Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Singing, Acting and Listening across Generations

MUSE – Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir sing They’ll all Sing Bread & Roses

Please listen to this lovely song from a beautifully diverse choir as you read what follows.

Having been involved in leafletting and campaigning for Labour in Macclesfield over the last few weeks, I sensed that a Labour victory was becoming ever more elusive but the scale of the Tory victory has been a bitter pill to swallow. The amazing landslide by the Scottish National Party gave me (born in Scotland) some hope that it is possible to appeal to voters with policies that address social justice.

The day after the election, my Twitter stream was full of blaming that was, I have to say, mainly from white men – some employing threads that claimed their earlier predictions and solutions were ignored – all angry, of course. Of course, there were some great contributions, for example this thread

I think we need better problem-solving approaches. In the Labour party this will occur at national and local levels and I’m keen to see how feminism can inform at both levels. Even before the results came out, I had already resolved to work on attracting younger women to our local branch – we need them.

And there was another pattern emerging of blaming the old that I first noticed in 2016 after the referendum. In contrast, the last verse of ‘They’ll all Sing Bread & Roses’ tells of learning from the past, and struggle linked through generations.

And ‘though each generation fears
That it will be the last,
Our presence here is witness
To the power of the past.
And just as we have drawn our strength
From those who now are gone,
Younger hands will take our work
And carry on.
(And they’ll all sing …) Lyrics (Si Kahn, 1989, 1991)

And I’m going to share a few cameos from my campaigning for this election. I am not drawing conclusions from them but just leaving them here for you to ponder.

In organising leafletting in our ward in Macclesfield, I was put in touch with an 87 year old who recently moved into the ward. We chose a round that was near her, and removed those on Buxton Road (long and steep). She delivered leaflets earlier this week, in wet and miserable weather, with no fuss.

As I was leafletting with Terry, I had trouble pushing the leaflet through a letterbox but eventually succeeded. As I walked away, the front door opened and a young woman opened the door. When I explained what had happened, she picked the leaflet and glanced at it. She then asked me to take away the leaflet, saying “Take it away, they’re too old for all that”.

I delivered a leaflet to a house where an elderly man sat in the window. I waved the leaflet at him to show I was delivering it and he came to the door to pick it up. As I walking away, I glanced back and he saw me. He held up the leaflet and smiled: it made my day.

On the morning after the election, the first message of commiseration I received was an email from a dear friend in her eighties, entitled “Sick as a Parrot”. Through her words, she managed to make me feel better and even smile.

I leave you with a few words from the chorus:

Solidarity forever … We shall all become together, one and all.

I thought of so many people as I wrote this post, including Kate Bowles, Richard Hall, Javiera Atenas, Catherine Cronin, Lorna Campbell, Lou Mycroft, Elisabeth Charles, Patricia Whaley, Helen Beetham, Fiona Wilson, Margaret Mills, Ellen Bell and of course the lovely people from #femedtech. I am blessed by you all. Let’s sing and love our way through this.


francesbell • December 14, 2019

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  1. Kate Bowles December 14, 2019 - 9:35 am Reply

    Oh Frances, I thought of you all too. We watched from this distance, and the exit polls started as I was waiting to see my fellow migrant GP, who’s Scottish. We stopped to share our sense of sorrow, cameraderie, and now what. As I left we said we’d have to get together to burn our passports. But I think you’re spot on: even a defeated campaign will have been the occasion of so many very small stories of humans thinking it through, like these you’ve shared. And we still get to choose where to focus energy and advocacy. Feminists at this time know exactly how to keep going. We have form.

    • francesbell December 14, 2019 - 1:54 pm Reply

      Yes we do have form. Feminism is a practical and intellectual friend. Digging in for hope isn’t about some unrealisistic positivism. My 67 years of feminism have given me broad shoulders, cunning and persistence.
      Finding hope can get us through to act, avoiding knee-jerk blaming. I’m channelling Pollyanna with a steely determination 🙂

  2. Sarah Copeland December 14, 2019 - 11:11 am Reply

    This is beautiful Frances. There is such power in intergenerational learning too – my PhD fieldwork was based on this. Just a couple of weeks ago in a workshop I was able to recount a story of not making assumptions about digital literacy levels in different age groups – those with more time on their hands to learn new skills can act as wonderful support in learning communities. I say ‘can’, mindful that we have seen in the election and referendum how divisive age can be in the consensus process of democracy. For now, seeking solidarity will ease the dismay

    • francesbell December 14, 2019 - 3:31 pm Reply

      Your fieldwork sounds amazing! I’d like to know more about this please. One of my (mostly unproven) theories is that we have become conditioned to the stripping and stranding effects of quizzes and analytics and polls. They seem to feed into a tendency to generalisation and binary oppositions. In the quant world we need the qual stuff like dialogue, empathy, being together, and of course research 🙂 And yes! solidarity

  3. Lorna Campbell December 14, 2019 - 2:26 pm Reply

    Thank you for this wise and thoughtful post Frances. I got a bit teary reading it. I can’t tell you how much I admire your commitment and your activism, in all walks of life. You’re always an inspiration. You’re right of course that it’s too simplistic to blame “the old” or “the immigrants” or “the socialists” or “the remainers” or whoever “the other” is deemed to be. We need to be able to communicate across generational boundaries and we need the humility to listen and learn from others. Thank you again.

    • francesbell December 14, 2019 - 3:33 pm Reply

      TBH Lorna, writing it moved me from numbness to tears, and that’s a win in my book. What you said about communication and listening is so important and “work” for femedtech as well as politics.

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