Thought For The Day - Lucy Winkett

For many people, including the market traders, staff and visitors to our church on Saturday evening, the streets immediately surrounding St James’s Piccadilly became a frightening place.

The March for the Alternative had taken over 4 hours to pass by the church building and this huge stream of humanity was impressive and moving to watch. People of all ages carried colourful, sometimes humorous banners, and the noise from vuvuzelas, bhangra drums, whistles, and the odd marching band, was fun and served to make the presence of the crowd audible as well as visible. I watched much of the march as it passed by and was struck by the variety of people who had travelled to London from, according to their banners, Cornwall, Burnley, Merthyr Tydfil, Leeds and although it is a cliché to say it, children being carried on the shoulders of their parents were a frequent sight.

In the main body of the march, one group however stood out. I watched a group of about 40 people walking closely together, all dressed in black with black scarves over their faces. As they walked past the bank opposite the church they threw paint at it and let off fire crackers but nothing more serious. As captured in the news bulletins later, it was as dusk fell that Piccadilly itself became the scene of much more threatening behaviour from people who would not show their faces. I’ve no idea of their real political allegiance, although the anarchist sign was spray painted on buildings as they passed.

It was the anonymity of their protest that disturbed me. The next day as our church community gathered, I found myself exercised by what a distinctive Christian response might be.

Following Jesus of Nazareth and his ethical teaching, there is a clear duty upon people of faith to foster peaceful and just relationships, to find ways to serve wider society and most particularly, to work to ensure that the voices of those who are poor, or disadvantaged are given the dignity they deserve.

The Christian church should resist being claimed by any party political ideology and Christians will of course express their faith expecting to debate with those who disagree. But the people who would not show their faces on Saturday were not participating in politics in any true sense. Because their insistence on anonymity is corrosive to public protest and lowers rather than raises the prospect of popular political participation. These hidden marchers diverted as no doubt they will do again, the energies of stewards and police, there to protect freedom of speech.

In these times of fierce economic argument, the stakes are high and many lives are profoundly affected by the decisions of our political leaders. In these circumstances, it’s more important not less, that citizens are involved in public debate. The marchers concealed behind their masks made this much more difficult and by their hiding, reduced the rights of us all.

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