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Monday, 31 October 2011

conversations with the 'occupyers'

Over the last few weeks, I have visited the sites of several of the 'occupations against greed and poverty'. Birmingham, Edinburgh, and today, Bradford, my home town. Of course, all the attention has focused on 'Occupy London Stock Exchange', and the issues over how St Paul's Cathedral has responded to them. This has somewhat undermined that it is an international movement, with people taking part in over 900 cities so far.

In my conversations with participants and passers by, some overwhelming realisations are occurring. 1) unemployment is now affecting us all in one way or another. Many of the people, young and old, that I spoke to are out of work, and with no prospect of work. They want to work.

2) There is no respect for our banking institutions or for the way our governments have dealt with the financial sectors

3) Many people do not believe that this present government will change direction, and that protest, whilst important, will not change a thing.

These conversations with the folk coming up to these occupations are one of the most important aspects of the 'occupation' movement - giving people space to say how they feel. From them, we cannot help but realise that poverty is affecting more people than even grim government statistics admit to. It shows that people are fed up with policy being led by the needs of the financial and political elite. Finally, it tells us that people have no faith in our present forms of democracy.

There's a lot to change, a lot to do. Simply kicking out these camps will not solve the problem - the problems of poverty and political leadership will not go away so simply.

Let's not be sidetracked by the pronouncements from St Paul's Cathedrals, let us instead listen more intently to the conversations with the marginalised and disempowered. That is what Jesus would do.

Friday, 28 October 2011

God Bless Giles Fraser

Having just listened to Giles Fraser on a Guardian podcast, my heart goes out to him. He has lost not only his job, but his accommodation and the security for himself and his family. As a member of clergy I realise how difficult this is - all our jobs also come with a home and much support from a diocese.

So why was he prepared to give it all away? Ultimately, he knew that once the Church authorities 'green lighted' the police action to evict the protesters, violence is a likely outcome. He preferred a route of negotiation and sanctuary, and the City Corporation and the Mayor of London disagreed.

I was fascinated to hear him say that is was the biblical story that led him to this position. Firstly, he had to preach on the reading from Matthew of 'render unto Caesar', one that ultimately leads you to the conclusion that a person cannot serve both god and mammon (money). Secondly, he could picture the upcoming nativity season with a baby Jesus more likely to be born in the protest camp than the baroque cathedral of St Paul's.

Giles will be a stronger, more public voice than ever before. People will listen more attentively when he appears on Radio 4's 'Thought for the Day'. Thank God for that, as we will need more outspoken voices from the clergy as the moral issues arising from the 'rule by the few' become more and more painful for the ordinary people of the UK. The Church of England needs to speak out on behalf of the wide spectrum of UK citizens, it needs to always remember that we are not here to prop up the rule of the political and financial elites. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A dead Sirte

Sirte has been a horrendous battle, in which the death toll may well run into many thousands. The city, still full of civilians, was pounded by NATO planes, then pummelled by heavy artillery fire. Whatever the Western media may think of them, the towns defenders have shown incredible resistance to the firepower leashed upon them.

The struggle for Libya has ended the hope I have had for the Arab Spring. After Tunisia and Egypt, one could genuinely feel that people power, despite overwhelming odds, could non-violently change society for the better.

Could that have happened in Libya? Perhaps in Libya, like in Syria and Bahrain, the well armed state could ultimately always repel the peoples desire for change. I'm not sure now if these countries could ever have had a successful people's revolution.

But what I do know, is that by blasting Sirte and several other pro-Gaddafi cities into oblivion, and by the death of up to 50,000 Libyans in the civil war so far - the future does not bode well. The new government is facing accusations of widespread torture and corruption. It seems to have made extraordinary oil related financial deals based on Western military support. This is not a good way to kick start a democracy.

Occupy against Greed!

The wave of occupations against greed that have sprung up since the first 'occupation against Wall Street', are heartening indeed.

They come out of a simple truth; we are fed up of being ruled by the interests of a tiny capitalist elite. The 1%, made up of corporations, bankers, financiers, political elites, should not be able to rule over the interests of the other 99%.

As modern day capitalism continues to squeeze the living conditions of the bulk of working people, and drive to destitution some of the most vulnerable in society, we need to collectively say 'enough is enough'.

We need politicians both locally and nationally to represent the needs of the people, not just those who can pull the financial strings.

Let us see this movement grow. We must do whatever we can to build a society based on the needs of the many, not the greed of the few.