Friday, 24 June 2016

Reality bites, and it hurts - Liz Kessler

I wrote a post a week ago, which I scheduled for today.

It was about how, whatever happened in yesterday’s vote, I was putting my faith in the future, in children. It was a call to all of us to stand up for goodness and humanity. It was about my belief in the phrase that has been growing in popularity over the last few weeks: ‘Love Wins.’

The only trouble is, love didn’t win. What won was bigotry, intolerance, hatred, racism, ignorance, fear and xenophobia.

And having stayed up half the night watching it all unfold, and having then slept for a few hours and woken up to the results, I am finding it hard to stand by the optimism of that blog, and so this is a very hastily-written post that reflects how I do feel this morning.

I feel upset, horrified, aghast, ashamed, blank, empty, anxious, terrified.

I imagine most – if not all – of what we read, watch on television and talk about today will be about yesterday’s result. It is hard to think about anything else today. And most – if not all – of what we do is going to be about making predictions about the future. It’s going to be a very tough time. Friendships are going to be tested to their limit. Families are waking up to new divisions. Towns torn in half, and a country not only split almost 50:50 down the middle by a vote that in my opinion should never have been put into our hands, but thrown into a level of uncertainty that people of my generation and younger have never seen.

It’s tempting – SO tempting – to express anger towards those who voted ‘Leave’ this morning. Some of us are finding it impossible to resist. I am trying my hardest not to go there. The one bit of the post I’ve deleted that I do stand by is that we must try our hardest to cling to mutual respect, dignity and compassion.

It’s very hard though, because those are the values that ‘Great’ Britain voted against yesterday.

The ‘Leave’ campaign was based on two main strands. One was to do with money. The main point of this strand was a bizarre claim that the UK would somehow magically produce huge amounts of money to put into the NHS if we left Europe.  It’s not even 9am on the morning after as I write this, and ‘Leave’ leaders are already telling us this was a mistake and should not have been said.

Really? You don’t say.

The other main strand to the campaign was around immigration. It would be wrong, dangerous and untrue to say that all those who voted to leave are racist and xenophobic. What is true, though, is that the campaign to leave was focussed hugely on racist and xenophobic principles.

The thing that scares me the most is not the thought of what happens to our trade relations with Europe, scary as that is. It’s not even about financial concerns, scary as they are: the pound has already dropped to its lowest level since 1985.

The thing that scares me so much that this morning that I can barely stop crying is the message that this result has given to Nigel Farage and his ilk.

We have told Farage that he can stand in front of a poster that echoes Nazi propaganda, and get away with it. We have told him that he can stand in front of a camera and say, ‘We will get our borders back. We will get our country back,’ and our national television broadcasters will play his words over and over again without argument. We have legitimised words, actions and ideas that a decade ago would not have been acceptable to say in public.

I am terrified that the historians of the future will look back on these days, and they will be able to plot very clearly, very easily – shamefully plainly – how the UK moved, step by step, into a period of darkness and horror and extreme right wing rule that most of us have not seen.

My dad saw it. He escaped from it in 1938 as an eight-year-old boy. He came to the UK and was given safety; he was given his life. And now his generation were amongst the ones who voted most heavily in favour of leaving. But they weren’t the only ones. Over half the country agreed with them.

So now what do the rest of us do?

Do we just stand by as our country descends into a place divided by bigotry and ignorance? Do we paper over the cracks and do our best to heal the wounds of the last few weeks? Do we suffer on in silence, our heads in our hands, failing to see a way out?

I don’t think we can do that. I don’t think I can.

At this moment, I – like many of us – feel so stunned and shocked that I have no idea what we do, how we bear this, how we move on, how we tackle the coming weeks, months, years. I just know that we have to find a way. We have to stand up, be brave, be proud, be vocal, and ensure that when those historians of the future look back on these days, my fears are proved wrong. We have the responsibility now to ensure that they look at these days, at yesterday’s results, and they note that it was the point where the UK went up to the edge of a cliff – but where the voices of decency, humanity and compassion would not let us take a step over that chasm into the darkness that lay beyond it.

And I’ll tell you where I am managing to find a shred of optimism.

In the statistics that show that it was the younger voters who mostly stood up against the politics of scapegoating, fear-mongering and xenophobia. The ones who mostly voted to remain.

