Like many of you I am saddened, angered, disappointed and exasperated by the riots spreading across London. And while it’s easy to point the finger at the rioters, I’d like to pause for a moment, take a breath and reflect on these events (given that in Australia we have the luxury and space to do so).
Now I in no way condone the violence that is taking place. But it is important to point out that these type of events occur when populations are disenfranchised, when disadvantage is baked into the institutions that make up our society, and when access to opportunity, to a future worth living, is limited by where you were born and where you went to school.
Earlier this year, we saw protests across the Middle East occur almost spontaneously. Obama’s Arab Spring was seen as a cause for celebration – with protesters organising, communicating and rallying support through social media – bringing to the West, a deeper understanding of social and civil issues facing the people of countries from Tunisia and Egypt to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
But in the #londonriots some of these techniques are being used not to build momentum and to create a movement for change. It’s not a civil problem nor an issue of democracy. It’s a social problem and its emotional resonance strikes us deeply, because at its heart is a great yawning emptiness that we also helped to create.
The woman in this video says, “we’re not fighting for a cause” – and she is right. Decades of social, political and cultural neglect reinforced and amplified by the divisiveness of dog whistle politics has led to this point. As Laurie Penny explains:
The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong. And now my city is burning …
It’s a terrible situation.
But we’re also seeing the same thing here in Australia. We’re following the same path. Rather than leadership on big, moral and social issues such as racism, asylum seekers, access to opportunity and education, and yes, even climate change, we see minute focus on what our politicians believe they can get away with. It’s the bare minimum in terms of social policy.
And when you reach for the bare minimum rather than trying to constantly raise the bar, as a society you are on a slippery slope. You end up with outcomes that you deserve rather than outcomes that you would hope for. As Laurie also says:
Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in.
The same applies here. The same applies in the US. It’s time for us all to step out of the shadow of shame.