1 Day Without Us: Let’s Have a Different Conversation About Migration

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.

2017: The Year of Lying Brazenly

For connoisseurs of 21st century dystopian humour, there is a bleakly amusing clip doing the rounds showing Pete Hoekstra, the US Ambassador to the Netherlands, apparently being well and truly hoist by his petard.  Hoekstra is a diplomat appointed by Trump and forged very much in the template of his master.   Asked by a Dutch journalist whether he said that there were Muslim ‘no go areas’ in the Netherlands, Hoekstra denies that he said any such thing, and accuses the interview of spreading ‘fake news.’  Said interviewer then shows said ambassador a 2015 clip in which Hoekstra can be found saying exactly what he has just said he has not said.

When the interviewer shows Hoekstra the clip and asks him why he characterized it as as fake news, Trump’s man in the Netherlands immediately denies that he said it was fake news even though the interview that he is participating in clearly shows him saying exactly that.

This exchange tells us a number of things about the state we’re in.  The good news is that there are still good journalists who are prepared to hold lying politicians to account.  That might be grounds for optimism, were it not for the fact that Hoekstra doesn’t appear to care that his falsehoods have been exposed in full public view.

Hoekstra may be little more than his master’s lickspittle, but the contempt, arrogance and total indifference to truth or fact-based argument on display here are another indicator that 2017 has taken us into a new political territory, whose implications have yet to be fully absorbed.  ‘Post-truth’ politics didn’t begin with the election of Donald Trump.   Tony Blair and George Bush worked up one of the great political lies in modern history, and neither of them paid any serious price for it.

But Blair, Bush and their defenders have repeatedly denied that they were lying about WMDs and tried to make excuses for their catastrophic decision to invade Iraq.    In the Trump era excuses and apologies are not required.   We now have an American president can lie openly and brazenly on an almost daily basis without any consequences whatsoever:  a president who can ignore and reject photographs demonstrating that his inauguration was poorly-attended as ‘fake news’; who denies that he was in a ‘pussy-grabbing’ video in which he can be clearly seen and heard – and crucially, a president whose power base ignores and rejects whatever he ignores and rejects.

This isn’t some kind of American aberration.  David Davis has clearly lied through his teeth all year about the Brexit impact studies that turned out never to have been made.  Asked by the Brexit select committee early this month what had happened to these studies, Davis denied that they had ever been carried out, even though he himself had said on various occasions that such studies did exist.

As early as November 2016, Davis’s department said that it was preparing impact studies ‘ on over fifty sectors of the economy.’  Yet Davis sat before the Brexit committee looking bored, smug and utterly indifferent to the discrepancy between what he had promised and what he was offering that was being presented to him by his shocked interlocutors.

There are various reasons why we have ended up like this.  Part of the explanation lies in the common decadence of British and American politics, which increasingly produces politicians without any intellectual grounding or moral compass,  who no longer feel any motivation even to go through the motions of telling the truth.   But the arrogance shown by Trump, Davis et al is also the product of a deeper cultural and political shift, in which political arguments have become so tribalised that truth no longer matters even to their supporters.

Trump and Davis know that the people who support them don’t care if they lie, and don’t care if they are found out, as long as their lies suit and reflect their common agenda.  So if Davis lies about Brexit, that’s fine, as long as his lies are seen to further the cause of Brexit.  When Trump lies about…anything, that’s ok too, as long as his lies rub salt in the wounds of ‘liberals’, ‘leftards’ or ‘the elite.’   And when Hoekstra is caught lying about Muslim ‘no go areas’ in which ‘cars and politicians are being burned’, that doesn’t matter either because there are many people who want to be believe that such things are true.

This is why the likes of Katie Hopkins have continued to claim that October’s car accident outside the Natural History Museum was a terrorist attack, even when it was absolutely clear that it wasn’t.  After all, if you believe that the media and political class are so cowed by Islam that they will actively cover up a major terrorist attack to avoid causing offense, then you will believe anything, and politicians like Trump, Davis and Hoekstra appeal to an audience who are prepared to believe whatever confirms their prejudices.

This audience has been around for a long time, fed on a diet of poisonous allegations and conspiracies that goes beyond the current world of shock jocks, Infowars and Prison Planet etc to the ‘UN black helicopter’ conspiracies that circulated in the early Clinton era.  Social media have merely widened that audience and made it easier to reach it and compartmentalize it, and the results are plain to see.

There was once a time when Americans were taught to admire the young George Washington, who  supposedly admitted to cutting down a cherry tree on the grounds that ‘ I cannot tell a lie.’  A 21st century Washington would simply deny that a cherry tree had ever been chopped down or call it ‘fake news’, and his supporters would agree with everything he said even if someone showed them a chopped-down tree and an axe with his fingerprints on it.

