Draft Statement on Millbank Occupation

Friday, 12th November 2010 at 12:20 UTC 25 comments

I’ve been asked to write something for a Christian website with a radical edge on how we as radical Christians see the Millbank Occupation and the ensuing media furore. This is not a perfect finished draft, and its written in plural where currently it only has my endorsement. If you’re interested in signing (which would obviously imply you have affinity with the Christian faith) please get in touch. Several parts are based on comments from the ad-hoc group in question.

We are writing this as a group of Christians because we want to challenge some of the assumptions being promoted by the media concerning the outpouring of anger during the recent NUS and UCU-led demonstration. Through our own experiences, past and recent, we wish to challenge reporting of the situation that has sought to divide protesters into good and bad.

The coverage has consistently presented the violence of a very small minority as worse than that of the Coalition Government, and also tried to tar all who entered the courtyards and buildings of Millbank Tower on Wednesday with the same brush.

Jesus’ actions in the temple were similarly shocking to the establishment – and though we cannot and should not claim God’s carte blanche blessing on these actions, we feel it more Christ-like to stand up for those being singled out and vilified for taking a stand than to passively accept the state’s condemnation of them.

We condemn violence against human beings, but the pacifism we support is not the idealistic liberalism that stands passive against injustice or the peace brought by the truncheon and surveillance, but a pacifism that upholds justice. The Pax Britannica that the Metropolitan Police supposedly failed to maintain is built on domination and injustice, and no more represents our vision of the Kingdom than the actions of the acute minority like the person who threw the fire extinguisher from the roof.

However, those who called for such actions to stop whilst continuing to hold their ground in the building are to be commended for their re-envisioning of the space. This is the real unreported story – how hundreds managed to differentiate between forcing their way into a building highly symbolic of the holding of power by an unjust elite, and the need to remain mindful of the potential for useless human suffering.

In this crack – between those who pride themselves on behaving ineffectively and those who let rage overcome them, lies the real story hope in the situation. Had people not spoken out from within the crowd, we believe more items would have been thrown and more injuries would have occurred. In this sense, the crowd was not acting out of pure malice.

We also wish to point out that 20 injuries is still relatively low given the situation, and that similar numbers have been reported during peaceful protests where far fewer protesters have been involved, such as the Kingsnorth Climate Camp where some of us ran a cafe in August 2007. And we condemn reporting that equates window breaking and the injuring of humans as being equal – life is more important than wealth.

Many who took part in the march did so not because of, but despite the views of the NUS, who are currently pushing for a graduate tax that would have little effect on defending the moral fibre of our educational institutions. Some want free education, some want fees to be frozen and some agree with the NUS’ support for graduate tax. Many came because, without the Education Maintenance Allowance between 16 and 18, there is no way they could even make it to University. These are just a few of the disparate views represented in the marchers. To say that the march was hijacked ignores the fact that student’s voices are often hijacked by those with an eye on a seat in a future Labour cabinet.

We wish to condemn the violence of the few. Not of the few protesters who were ultimately restrained by a crowd eager to show active confrontation without needless violence, but of the few in our society who are seeking to re-arrange life along the lines of neo-liberalism, focusing wealth into fewer and fewer hands and destroying the future of an entire generation of ordinary people.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Faith, Media, News, Peace, Politics.

Cuts or Taxes? As the dust settles on Millbank

25 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Simon  |  Friday, 12th November 2010 at 14:17 UTC

    Graham I like it – although I won’t sign it as it stands because of the commitment to pacifism. One point of accuracy, the march was lead by the UCU as well as the NUS. The media portrayal of it as a ‘student protest’ is designed to tap into prejudices. In actual fact, a lot of education workers were there.

    Reply
  • 2. Tim  |  Friday, 12th November 2010 at 15:48 UTC

    Two possible points:
    – Add a sentence directly pointing out how the media talks about damage to a building is the precise same terms it talks about violence against people, which is unacceptable.
    – Maybe more explicit that it was because of the crowd’s reaction that no more stuff was thrown?

