Turning the tables on the cuts-makers

By Tim Saunders
November 18, 2010

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 against the planned massive hike in student fees. 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 with the same brush.

Jesus’ actions in the temple (when he overturned the tables of the money-changers) were similarly shocking to the establishment in his day – 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.

Initial signatories

Tim Saunders
Ceri Owen
Graham Martin
Rev Jeremy Clines (Anglican Chaplain to University of Sheffield)
Soo Tian Lee
Rev Ray Gaston
Tom O'Brien
Simon Barrow (Co-director of Ekklesia)
Tom Skinner

The Facebook page for the ‘Christian Statement of Solidarity with the Millbank Occupiers’ is at:

See also the Common Wealth statement of Christians for economic and social justice: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/CommonWealthStatement and http://commonwealthnetwork2010.blogspot.com/

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.