There are few reasons these days to be optimistic. A hard Tory Brexit is going ahead almost unopposed by a useless Labour party. Our PM is fawning over the newly inaugurated Trump, who is turning out to be just as bad as we feared for issues as diverse as women’s right, foreign affairs and immigration. The press is under unprecedented attack; the truth now comes in real and alternative forms. Comparisons to the 1930s which once seemed overblown now look prescient, as Trump signs orders targeting Muslims and calls for a registry reminiscent of the Nuremburg Laws. It’s a dark and depressing outlook for the next few years. I see no reason to pretend that we are doing anything but going backwards; denying the problem only adds to it.
And yet, raise your eyes from the immediate future to the horizon of the next decade and there are perhaps some reasons to hope. While, undoubtedly, bad things are happening at an alarming rate, the old law of equal-but-opposite reactions seems to be holding firm. As Trump reinstated the global gag rule, which stops federal funding for any agency or NGO operating outside the US which so much as mentions abortion, millions upon millions of women and their allies marched against the inauguration of the man they call the “creeper-in-chief”. Madeleine Albright has declared herself ready to register as a Muslim in order to frustrate his bigoted efforts, and I’m willing to bet that thousands of Americans would follow her lead. As Stephen Bannon tells the media to “keep its mouth shut”, subscription money is pouring in to liberal publications like the New York Times for the first time in years; it may not be enough to save independent, fact-based journalism, but this is a sign that a large section of society is unwilling to give up its freedom of speech and its ability to hold government to account. As a horrifying combination of nationalism, authoritarianism and white supremacy attempts to squash the West’s liberal spirit, so that same spirit forms the backbone of the fight back.
Today is Holocaust memorial day, and quotes on the relevance of the event to current circumstances are flying around the liberal parts of the internet. One stands out as a reminder of how quickly those who claim to protect us can become our persecutors, and how a lack of solidarity can be everyone’s undoing:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We must make sure that we speak up and stand up for every wrong, not just the most egregious or the most personal. Not only does this prevent normalisation, it ensures that hate is always met by solidarity. As Trump, the Brexiteers and the online alt-righters try to divide, we must show a unity beyond what they could ever muster. I know we can do it: the women who came out across the world to stand with their American sisters and the marchers in DC raising awareness of global injustice are all the evidence we need of that. The key now is to make sure that 21st January 2017 does not become a unique event, but just the start of protest after protest that eventually and inevitably grind down the resolve of those who try to silence us.
It will be a long and arduous war of attrition, and we may not win many battles along the way. But as women throughout history have always shown, as long as we get up again, we are only down – never out.