Much of this – the current state of global politics, denigration of refugees/immigrants, racism and xenophobia etc – is not new. The mask has simply been lifted. I come from a community of refugees, who, for a long time, have had to navigate their existence whilst experiencing much of what people are only paying attention to now. I watched my father endure racist insults from people who assumed he did not speak their language, I watched my mother receive strange looks or have eggs thrown at her whilst wearing her cultural dress, I was bullied at school for not having papers (legal status), and have constantly heard the term refugee used as a derogatory word, as if describing someone who is contagious, who carries a virus or a disease, all of this while being told that we live in a post-racial, equal, meritocratic, inclusive society. So, much of this, for the people who come from disenfranchised communities, is simply an unravelling, from a smaller to a larger scale, of what has already been happening in their lives. The only difference being now that these views are being normalised and validated on a macro scale, in the mainstream, the institutions, and the media, rather than the micro scale which is where it has always existed. And as always, it’s usually the most disenfranchised that will suffer the most. So, if there is to be progress, solidarity and support must be shown to the most disenfranchised groups in society, and they must not be seen as helpless, but rather, fundamental to creating change.
How do you feel about what’s coming in 2017?
Hope is strongest in times of political turmoil, for hope grants us the energy and endurance to bring into existence that which we imagine. In times of great political oppression and global uncertainty, the greatest of resistance movements have emerged. The Haitian revolution in 1804 led to the first independent state of Africans free from enslavement, the Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall riots, which led to the LGBTQ liberation movements, the Burkina Faso revolution of 1983 led by Thomas Sankara, and so forth. There are many examples of movements, spontaneous and popular, as well as organised, emerging out of a political crisis and transforming peoples’ lives and creating a new path for the future. 2017, and the years to come, will see much more of this; political resistance and organising in the arts, and on the streets. The question that remains is will it be sustained? How will people respond or organise if there is no visible threat in office? When things appear to be settled with a leader that is more insidious and implicit with their strategy? Peace/order is three times more difficult to maintain than war. Will people remain as politically active and engaged when he who will not be named is no longer President of the most capitalist imperialist nation on the planet? What happens after 2020? If people begin to understand that regardless of who is the leader of a particular nation, groups will continue to face oppression because of the societal structure that reinforces it, then people can sustain efforts in dismantling that structure and creating an equal society.
What can we do about it? (Practically advice is especially useful).
It is crucial in these times for people to organise – get involved with different groups/movements within their communities – particularly around specific issues that they are skilled or experienced in, or passionate and knowledgeable about.
There are different elements around which to organise and get involved. Here are some suggestions within each:
Social & Cultural
Social: be involved in your communities; what skills do you have that can be of use for disenfranchised groups in your area? Can you spend 2 hours a week reading or translating for those with legal issues who struggle with English? Can you mentor students who require guidance or tutoring? There are some many of us with skills that could be put to use within our communities, and if this were to happen on an organised collective level, it would help to provide support and fill the gap that has occurred as a result of the underfunding of the public sector.
Cultural: create art. Write, paint, blog, read poetry, create music, songs, graffiti. In terms of great political oppression, art has been a powerful tool that transforms the consciousness of the masses, from punk to hip hop, to graffiti and poetry; ‘the revolution will not be televised’, a popular line that symbolically represents change, was originally in a poem by Gil Scott-Heron. Many who have said this line and were not even aware. Art (all forms) needs to have a message, not ideological or dogmatic, but purposeful and humanising. Art without a message is decoration, and that is a luxury only the elites can afford, only for a life without urgency.
Organise with local political groups and organisers/lobbyists. When are your next local elections? Do people in your area know who your representatives are? Are they aware of any changes that are about to be put in place that could affect their lives on a local level? Are you aware? It is important to put pressure on local government representatives to make sure they are held accountable for their work, or lack of, and are either voted in or out accordingly. Holding government representatives accountable will also help disenfranchised people to feel they have a stake in their community.
Where you spend your money is where you vote. Your currency can build or destroy a corporation. It is time to divest from large corporations, particularly those that avoid paying taxes, or enforce unfair wage labour exploitation, and move to supporting local businesses. It takes conscientious effort, but one that can be long-lasting and have a massive impact on many levels. It will help boost the creation of local franchises and business, allowing people within their communities to create employment and be empowered. Some suggestions; shop 2nd hand, avoid fast fashion, buy less packaged goods, or avoid completely if possible, use ethical consumption websites to source your products, and more importantly, inform those around you so that they are also aware of the choices they are making with their money.
I believe that change starts with the self. If we are truly to have change on a global level and transform the world, each individual must be self-aware, and evaluate the impact they are having on the world. Each person needs to be aware about how their individual actions are impacting the environment and try to cut down their carbon foot-print, for e.g. each person needs to also check their privilege, and the internal bias or prejudice that may inhabit them as a result of societal conditioning, and endeavour to correct this. Rather than be the first one to speak out, be the first one to listen. Listen to the voices from groups that have been otherwise purposefully ignored and silenced. Seek them out, and help to amplify. The most transformative answer to this question, ‘what can we do about it?’ is something that has never been done before; we can all begin to see each other as human. This is the most difficult task of all. If we can feel the burden and pain of a life, that has no direct connection to ours, if we can see someone and appreciate their existence, and their humanity, then we can truly change things for the future.