In Light of Recent Events

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Well, the American Presidential votes have been counted and the number that was cast for a candidate whose campaign was built on inciting hatred and intolerance is, to borrow a quote from the day of the Twin Towers attack, “more than many of us can bear”.

When the then mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, spoke those words with such sensitivity and dignity I considered him to be a person of certain gravitas and felt sure that they would resonate with us for decades to come. How ironic that this same person should have been on stage following another iconic 9/11 date, which for so many was a day that filled people with as much shock and horror as they had felt 15 years ago.

Maybe you think that is an inappropriate comparison, but it felt to me like many Americans’ beliefs in their country, their fellow countrymen and their political system were dramatically collapsing before their very eyes. That a man who seemed so openly and proudly abhorrent, who had no political training and seemingly no interest in even learning the craft of leadership, should be elected leader of the country and, by default, effectively the leader of the world, was a catastrophe of the highest level. And just to show how upside down the world had become, there on-stage celebrating Trump’s victory after helping to orchestrate it was none other than the former mayor Giuliani – who had not so much as slipped off his pedestal as been ceremoniously thrown off in my eyes.

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But, ironies aside, where does this leave us all now that we have digested the news? Quite rightly, people are very worried. They are worried about so many good things that may well be undone – from Obamacare, to environmental and trade agreements. They are worried about things that are apparently going to be done, like the Mexican wall and the deportation of immigrants. And they are worried about a man who wasn’t considered safe with a twitter account having access to the nuclear codes.

All we can do is wait and see, which makes us all feel powerless and at his mercy.

As is common after a big shock, people are now seeking reassurances and answers. I wish I could say that it will be alright – because he doesn’t have a big enough mandate or he only controls one house (unfortunately, as the Republicans now control both houses he holds more power than Obama ever did). So, from doing my own soul-searching I have decided that the only thing that I, as a bystander thousands of miles away, can do is look to myself. Yes I can get angry at the apparent stupidity of those who voted for Trump, or I can get angry at the laziness and complacency within the Democratic party for not realising that they needed to put forward a fresh new candidate instead of old blood. But that doesn’t change the result. (And for the record, I don’t think so many Americans are that stupid, I just think that it is a very divided nation and that there are a lot of very desperate people choosing the only option of change that was put before them, even if it felt to the rest of the world a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas).

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In Britain we have had our own catastrophe in the form of Brexit and here too people are failing to understand how so many people could have voted to have all the benefits of European membership taken away from them. But again, people don’t make rational decisions when they are fed up with being at the bottom of the pile and feeling increasingly alienated and, in the case of some, desperate. Plus we have the impact of the media propaganda that has been openly churning out lies and inciting suspicion and hatred without any fear of punishment, as our press is self-regulated.

Comparisons have been drawn to the current political situation and the rise of Hitler. All my life it had seemed inconceivable that such a thing as happened in Germany could happen again. Until now. Shockingly, history does seem to be repeating itself – we are seeing refugees flocking from genocide while being described as vermin; media spewing out racist propaganda; and demagogues full of hatred being in a position of too much power. This has to stop.

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So, how do we turn back a tide that suddenly feels like a tsunami? Firstly we can turn our anger into action. Don’t just moan about the situation to your mates down the pub then move on to discussing Bake Off or Strictly Come Dancing. Don’t wring your hands over other people’s apparent stupidity while sleepwalking towards more national and international disasters. Focus on the things you CAN change instead of getting bitter about the ones you can’t.

No we can’t get rid of Trump, but that doesn’t say we don’t have a voice. Good people are working hard to protect people and produce small but significant justices. So, if you disagree with Brexit then sign any petition or poll going to show others that you don’t want it. MPs do listen to their constituents because they want to be re-elected, so ask them to vote against it, or at least for a soft Brexit – whatever that is.

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Sign up to campaigning organisations like 38 degrees, sum of us and Change.org and when they send you details of their campaigns, if you agree with what they are fighting for, help to influence the outcome by signing your name or writing to your MP (which literally can be done in seconds with their help). If there is an anti-austerity march, or anti-BREXIT march, or a march in support of refugees and it’s something you feel is important about then join it. It doesn’t make you an anarchist just because you show your support, in a peaceful way, for things that you believe in.

Be prepared to have those uncomfortable conversations with your friends, families, colleagues – or just anyone who says something to you that you disagree with. If someone blames our problems on the immigrants, challenge them on that; if they say that the European Union has been bad for the UK ask them in what way. If they quote something inflammatory that they read in a newspaper remind them that certain newspapers regularly lie. You don’t have to be offensive, but if people aren’t challenged over things they say because they have been fed misinformation by the media, they will never know that they are mistaken.

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If there isn’t an outside body regulating the press we need to do it ourselves. How? By cutting off their oxygen. The media relies on advertising to survive, so if we persuade companies not to advertise in the press that are openly telling lies and inciting hatred the papers will lose their income and will have to start reconsidering their editorial stance. An organisation called Stop Funding Hate is circulating petitions to persuade companies to do just that. And momentum is building, with results. Lego has just announced that it will no longer advertise in the Daily Mail, and the Co-Op is reviewing its advertising policy. I feel sure that this is just the beginning and that many more companies will follow suit, if we promise to boycott them, through these petitions if they don’t. Because they do listen to their customers if profits are at stake.

What else can we do? Well, as Voltaire put it “let us take care of our garden”. I don’t mean that we should forget about the world’s problems and just get ourselves an allotment. I mean that it is easy to get angry with others and blame the world’s problems on them, but what if everyone decided to work on themselves instead of just criticising others? We don’t have to emulate Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa (though god knows we could do with a few more of those) but there is room for improvement in all of us and if we all work on ourselves and our own ‘gardens’ how great the world could be!

