This is a guest post by Ahmed Rushdi.
Readers of HP might have stumbled on a website called ‘Don’t Hate, Donate‘. It’s a website set-up by Alex Higgins, a left-wing activist shortly after Margaret Thatcher’s death. The website calls on people to donate to a number of good causes as a response to Thatcher’s idea that ‘there is no such thing as society’.
The website has received a phenomenal response and has received coverage from the BBC, Daily Mirror and Ekklesia. Considering the silliness of the last few days, I felt this initiative was a good example of a sensible political reaction to the death of the former Prime Minister.
Alex was the main person behind the website and he is thankful to Tasha Harrison, at Sprite Light Media, for her help in website development. The interview begins below.
Notations: AR – Ahmed Rushdi, AH – Alex Higgins.
AR: Hi Alex, why did you decide to set up Don’t Hate, Donate?
AH: I remember thinking about the media reaction to ‘The Iron Lady’ and imagining what would happen when Mrs. Thatcher did die. And I’ve long heard people talk about getting champagne ready for the day – it’s been part of stand-up routines and songs for decades. I could see the left about to score a giant own goal. An entirely self-inflicted PR disaster for no reason. A really self-indulgent expression of hatred and group identity that takes no account of how the British public, including many working class people, feel.
It also frustrates a lot of people like me – that when a powerful public figure dies, their supporters exploit the opportunity to promote their political agenda while opponents are made to feel ashamed of themselves if they point out the recently deceased left behind a trail of tears. Do the victims of politicians get respect? Some like Glenn Greenwald have tried push back on this ‘misplaced funeral etiquette’ but you still end up sounding petulant.
I wondered how could we turn this around? If we think it’s right to say Thatcher hurt many people – gay people, working people, children, pensioners, the homeless – how can we find a more dignified way to say it? Symbolic – but real – donations to good causes seems to me to be the answer.
And the Right could do that too if they wanted – responding to the death of Chavez for instance.
AR: Were you around during Thatcher’s administration? What did you remember of it when you set up the website?
AH: Not really, though we all live with her legacy. I grew up in Australia for most of the 80s. I was 9 when Thatcher was forced from office. I wasn’t greatly affected by her government’s lowest moments, so I wouldn’t want to condescend to someone who really was – like members of the ANC in South Africa, or the Durham miners. (Don’t Hate, Donate is a good slogan, but it is undeniably twee). But then a lot of people celebrating and buying ‘Ding Song’ on itunes don’t remember the actual Thatcher years themselves.
AR: You say on your website, “it’s pretty lousy to celebrate or gloat over anyone’s suffering”. How do you think ‘the left’, as a whole, has responded to Thatcher’s death?
AH: Mostly the ‘Left’ has responded to Thatcher’s death as we always do in these situations – with awkward defensiveness. Labour frontbenchers have strained very hard to say something nice. Columnists have tried to explain their mixed feelings carefully for whatever good that does. And George Galloway has said something awful, but then, that happens most weeks.
And then of course, there has been this horrible, long-promised explosion of gloating and cheering. Some of it is authentic rage – when I read about ANC members, or people who lost everything in the 80s in Glasgow, or Liverpool or Belfast, I don’t want to go ‘Tut, tut’. Years of bitterness and hurt went into that. But then some of it is 20-something middle-class left-leaning professionals with a Twitter account and really, what is the excuse for cheering at the painful death of a powerless old woman with dementia? They’ve taken a running leap off the moral high ground. They’ve asked to be put on the defensive in every political debate for the next decade.
AR: You might have heard that some sections of the left are determined to bring Judy Garland’s ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’ to number one of the music charts, what do you think of that?
AH: If the left manages to respond to Thatcher’s death by giving a large sum of money to Apple corp. and Amazon instead of CISWO, that will be inexcusably lame.
AR: We’ve come a long way from the days of Thatcher’s premiership. I see you’re asking people to donate to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation and the The International Center for Transitional Justice. Do you think many young people will ‘get the point’ of Don’t Hate, Donate?
AH: I think young people who don’t remember the bitterness of those years respond very well to the positive and humane message of Don’t Hate, Donate. You’re right, many of them will not know all the political debates that raged back then and maybe even not very much about the Miners’ Strike or South Africa. We could probably stand to make some the history clearer.
AR: There will be those on the ‘right’ of the political spectrum who will say, “Why can’t you allow us to bury our own, in peace?”. Don’t you think your campaign is a bit too reactionary just after her death?
AH: The reaction to Mrs. Thatcher’s death was immediate. I found out 2 hours after the news broke and I already had people telling me it was too late to bother with Don’t Hate, Donate!
Maybe some people think there should have been no public reaction at all from her opponents, but there was one and there always going to be one. So my intention was to take the mean-spiritedness out of it and channel it in a worthwhile direction that was respectful to the people who suffered under her government.
I very strongly believe that the people Mrs. Thatcher hurt deserve respect and some peace. We’re talking about people who were children at the time in many cases. Have some compassion.
AR: One final question: What kind of reaction have you had amongst your peers, family and members of the public with your project? Have you encountered any awkward situations?
AH: The support from friends and the public has been overwhelmingly supportive and amazing. My Tory friends have been brilliant – they appreciated the gesture of goodwill and responded in kind. A lot of apolitical friends really liked the positive message. My lefty friends have been fantastic – some have gritted their teeth a bit, but they realised this makes sense. Lots of people are glad to have found a way of expressing opposition to the triumphalist presentation of Mrs. Thatcher by the Daily Mail and the gloating at someone’s death.
Two reactions stand out for me. A Tory friend who lost their father to dementia, the same condition Mrs. Thatcher suffered with, told me he really appreciated the website’s message. And one member of the public e-mailed this: “Thank you for your positive idea. I… am donating £400 to Childline. I remember the terrible homelessness of the Thatcher years and Thatcher’s advice that under age girls just go home when 80% of girls on the street had been abused in their own home.” So I know I’ve done something worthwhile here.
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Once again, folks can donate to their cause at Don’t Hate, Donate. A big thank you to Alex.