“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in.”
This Desmond Tutu quote is often used as a challenge to us as Christians to go further than simply treating the symptoms of inequality and injustice; that we should be the ones tackling the root causes. And it’s true: we should!
But the same thing would happen every time I heard that statement: the more I’d think about it, the more stuck I’d feel. Realising how many people there were, falling into what seemed like a huge number of different rivers, was overwhelming. I’d open my Bible and read about God’s command to defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17), and it all sounded so...big. I understood the theory, but didn’t see how I could put it into practice. Where do you even start? I didn’t think I’d be able to change anything: after all, I don’t have the knowledge or experience that others do. So, honestly, I didn’t try.
Last year’s Show Up campaign played a big part in helping change my mind. But one of the things that challenged me most was a conversation I had with one of the young people I worked with last year (I’ll call him Jack). He’d overheard a conversation I was having about the election, and asked why I cared about something as boring as politics. As he put it, “they don’t care about me, so why should I care about them?” He’d felt let down by everyone who should have been looking out for him, and it didn’t seem to him as though there was anyone willing to speak up.
I wondered how many more people like Jack there are. Who feel let down, forgotten by injustices and flaws in the systems that are there to protect them and help them to flourish. Who feel like nobody (or at least, nobody with the power to do anything about it) cares about them. Nobody’s looking out for them.
I know it’s not true. I know there are a huge number - in the Labour party, in Christians on the Left, and elsewhere - who do. The more I’ve turned up to meetings and spoken to people, the more I’ve realised just how many there are. My conversation with Jack really challenged me that, rather than hoping someone with more experience or knowledge will fill the gap, I need to be one of those who does speak out, who does try and do something. I wish someone had told me sooner that I don’t have to be the one to change the world - or the country - all on my own. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do for someone like Jack - and surely that, on its own, is worth the effort.