Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A long twilight struggle

I've often wonder if J Michael Straczynski would forgive me. Tonight I decided that he would.

There are great moments in many TV series – and there are certainly great moments in a great TV show like Babylon 5. One of these moments – actually, more than one, but bear with me – comes in episode 20 of season two, The Long Twilight Struggle.

In it, after being humiliated by the defeat of his people by the Centauri, Narn ambassador to Babylon 5 G'Kar is forced to ask for sanctuary on the station. That granted, Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari attempts to have him turned away from the council, But G'Kar has a speech to make before he leaves:

"No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand. The Centauri learned this lesson once ... we will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years ... we will be free!"

I cannot remember how many times I've heard it. But watching the episode again tonight, I was close to tears. It is magnificent drama. Not just during this speech of G'Kar's, but also as Londo watches from a Centauri ship as the Narn homeworld is bombarded with weapons of mass destruction. His face tells us a thousand things.

It is a gut-wrenching, heart-rending episode.

But it means something extra for me.

Twelve years ago this year – this coming February, to be precise – my editor of the time was suspended and then sacked. The grounds were invented: a dossier that was a complete joke. But as it happened, in a Buggins's turn sort of way, I happened to be the mother of chapel at the time. That's the term we use in journalism (and other parts of the print) for a shop steward, in remembrance of the days when trade unions were still illegal in the UK, and non-conformist churches provided sanctuary for us to meet.

There I was, suddenly faced with a member – my boss, as it happened – who was being sacked for no reason other than an unholy combination of politics and nepotism.

Well, we as a chapel (the shop) decided that the Rubicon had been crossed. And we acted.

I'm not going to occupy you with the ins and outs of what happened. Suffice it to say that we won and that John got his job back.

But in the process of what happened, I found myself giving speeches to various gatherings. And inspired by G'Kar's speech, I took his words and changed them enough to make them work for us. I spent the entire strike in a B5 baseball cap too. There's even YouTube footage from a major national news provider of our picket line, and me interviewed, with that cap screwed down hard on my head.

There is an extent to which I look back with a modicum of disbelief as to how much B5 meant to me at the time. But however naff it sounds, at a time when I had to make massive decisions about what side of a row I stood on, it gave me an inspiration I'll never forget.

And tonight, as I watched The Long Twilight Struggle again, perhaps my tears were not just for G'Kar and the Narn, but also for what I ... no: for what we achieved, almost 12 years ago. And I really don't think JMS would be offended.

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