I’ve been caught up in two riots during my life and if I’m truly honest, I was scared on both occasions.
The first was during my first year of university. I was on placement in Burnley when the race riots (I think it must have been 2001) kicked off and the coach was sent in early to ship us all out. As I understand it, the worst of the riots had already been driven through by the time they got to me, but I still saw enough for my liking and was happy to get out.
However, I kind of understood why people were rioting. Please understand, I do not condone either the violence or the racism. But instead understood how it could have erupted. Do you know that, unlike a wasp, a bee can only sting once and then dies from the effort? So if you get stung by a bee, the bee was stupid for stinging you, but you were stupid for putting the bee in a situation where it felt trapped. I’ve come to the conclusion that people are a little like bees, when trapped we strike out irrationally, our anger boils and without someone to blame we hit out at the nearest scapegoat. In Burnley the people couldn’t find jobs, were left trapped in poverty and struck out at those who they could find to blame. Of course, they were completely wrong to blame the immigrant community, but I doubt they even thought it through properly. Instead they felt unfairly trapped and struck out. In this situation the rioters should be punished, but the causes also need to be examined to see if anything could be done in order to help these forgotten communities.
The second riot I was stuck in was at Leads Festival. It was the final night, Guns and Roses had headlined (brilliantly actually) and for some unknown reason someone decided to set the toilet block on fire. Then it all kicked off and we, with our tent, were right in the middle of it. About 50 metres to our left the toilets burned huge flames into the sky, 30 metres in front of us people brought down temporary telegraph poles and 100 metres to our right gas canisters in burger vans exploded next to the fire engines and a line of police in full riot gear. We were trapped and could do nothing other than sit it out and hope we weren’t hurt.
Unfortunately, unlike the riot in Burnley, this was not fueled by feelings of helplessness, but by drink, drugs and mindless violence. Some young people had simply decided it would be “fun” to destroy things.
I write this blog having just caught up with last nights news. Riots are breaking out throughout our country. So far violence has been seen in London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Bristol, Manchester and Liverpool. The worst violence, on the largest scale, I can ever remember happening, by our own citizens, in my life time. Of course, I remember various terrorists violence, some on shocking scales, but for some reason, this seems worst. Maybe it’s because this time it is our own people, not attacking to make a political point, or war, but seemingly just for the hell of it!
The question is, are these riots like the riot in Leads festival, fuels by mindless yobs out for “fun”, or like the riots in Burnley, trapped bees stinging those near by. As I read various comments on Facebook it would appear that the majority of my friends see the first. Unfortunately, I fear it may be the second. We live in a world in which jobs, especially for young people, are becoming increasingly difficult to get (and may get more difficult), in which the welfare state in being slowly eroded away and in which the language of “undeserving poor” is slowly re-entering civilized talk. Education no longer seems like a way out, as university becomes increasingly unaffordable. To get ahead people are expected to be “apprentices”, working for nothing for long periods of time, which is simply impossible for those coming from a poor background. It is hardly surprising that these people feel trapped and helpless, and when people feel like this, the smallest of sparks will trigger the violence.
Don’t believe me? Look a history. Look at every major revolution, or civil unrest and one factor will always be present. People feeling trapped in poverty with no hope of escape. Like bees, when trapped, we strike.
The other news that is headlining is that America has lost its AAA rating. Now I don’t pretend to be a financial expert, I don’t know exactly what this means. But I read a great book a couple of months ago called “Whoops!: Why everybody owes everyone and no one can pay” by John Lanchester. A brilliant book. I read it and finally, to my own amazement, felt I had some understanding on what exactly had happen to get us into the financial criticize. I remember him warning about America loosing its AAA status and how disastrous this could be. He also warned in the final chapter (added in the second edition) about his shock that the governments had done a lot of talking, but actually implemented no changes what so ever. He warned that, if left that way, it would happen again. Unfortunately, he convinced me. The credit crunch was our opportunity to change things, to change the way the banks were run and what they were for, and we messed it up. It will happen again and this time the governments won’t have enough money to bail it out.
Even if that doesn’t happen, hard times are ahead. Cuts are only just starting to take effect. As amazing as it may sound, the hardest times are still to come.
I hope and pray that the violence in our country will stop and that people who took part will be brought to justice. But I’m scared. I’m scared that, unless the way the financial situation in our country is being dealt with is changed drastically, that more and more people will feel trapped in an endless, inescapable cycle of poverty. I’m scared that the violence in our country has only just begun.
If we want to halt this we all have a role to play. For those in the church, we must make sure that those who feel trapped have a voice, that we give the power that’s needed to the powerless, and stand beside the helpless. Hard times are coming, let’s make sure the church is right their next to the helpless, before the stupid bees kill themselves by mindlessly stinging the stupid country that trapped them.