It was not only the awful events we have seen that have made this a week for condemnation and some serious reflection. The riot of foolish and hot-headed responses that have flooded newspapers, the airwaves and social networking sites has also been haunting me. I've been ashamed to see even my own peers spitting bile devoid of reason, love and wisdom. If we are seriously interested in making life in Britain better, safer and fairer for everyone as well as ourselves, we need to look beyond the necessary punishment of those guilty of the thuggery and criminality of the past week and ask difficult questions about what is going on out there to make this happen and what can be done about it. That's not easy, because it ultimately will mean we all have to make a change. Society must recalibrate its values, root out prejudices and vested interests and reorder its priorities. There is, let's face it, sadly little appetite for that. Asking questions about the social, political and economic context in which events occur is not the activity of apologists, it is the activity of the intelligent. Unrest, no matter how it manifests itself, is always in some way an expression of deeper social problems, tensions and frustration. We should be worried that our government and some in our communities want us to believe that this unrest was the exception to that rule. Do not be fooled. Britain, like many other countries, is a nation still deeply divided by race and wealth. This has been brewing for years and it will bubble over again unless we all show a willingness to make society fairer. What can us small fry do? Demand change. Demand better from our government. We need serious, sustained and open-minded solutions to inner-city deprivation, not token gestures, heavier policing and cuts to youth services and education benefits. There is of course much for the communities themselves to do, but they need help - and the right kind of help. We need a greater willingness to let go of some of our own privileges so that others can rise. A fairer playing field. A chance. We are either a nation of brothers and sisters or a wasteland of strangers and rivals. Fixing this is possible, if we want to fix it. We have come so far, why leave so many behind us? It will only come back to bite us. Let's take this opportunity to change our own lives for the better. To do the little we can to change the bigger picture. If money, fear or greed is in anyway your god, upgrade it to kindness. Reflect, don't lash out. Reach out, don't build walls around you. Love, don't fear. Give, don't hoard. If there is someone you know going astray, place a steady hand on their shoulder. Talk to the kids, hear their grievances, don't cross the street. Forgive, don't seek vengeance. Set an example. Be brave. Love spreads. If governments and corporations continue to refuse to take responsibility, if they refuse to accept there are deep flaws within their long-term economic policies and the way they selectively manage our communities, if our millionaire ministers don't want to see that there are obviously simple and cheap ways to make the situation better, we can still all act. Each of us. Don't let the lessons from this week fade unheeded. Don't be the lynch mob. Be part of the solution. Love is a powerful force. Be a force in your community. Be love, and peace will follow. Speak out for love. We urgently need more voices. Maintain high pressure. Organise.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Let love inspire our response to the riots
For what it's worth, we want to send our thoughts and prayers to those who have lost loved ones this week, those who have lost their livelihoods and those who are injured. It's been a depressing and shocking week. I hope it will inspire positive change in all of us, rather than a more repressive, divided, unfair and violent society, which is what I fear will arise from these ashes. On Monday night, I was dispatched to Peckham to report on the riots and looting that had just started to flare again across London. I walked nervously towards the town centre through increasingly uneasy streets. Everyone was, sensibly, going the other way. I could smell burning, like the air was on fire. People were boarding up windows. Sirens... And then the noise. Peckham was exploding. Youths ripping a neighbourhood to shreds, jeering as rocks, fireworks and bottles span through the air and shops were ransacked, buses on fire, buildings smouldering, thieves kicking the shit out of glass fronts and marching off with televisions and clothes to cheers and applause. There was wild anger - as well as some kind of mangled organisation - amongst the adventure. Menace. Chaos. The worst of humanity. The outnumbered police tried to charge small pockets of the mob, but gradually backed off and just let the madness unfold. It was difficult to keep safe, one camera crew got mugged, a photographer had to flee after getting spotted. He tried to joke about it but these were serious times. I kept my notepad and phone out of sight and did my best to blend into the crowd of morbid spectators who were half-cowering in the shadows. Eventually, having filed short reports to the office, I peeled away, exhausted by what I had seen and heard, the memory of a panic-stricken young man repeating as I got on a train at New Cross Gate - he was petrified that it wouldn't stop. That this was just the beginning. I was worried about that too. I still am. I'm a political and economics correspondent in my non-musical life these days and the last time I saw anything comparable with this was in South America, where I was working as a hard news reporter in Guyana. Britain is certainly not Guyana and the riots there were far more overtly political in nature, but there was a similar backdrop - deep inequality, corruption and greed, a depressed economy, hopelessness, joblessness and bad relations between the poor and the police. I'd love to report that even those riots forced politicians and society to learn lessons and to make Guyana a fairer place for all. I can't give you that happy ending. If anything, from what I hear, things have just got worse for the downtrodden and crime is on the increase. This week's unrest may not have been as obviously political but we dismiss it at our peril. The mob may not be fighting for the most basic of freedoms or democratic rights, but that does not mean there was not a desperate voice screaming at us from behind the gangs, the ballerinas and the flames. In post-recession Britain, there is an increasingly visible divide between the haves and the have-nots. One set of rules for the bankers, pop and sport stars and politicians and another set of rules for the ghetto. But also a flood of less obvious flaws in the system that make it harder for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead in life, while the wealthier in society often take their opportunities for granted and even lecture from afar those who fail to break through the endless glass ceilings. Poverty breeds crime. Inequality breeds violence. Do not listen to those who will tell you otherwise. Putting this all down to a lack of a backbone or discipline and bad parenting is as unhelpful as it is heartless. Strong arm tactics and talking tough will not work. There are deep, deep problems in the way we live our lives and the way our society functions. When society breaks down like this, we must all take a good look at ourselves and our values, as well as government policies and our economic structures. Our children, even those who run riot, are a reflection of their society, a reflection of us. Moments like this offer us a chance to change things for the better. We must try to seize it before it is too late.