Solidarity

Guest post by Tom Underwood

The 14th of February 2016 marks the fifth anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in the kingdom of Bahrain. Whilst the Arab Spring movement in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya made headlines the small island of Bahrain remained mainly under the radar despite the fierce crackdown on peaceful protest.

I first came across Bahrain through meetng the Bahraini human rights activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Sayed was one of hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors (according to his own estimation about forty percent of the population) calling for democracy and an end to discrimination against the Shia’s by the ruling Sunni royal family. Thesayed response from government authorities was brutal. Sayed was severally beaten leaving a permanent scar across his forehead. He was imprisoned for six months during which time he was regularly beaten, sexually harassed and tortured. Finally, he was given two choices; stay in Bahrain and remain in prison or leave the country he loves. In July 2012 he claimed asylum in the UK.

Unfortunately, Sayed’s experiences are not unique and human rights abuses continue to be prevalent in Bahrain. In a recent article about the five year anniversary of the uprising James Lynch from Amnesty International writes, “Today in Bahrain, anyone who dares to criticise the authorities – whether a human rights defender or political activist – risks punishment.”

Despite all of this British arms sales to Bahrain have increased significantly during the past five years. Sayed first became aware of this link between the UK and Bahrain when after being attacked with tear gas he collected up the canisters and found that they were all made in the UK. Over the past five years the UK has sold arms worth £45 million to Bahrain. This doesn’t include the impact of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia who were brought in to crush peaceful demonstrations by the Bahraini government.

arms fairIMG_1732In September 2015 I joined with others to protest outside the Excel Centre in East London as it hosted DSEI, the largest arms fair in the world. On that day Sayed was one of many international speakers, all from countries where the UK sells arms despite oppressive human rights regimes. Many of these speakers used the word ‘solidarity’ to describe the impact of us standing alongside them in their struggle for human rights.

The word ‘solidarity’ has tricky connotations in the UK, conjuring up images of Citizen Smith and Che Guevara berets. Outside of Catholic social teaching Christendom has not embraced the word despite the positivity of it’s message of unity and support. However, at the centre of Christianity is the incarnation, God’s declaration of solidarity with the world. God does not stand separate from creation but physically enters into the messiness of flesh and blood, standing with us, close to us and part of us. This is what ‘solidarity’ means for us as Christians. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind.”

Within this quote I’m struck by the phrase “Bearing the sorrows of others,” as a beautiful realisation of solidarity. Just as the incarnation is physical so too this idea of solidarity must be physical for us and lead us away from ‘clicktavism’ and ‘best wishes’ to a muscular activism where we stand, protest, and march with Sayed and others recognising that through the incarnation God has made us brothers of all mankind.

Profile picTom Underwood teaches young people with autism and writes plays about peace. He is currently writing about peace activism and arms trade activists.  He worships at Raynes Park Community Church and tweets @tomcunderwood

When The Salvation Army took risks and why it matters

By Nick Coke

We all love a bit of Salvation Army history don’t we? When I was doing some research for the first chapter of ‘Marching Towards Justice’ I learnt a few details about Salvation Army justice-seeking I hadn’t known – you’ll have to read it to see what I found out! More recently I received a short book in the post from my brother-in-law entitled ‘Social Evils The Army Has Challenged’. Written by S Carvosso Gauntlett in 1946, it tells seven stories of how The Salvation Army went about challenging the status quo and bringing about social change. The writer takes us from Britain to Japan, India and French Guiana covering a period from 1880-1933. This blog is too short to share everything but what comes across throughout is the role risk-taking plays in order to bring change.

In the foreword, General Carpenter, writes:220px-General_George_Carpenter

‘William Booth was by no means opposed to, in fact welcomed, the plans for social improvement based on Education, Trade Unions, Co-operation, Socialism and so on; in fact, almost anything short of violent revolution.’

Seems to me that back in the day our forebears didn’t see the possibility of social change as a mere hope or dream but rather a reality that was eminently possible with the right approach. There was a confidence that came with personal conviction, spiritual power and a collective commitment to the cause. It also appears that because of this, taking risks was simply a natural part of the process required to achieve just and righteous ends.

