The One Day Without Us campaign came into existence in the autumn of 2016, out of a conversation on Facebook. We were migrants, EU citizens and UK nationals, all of whom were appalled by the shocking increase in anti-migrant hate crime on the streets, by the scapegoating of migrants in the media and on social media, by the cynical disregard for the EU citizens whose lives have been plunged into turmoil as a result of Brexit, and by the “hostile environment” polices enacted by the UK government which have deprived undocumented migrants of the basic supports necessary for survival in a civilised society.
Our campaign set out to counter these developments. In the face of the relentless denigration of migrants, we wanted to celebrate the positive contribution that migrants have made in our communities, schools, workplaces, and families. At a time when migrant voices tend to be marginalised or ignored in a one-sided national “debate” about immigration, we set out to create a platform that would enable migrants of many different backgrounds and perspectives to make themselves heard, and which would also express a more positive affirmation of the UK as an open and welcoming society.
On 20 Feb these aspirations brought tens of thousands of people across the country to take part in the UK”s first-ever national day of action in solidarity with migrants, with the support of universities, trade unions, cultural institutions and charities. Next month, on 17 February, 1 Day Without Us will hold another national day of action. For 24 hours we invite migrants and their supporters to mobilise their organisations and communities around the campaign message “proud to be a migrant/proud to stand with migrants.”
At present, the loudest voices in the UK’s immigration “debate” continue to be those who describe immigration as a problem and a threat. At its most extreme fringe are those who attack the Grenfell survivors as “illegal migrants” sponging off the state, who accuse British Muslims of being nothing more than terrorists and grooming gangs, who tell men and women who have been living here for years that they should “go home” or stop speaking their own language.
It is easy and convenient – to attribute the more outrageously xenophobic or racist expressions of anti-migrant hostility to a “few idiots”. But such rampant xenophobia and hatemongering is the most unacceptable manifestation of a broad consensus that extends across much of the political class and the media and a significant section of the public, which depicts migration as problematic, threatening and dangerous.
Such is the power of this consensus that even politicians who recognise the necessity and the inevitability of migration are reluctant to stand up for migrant rights, or challenge the often evidence-free assertions that blame and scapegoat migrants for social and economic problems that they did not cause. We do not take a position on Brexit, but these tendencies have clearly been exacerbated by the referendum result, as migrants and the descendants of migrants find themselves more under threat than at any time since the late 1970s.
Today we live in a country in which a woman who reports rape to the police is arrested on immigration offences; where a Jamaican woman who has been living in the UK for fifty years is threatened with deportation; where 3.4 million lives have been held “in limbo” for the last eighteen months; where migrant workers are simultaneously blamed for lowering wages and “undercutting” British workers or accused of being “health tourists” or “scroungers”.
We believe that such actions do not reflect the best traditions of this country – and also that they conceal a far more positive picture of migration that is the routine experience of communities up and down the country. On 17 February we are asking our supporters to show their solidarity with the men and women who have made the UK their home and also to celebrate the culturally and ethnically diverse society we have become.
In our new campaign video, one our young migrant interviewees says “migrants are just people, who come from another country.” It is astonishing how often that obvious message is forgotten. Today, the word “identity” has become a staple of our national conversation about immigration, usually in order to present migrants and migration as a threat to who “we” are, or as an anomalous aberration.
We believe that migrants are part of that first-person plural, that 21st century British society is the sum of all its parts and its many different communities and identities, and that our common interests would be best served by embracing that reality and finding ways to make migration work for all of us.
Because if we are to prevent the UK”s ongoing transformation into a hostile anti-migrant fortress, we need to acknowledge and defend the gains we have made and the society we have become. We need to remind our politicians that there are millions who reject the stigmatisation and victimisation of the men and women we have known as colleagues, neighbours, workmates, family members and friends. These are the people who are routinely categorised as “migrants” a term that has too often been a pejorative term in British political discourse.
Migration in the UK encapsulates many different expectations, historical experiences, day-to-day realities and legal jurisdictions. Nevertheless we do not believe that migrant should be ever an insult or an object of shame, and we reject the distinctions between “them” and “us” that it implies. We celebrate migration as an entirely normal activity, and we celebrate the kind of society the UK has become as a result of migration.
We don”t pretend that a single day of action can change entrenched attitudes in a single day. But if we are to shift the narrative about migration in a more positive direction, then we need to be bold, positive and proactive in affirming our vision of the UK as an open society that is comfortable with its diversity and confident in its ability to construct a future in which all its different components can find a place. So we invite all those who share that vision to join us on 17 Feb. Look for 1 Day Without Us events in your community, which you can find on our website at: www.1daywithoutus.org. If there aren’t 1DWU groups in your area, then create one. Or organise an event that best reflects your community, your organisation and your priorities.
Do what best suits you and what you are best able to organise. Hold a rally. Protest or demonstrate. Link arms around a public building. Organize a communal meal. Photograph yourselves with your migrant colleagues and post them on social media. Wherever and whoever you are, join in our unifying action at 2 o”clock, and post pictures of whatever you do.
For 24 hours, let the country and world know that there are millions of people up and down the country who are proud to be migrants and proud to stand in solidarity with the people who have made this country their home, and who are now a part of us, just as we are part of them.