    Reply
  • 3. Rob Telford  |  Saturday, 13th November 2010 at 0:23 UTC

    The difference was that Jesus didn’t smash any windows, and he certainly didn’t endanger anyone’s life by lobbing things from a great height. (As far as we know…!) He got out a whip and got people to leave the temple. What else? We simply don’t know. I wish we did.

    But this is exactly why I don’t go to London demonstrations. You don’t know who’s going to turn up to turn the right-wing media sour on the whole thing, and cause you to have leave or stay with the protest. Sad but true, but this protest won’t really help to change the government’s mind. (That’s the gaping hole we have in our democracy – the government simply never HAS to listen.)

    Those involved will be changed psychologically, and that made it a good thing to do, certainly.

    Reply
    • 4. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 2:48 UTC

      He certainly would have caused quite a bit of damage by tipping tables laden with goods over. This protest was definitely a turning point, the question is which way we will end up heading as a result. And I’ve never left a London protest because of someone else’s actions, not even the one where people kept shouting “We are all Hezbollah” and heck, that drove me up the wall. I don’t walk away from riots unless I have good reason to, because there are always people in need around them and so I tend to spend my time turning round pushchairs, directing medics and generally doing welfare stuff. There’s plenty to be done when shit kicks off that doesn’t involve walking away. In this case, I was in the wrong place – God has his reasons I’m sure.

      Reply
  • 5. Tom  |  Saturday, 13th November 2010 at 19:18 UTC

    “We also wish to point out that 20 injuries is still relatively low given the situation”

    This argument is the intellectual equivalent of saying, “well, yea I punched him once, but at least I didn’t shoot him”. It is a really disgusting argument to make after preaching from an ivory tower about how you are committed to pacifism. Is something that is wrong measured against how much worse it could have been? There should be no words here. You sound like a teenager making an exuse to his parents about hitting his brother – “YEA well at least I didn’t……….”

    “like the person who threw the fire extinguisher from the roof”

    THis statement would have more impact if you could stand up with fiercer criticism against this individual. When is anyone arguing for the occupation going to make their arguement seem more convining to the reasonable by actually saying “this moron should be in prison, not just for a short while, but for ATTEMPTED MURDER” – if the person is too stupid to know that a fire extinguisher can kill or cause brain damsage then he should be locked away and labelled insane.

    “Jesus’ actions in the temple”

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not draw comparison between the actions (whether justified or not) and Jesus. I am fed up of the What Would Jesus Do generation self justifying by claiming Jesus is with them. If you are not doing so then why even mention Jesus. This is only just a little more infuriating than someone who I read who compared their actions to the ANC. Such comparison is ludicrous and shows the delusional nature of many of the protestors in terms of the seriousnous of their cause. The cause is important but DO NOT compare it to Jesus and do not compare it to much more serious historical issues.

    Reply
    • 6. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 2:40 UTC

      I, for one, don’t think he should be tried for attempted murder, and I really don’t think it will stand up in court, at least past the first appeal – please stop baying for blood, its almost as if this is becoming a competition to see who can shout the loudest, without letting us move back to discussing the actions of the 2000ish who didn’t, but who took a stand. And you don’t label someone insane unless they have been proven such by a qualified doctor. End of.
      This ANC comparison you mention, well, yes, sure, stop overstating it, but at the same time, I’m not even sure I fully understand the enormity of the plans this government has for Britain. When the country has been stripped of all its assets and the richest tier have all moved safely to foreign climes and then capital flight kicks in and we’re left with nothing – will we look back and wonder whether stopping the fees rise wasn’t more important than we ever imagined?
      The number of injuries point is not the strongest, and it wasn’t my request that it be put in. No joint statement is absolutely perfectly geared towards the group, but the general guist is that this was not an especially bad outcome – the Climate Camp in the City on April 1st had more injuries, and that was considered a peaceful protest.

      Reply
      • 7. Tom  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 11:55 UTC

        I would like you to clarify your thoughts on a question:

        Is there a difference between throwing a fire extinguisher down into a crowd and firing a bullet with your eyes closed in a room full of people?

        In terms of potential damage the answer is clearly no. The law is more flexible than you make out and such cases can be built. I would like to guess that you are not from a legal background and have had a stab in the dark to try and hush the point.

        It is not about “baying for blood”… if someone fired the aforementioned bullet there would be a consequence and rightly so. It is about justice and creating a society in which there is a consequence for those who would seek to harm others.

        The insane comment was clearly not meant to be taken literally.

        I should say – I broadly agree with the need to protest and do not mind vandalism. Something has to be done to stop this government. However I do not like the idea of saying Jesus is with us as we are doing it.

      • 8. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 14:11 UTC

        I know enough legal stuff to pull you up on the intent point! Yes, I’m only trained as a legal observer and protester rights trainer, but I do a fair bit of reading on these issues.

      • 9. Tom  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 17:17 UTC

        You missed the point though – proving intent could go either way. How do you prove the gunman who shot someone intended to kill or not? If his arguement was he shot the gun in a room full of people and it could have killed and it might not of, then he is an idiot.

        Of course the guy knew he could killl someone – so how can you prove he did not intend it any more than you can prove that he did. He should know he could kill someone as he through it and therefore he should be treated as attempting murder.

      • 10. Tom  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 17:18 UTC

        *threw – i know, typing quickly

  • 11. JenC  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 15:58 UTC

    It is interesting that people who make a public stand against injustice seem to get the most grief not from their political opponents, but from the people who do nothing. People who will happily prioritise their personal safety and a string of flimsy excuses above the call of their own conscience.

    ” But this is exactly why I don’t go to London demonstrations. You don’t know who’s going to turn up to turn the right-wing media sour on the whole thing”

    You don’t protest because you don’t want to upset the right wing media?

    Oh, that’s ok then! Lets just do *nothing* in case the nasty mean paper men say horrible things about us. Lets sit by and watch poor people become homeless, the sick become destitute, and the hungry become even weaker in a land of plenty.

    I would argue that if you aren’t causing a moral outrage in the right wing press, then you probably aren’t protesting hard enough.

    The clue is in the name. They’re right wing papers! They are looking for any excuse to tarnish a protest against the very people who bankroll their media group. Lets not forget how financially entwined the conservative government and the Murdoch news group are. I would rather be slandered by a poisoned pen than give them nothing to write about.

    And as for Jesus….whether or not he actually smashed stuff in the temple, he most certainly called his followers, again and again, to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

    Matthew 25:41-46 is a pretty unequivocal example:

    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    If we can just stand by and let our brothers and sisters be suffocated by these unjust economic and social policies, then we are not doing Gods work on this earth.

    Jesus might not have lobbed a fire extinguisher, but you can be damn sure he wouldn’t have sat around, tutting at the TV, whilst his people were brutally oppressed.

    Reply
    • 12. Tom  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 17:21 UTC

      It is funny how the self-righteous presume that someone who has made a comment does not actively engage in standing up for the most vulnerable.

      Jesus also said something about judging other people. I HATE PEOPLE USING JESUS TO VALIDATE THERE OWN SENSE OF SUPERIORITY AND MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS.

      Reply
    • 13. Greg  |  Monday, 15th November 2010 at 0:42 UTC

      Jen, IIRC the Telegraph were quite supportive of the 2002 countryside alliance protest, so I’d hesitate to blame it all on kneejerk reactions by that great ogre, ‘the right wing press’.

      Secondly, I’m not saying I support the tuition fee changes but you can hardly label students paying tuition fees as “the most vulnerable in society”.

