Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Riots, looting and the search for an alternative

During the election campaign of 2010 David Cameron was pictured astride a Quattro with the slogan ‘It’s time for change’, with Labour’s comeback replacing the slogan with: ‘Don’t let him take Britain back to the 1980s’. The ad of course mimicked the much loved ‘Life on Mars’ character Gene Hunt, who was always ready to fire up his dream machine and leap into aggressive action.

I doubt even Mr Cameron realised at the time just how close he would end up taking us back to the 1980s. The cuts, strikes, riots and disaffected youth that have erupted since he took his seat at Number 10 have brought us eerily close to the ‘Ghost Town’ immortalised by The Specials in 1981. Yet today as Britain faces another night of potential violence and destruction, and politicians and the police are vociferously insisting (on every news channel, blog or social networking forum they can get access to), that the full force of the law will be used against the perpetrators, I wonder whether there may be a less aggressive, less violent, and more positive way of trying to turn the tide of social disintegration and urban anarchy we appear to be facing.

Former atheist, Shelley Yates experienced communicating with spirit beings when she died before being brought back to life. She now believes we are all spiritual beings capable of creating miracles, and that collectively we have the potential to heal the world, not just destroy it. In 2007 and 2009 she co-ordinated two global meditations, and is planning the third for November 2011. In the first of these ‘Fire the Grid’ meditations millions of people took part in over 80 countries, spending an hour doing something that brought them joy, with the aim of shifting the earth’s vibrations to produce a better future for our children.

A cynic would say this is wishful thinking, and that looking for the joy in everything simply ignores the very real misery and suffering we see around us everyday. This is a fair point, however, there is something to be said for focusing on the positive and joyful things that are going on around us everyday, rather than allowing the negativity to expand and fill every waking moment. It is a core principle in things like mindfulness or cognitive behaviour therapy for instance, which aim at changing the way people think about and react to the world around them. And although this may not always be sufficient to change the world in itself, it can give people the tools and confidence to tackle issues which previously appeared insurmountable.

The problem is we rarely see anything positive portrayed in the media – and if we do it comes as the ‘and finally…’ story at the end of the ‘more important’ news of misery and destruction. What if every single one of Shelley’s millions of people in their 80 countries had been given media time to show people that there are some positive things going on in the world if we just sit up and take notice? Could we retrain the media to see the positive in the world, or is nobody interested?

What has this to do with this week’s looting? Well I was one of the peaceful marchers on 26 March in the London March for the Alternative this year. I spent all day surrounded by millions of other peaceful marchers, supportive police and a genuine sense of being in this together, for each other. Yet in the days that followed all I saw in the newspapers and on television were reports of the tiny minority of protestors who had decided to use violence and force to get their message across and shatter communities as a result. People I spoke to knew only this side of the story, and heard nothing about the genuine sense of togetherness and community spirit that arose for those who had taken the time out to march and make a positive stand.

What if the headlines the following day had been about this instead? – Cameron’s ‘big society’ out on the streets and ready to come together in the hope of making a positive change for our kids. It was an amazing sensation to be a part of that, it felt liberating, empowering and potentially (if rather idealistically!) world-changing. Whilst some may argue it had no real impact and didn’t change the world for the better, many thousands of people who took part in that march have since gone on to stand up for services in their local communities, to volunteer to keep community initiatives running despite the cuts that have closed so many others down, or to lobby their MPs and secure changes - however small - in the cuts being proposed. They continue to believe in an alternative. But our media has chosen to ignore this potential for peaceful change and focus instead on the more headline grabbing violence of the few, reinforcing in the reader’s mind that we are a society out of control on self-interest and mindless violence.

But are we? Shelley Yates and the millions of participants in her global meditations think not, yet where were the headlines when they performed their peaceful demonstrations to heal the world rather than destroy it? It would appear it doesn’t make good news, however many millions are involved. Perhaps it is time for an alternative - not to fire up the Quattro and return to the misery of the Ghost Town, but instead to take a leap of faith and fire up the grid! Whether or not it has any concrete impact in our material world, at least it won’t involve a massive clean-up the following morning, and nobody will get hurt. At the very least, it will ensure everyone thinks about something joyful for an hour instead of all the misery. Surely that can’t be a bad thing.


Andy Pandy said...

Enjoyed reading this, and totally agree with you. I will try to join in with the meditation in Nov :)

I wonder if it's something peculiar to our own media? Or that as a nation we prefer/expect sensationalism? I was struck that the recent protests in the Middle East were largely peaceful and widely reported in the UK, and managed on the whole to achieve their objective (a change of government). Why does our media treat the UK's own population so differently, by generally ignoring the peaceful protests?

I'm sure there are no easy answers...

Sara said...

A very interesting question, Andy Pandy. Perhaps because of some misguided notion that we already have a functioning democracy in this country, and so any peaceful attempts at highlighting its insufficiencies are overlooked...?