By Sam Tomlin
Protest (in its many forms) has a very long history. Being a theologian, the oldest example I am aware of is when the people of Israel came to Samuel and demanded a king because all the other nations had one and they did not (1 Sam. 8). I’m sure there are older examples than this, but throughout human history, people have chosen to take to the streets, to the places of power to get their point heard. The right of peaceful protest is one of the most important aspects of any society, but I’ve often thought it interesting that the demographic of those protesting is quite a telling reality in and of itself, a thought I will return to later.
But I think perhaps the greatest reason why people like myself (not even a parent at one of the schools) took to the street is that we are angry that for different reasons our voices are not being and will not be heard, and this, as I shall argue is fundamental to the point of protest. Firstly, Michael Gove is simply not listening to people’s opinions, ironic for a member of the party which is supposedly ‘for’ communities. Secondly, apart from the decision process, the move to Academy status means a move away from control by locally elected council members whom, we as local people, feel we can hold accountable, to a centrally run Academy chain perhaps based hundreds of miles away. It must be noted I am not entirely against the idea of Academies per se; I am critical, however, of the blanket application of an agenda to make all schools academies, especially where local people want to at least be involved in the decision making process.
As I looked around me on Saturday, I saw people who were not simply out to ‘bash’ the government, but people who really cared about their local community and wanted to have a stake in it, which they felt was being taken away from them and given to ‘big business’ or to more business-like ways of doing things. Why is it, then, that we never see people on the streets from the banks or the insurance companies or generally ‘big business’? It’s well documented that generally they support policies of de-regulation, lower taxes etc. Is it perhaps because those policies have lobbying groups to do their ‘protesting’ for them? In America, for example, the Financial Services Roundtable lobbies anyone and everyone ‘important’ for the top 100 banks, credit card, insurance and financial service companies, and was generally accepted to be partly responsible for many of the banks and investment firms having credit ratings of AA or AAA just days before they needed to be bailed out by the tax payers. I will certainly accept that this isn’t an issue of Left v Right ideologies – the Tea Party movement in America underlines this (although I can’t think of many more examples of centre-right groups taking to the streets). It is an issue of the radical nature of a message and also the fact that one’s or a group’s voice is simply not being heard.
Long may peaceful protests continue, at least as long as the voice of those who can already help themselves is continually attached to the megaphones they buy.