My shred of optimism comes from the fact that these voters are the UK’s future.

Today’s young people are tomorrow’s authors, doctors, teachers, politicians, scientists. They are tomorrow’s world leaders.

And whilst I ponder on that for a moment, ponder on this too: what a privilege to be a writer for children and for young adults.

So yes. Maybe that’s what I can do for now, whilst I work out where else to find a shred of hope. I can keep on writing my books about mermaids who, yes, go on some crazy-ass adventures but who also fight for opposing communities to unite and make peace.

I can continue to write about fairy godsisters who help others to have the confidence to stand up for themselves and not be afraid of who they are. I’ll carry on writing about girls coming out, about teenagers overcoming bullying, pirate dogs making friends with kittens, ponies looking after the chickens. I’ll keep writing my stories, and the underlying messages – of love, tolerance, compassion and unity – will find their way of sneaking into each one.

I will put my faith in young people and continue the privilege of working with and for those who have the future in their hands.

And I’ll hope that these young people will one day realise that this broken world that we are giving them to inherit is a world that they have the power to change, to bring back from the brink, to heal. And that they can do this safe in the knowledge that, whatever happened yesterday, there are plenty of us who will support, help and nurture them every step of the way.

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Penny Dolan said...

A wise post for today. Thanks!

Joan Lennon said...

There are two writers in this house and we are desperately trying to do that today - write the words, heal the world in the way we CAN control.

John Dougherty said...

Thank you, Liz.

Heather Dyer said...

Your feelings are echoed by everyone on my Facebook page this morning. It really is a divided nation, but I too have hopes that the younger are more accepting, forward thinking and inclusive. They want to be part of the world. Those leavers who fall into the category you describe are fearful, that's all, and stuck in their ways and wanting to revert to 'how things were' because they feel afraid of change and newness. Here's the perfect reason to keep writing and reading, because storytelling is the single biggest thing that tells us to 'grow and change' in order to become heroes. Not shrink away and shut the doors.

Justina Robson said...

My partner this morning said, "oh, look, we've turned into prewar Germany, isn't that ironic?" I found it hard to disagree but I know I'm just in the doldrums because of this. I think it's a wake up call that we all have to calm the hell down and start looking forward, as Heather says, to a better future full of heroes. Maybe it's a good thing, because now we have to stand up.

Susan Price said...

Liz, I share all your fears and I voted Leave - not without trepidation and I don't feel triumphant now.
What do those who voted Remain do now? - They join those of us who voted Leave for left-wing, anti-globilisation, anti-TTIP reasons to kick Farage and the Tories back where they belong and to try and build up what the Tories and their helpers in Nu-Labour have been dismantling for almost 40 years: a decent society that works for everyone in it instead of mostly for the rich.
But there is a huge risk and I share your fear that it's all going to go horribly wrong. I've never felt such conflict about voting. I've never felt so bad about being on the winning side.

Nick Green said...

Well said, Liz.

I also think it was notable that it was the cities with the highest immigration levels that voted mostly for remain.

Julie Sykes said...

If not European then what? No man is an island...

C.J.Busby said...

Susan, I have every sympathy with your position. I held my nose and voted Remain along with the neoliberal, undemocratic, big business elite, just as you must have held your nose when voting Leave alongside a small bunch of racists and Litte Englanders - there were good, left-wing arguments for both Leave and Remain. I don't think the fact that Leave won means the UK has suddenly turned into some unrecognisably parochial and racist enclave. I think we are still the same country we were, and there are decent, kind, open-minded people on both sides who need to pick up the pieces now and try and find common ground.

Lynne Benton said...

Well said, Liz. Still reeling from the result, but hope Celia is right, that there is still some common ground between the two factions.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I live on the other side of the world, but it will affect us eventually, just as it affected us back in 1972 when a British government decided it was in the UK's best interest to join and focus its trade, etc. on the continent rather than the colonies. We'll have to wait and see. I know someone who decided to replace her Aussie citizenship with Polish, to which she was entitled, just so she could live in London. I wonder what will happen to her now?

Next week, we face an election here, and I wish I could say there WILL be change, but I fear the current mean-spirited government will get back in, and if they do they will be able to ram through a lot of horrifying legislation they failed to get through the upper house this time. So forgive me if, for the moment, that takes priority for me, but I do understand how you must be feeling now. For you, it's a huge change!