OPINION: Hot Issue - Should charities encourage rebellion for society's sake?

As Fathers4Justice supporter David Chick protested from a crane near Tower Bridge, voluntary sector minister Fiona Mactaggart told a conference that citizens should be prepared to do "uncomfortable and bad things" for the good of society. We asked charities whether rebellion should be embraced or rejected.

Neil Jameson, executive director of The Citizen Organising Foundation - YES

The original founders of most of the UK charities (and all the world's great faiths) were themselves rebels to their class or the system they inherited.

All major social changes and improvements to society - particularly for the most vulnerable - have only come about as a result of pressure, direct action and tension, usually by people organising for social justice.

New Labour would not exist without East End workers and their families striking, marching, demonstrating, organising and eventually deciding to create a political party to represent their interests at Westminster. Working men would not have the vote without the Chartists, and women have the vote because of the Suffragettes.

The civil and political rights of the powerless across the world are only recognised after years of struggle and challenge by brave men and women who understand history and the need to organise for power. Martin Luther King said: "History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily."

Robert Whelan, deputy director, Civitas: The Institute for the Study of Civil Society - NO

Charities exist within the framework of a country's laws, enjoying certain privileges in respect of the fact that they confer benefits on the wider society.

It is therefore inappropriate for them to engage in illegal activities.

In a free society it is legitimate for people to campaign to change laws which they may feel to be unjust or out of date. And if they are prepared to take the consequences, they may engage in illegal activities in pursuit of a goal which they consider worthy. The Suffragettes are an example of this. This should not be done under the cloak of charitable status.

However, Fiona Mactaggart's phrase "uncomfortable and bad things" is vaguer than this.

Charities may have a role in challenging perceptions of the appropriate way to treat children, or conserve open spaces, and this fits within their educational role. I would not call this a 'bad thing'. Of course, politicians do bad things all the time. That is why the institutions of civil society, like charities, need to keep them at arm's length.

Krishna Sarda, chief executive, the Ethnic Minority Foundation - YES

I find the question surprising. I think it reflects the birth pangs of different charities - not all have the motivators of social justice at the heart of their existence.

Those charities that were born out of the need to tackle oppression and to champion civil rights regard one of their key functions as encouraging rebellion against injustices in the interests of a society that needs to come to terms with the changes taking place within it.

It is my view that as a society we have lost the art of conversation but, more importantly, the ability to sustain difficult conversations on issues that have no simple answers.

Those in power and in the 'establishment' believe the 'rebels' have to be contained, as they make life difficult for those who want nice, neat solutions.

Those at the receiving end of injustices see organised charity activity as having 'sold out'.

But more often than not, that activity has just become secondary to the need to exist.

Luke FitzHerbert, co-founder, Directory of Social Change - YES

Our world offends every day against all the decencies by which we pretend to live. Of course we should rebel against a society in which adults hit children in public without rebuke; that has turned a noble word, asylum, into a term of abuse; that watches children starve on television even as we worry about our own obesity; that turns its back on the cruelty with which our remarkably cheap meat is produced.

And surely change is going to come anyway? If we don't rebel against things as they are, if we don't get together to insist on the changes that we want, won't we end up getting only the changes that we don't want?

Isn't failure to rebel against what is bad, collusion in keeping it bad?

I fail to rebel when I should, every day of my life and so, I suspect, do most of us - my occasional and trivial donations to a few charities are not enough. Active and repeated rebellion is needed. Fiona Mactaggart has done well to point this out.

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