Friday morning marked the arrival of some very big news.
Both on the world stage, and on my own, private little stage.
First, as I’m sure you’re aware, Britain woke up to discover that it had voted to leave the European Union.
Second, I saw my unborn baby wave at me, alive and kicking on the screen at my local hospital, flicking and wriggling to announce his or her presence, the promise of a new life, a new person, a new expression of love.
And in the midst of all this, I saw much of the world around me turn to hate.
The obvious, miserable, well documented outbreaks of racist hate.
And the less well documented but nevertheless still damaging versions of hate. The type that wears the cloak of respectability. The anti-leave movement, anti Welsh, anti English, anti old, anti-poor, anti white, anti-British kind of hate.
I think it’s time for all of that to stop.
We, thankfully, still live in a democracy. We must respect that people have different beliefs to us. We can try to influence them, of course, but not railroad them – if for no other reason than that approach simply does not work, as the recent result has shown. We must draw boundaries as to what our society does and doesn’t find acceptable: theft, murder, racism. But not simply interpreting economics differently.
The European Union has pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, winners and losers. It is easy if you are a winner to want the status quo to continue. It is natural to want to scream at the losers when you feel they have disrupted your lifestyle and dragged you to the other side.
To me, my baby is special. And I have had a very long, very painful journey in getting this far, in both emotional and physical terms. The safe and secure arrival of my child is still not guaranteed. It is still a long way off.
And as amazing as I already believe my child will be, I realise that they will be but one among a billion. It will be my job, among others, to fight for their rights – but not at the expense of everyone else.
For a start, they will and they won’t be “my child.” They will be someone’s grandchild, cousin, neighbour, friend and eventually colleague. They will also simply be themselves, an individual with all the responsibilities to themselves and to the world that that brings.
And as disturbing and distressing as the current political turmoil is in Europe and beyond, there are far worse conflicts going on in the world.
There have been far worse conflicts in Europe.
There have been worse conflicts beyond.
The European Dream
We can learn from history that constantly bashing wide groups of people leads to bad results. But we can also learn that Europe has a more recent history of emerging from chaos and destruction, of building a community capable of prosperity and peace, of working together with neighbours with different views and of substituting patient diplomacy for short-tempered volatility.
This was the “European Dream” – and the European Union simply the mechanism behind it. The dream is more important than the machine.
Leave or Remain, both clearly want a safe, prosperous, peaceful future.
The vote has been cast; the results are in.
If you feel that the European dream is threatened, don’t direct your anger into something that at best will make no difference and at worst will make a bad situation worse.
Direct it towards what you can do to change.
Democracy doesn’t begin and end with the ballot box. Information doesn’t begin and end with the Daily Mail, the Guardian or the Facebook and Twitter clickbait algorithms.
Which brings me on to the big question.
If we are angry and hurting, what can we do next?
We may not all be in it together when we’re rich, but we’re absolutely all in it together when we’re poor.
What we can actually do
So here are my suggestions:
1) We can stop spreading more hate.
I’m not even going to apologise for saying something so “airy-fairy.” We all have a voice. Some of us are EU negotiators and primetime broadcasters and heads of state. Others, and I suspect I’m not the only one here, are not. But we all have a voice.
We can choose what we share on social media and how we do it. We can stop criticising and laughing at huge chunks of society or the world because that makes us just as bad as those we’re fighting against.
Stop giving airtime to bigots (see below!) Use it to promote a constructive way ahead instead. Which brings me to…
2) We can campaign constructively for what we DO want.
The European dream is still alive. The dream for peace and prosperity can and should be continued and extended, ultimately, to the rest of the world.
Nothing has actually happened yet. Negotiations are not yet concluded. They’ve barely even started.
If you’re in the UK, you can share stories of hope, calmly challenge facts, write to your MP, write to newspapers, go on marches and join political parties. You can also listen to the other side’s point of view and show them some respect. A 48/52 split in vote cannot be washed away by calling one side racist bigots nor gloating over perceived “victory”
If you’re outside the UK but still in the EU, you can petition your local representative to press for sensible, calm negotiations with the UK instead of malicious, retaliatory measures.
Yes, you can do it, no matter how ****ed off you are now.
All of Europe loses when one member fails. The desire for revenge may be natural (let’s face it) but it rarely leads to good outcomes in the long run.
Whatever either side may wish, we’re only a short swim away from one another, and a brief skim of graveyards and memorials the world over reminds us that everyone loses out if we all fall out.
If you’re outside the UK and the EU, you can still contact your local representative and urge them to support non-punitive negotiations. If you don’t have a local representative, you can write to us here on the blog to remind us how lucky we are to have ours (even though it rarely feels like it) and to tell us where you are and what we could do to help you.
Never doubt that a group of small, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead.
3) Be The Change
I hope it goes without saying on this site, that I abhor any kind of racism, ageism, sexism, and any other kind of hate-filled, discriminatory activity. Please, if you do experience or witness this, speak out, help out and involve the police if necessary.
With that said, the news shines a brighter spotlight on that than I can ever offer. What I do feel we need more of right now are the stories of hope. Of kindness. The sort that provide us with ideas of what we ourselves can do in our everyday ways.
If you have something or see something kind or inspirational, please let me know.
I know something of how it feels to be hated for your nationality as you go about your day, and will never forget the kind words and actions that people shared with me.
4) You can send me champagne, cured jamon and brie!
Oh no. Wait, you can’t. Not because of anything to do with this current European fiasco.
But because of the other piece of news ☺
This is never the blog post I imagined I’d be writing if I ever got to this stage.
But sometimes, news can be too good, too bad, or too life altering not to share. On big and small world stages.
To all of you outside the UK and Europe, who have no interest in what’s going on, I apologise.
Regular travel programming will return soon.
Until then, let’s all wish each other well.
It really, truly, is the only meaningful way.
Myths about Brexit
Myth: That Nigel Farage and the odious views of the UKIP party represent 52% of the British population.
Reality: Farage ran in the general election last year and lost. His party, UKIP has one MP among 650. He was not part of the official Leave campaign and the official “Leavers” repeatedly distanced themselves from him and disagreed with his objectionable views. Plus, the vote was for 52% of the UK, not Britain.
Myth: that Britain hates Europe.
Reality: the vote was to leave the EU after negotiations with that body had failed. The EU is not the same as Europe. Leaders of the official Leave campaign said throughout that they welcomed immigration and wanted to work with Europe. And remember, 48% of those who voted, voted to stay.
Britain loves Europe! Even if it’s well aware that Europe does not always feel the same way…
Myth: that the referendum was all about immigration (and therefore hatred of foreigners.)
Reality: immigration was a big issue but definitely not the only one. Autonomy, economy, human rights, limited access to the rest of the world, concerns about the Euro, about the power of big businesses to lobby the EU while small businesses could not, TTIP, the future of the NHS, the scary thought of having votes decided by far right parties in other member states… It was a long, long list and this blog post barely scratches the surface. And even the debate about immigration had many, many sides.
The UK remains one of the most open and tolerant places in the world. It has many flaws. But there are things to be done that can address those…