Don’t send this postcard!
This was the slogan on a post card being handed out at Greenbelt. Just in case you didn’t know, Greenbelt is the busiest festival by-attendance (2nd after Glasto overall) for postcard signing, that NGO term for getting people to write their name on a pre-written message to whoever they’re lobbying. Was this some kind of radical statement against the lobbying mentality? A call to arms for something more radical?
No, it was “Christian Socialist Movement”, the Christian wing of the Labour party (the only bit that still calls itself socialist openly anymore). The post card had the following to say for itself:
Have you ever sent a campaigning postcard? Did you hope that someone would read it? – Someone with a passion to make change happen. We think you could be that person.
That’s why we’re giving you this postcard. Don’t send it. Be sent. Post is past. Participate. Get involved politically. Nobody’s perfect. Stop shouting from the sidelines. Politics is mission. Join us.
I must point out, by the way, that I would be writing a totally different blog post if this were a Conservative Christian Fellowship postcard, just in case that isn’t obvious. But I happen to find all these groups rather disconcerting, and wonder whether its a case of the church interfering with politics, or as I suspect, an exercise in recruiting the church to the cause of major parties. Interestingly, the Greens have no such organisation, and yet I find myself most comfortable voting for their policies.
But I found myself wondering over some of the statements it makes, not least the emphatic “participate” in the second paragraph. There are many models of participation, and this appears to imply a condescending view of the types of political participation one does from outside the claustrophobia and social padding of the Westminster Village and its numerous outposts around the country. A cheap dig about participating in the expenses scandal would be a less than ideal illustration.
I also find it interesting that what CSM are saying runs very much counter to what people like Ched Meyers and Shane Claiborne, amongst others, are saying. This postcard says “Stop Shouting from the Sidelines”, but there’s an emerging, exciting, challenging trend in Western Christianity to pursue, to learn to love the margins. The margins are not the sidelines of life, they are exactly where life is being lived in all its fullness, the ups and downs, the struggles and triumphs. It is these places we are called to learn to love.
I’ve sent campaigning postcards, more out of forlorn hope and sometimes even a sense that if I don’t sign it, I can’t ask others to. I tend to put more in stock by the prayer part of SPEAK’s pray and post cards; the facts are handy, the prayer points useful and engaging, the postcard the afterthought.
Do I hope the person who counts them up actually reads my signature? Not entirely, I’d rather not have New Labour (or the Tories) pass my details to MI6 as someone who gives a crap and therefore needs watching. It sounds cynical, but that’s the kind of attitude this government takes (by the way, I’m fully aware that they don’t actually transcribe most of the post cards, but rather pull the most obviously fraudulent and the unsigned, then count them for stats purposes, then recycle the card).
Right now, with the next election like to be a decisive one, and the Right showing its capacity to build gains based on fear, there can be no place for anyone with a passion to make things better for the poorest, only to make things better for the media executives who will provide the election win. Election after election has proven that only one person matters in today’s UK politics: the man with no vote but 9 million minions, most of whom vote the way he chooses, Rupert Murdoch.
CSM can make grand claims about having about 20 MP’s in their membership, but how many of them took a principled stand against war in Iraq? Or didn’t that matter to them? Does the Christian call to radical pacifism not apply to MP’s? The answer to my first question here is 3, unless I’m massively mistaken. You don’t take principals into government. Government is the only principal, and it demands total submission.
I have to say that I think CSM provide a useful challenge, a strong reminder to people that we need to bring about a debate around ways of participating in society. But they also offer the high-road to power, the war horse to Westminster, not the humble ride through the outskirts, the deprivation and the marginalisation. When one sends a postcard, what matters is as much where you send it from, as what that act is designed to achieve politically.