Londons burning and I live by the river.

In true fashion to my blogs lets start with a disclaimer:

Through a lot of learning this year, I’ve made a conscious decision to embrace pacifism.  Note that pacifism does not mean being PASSIVE, but actively living IN the tension and creating peace in violent situations. It’s not a hippy cop-out, it’s a dangerous, vulnerable and frightening way of life, but something I try and live out when possible.

That being said, embracing pacifism has made me learn a whole lot more about violence.  Most notably, that I am able to be a pacifist because I’m in a position of power (however meagre) that I can choose to reject the use of violence.

There are a lot of people in a similar position, although they may not know it. They tend to disagree with violence, unless it’s JUSTIFIED (ie. sold to them in a palatable way- war on terror, or not overtly physical such as economic, social and cultural violence) To these people acts of violence, especially in a riot- type setting, is viewed as hooliganism and infantile. I was probably one of those people too. But I’m learning, and what I’m learning is this: we need to take a few steps back.

Rich white soccer player Wayne rooney's recent tweet

I’ve been following the protests-turned-riots in Tottenham, England these last few days.  Unlike other riots I’ve seen lately, there hasn’t actually been any specific policy or issue being protested. But this doesn’t make it any less important. Tottenham is a disenfranchised part of London and that’s important to remember. Watching all the BBC images and anti-rioting sentiments I thought of a quote from civil rights activist, James Forman

“If we can’t sit at the table [of democracy], let’s knock the fucking legs off!”

Violence is reactionary; it is cause and effect.  The stats in this article are hard to digest but may help point to the trigger: In these boroughs the unemployment rate is twice the national average, combine that with the recent austerity measures in a country where the richest 10% are 100 times better off than those that live in these boroughs, and an already fixed resentment towards the police and you can start to see why and how desperation turns into anger; turns into dissent; turns into violence.

Does desperation justify violence? I don’t think I’m in a position to say, However, when we start seeing this TYPE of violence for what it actually is: counter-violence against a state structure that pushes people to desperation, I think we can begin to understand and shift our sympathies towards those who are the actual victims. At the very least we shouldn’t act so surprised; When you take candy from one kid and give it to another kid that you consistently favour with lots of candy, expect some kicking and screaming.

I’m not prepared to condone the use of violence in protests because it’s broad in spectrum from those who target specific institutions to those who just go a’ lootin’. However, when we see these riots, and we will see many, many more, our frustrations should be towards the things that exclude people to the POINT of violence. We should be criticizing those who create situations that push people to the fringe and we should be advocating for these people-maybe not their violence, or looting, or what have you- but we should be actively living in that tension and finding ways to promote the basic needs of people (ourselves included).  If not, we can’t act so shocked when the legs of the table are kicked out from under us.

Get better soon, England.

…well…we’ll see.