A Calais protest

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By Nick Coke

On Sunday I preached a sermon from the Old Testament prophet Amos. Standing before my congregation, they graciously listened as I wondered aloud how this unlettered, unqualified, shepherd from nowhere could pull off delivering such an angry howl of protest at the religious and political establishment of his time and still manage to have it remembered for millennia as part of the canon of scripture. His message has virtually no hope – a handful of verses at the very end promise a better day but for the most it’s wave after wave of finger-pointing, judgement, warning and lament. The reason it stands the test of time is that sometimes there are moments when all you can do is protest. Whilst protest does not provide the answer it certainly raises the question. Protest marks the moment of refusal to be comfortable with things as they are. It is the beginning of change but never the end.

Yesterday I went to the camp in Calais as part of an interfaith delegation. It was a troubling and disturbing day despite the powerful and humbling encounters I had with both the men and women in the camp and the inspiring people I journeyed with. I felt compelled to go. Not because I have the answers, or because I have anything to offer that would solve the problems but because I needed to narrow the distance between my own comfortable existence and the despairing, desperate situation taking place only 2 hours away from my family home. I felt the need to hear for myself, to listen to those living in the camp and to stand in solidarity with the suffering. I longed to make a gesture of common humanity – to shake hands, to share a conversation, to listen and to learn.

The conditions in the camp were all I expected and worse. The resilience of the people was all I imagined and more. Sometime soon, as I process things, I will be compelled to seek answers. But for now I choose to protest.

I protest that 6000 people living with rubbish and excrement is tolerated on our borders

I protest that it’s possible for us to live comfortably whilst such misery is close at hand

I protest that children walk in inadequate shoes amongst the filth

I protest that it ever drops off the front pages of our newspapers

I protest that babies live on the camp and winter is coming

I protest that young women live in such vulnerability

I protest at the circumstances that have led to this

I protest at the lack of political will for a solution

I protest at the hopelessness

I protest.

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