Without a doubt, this was a heartwarming gesture — cheers for the frontline workers echoed through communities, many of which had witnessed their bravery first hand.

The Prime Minister himself stood outside of NO 10 and applauded key workers.

Many hoped that as these once called “low-skilled” workers were finally gaining the recognition they deserved, improvements would be made to their line of work. Perhaps a raise? Perhaps more PPE? Perhaps less cuts to the NHS?

However, the recognition seemed to have come in the form of student nurses having their placements cut.

Actually, there’s been an influx in these performative gestures. Think, the green lights for the Grenfell fire anniversary and the “Black Lives Matter Plaza”.

Black Lives Matter Plaza, Washington

In reality, these actions are just for show. Especially when very little or no meaningful change occurs afterwards. So, why are current systems so intent on outpouring these performative gestures?

Gesture politics isn’t a new concept. The term has often been used to scrutinise the replacement of change for empty symbols. Accusations that politicians are “gesture politicking” often arrive during disasters.

Performative politics is damaging, too. False pledges of money, giving thoughts and prayers, and a deceptive show of respect, can make society wrongly believe positive change is arising. It seems, though, that the elite never once planned for that change to transpire.

Could it be that capitalism plays a part in gesture politics, and how widespread it is?

At a basic understanding of capitalism means that those who control capital have the power of decision-making. That type of decision-making is denied to those producing and consuming.

Many believe that we are now living through late-stage capitalism. A phrase coined to press focus on the inequalities in modern-day capitalism. It’s become apparent that Millennials and Gen Zers are now bearing the brunt of the economic damage brought about by late-20th-century economics. We now have generations that have been characterised by crises, recessions, and extremes.

For example, somebody born in 1996 is still in their early twenties. Yet, they have lived through 9/11, London bombings, continuous deadly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate change, the great recession, and a pandemic.

It’s really no shock why Millenials and Gen Zers are rejecting capitalism and yearning for a new order. Anti-capitalism has become widely shared amongst younger generations. With a critique of exploitative practices, it’s complicity in creating poverty and the destruction of the planet, there’s an apparent desire for a new system.

Millions of people around the world are starting to feel like life is “rigged”. Like the system is not designed for them. Any gains made in society from innovation and productivity all travels upwards. That’s exactly why the world’s richest 10% now own 85% of the planet’s wealth.

With a pandemic targetting the most vulnerable people in society and the cracks in law enforcement pushing people into a revolution, in comes the gesture politics.

The truth is, those who run this world don’t want real change. The system that is in place works for them. It works really well for them, in fact. So, they push out meaningless gestures and then hide in their estates.

These performative actions, in the past, have promoted the idea that social change can be made, and that the elite is on our side.

Would it be fair to say that, the majority of the time those who benefit from the status quo, won’t be the ones to play a leading role in reforming it?

We need to reject those who put profit before people. We need to call out elites who are evidently more loyal to each other than the general public. We need to reject our entire systems being run by plutocratic elites.

Change doesn’t come from lighting up buildings in a different colour. It is possible to improve the world without permission slips from the powerful; one of the first steps lies with rejecting absurd gestures.

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