Take the ‘Maiden Tribute’ Campaign, for example, or as it was known in the 1880s – The Purity Agitation (I love that!). This was the fight to force the British government to raise the age of sexual consent as a protection for trafficked and abused children. Bramwell and Florence Booth who spear-headed the campaign did so from the grassroots. Twenty-three year old Florence, the pioneer leader of women’s social services, was so outraged by the stories she heard at the home for rescued women in Whitechapel that she encouraged her husband to go and find out for himself what was happening. So, the chief of staff, took to wandering in certain neighbourhoods in disguise ‘wading’ as he put it ‘through a sea of sin and defilement’. At the end of his listening campaign he concluded:

‘No matter what the consequences might be, I would do all I could to stop those abominations, to rouse public opinion, to agitate for an improvement of the law.’

bramwellHe was as good as his word. The remarkable campaign that followed with help from reformer Josephine Butler, journalist W T Stead and Salvationists up and down the land brought about a change in the law. The campaign involved the publishing of shocking stories in the press, a 2 mile long petition delivered to the door of parliament and the buying of a child. Yes, that’s buying a child – to prove it could be done in London for £5. The result of that action was a date in court for Bramwell. After a 12 day trial that held the attention of the country, he was acquitted, although Stead was jailed for 3 months. At the time many feared it would be the end of The Salvation Army with the Founder’s Son and Chief of Staff in the dock of the Central Criminal Court. And yet as Bramwell later reflected when General:

‘The trial did the Army a great deal of good. It made us known, and put us at one stroke in the very front rank of those who were contending for the better treatment of the lost and the poor… Our work for women was greatly furthered… We knew…. that the Queen followed the proceedings with great concern and sympathy. The case opened doors for us also in the overseas dominions and in the US.’

All this makes me wonder what place risk-taking has in our cause of justice-seeking today? A risk-averse culture will help us to maintain the status-quo and keep our friends happy but it won’t bring about change. It occurs to me that we have as much to lose by not taking risks as we do by taking them. When we stay silent on an issue that we really should be speaking up about then we become complicit with the wrong itself. That may not damage our brand but I wonder what it does to our souls? I want to admit here to longing for some of that confidence from the early days – a confidence in the spiritual power to overcome ‘social evils’ of our time, to ‘stop abominations, to rouse public opinion, and to agitate for an improvement of the law.’ Lord, give us a vision for your kingdom here on earth, motivate us to action and remove our fear. Amen.

Theology and justice – not sure what to read? Try some of these books

Reading-booksBy Sam Tomlin

For the last year so or, a group of mainly South London Citizens members have been gathering every 2-3 months at William Booth College for a reading group looking at theology, community organising and justice. It has been an immensely enriching experience and a chance to look in a bit more detail at some of our collective heroes of the faith and unpack their motivations, influences, agitational activity, frustrations and reliance on God.

On a personal level I have learnt a huge amount both from reading the books and the discussion with other members of Citizens institutions at the different discussion groups. Three things in particular stand out to mention briefly: Continue reading “Theology and justice – not sure what to read? Try some of these books”

Top tips for Salvation Army Officers moving appointment

A matchfactory exclusive!  As Salvation Army Officer appointments in the UK are made public today, we’ve consulted some battle-hardened officers, seasoned in the art of justice-seeking, to offer some top tips for the Officer who is moving appointment and wants to be ready to get going quickly.  There’s some tips in there that might be relevant even if you’re not moving, and even if you’re not an Officer!

They are in no priority order – some can be done before, some when you’re there.  In any case, soak up the wisdom of what they’ve got to say!

  1. Check out who the MP is for your new corps (and quarters in case they’re different!) at this website.
  2. Email the MP to arrange a one to one meeting on your arrival for the purpose of developing a public, trust-based relationship
  3. Same as above for local councillors
  4. Same as above for key reporters at the local paper
  5. Check whether the constituency is a marginal seat (if so, please get in touch with us as we’d love to work with you in the build-up to the next general election)
  6. Use this website to learn more about poverty indicators in your area
  7. Use this website to learn more about the ward and neighbourhood surrounding your new appointment.
  8. On arrival, prepare a plan for systematic visitation, including everyone connected to the Corps. Start with the leadership team – the inner circle – and work outwards.  Keep an open mind and be ready to listen.  And be ready to share your story too.
  9. Ask each person what makes them angry.
  10. Ask people who attend community programmes what worries them about the community.
  11. Ask your new neighbours who the ‘movers and shakers’ are in the neighbourhood or what 1 thing you need to know about the community as a newcomer.
  12. Read about the political history of your new community. Use google or local history library.
  13. Buy a local newspaper and highlight all the local political stories. Can you identify what issues are important to your neighbourhood?  Set up a google alert for news from your new area.
  14. Stick to your visitation plan. Don’t get sucked into activities or programmes.
  15. Identify those in the congregation who are passionate about social justice.
  16. Walk from the quarters to the Corps for the first few weeks. Take a different route each time and make a note of other churches, faith institutions, community organisations ready to follow up at a later date.
  17. Read Marching Towards Justice for an introduction to community organising and The Salvation Army.
  18. Subscribe to www.matchfactory.org

Have you found these tips useful? Do you have any more to add? Share them in the comments below – if they’re good we’ll add them to the list!