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So in that vein, as the President elect prepares to make his own pledge of allegiance here is mine – to myself and the planet.

  1. I pledge to be kind to other people. That doesn’t just mean just not being unkind, it means that I will make a conscious effort to be kind – through my words and actions.

  2. I will speak out against injustice and prejudice, even if that makes me unpopular. I will not keep quiet if someone says something offensive, whether it is wilfully or through misinformation and ignorance. And I will support those who speak out too.

  3. I will buy fair-trade produce wherever possible and will not buy new clothes that have been produced through any suffering or exploitation. I will only buy from charity shops or from companies that I trust are paying a fair-wage and providing decent working conditions.

  4. I will be kind to all creatures on this planet. Which means I will not ignore cruelty in farming and will not see animals as mere ‘products’ as opposed to living beings like you and me. I will only buy meat products that are animal welfare approved or free-range and I will pay a fair price for food products, especially those that are animal-related, because cheap things always come at a price somewhere down the line.

  5. I will nurture my talents and seek to use my skills as a writer, photographer and communicator to educate, inform, challenge and to help inspire change where it is needed

  6. I will value all that I have been given – whether that is my good health, a roof over my head or the freedom to go where I choose. I will recognise that, even when things look bleak, I am one of the very privileged ones.

  7. I will dedicate a portion of my time to helping others more disadvantaged than myself.

  8. I will not let the world situation overwhelm me but I will be informed – because ignorance and apathy creates an opportunity for the powerful to push through injustices.

  9. I will question and challenge anything that does not seem right and I will not accept that it cannot be changed.

  10. I will maintain my faith in humanity and will seek to understand why people are doing things that I disagree whether rather than just condemning them for it.
    DSCF6445(Photos taken on a trip to Miami at the start of this year, when everything still felt fairly normal).

In Time of the Breaking of Nations

It is still less than a week since the British referendum result. And yet it feels much longer. So much has happened since then that I can’t a recall a time in British history so tumultuous. I feel that we will look back asking not “What were you doing when Brexit occurred?” but rather “Which way did you vote?” For I cannot think of anything that has divided our nation so much – not only geographically; even within the Conservative and Labour parties there have been divisions so great that staunch Labour supporters have found themselves on the same side as the leader of the Conservative party. And now both of our main parties are at war, as the nation itself is, with themselves.

To get some sense of inner peace amongst the chaos and drama I went on a couple of walks – first on the day that the results came out and again yesterday. Both were typical British summer days – not particularly hot, but not unpleasant either. There was a break from the usual rainy days that we have been subjected to recently (as if the weather itself had echoed the bitter tears of half the population) and I was at least able to benefit from the lush, verdant beauty of early summer.

I walked through some of the greenest areas of London, and also in some pretty affluent streets (which I couldn’t help thinking up new names for – “Lucky Bastards Avenue” and “Fat Cat Alley” sprang to mind). As I ambled the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ kept playing in my mind, particularly the line “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”. I remembered how I had not been allowed to include this hymn at my wedding ceremony because the priest considered it too jingoistic. I was a bit annoyed at the time, but now I was starting to wonder if he had a point. After all it is based on a Blake poem suggesting that our land was so magnificent that Jesus must have walked on it.

Maybe Brexit is just about us getting a bit ahead of ourselves with our collective opinion of how great this country actually is. How we conveniently forget minor reality checks like the fact that our national football team this week could not even beat a country with a population smaller than most of our cities when called upon to do so. Maybe if we took ‘Great’ out of our name, banned Jerusalem from ever being sung again, and had a slightly less trumped up flag, then it would help us to have a more balanced view?

Because the problem is that even I, who felt physically sick when I heard the referendum result and cried angry tears that this could have happened, couldn’t help feeling a little bit comforted when I walked my city’s historic streets and parks and took in their beauty. And I knew that, however much the aggrieved 48% have threatened to revolt, in reality we will probably gradually accept the change and comfort ourselves by grumbling about it and telling everyone “Don’t say we didn’t warn you!”

Something else that came to my mind during my ambles was the Thomas Hardy poem ‘In Time of the Breaking of Nations’, written at the start of World War I. Hardy’s poem depicts how life goes on the same in England, in spite of the carnage taking place across the channel. The land is still farmed; people still fall in love. The poem was written in response to a request from the government to Hardy to comfort and reassure people. Conjuring it up now doesn’t comfort me; it reinforces my gut fear that we will not take a stance against tumultuous changes like Brexit when we have newspapers to misinform and mould us; and football tournaments and Facebook posts to distract us from the bigger picture.

I did not mourn our departure from the European Cup. I was glad. Because I wanted some of those who voted for England’s much bigger exit to share some of my pain, if only for a fleeting moment. And I wanted them to be reminded that we are not that great a nation anymore, just like we have not won a major football tournament in fifty years.  We haven’t found a winning team and we haven’t been fixed. We’re just a confused, deflated and divided country, wondering who our next leader will be and what our next ill-conceived tactic will be to try to restore those glory days we misguidedly think we deserve.

Here is Hardy’s poem:

In Time of the Breaking of Nations

Only a man harrowing clods

In a slow silent walk

With an old horse that stumbles and nods

Half asleep as they stalk.

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Only thin smoke without flame

From the heaps of couch-grass;

Yet this will go onward the same

Though Dynasties pass.

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Yonder a maid and her wight

Come whispering by:

War’s annals will cloud into night

Ere their story die.