Tag Archive: justice


AMDG

_75516940_citizencamCommunity Organising is now more important than ever before.  With traditional politics in crisis, Labour facing possible extinction, Conservatives descending into recriminations after an unnecessarily divisive referendum, many people feel insecure and anxious about the future in Britain.  Politics is not a game, it profoundly affects peoples lives and it is the most vulnerable who don’t have the cushioning of a bubble to live in or escape into. So it is time for Civil Society to step up and take responsibility, not to leave it up to the politicians, or just the business community.   Citizens UK have proven to be the most effective at this – delivering the living wage, stopping refugee children from being detained in this country, putting the ‘legacy’ narrative into the London Olympics etc.

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A young Barack Obama – started as a community organiser in Chicago

So we are delighted to announce that yesterday, June 29th, 2016, we were in a position to interview candidates and on the back of that have appointed a community organiser here in Manchester.  It is the birth of Greater Manchester Citizens.  It has taken about a year to find the funding to build up a salary for a community worker, and we are very grateful to Oxfam, Bishop John Arnold, The Royal College of Nursing, Sir Peter Fahy for helping us do that.  We are hoping the Tudor Trust, UNISON, the two big universities and football clubs are soon going to follow. This will allow us to build a broader coalition in time for DevoManc which is our first target.  If we find more ‘seed funding’ then we could even have a second organiser in place before Christmas. Not everyone has been helpful of course, there has been considerable resistance by ‘the establishment’. It is amazing how parochial we can be ‘up north’.  However there has been some really encouraging support – people who realise as the General Secretary at Unison told me – this is of the ‘zeitgeist’.

1The main task of our organiser(s)  is to build a coalition of  member institutions.  They will go to schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, student unions, trade unions, charities and build up relations.  They are trained to listen to what concerns them the most, it may be housing, local security, healthcare etc.  When I was in North London it was how insecure the boys at the Jesuit school felt about being mugged for their phones, and being chased by gangs – so they started the City Safe campaign – It saved lives.  Once they see how we are able to engage with power and are recognised, they will subscribe as member institutions and this will allow them to help set our agenda.   What is in it for me?  What is my ‘self-interest?’  – I hope it will engage the students with serious campaigns.  Often it is the religious institutions that are the backbone of grassroots community action. I think Citizens allows Catholics to work productively with other Christians. Muslims etc. from this working together comes deep and lasting friendships. This is so important in our turbulent times!

Excellent videos to describe Community Organising are Here  and Here 

 

 

 

AMDG

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The Night Commuters in Gulu – escaping the evil of Joseph Kony & The LRA

It was very depressing to hear that the UK had voted to leave the EU …  it is one of those moments where you always remember ‘where I was when ‘ E.g Princess Diana dying….  So when we voted Brexit I am in Northern Uganda, in Gulu, where there is a great new Jesuit school which has already become famous countrywide for its excellent academic results. This is very impressive considering that just ten years ago Gulu was being terrorised by Joseph Kony and the LRA. Kids weren’t going to school – they were being forced into becoming child soldiers.  A beautiful part of the world, that is deeply traumatised, a generation of child soldiers who had the innocence of childhood ripped away from them. Many of the youngsters were called  ‘night commuters’ who would move into the city before sunfall so as to avoid the violent raids of the LRA.  It is a salutary reminder of what can happen when politics fails, and society descends into chaos.  The level of debate was at times wanting in the Brexit campaigning, but at least it was democratic – even if it was a very poor attempt of direct democracy , when representative democracy would have been more appropriate.  However the ability to hold such a referendum, with such a level of engagement we should not take for granted and shows a robust politics which is much more fragile here in East Africa, even if it has made great progress.

 

oppositionThe excellent weekly newspaper ‘The East African’ ran a disturbing report on the state of Opposition in East Africa in its latest weekly edition (June 18-24 2016). Published in Kenya, it also covers the news in the Great Lakes region (Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda). Under the headline Who would be an opposition politician in East Africa today? It highlights the plight of Kizza Besigwe (Uganda), Zitto Kabwe (Tanzania), Raila Odinga (Kenya) and Frank Habineza (Rwanda) all leaders of opposition parties in countries that have purportedly signed up to encouraging political pluralism. Many people in the UK have been bemoaning the lack of quality debate in the recent referendum, but no-one can doubt it was an act of direct democracy (even if it possibly would have been wiser to have been left to representation democracy as Frank Turner SJ points out in an excellent piece).

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Certainly here in East Africa there seems to be various crackdowns on ways of expressing opposition. We had just arrived in Arusha last Tuesday when we heard that someone called Emilly Isaac was handed down a three year sentence for a comment made on Facebook about the supporters of President Magafuli. His comment was mild to say the least, but he still had to pay a $3ooo fine or six months in jail. Magafuli is still wildy popular due to his anti-corruption stance, but some of the sheen is coming off with alarming evidence of a lack of thick skin. Kenya is presided over by Uhuru Kenyatta whose legacy has been seriously marred by the terrible violence that marked the elections of 2007 which claimed 1300 lives. In 2014 Kenyatta made history by becoming the first sitting head of state to come before the International Criminal Court to answer for ‘crimes against humanity’. The charges were withdrawn later that year, but the prosecution claimed that this was due to the Kenyan Governments noncompliance claiming they had evidence of witness intimidation and bribery. The conclusion was unsatisfactory to say the least with Kenyatta claiming to be vindicated, but really the ICC was shown to have an alarming lack of teeth. Finally in Uganda, President Musevini has just won a dubious election, decried by many independent observers as as being rigged, with undue pressure put on the opposition, his main rival Basingye is in prison.

