WITH THREE PRIME MINISTERS, a disastrous budget, a cost of living crisis and a wave of strikes, 2022 has been a year of unprecedented political failure. Understandably, few people now look to elected politicians for hope or inspiration.
But in communities across the land, active citizens are coming to the fore, often not so much leading as empowering their colleagues and neighbours. And just as politicians seem increasingly motivated by personal gain, these people are ready and willing to sacrifice not just money but if necessary, their liberty, in pursuit of a better, fairer way for people and the planet.
Making the headlines at the moment are the trade unionists. Whilst politicians rarely give a straight answer to a simple question, union officials have excelled at stating the case on behalf of their members in a clear, factual, and unapologetic way. Most notable of these has been Mick Lynch of the RMT, but colleagues like Dave Ward of the CWU and Pat Cullen of the RCN have also risen admirably to the challenge. Whilst government ministers attempt to turn workers against each other, these trade unionists have demonstrated that the public will respond to a just cause argued in a plain and rational manner, and so have gained far more public support for the strikes than the government might have expected.
And of course, the reason we have so many strikes is the rising cost of living coupled with the exploitation of workers, the ongoing erosion of their wages, terms and conditions. We know that growing poverty and destitution is not inevitable or unavoidable, it’s a political choice. As Oxfam has pointed out, what we face is not so much a cost of living crisis as a cost of profits crisis, with food and energy companies making more money now than ever before. So, while many good people are responding to the most urgent needs with charity, what is really required to bring an end to this unnecessary misery is justice. In the UK, trade unionists and people like Sabine Goodwin of the Independent Food Aid Network have been tirelessly speaking truth to power, delivering the message that what cold and hungry people really need are not warm banks and food parcels, but the dignity of an adequate income which allows them to buy their own food and pay their own bills.
But instead of tackling this systemic injustice, our government tries to distract us and evade responsibility by scapegoating and dehumanising people who have lost everything and are seeking sanctuary in the UK. In contrast to this malice and meanness of spirit from the powerful, ’ordinary’ citizens have stepped up to honour our common humanity – with never a thought for personal gain. When RNLI volunteers and fishing boat crews see people in peril they react as one human being to another. They don’t ask where they come from or what right they have to be here, they simply respond in the most practical and human way possible. Just this month, as tragedy unfolded in the Channel, a fishing boat owner described how his boat’s crew responded to survivors: “They got them in the hot shower, warmed them up, the crews got their own clothes on them, fed them with their food.”
And of course, what increasingly lies at the heart of poverty and desperation around the world is the climate crisis – not something to be feared in the future, but happening right now. Sooner or later, none of us will escape its impacts.
Condemned by some for extremism, the actions of climate activists seem entirely proportionate to the scale of the existential threat we face. They have shown extraordinary courage and selflessness. Many Christians have felt compelled by their faith to join them, and have willingly accepted the consequences of arrest and even imprisonment. Alice Brencher, a member of Christian Climate Action who has been arrested twice for her activities with Just Stop Oil says: “I cannot preach justice and not participate in this movement of climate, social, racial and economic justice…As Antonio Guterrez said after the latest IPCC report, “climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing fossil fuels.”
In an online Advent talk, Ben Wood highlighted that fact that over 2000 years ago the good news of Christmas came first to the shepherds, whose modern equivalents would be insecure workers in the gig economy. As political leadership fails us, we should look to each other, and to the least privileged amongst us, for the compassion which will save us and the truth which will set us free. And when we find it, we must support and amplify it in any way we can.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. Her latest book is Illness, Disability and Caring: A Bible study for individuals and groups (DLT, 2020). Her latest articles can be found here. Past columns (up to 2020) are archived here. You can follow Bernadette on Twitter: @BernaMeaden