Colston versus Lenin – Using the Right Channels

Protesters taking down Colston statue. Bristol, UK / 7 Jun 2020

A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down during an anti-racism protest in Bristol. The incident opened an ideological war in my household. We go over the pros and the cons of public disorder acts, we discuss the moral arguments which might justify or condemn these acts, while the Home Secretary, Priti Patel stands in Parliament reproving the thuggery committed by the Bristolian mob. Mayor Marvin Rees takes to national media to disapprove the protesters’ acts of violence during the past weekend. Social media is blasting. Opinion is split. Some ask for prosecution of violent mobsters, others express a sense of connection with the symbolic point made by protesters.

In Bristol, Colston’s statue went down in a matter of minutes, with the authorities’ disapproval. I remember that it took Ukraine 27 years to decide the removal of the infamous statues of Lenin from all its towns and villages. In 2017, all 1,307 statues went down, quietly and slowly, as a sign that Ukraine was finally ready to condemn its pro-soviet past, and to move on. The Ukrainian government went further and renamed streets, urban areas, parks, schools, in a national attempt to heal past injustice and loss of lives during the Soviet Era.

Ukrainians witnessing Lenin’s statue being taken down by local authorities. Aug. 2017

At my dinner table, the conversation is about the role of a peaceful protest in well-established democracies, as the Home Secretary carries on with her speech about the peaceful dialogue which needs to happen in our society. I’m reminded that we have structures in place to make peaceful changes under the common law, and following policies and procedures that safeguard equality in this country. There is a well-known corporate jargon about ‘using the right channels’ which is invoked on occasions when discrimination and inequality are at the centre of disputes between people, groups, societies, organisations.

Each private, public, voluntary, religious organisation, each workplace, each adult, teenager and child knows at least one principle of equality.  And yet, the more we know, the wider the social divide feels to those who have been, at least once, at the receiving end of inequality, of discrimination or injustice.

If we were equal, we should not need to be taught equality by the Home Secretary, as it would be an inherent quality of our social actions. Yet, Power teaches equality lessons using the boot of law against ‘thugs’, ‘criminals’, ‘mobsters’. A sign that we are not ready to recognise the injustice and its roots, nor to break free from past mistakes.

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020