      Reply
  • 14. Chris  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 17:26 UTC

    Just wanted to say that an occupation of Tory party HQ is clearly a legitimate strategy given the vicious cuts being imposed. The numbers of old people who will die as a result of public provision being cut; the kids living in shoddy accomodation that die in house fires as the preventative work of the fire service is cut; the suicides and breakdowns as mental health provision is slashed; the breakdown of communities as at least 500,000 jobs are lost across the country. Whilst never justifying the acts of mindless idiots who direct violence against people, we must not shirk from using direct action and occupations as part of our stand against injustice. The thousands who non-violently occupied Millbank HQ and the space around it need to be applauded.

    Reply
  • 15. JenC  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 17:36 UTC

    Lol. I don’t think Jesus was dead keen on phrases that began ‘I hate people….’ but there I go, being self righteous again.

    Well I’m not fond of people who need to resort to shouting and insults to make a point, but that’s so often what ends up happening when their line of argument is so insubstantial….

    Jx

    Reply
    • 16. Tom  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 18:33 UTC

      “I hate people” and “I hate people using” are two completely different statements. The fact you have to twist my words is manipulative and suggests you have not got much basis to argue back.

      Can you not think of any statements in which it would be appropriate to say “I hate people….” followed by a verb. The hatred is focussed on the verb. It is very clear that Jesus Hated certain activities.

      I think an apology is necessary in this case. Or at the very least an explanation of what you were getting at

      There is no insult there is no shout. Tone is created by the reader. The use of capital letters is to highlight my intense dislike of anyone claiming Jesus in such a way.

      Reply
    • 17. Sophie  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 18:54 UTC

      @JenC

      I want to speak up because both your posts are horrific.

      It does seem in your original statement you are implying that because someone does not subscribe to your method of reaching out to or serving the most vulnerable 1) They are not doing at all, 2) Their arguments are not worthy of attention 3) You did attend the rally and are very smug about it and will look down on those who have chosen another option.

      It has the appearance that you are saying the King of Matthew 25 will not speak to Rob in the way mentioned in the passage – otherwise why use the passage? (I hope you can answer my questions rather than how you treated Tom). How do you know that Rob has not devoted his life, possessions and time to serving the vulnerable in another way? You really really do seem judgmental. Who are you to imply that God might not say this to Rob? And I presume that you feel satisfied that you have met the King’s requirements (or again why else would you quote the passage?)?

      I have sympathy with Tom in that you really do frame him with something he does not say. You really do have to answer his charge of “manipulation”. He is right about that. It does not reflect well on you in your defense which did not really address his points.

      Reply
    • 18. Greg  |  Monday, 15th November 2010 at 0:47 UTC

      “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

      http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Malachi%201:2-3&version=NIV

      Reply
  • 19. JenC  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 19:08 UTC

    I need not apologise as I did not twist your words. I cannot imagine Jesus beginning a sentence saying ‘I hate people’ whether or not it was followed by a verb.

    I think God is love, pure love. I don’t really think hate comes into it. It is the hatred that is un- Christlike – not who, or what it is directed at.

    Renounce evil, yes. Decry evil, yes. But hatred? Nah, I think Jesus was a bit beyond all that.

    And as to ‘tone being created by the reader.’ Please. Capital letters have been used to convey shouting in online discussion forums since the old email lists of the 1990s.

    If you’re going to misuse a common convention don’t act surprised if people interpret you in a way you didn’t intend. Language works because it is a system of rules, not something that every reader interprets individually.

    ‘Death of the author’ theories have been widely discredited in all but the most basic level of literary studies. The work of Barthes is now most widely used as an example in BA literature degrees of an outmoded and crude literary theory rather than as a credible way of analysing a text.

    Again, I return to my point about insubstantial arguments and I most certainly do not apologise.

    Reply
  • 20. Tom  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 20:05 UTC

    There are numerous examples of God “hating” evil – with the same root verb to hate in the Hebrew. In fact in proverbs we are instructed to hate evil (8:13). In fact in Romans we are told to “abhor evil”. Ideas of justice are based on the principle of hatred – I have hatred for injustice.