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downloadThere is now an excellent way of monitoring governance in Africa – provided by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Ibrahim is a Sudanese/British Billionaire, telecommunications magnate – the founder of Cel Tel , set up the foundation when he sold the company in 2005. It awards scholarships and offers a prize for achievement in African Leadership. The Prize at $5m and $200k a year for life it is the biggest in the world, comfortably outstripping the Nobels $1.3m, and is an annual prize but not always awarded if the high standards are not met. Perhaps even more impressive is the Index that has provided an annual assessment on each countries governance. It assesses progress for each country on Safety and the Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. The East African Countries discussed here have never made it in the top ten of the 52 countries measured, with Tanzania 17th, Uganda 18th and Kenya 21st in 2013. What is brilliant about it is that you can spot trends in various areas of governance such as corruption, violence, participation, gender, infrastructure, education, health etc.

AMDG

This is the homily I gave yesterday in Sacred Heart Edinburgh for the 14th Sunday, Year C. 

Book_of_eli_posterFour years ago there was a fascinating film released called the Book of Eli (spoiler alerts!).  It was set in a post-apocalyptic America and stars Denzil Washington who is on a special mission taking a valuable parcel to a safe spot on the West Coast of America.  It is a dangerous mission because post-apocalyptic America is lawless, most of the population are dead, no institutions are left standing, there is no law and order – Just groups of violent gangs – killing and robbing…..

It becomes clear that the parcel our hero is carrying is seen as very valuable.  He has to fight off many groups who wish to take it from him, I should warn you that it is quite a violent film.  You are left wondering – what is in this parcel that everyone is trying to get …..  well it is a surprise to find out that is only a book…..  It turns out that in this post-apocalyptic world many libraries have been destroyed and so there is a community that has based itself on a remote Island – where Alcatraz used to be – and the mission of this community is to try to rebuild a library and thus preserve what is left of human knowledge.

Our hero is trying to get the book to this island – then he encounters a gang who realise how precious this book is…. And for the second part of the film they hunt him down…. In one speech the leader played by Gary Oldham says

Don’t you see? It’s not just any book.  It has the power to motivate people. It can give them hope, it can terrify them. It can shape them. Control them. That book is a weapon. Aimed right at the hearts and minds of people,  Just imagine  what I could do with it.

bookofeli011You might have realised by now that the book that he is carrying is the only surviving copy of the Bible….  His mission is to get it to safety.    Another twist is that it comes apparent that our hero is blind – which is a shock when you realise how adept he is at fighting people off.  It becomes clear that he has an incredible sense of hearing and also claims he is being led by the light of his faith…….  Unfortunately towards the end of the film Gary Oldman’s gang catch up with him seriously wounding him and capturing this precious book.  Then the final twist – when the only surviving Bible is delivered to the baddy  – he opens it up to find out that is written in Braille…. He can’t understand it …. Meanwhile the wounded hero has just made it to Alcatraz – aware that he is slowly dying – he waves away treatment because he has an urgent task – and the final scene is him lying down surrounded by secretary’s – as he starts dictating the Book of Genesis …. in his long journey across America he has memorised the whole of the Bible.

This film reminded me how we have lost a sense of the power of the Bible – we take it for granted – for many of us we only expose ourselves to it when we listen at mass – and even then sometimes we are only half-listening.  Gary Oldman’s character is right – the Bible is dangerous when we take it seriously  – The New Testament especially has had a huge impact on shaping the world, even in a secular society – many of our assumptions about justice, about charity, about care, about law – are all hugely formed by the words of the Bible and the New Testament.  It truly has changed societies.

Today’s reading about the Kingship of the Messiah – Zechariah’s prophecy of a king who will bring peace, who will make war obsolete, no need for armies. A king who will ride on a donkey – all of this is turning the logic of the world on its head. Then in the Gospel we hear that the message of this King is only fully accepted by those who become child-like – those who become ego-free, not the childish but those who are child-like. A child who can be blissfully happy in a simple environment, who has a sense of wonder as they discover the world, who has a great openness to life, not preoccupied by status, not worrying about the future – it is only with this childlike openness that we can co-operate with grace, that we can help build this Kingdom.

It is also when we set aside our worries and concerns that we can ‘rest’- Jesus says come to me those of you labour and rest – this isn’t just the rest of sleep – there is a deeper rest than that – there is a recreative rest, have you ever seen a child totally absorbed in play? When we put aside things and get caught up in a great conversation, or absorbed by a fascinating game, or listening to sublime music – it is refreshing, and more than physically resting, it recharges our creative batteries – Jesus wants us to come to him and rest – by savouring his word, by having the courage to go into silent contemplation.

If enough of us take the words of the bible seriously – then they these dreams of a kingdom of peace will become a reality , we will change our lives and become more open. Less interested in ‘Rich Lists’ and ‘Celebrity Culture’ and more in rediscovering wonder and having an open heart. And maybe in a frenetic age – we will rediscover how to rest …. In God’s wisdom and in his love. And that would be worth fighting for ……

Book of Eli on IMDB  (link) 

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