1549 Kett’s Rebellion

During my Robin Hood phase, and unable to get to Sherwood Forest, I went to Nottinghamshire, and then to woods where other rebels gathered. Those woods have just been the backdrop to a play on the anniversary of that gathering, in Norwich.

And again, I’m led to decisive historic moments and battlers for justice. I haven’t forgotten Eliot’s Dorothea and Will – the more gentle kind of battlers – and I’ll pop up my article on their story shortly. I’m also returning to that famous forest so they’ll be more about Robin et al too.

But let me stay with Robert Kett – perhaps a name you don’t know, unlike Robin, or Boudicca, or Braveheart – our best known British freedom fighters, who’ll need little explanation, wherever you are reading this from. But Kett has much in common with all these. Perhaps he is Norfolk’s Robin. And let me link Kett, as the play did, with our current climate.

I’m not going to analyse the pantomime-like play, but its theme. The oft sung song reminded us that although the setting was nearly 500 years ago, it ‘could be any time’ – and ours. The mayor was doing a David Cameron impression. The mean ‘nobs’ all from the same school administered cuts to welfare and bullied plebs in a very familiar way.

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The piece of news that I’m most thinking about from the last few days is the police shootings in America. I feel a little intrepid to comment, for it’s emotive and needs to be expressed well.

What I will say is that the  events at the Dallas protest turned the focus from the shootings by the police to the shootings of the police. I note that there was 1 officer for every 8 people at that demo, which is heavy. And that the demo which followed involved the police using smoke against the people.

The brutality of the killings – and sorry ‘fatal shootings’ won’t do – and the disproportion of the police’s reaction to the situations – over motor offences! –  has made me livid. I join those (isn’t that the whole world?) calling for justice and the curtailing of armed police and this heavy, ugly way of dealing with the public. A public who pay for the services of those who should be keeping us safe – but instead are unjust instruments of the establishment, and from whom we can be in danger.

I think many of us must feel that our growing resentment for the police, wherever we are, has been augmented by these shocking not even lone incidents.

I abhor that black people were the victims of these killings. It wasn’t hard to learn the names of the most recent ones – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But I noted that the day before, two more American young men were killed by the police, yet they are less talked about – I struggled to find their names. These both were from Latino heritage. It is significant that they too aren’t white – but also that the African Americans garnered the greatest attention.

Surely ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be ALL lives matter? I hope that’s a given.

There’s also a lesser known “Brown Lives Matter” movement.

I felt a huge de ja vu last night at the play, watching the king’s forces rush to stop the rebels in Norwich, who were slaughtered in battle or executed. Like the events of recent days, the aggrieved side, however we might understand their aggrievement, did things to their aggressors which I couldn’t condone.

But I did note that Kett’s army took England’s second city for a time. I know Bristol and York will want to squeal at this point ‘We were England’s second city!’ Can’t we share that title? But isn’t the point not a petty division (watch for those) but the empowering thought that people can hold a major city from the establishment.

Did the people of Norwich in 1549 feel any safer with the mob at the helm; was that their definition of democracy?

When I look at all those iconic historic symbols of independence, there’s a sadness that their effects were not only curtailed, but that were are still facing those issues, centuries later.

But did they fail? Should we give up trying to change the fact that, as the chorus sung last night “the many serve the few” and that the rich and powerful’s minority interest continue to crush everyone else?

No and no I do not. I do take hope from the fact that these names of freedom fighters are remembered and commemorated. We’re not cheering the mayors and earls who routed Kett’s group, we remember him.

Last night, we lit a beacon on a hill overlooking the city to not only remember the 3000 killed and hundreds hung in Kett’s rebellion, but all those who have struggled against oppression and still do – and feel under it. It was an exciting moment, to see the flames sweep in way I’ve never seen fire do before, to join with cheers and a banner.

Although not mentioned, we were asking and committing to the kind of world that Robin Hood, Boudicca, Braveheart and Robert Kett stood for coming into being. We are wanting a world which is against austerity, against unfair private ownership, and where the brutality of police and other law enforcers (what a phrase!) and the prejudice behind these recent incidents is history. We wish for justice and for reform – the sort that Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch wanted, the peaceful kind.

There was irony that I realised that no-one other than those at the play could see the beacon, despite its prominent position. Even knowing where to look, as I left Kett’s Heights I could just make out a tiny orange glow between trees.

It was also ironic that given this was a play about power to the people, the city council had to give permission for the beacon to be lit. A council that has many failings – lack of accountability and support to the vulnerable and providing basic reliable services; making heavy licensing laws which involve police in civil liberty abuses – but which also hung its flag at half mast for the recent homophobic shootings in Orlando.

Robert Kett, like Robin of Locksley, was one of the rich who instead of squashing the poor rebelling at his gate, joined and led them. In the play, the Mayor changed sides and opinions.

Out of the many warrior princes and princesses I admire, there is one who comes to mind who insisted on never killing, never using unreasonable force, and who stopped wars with love. She saw that forgiveness and change were more powerful than routing enemies. She saw too that the most powerful way to create change was through mind changing – and I add, heart changing.

I refer to my last post and that wonderful quote of Caroline Lucas, ‘where hope is powerful than hate’ – even when we feel we have a just cause; and that healing and uniting communities is more important than demarcation of difference, even self defining; brothers (and sisters) before otherness.

And as Kett’s county’s police motto says – we all need to feel our police’s priority is us.

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