Let’s be ‘Wise Builders’

4-mr-wise-mr-fool-with-house-plans

By John Clifton

In the Gospel of Matthew, there is a story that Jesus told about a wise and a foolish builder. The wise builder builds on rock. The foolish one builds on sand. When the rains come, the wise builder’s house stands solid but the foolish builder has his house washed away.

The traditional approach to this story is to spiritualise it. We say “Oh, the house is like someone’s life. It needs to be built on the solid foundation of Jesus’ example and teachings otherwise when the storms of life come it will crumble and wash away.” I wouldn’t disagree with that.

However, recently, I’ve started to interpret the passage in a different way. It makes me think about actual builders and actual housing developers. Some motivations for building are solid, like rock. Other motivations are less secure like sand. In my mind, a rock solid foundation is ‘commmunity’ – the consequence of deep relationships built between people. A sand-like foundation is profit and money, for the purpose of getting rich.

Too many housing developments in my city are built on sand – they are for the purpose of making money. What we need now is housing that prioritises the fabric of our community. We need housing that helps our communities flourish, where people can put roots down and settle.

I’m really excited about the London Citizens Housing Manifesto for the London mayoral election.  Check it out – I think you’ll agree that the approach reflect the values of the Wise Builder whichever way you interpret it.

Freedom Highway

staple singersBy Nick Coke

I’m listening to The Staple Singers bellowing out ‘Freedom Highway’ from their legendary live performance at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church in 1965. It’s three days after my second visit to the Jungle in Calais. I’ve tears in my eyes and a sickness in my stomach.

Pop staples introduces the song:

“A few days ago, the freedom marchers marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. I know some of you know about that. That was in March of nineteen hundred and sixty-five. And from that march, word was revealed and a song was composed. And we wrote a song about the freedom marchers and we call it the ‘Freedom Highway’, and we dedicate this number to all the freedom marchers.”

I’m holding the original record sleeve in my hand. It’s a thrill to know that the person whose hands pressed this vinyl half a century ago and the first owner of this particular LP would have lived through the Martin Luther King led march that made history. The concert was recorded only 3 months after that event.

The guitar kicks in, then the drums, hand-clapping and finally the vocals.

March for freedom’s highway
March each and every day
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
There is just one thing I can’t understand my friend.
Why some folk think freedom
Was not designed for all men.
Yes I think I voted for the right man
Said we would overcome.

portaloosI’m back in the Jungle, standing in the winter rain and mud. There’s a hopelessness hanging in the air I hadn’t sensed the last time. There are rumours of a government demolition, of police brutality, of vigilante gangs beating up migrants whilst the authorities turn a blind eye. I’m told by a Syrian refugee about the orphans living in the camp with no-where to turn. I’m struggling to see the freedom highway.

Pop Staples knew when he composed his song that he was writing about an historic moment. Today we are making history. Future generations will look back and wonder about our response to the biggest humanitarian disaster in Europe since the Second World War. We will be judged for what we are doing and what we are not doing.

The Jungle in some ways has come to symbolise the British response. It’s the closest we’ll allow those fleeing war and poverty to get before they meet our high border fences. It’s a third of the distance than from Selma to Montgomery.

As I listen to The Staple Singers from 50 years ago, I can’t help but dedicate this song to the people I met in Calais. May you one day experience freedom – freedom from war, freedom from poverty, freedom from oppression, freedom from fear. May you find freedom – may you overcome. And Lord – help me be a freedom marcher.

“they saw Christ in everyone”

IMG_0712
Christ of the Breadlines

By John Clifton

Fritz Eichenberg was a wood engraver famed for his illustrations in works of classical literature. He began creating images for the Catholic Worker movement newspaper after he met Dorothy Day at a conference in 1949. Day sought Eichenberg’s involvement so that the content of the paper could be understood by those unable to read. Eichenberg was a convert to Quakerism and he shared many of the principles held by the Catholic Worker movement, particularly the way that ‘they saw Christ in everyone.’[1] This perspective comes through very strongly in Eichenberg’s work, particularly in three of his images: Christ of the Breadlines, The Lords Supper, and Christ of the Homeless. If you find these images online, you can see there was a particular emphasis on how Jesus Christ was really present in those who have need. Day said: 

 

“He [Christ] made heaven hinge on the way we act toward Him in His disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary humanity…that if these things were done for the very least of His brethren they were done to Him…because they are Christ” [2]

This perspective is something we adhere to at The Salvation Army and something I try to live out as a Christian. This certainly doesn’t mean we get it right all the time – far from it – but it compels me to think twice before I walk past someone who might need a listening ear or something to eat because I might just be walking past Christ-in-disguise.

[1] Eichenberg and Ellsberg 2004: 18

[2] Day 1945: 35