Passing by the York Against the War stall yesterday, I happened to witness something that really reminded me of the extent to which adults go so far in over-complicating politics. A child (probably about 10-12 I guess) approached, asking to sign a petition, did he have to pay to sign and did we know… (I forget the name).
Myself and the stall holders chuckled at the idea that one might charge to sign a petition (I wish, York Stop the Cuts needs to find about £50 in the next couple of weeks) – but its quite tragic that we have socialized our young into thinking they should be required to pay to have a voice. But this wasn’t the thing that caught my attention.
Referring to the name the child mentioned, the stall holder said “no, who are they?” – the child responded “Off the news”. We wondered if this was a newscaster or politician, the child said “the soldier” and one of those behind the stall remembered the name as a soldier recently killed in Afghanistan – yes, we had heard that name on the news. The reason this was relevant? “He’s my step-uncle”. We were stunned.
For many who claim to support the military (and often, those not very intimately connected with the people on the inside), its a common mantra that “calling for troops to leave Afghanistan dishonours those making a sacrifice”. The sentiment, born of futility – and also ignorance to troops’ real and complex feelings around the issue – says that we should go on loosing more soldiers in case we offend the memories of those who’ve already died.
This child clearly had a better idea. Soon, the coffin of his uncle will be repatriated, but to him, this makes the need to return the remaining troops more compelling. If the efforts of the troops is being degraded, it is the commands they are given, not people saying that they shouldn’t be there – those people seek only to prevent more needless death, injury and suffering. Once again, the child, through simple thinking, showed the best principles on the matter at hand.
The day after the war with Iraq broke out, I joined a protest at the door to Mill House on North Street. This rather inauspicious looking building is one of those used by Hugh Bayley MP as a constituency surgery – I have been there on more than one occasion for this purpose – but on this day, we had no appointment, just 40 people stood outside waiting for the arrival of our representative. When he arrived, he was escorted by a police officer – possibly a wise precaution in retrospect. There ensued a rather rowdy lobby session, in which several people attempted to facilitate the discussion and several others heckled on. But one question stuck with me:
Mr Bayley, 3 weeks ago you came to my school and talked in assembly. We asked you if you would vote for war, and you said you’d only vote if the UN said it was OK. Why did you still vote for war?”
It remains one of my most vivid recollections of those heady days, when I had barely begun my life as an activist. The simplicity of the question, the clarity of the logic behind it, the complete lack of obfuscation – a major part of “grown up politics” (see Lib Dem claims about their promise not to raise tuition fees) – the sheer simplicity of it all. The problem with such a question being asked by a Junior School kid is that one can’t really weasel out. Kids are terrible at taking no comment for an answer, everything should have an explanation, and it should make sense and follow basic principles. Hugh Bayley looked much more uncomfortable with this line of enquiry than the more technical attempts to trip him up from people who “knew the game”.
We make politics complicated, because we feel embarrassed, and we make it embarrassing because we know we keep applying double standards. We want fairness if it gets us somewhere, we want justice for ourselves, and we want to ignore our own hypocrisy at all costs. Jesus told his followers to have child-like faith, and I wonder if perhaps we need child-like, rather than childish, commitment to politics, with a real commitment to root out privilege and vested interests.