Stand up, speak out

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.


No time for whinging liberals

Donald Trump is to be the next President. The spirit of Brexit has crossed the Atlantic and taken on an even more calamitous manifestation. Liberals are reeling. Problems seem to be everywhere: rising inequality, isolation and disillusionment, a class of voters left behind by progress becoming distrustful of the notion of progress itself.

For a century and more, liberalism and democracy have been uncomfortable bedfellows; minority rights and constitutionalism pushing against the dangers and benefits of majoritarian rule. Yet together they have achieved remarkable change: the welfare state, women’s suffrage, civil rights, a semblance of multiculturalism. This worked because, somehow, enough people wanted these things for democratic pressure to force the state down a liberal path. Now the alliance has come apart at the seams, ripping apart the lazy assumption that progressive policies were inevitable if we just convinced enough people and waited it out.

We’re not getting through; rather we are re-convincing those who already agree with us. Belatedly we are coming to understand the problem – liberals are friends with liberals, and we end up living in a well-off, educated bubble in which we cannot fathom that anyone could think differently. We see now that there are many left to convince. But this realisation is prompting some to jump to a dangerous argument, that we should abandon some of our ideals – open borders is often the first offered up for sacrifice – in order to appeal to the supposed values of the working class.

We cannot fight reactionary politics by the over-reacting ourselves. As Hillary reminded her in her emotional concession speech (which I still can’t bear to watch in full in case it completely breaks my heart), now more than ever we need to be shining our ideals into the darkness; to be saying that there is such thing as right and wrong; that whatever happens, we should never stop fighting the good fight. There is work to be done to protect and advance the progress we have achieved so far, there is no time for hand-wringing and doubt.

Cities across America are witnessing the first major protests against the outcome of an election in modern times. There are enough people unwilling to accept bigotry to ensure that, if we don’t give up, we can begin to rid the current political climate of its poisonous discourse. We may be down, and I am the first to embrace despair for humanity, but we are not out. Raise your voices now, and things might just be ok.