    The argument cannot be made that the term has been mistranslated into English, this is simply not true. It seems again that who you imagine you would like Jesus to be has trumped actual descriptions of him. The key word in your post is “I think”. A better method would have been refer to scripture as you readily did earlier.

    You are also guilty of a little bit of hypocrisy – what was your argument that was so substantial other than to belittle Rob and suggest he was not of your lofty standard. You then did not engage in the criticisms of your own argument. You comment on how unsubstantial other arguments are, and this is ironically your entire argument.

    I would also suggest that your dislike of being insulted or shouted at is ‘rich’ in the extreme in that you entered the whole debate by attacking Rob in the way that you did.

    Sorry that I was not in line with blogging convention, thank you for educating me.

    Reply
  • 21. Tom  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 20:06 UTC

    There are numerous examples of God “hating” evil – with the same root verb to hate in the Hebrew. In fact in proverbs we are instructed to hate evil (8:13). In fact in Romans we are told to “abhor evil”. Ideas of justice are based on the principle of hatred – I have hatred for injustice.

    The argument cannot be made that the term has been mistranslated into English, this is simply not true. It seems again that who you imagine you would like Jesus to be has trumped actual descriptions of him. The key word in your post is “I think”. A better method would have been refer to scripture as you readily did earlier.

    You are also guilty of a little bit of hypocrisy – what was your argument that was so substantial other than to belittle Rob and suggest he was not of your lofty standard. You then did not engage in the criticisms of your own argument. You comment on how unsubstantial other arguments are, and this is ironically your entire argument.

    I would also suggest that your dislike of being insulted or shouted at is ‘rich’ in the extreme in that you entered the whole debate by attacking Rob in the way that you did.

    Sorry that I was not in line with blogging convention, thank you for educating me.

    Reply
  • 22. OwenC  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 20:07 UTC

    Great article Graham – and I say that as a ‘non-believer’.

    I particularly like the points about equating windows with people’s lives – I presume you have seen this:

    http://triflingoffence.blogspot.com/2010/11/national-day-of-mourning-declared-for.html?spref=fb

    I also agree with you on the graduate tax idea – which seems to be the policy of both Labour and the NUS (but then aren’t they the same thing?).

    The graduate tax idea still accepts a view that education is just about the future wage of the person being educated – education should not be about this, especially not at University level. Higher Education is about changing you as a person, opening your mind, giving you skills of critical analysis and original thinking – not all of these things can be measured and they certainly do not always lead to the ability to make more money (often quite the opposite!).

    A very narrow, utilitarian logic has caused funding to be pulled form those subjects which do not make money (Classics, Philosophy, ancient History, etc etc). This was going on under Labour and is now continued under the ConDems. I’m sorry (and yet not surprised) to say that Labour don’t seem to have changed their overall philosophy on the purpose of education.

    I’ll leave you with this:

    We get no good
    By being ungenerous, even to a book,
    And calculating profits … so much help
    By so much reading. It is rather when
    We gloriously forget ourselves, and plunge
    Soul-forward, headlong, into a book’s profound,
    Impassion’d for its beauty and salt of truth—
    ’T is then we get the right good from a book.’

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1856)

    Reply
  • 23. JenC  |  Sunday, 14th November 2010 at 20:19 UTC

    you are welcome.

    🙂

    Jx

    Reply
  • 24. JenC  |  Monday, 15th November 2010 at 11:47 UTC

    Horrific?

    Lordy lord – if that’s your idea of true horror you don’t know you’re born.

    You people need to get more…..

    Jx

    Reply
    • 25. JenC  |  Monday, 15th November 2010 at 11:49 UTC

      …..get out more! (it should read)

      although some more of the other might not go amiss either, come to think about it!

      Jx

      Reply

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