ON THE DEATH OF THE QUEEN - community discussion
On the 19th of September 2022, we held our monthly community dinner at the Trinity Rooms in Stroud, on the topic of the monarchy.
On the same day, 28 million people in the UK tuned in to watch the television broadcast of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. For the 11 days previous the mainstream media had seen a total royal blackout. With dissenting voices not just absent but actively silenced, such as our Friend of the RYSE Mariángela who was arrested in Edinburgh for simply holding a sign!
The day of our community dinner everywhere had shut, creating a Christmas Day-like atmosphere of quiet. What was for us a feeling of ’forced mourning’ enforced through shaming and pressure had shut down football games and freshers week celebrations alike. This meant that our gathering for open honest discussion together felt rebellious.
It was with this harsh context that we began our session, dividing into pairs, one younger and one older, to discuss the different ways we were brought up to understand the monarchy.
These inter-generational discussions are vital. Although the RYSE is a youth organisation, we sit in a community with and draw support, wisdom, and solidarity from the olders and elders around us, as they draw from us in return. Through this we create a strong, wise and long lasting community.
When we reconvened in a circle, it opened everyone out to the key points discussed. Some of the points raised included: why people might be sad at the death of an “elder”, and the performative and ritualised suffering in the name of the Queen - epitomised through “The Queue”, the community that can be found through jubilee celebrations like street parties, and the unjustness of the land held by the gentry. Generally people agreed with what was said.
After a quick tea break, we began the second half with some fuel for the discussion delivered by the RYSE team.
It began by the reading of a statement issued on the death of the queen by the South Afrikan Group the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). It recalls the brutal effects of British colonial rule in the Global South; a legacy that through her title, her wealth and her actions (or inactions) Elizabeth upheld and reinforced. They emphasise that she did not only take on the crimes of her ancestors but also committed crimes of her own. We then separated into groups of four to five people, each led by a member of the RYSE to reflect and co-reason through our reactions and thoughts. In a room of predominantly British people racialised as white, it forced us to evaluate and challenge our own role in upholding these systems, and our feelings around that. There was gratitude expressed at the fact that peoples across the world are speaking these truths, especially in such public ways. A gratitude that deepened our understanding of the vital nature of tuning into/amplifying these voices that we’ve been taught not to listen to; and that this is the essential work of turning away from the establishment’s mis-education and towards the pluriversal truth seeking and speaking of our Global Family.
After the endless monarchy worship here, people expressing these views was refreshing for many, though we were sobered at the fact that many people in this country would not be ready to hear a statement like this. It was noted that all political parties in the UK, even the ‘supposedly left wing ones’, had issued respectful and thankful statements for the Queen's “service”.
At the same time we were asked to consider a news article on the arrest of an Edinburgh university student and Friend of the RYSE Mariángela. She was holding a placard that said “fuck imperialism, abolish monarchy” and was charged with “breach of the peace” despite the fact she was simply exercising her right to free speech and protest. As this was read it provoked some gasps and a short discussion of others like her, such as Symon Hill, arrested in Oxford for shouting “Who elected him?” (he has subsequently been de-arrested).
This brought to our discussion a direct example of how the violence of the establishment that the EFF describes was brought to bear through the police’s royal mandate to limit free speech and overtly repress protest during these ‘days of mourning’. Which of course also brought up all the ways that our family are far more forcefully silenced across the world every day and again our need to listen and amplify their stories as much as anything that happens here.
The connections between Royalty and colonialism are neglected by our education system, something that Mariángela’s sign highlighted. One group suggested that the Queen had been a useful ‘nonthreatening’ way to maintain the power structure. However, once we scratch below the surface of what we are told a brutal truth comes to light - that the Monarchy sits at the top of hierarchy: their existence justifies and reinforces the colonial class system here and worldwide. As people racialised as white we are encouraged by that hierarchy to turn away from our colonial legacy, from our Global Family and instead to ally ourselves with those on top of the bloody pile.
This truth contextualises both Mariángela’s arrest and the statement from the Economic Freedom fighters. It reveals a lot of ignorance, guilt and privilege on our parts, all of which were clearly on display to varying degrees within the room that evening. To have it spelled out is often jarring, but we can use these writings and events to inspire and challenge our thoughts on it, and most importantly to direct our actions for transformation.
As the discussion continued other points were brought up. A key one in my group was King's College offering free counselling for those affected by the death of the queen - an ironic/offensive offer given the usual difficulty of accessing university mental health support. There was a lot of anger at how much money was being spent on her funeral in the middle of the “cost of living crisis” that has left many wondering how they are going to be able to keep warm this winter.
For us many of these emotions were brought home by the fact that only 13 miles away from the home of the RYSE stands the new king's estate. Occupying land that should be ours to access, it is barred to us due to trespassing laws.
And inspired by some earlier points we also discussed how the Royals are sold as a ‘void-filler’ of community and connection. That they are sold as something for us ‘good upstanding Brits’ to bond over. Yet we know that in the pursuit of a genuine community - not one founded around the living fossils of a colonial and hierarchical power structure that we are seeking to destroy - we can reclaim street parties,community celebration in our own names and who knows, hopefully we’ll soon be bonding over jumping walls and ‘trespassing’ on the land our ancestors lived within.
The session came to a close as everyone brought back what we had discussed during the breakout groups. We finished by shouting to the centre of the circle any key take aways that we had from the session, some of which included “trespass”, “not my actions but my responsibility” “community”, and “fuck the monarchy!”
We must recognise that our struggle against the monarchy, the hierarchy and the system is intertwined with the struggles of the whole Global Family. As well as holding ourselves accountable for the ways we perpetuate imperialist attitudes and violence, we must work alongside marginalised peoples for the liberation of the earth and ourselves. Which means we should really get some heads rolling, don’t you think?