Trish Lavelle looks at the themes and relevance of Levellers’ Day
WHEN we started planning for Levellers’ Day 2017 back in October, little did we know that we would be holding it in the middle of a general election campaign the likes of which we have not experienced for many decades.
A campaign in which voters are being presented with real radical alternatives.
It is therefore timely that this year we will gather today in Burford with a theme of “movement building.”
This theme asks us to consider how, 100 years on from the Russian Revolution, we build movements for radical change, for social justice, for fairness, opportunity and equality.
We will be hearing from speakers from huge national movements like Stop the War but also from an organiser for the inspirational local movement of teaching assistants in Durham, who have shown solidarity through strikes, solidarity and song.
And, as I write this, the Labour Party has unveiled its most radical manifesto for decades with increasingly popular policies, which seem to be attracting many of those who have in recent times completely disengaged from any politics.
The young, the students, the so called “gig economy” workers, even grime artists are showing support for Corbyn’s Labour.
In this increasingly presidential-style Tory campaign which relies so heavily on the “strong and stable leader” narrative, the mainstream media would have us believe that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable because he does not conform to their narrow and dismal world view.
They are telling the electorate that change is unachievable, that it is laughable and “pie in the sky” to think otherwise, that people who hope and work for change are just foolish idealists or worse dangerous revolutionaries.
In this respect there are strong echoes of the way the Levellers in the 1640s were portrayed — mad, bad and dangerous to know. Mocked, derided and persecuted by the powerful.
And yet the ideas of the Levellers survive as deeply relevant, worthy of investigation and as an important reminder that ordinary people can bring about change for the better and are capable of determining their own future.
As the Leveller Richard Overton said in 1647: “It must be the poor, the simple and the mean things of this Earth that must confound the mighty and the strong.”
And so it must be today. For the best memorial to the ideas of the Levellers is to register to vote, and to participate in the vote.
Trish Lavelle is a member of the Levellers’ Day Organising Committee 8 Join us in Burford, Oxfordshire for Levellers’ Day 2017 today from 10.30am-4pm for radical history, debate, live music, circus skills for the kids, beer and cake. More information can be found at the @ levellers_day Twitter handle and on the “Levellers’ Day” Facebook page.
Who were the levellers?
The English civil war (1642- 1651) saw Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads face off against royalist armies, but within his forces were radical trends.
One of these, the Levellers, produced a manifesto, Agreement of the People, which called for an extension of the vote, equality before the law and religious tolerance.
The group and its leaders were hugely popular within the ranks and forced a public debate with the army’s leaders, known today as the Putney Debates, but were crushed after the execution of Charles I.