What should we teach our children about political revolution?
I was quite young when all that happened – I don’t remember much of any of it… Well, I remember lining up along the street to see the Queen’s car pass through the village in 77, playing in the Richardson’s hay loft, my worried cousin with her new baby: she’d married a naval officer and he was out in the Falklands fighting. I remember heated debates amongst family members – my family divided down party lines. I remember the deep, deep sadness that suddenly cloaked my childhood when my dad got sick and died – adults looking mournfully at me in my dressing up clothes (so frustrating when you’re just trying to play). People telling me not to bottle things up but knowing in my heart of hearts that it really was best not to talk about this sadness at all. I made a silent but binding agreement with those closest, not to talk about painful truths.
I have children now and wonder every day about their experience of the world. The urge to cocoon and protect them is very strong. I want them to be confident and happy-go-lucky; exposing them to harsh truths about war and climate change, poverty and, dare i say it, over-population seems selfish to me. The urge to hide the truth is seductive but I also know that not talking about things will put them at a huge disadvantage. They’re much more intelligent than we think. They look about them every day and see a lot more complexity than we credit them for seeing. It seems part of our job to give them ways of handling this complexity so they can make sense of it for themselves.
We tried explaining to our little ones why the helicopters circled overhead last summer, why all the shops in our South East London neighbourhood were boarded up and why we were transfixed by burning buildings on TV. “Some people are very angry,” we said. And of course, the answer came back, “Why?”. “Tell the Children the truth,” said Bob Marley and I’m inclined to agree with him, though I warn you, it’s hard.
Perhaps that withholding of information, a society set up to kid us that everything’s OK – there’s nothing wrong here, move along now and keep on shopping – really was part of the problem last summer. Politician after politician came out and wrung their hands at ‘senseless’ acts of violence, ‘rampant greed’, the mid-summer festival of lawlessness.
But we live in a society that’s boxed from birth; the first generation who’ve been aggressively marketed to from their infancy are maturing. We know governments are happy to confuse big ideas with big business interests to sustain wars using young people to fight them. It was, most likely ever thus, but the children who grow up now, grow up in a self-reflective society that knows things are wrong, speaks about how wrong they are and does them anyway. Camilla Batmanghelidgh from Kids Company, talks about the violence young people deal with on a daily basis – at it’s most extreme in the form of gang culture: that explains the lawlessness – if your gang threatens to hurt or kill you or those you love, a prison sentence does indeed sound like a soft option. And it’s 12 year olds having to make those decisions, not just older teenagers.
A broadcaster challenged her recently suggesting young people in the UK have never had it so good, compared to the starving 30s, these kids’ lives are a walk in the park. Battmangelidgh said the underlying sense of community has changed. She spoke of the aggressive disinterest young people can experience when they interact with big social organisations supposedly set up to take care. One of last years ‘rioters’ gets a six month jail sentence for picking up some bottled water then putting it down again, Baroness Warsi doesn’t even get put on the naughty step for her stray expenses.
It’s these mixed messages that are so destructive and confusing, and of course a very good way of controlling all of us, making us feel it’s not worth trying to affect our society: it’s too confusing, too corrupt.
Be Good Revolutionaries, the piece of theatre we’re making for Ovalhouse’s OUTLAWS season, explores these themes. We have a family dominated by an omni-present father: you never see him but you know you’ll never be as good as him (is that really true?) and a tyrannical mother so caught up in her own story, her children can’t act on their own impulses or follow their desires. The journey and challenge has been to work out what it would take for the children to wake up, begin to author their own lives, and understand that change can only happen if they make it happen. The first step seems to be recognising the nature of the oppression and the deadening affect it has on them.
What happens next, after the consciousness has been raised? I’m no longer sure peaceful revolution is possible. And if you listen to Camilla Battmangelidgh, we’re about to enter the eye of a perfect storm where chaotic, violent revolt is inevitable.
Be Good Revolutionaries plays at Ovalhouse 6- 23 June, 7:45pm (Tues-Sat)Tagged in: Arts, falklands, jubilee, political revolution, theatre
Recent Posts on Arts
- Game of Thrones 'Second Sons' - Season 3, episode 8
- Made in Chelsea – Series 5, Episode 7
- Kate Simko: A picture paints a thousand notes
- The Photography Blog: 'Control Order House' by Edmund Clark - Photographing our response to terrorism
- Parachute Youth: Supporting Rudimental is not a clash of interests
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter