Several people have asked what I thought about the rioting that occurred in the UK, both whilst I was in the USA and on my recent return. I have been slow to respond as I was out of the country, and needed time to look at the situation and still unsure what to add to the conversations. For what it’s worth a few of my reflections are as follows.
Firstly what does seem clear is that these were NOT youth riots, and according to several reports the majority of arrests have not been of young people. (Check out Toby Blumes post here) So whilst I am unsure of Tony Blair assertion that the riots were caused by “the group of young, alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour”, I do feel he is more accurate that “Britain, as a whole, is not in the grip of some general ‘moral decline’,” Blair wrote. Young people now were generally more respectable, more responsible and more hard-working than they were when he was young, (see here for ref). More importantly he assessed the wider context well, when he noted that although there had been advances in reducing crime, and poverty during his time in government they had still not really tackled the hardest to reach and most dysfunctional minority.
The political response, has as ever included a variety of wide sweeping statements and the role of Rhetoric in public society will further compound, and probably render ineffectual most top down responses. Whilst everyone recognises there are no easy answers, to be persuasive, rhetoric demands playing the majority gallery, and as such is counter productive in addressing the issues created by a minority. This is one key the reasons Blair had not really touched the hardest to reach minority, and neither will many of hyperbole statements that I have heard in the past few days.
So how can we respond, and what might the role of the christian sector be. In all society there is potential for good, nowhere beyond God, and therefore dehumanizing and stigmatizing rhetoric is not something we should be party to. The church is well placed to respond to the local minority, but like the government in the past has also failed in really working with the hardest to reach young people, and I recognise I have been complicit in this. Chavez said that “The first principle of non violent action is the non cooperation with everything dehumanising”.
Several commentators have suggested the need for creative and locally grounded engagements and this is what the voluntary sector and church often excel at (check out FYT’s Out 4 Good project as an example). So whilst the pragmatist in me would suggest that we work with the government and any monies that may result, I wonder if in doing so we will repeat the same mistakes and again fail to engage the hardest to reach communities, as our focus is diverted by recordings, and targets and any responses are accompanied by the dehumanising rhetoric elsewhere. It is easy to assume that in the broader community where the riots were located that there is not enough social capital for a purely voluntary response but what we do see from the the clean up etc is that there is resilience and capacity that if captured can make a huge difference. The reality will be that leadership is needed to help mobilise volunteers, initiate and direct projects and this probably will require some sort of funding. If the middle class churches are willing to release their youth and community workers from pampering their congregation, targeting low hanging fruit and instead support the workers to risk engaging the communities that are often dismissed, we could help build the momentum needed. This could free up the locally grounded response, beyond the rhetoric required and help return a fullness of life for those who had nothing to loose and so ended up participating in the riots. For my part I will continue with StreetSpace and make a renewed effort to seek out, support, protect and develop projects in the communities that need them most, and for any churches willing to move beyond their current activity we will be there to support you if required.