These tendencies aren’t exclusive to the right, of course.  Leftists can think and act like this too, but the brazen dishonesty of Trump, Davis and Hoekstra is essentially a product of the tribalism of the right and the far-right.  And 2017 is the year in which this toxic sludge burst from the social media fringes into the mainstream,  to the point when the whole process of reasoned argument and fact-based discussion that makes democratic life possible is now at risk.

Because if lying no longer matters, then why should truth matter?  Why bother even trying to prove that something is true or false if people will simply ignore your arguments if they don’t like them?

And if you no longer believe that truth has a role to play in democratic politics, then you run the very real risk of transforming political life into the playground of bullies, demagogues, populists, Twitter hatemobs – and liars.

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Barbarian

Anyone familiar with horror films will recognize the following scenario: a group of people are being terrorised by a monster/serial killer/alien.  They find a hiding place and fortify it. All their attention is focused on keeping the intruder out. Not until it’s too late do they discover that the monster is already inside the building.

There is something of this trope in the response of the UK public to the political horror film starring the orange-haired beast known as Donald J. Trump.

Last week a poll revealed that 1 in 10 people would be willing to protest against a putative ‘working visit’ from Donald Trump next year on a date that has yet to be determined. It is still not certain that this visit is even going to take place. Yet already the community networks that helped organise last February’s Stop Trump/Stand Up to Trump protests are bracing themselves for the occasion and putting dates into their diaries.

On one level this response is admirable. It’s a healthy sign that so many people are willing to disregard the grovelling decision by May and her hapless cronies to invite Trump anywhere near these shores. But we should not allow the beast in the White House to distract us from our own political monsters already in our midst. Because like Godot, Trump may not come. And as far as migrants in the UK are concerned, Trump is by no means the most pressing threat that this country faces right now.

My piece for Ceasefire Magazine.  You can read the rest here:

You can also check out the new 1 Day Without Us campaign video, which we have just launched this week.

 

 

Trump’s Christmas Message

This week the Trump non-presidency posted what may well go down in history as some of the weirdest photographs ever taken in the White House, featuring Melania Trump as the spirit of Christmas.  One of them shows the First Lady walking with a fixed grin through what looks alarmingly like a giant silver vagina, but turns out to be a corridor of Christmas trees.  In another she is standing on a marble floor surrounded by a little copse of snow-covered Chrismas trees in her white dress and heels, looking like the wicked witch of Narnia in search of a dancing partner.

But the most striking image shows Melania standing on a red carpet in a white dress  and her arms by her side staring through a phalanx of ballerinas.  It’s an image that is  both surreal and also an inadvertent homage to the horror film genre, because Melania looks an awful lot like Sissy Spacek with that stare and dress, and you can’t help wondering what might happen to those dancers if  a bucket of pig’s blood was thrown on her.

You certainly wouldn’t want to leave her alone with the baby Jesus for long.  As is often the case with Melania Trump, it’s difficult to know whether she is Rapunzel or Countess Dracula in this Mar-a-Lago winterval.  Is she reveling in her power or is she too a prisoner of the dystopian sci fi satire made flesh that we are all forced to inhabit?  Either way, these joylessly saccharine images are unlikely to win the ‘ War on Christmas’.  This is partly because this ‘war’ is a figment of Trump’s imagination, and also because nothing and no one can conceal the fact that the howling beast who inhabits the White House walls has nothing to do with the message of peace and brotherhood that Christ’s birth was intended to bring to the world.

Trump isn’t the first world leader to fail to get this message.  Hitler was also a big fan of Christmas:

Image result for hitler's christmas

And he liked Santa too:

Image result for hitler's christmas

I know I’m probably being a bit of a killjoy posting such images, or maybe even going over the top a little, when all the White House wants us to do is think of tinsel and reindeer.  But that isn’t the only Christmas message that’s come out of the White House this week.  Because Trump has now retweeted none other than our own Britain First – a fascist would-be paramilitary organisation that specialises in anti-Muslim hate speech, whose name was quoted by the man who shot Jo Cox to death.

Even our PM, who up to now would have swum naked through a lake of cold sick to get a trade deal from the US, has said that Trump was ‘wrong’ to do this, without going too deeply into what his ‘wrongness’ consists of.  May has too few friends to risk cancelling the state visit on which the British diet of chlorinated chickens depends.  But even what she did say was too much for Trump, who tweeted back contemptuously that May shouldn’t be focusing on him, but on the ‘ destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism Radicalism that is taking place within the United Kingdom.’

Let’s just pause here and take stock of this.  The president of the United States retweeted anti-Muslim videos from a fringe fascist organisation – videos that don’t even depict what they purport to depict.  When accused of retweeting videos from said fringe fascist organisation, Trump ignored the fact that most of the videos were fake and told Theresa May off for saying that he was ‘wrong’ to retweet them and criticized her instead.

All that is bad enough, but I fear that its badness hasn’t been fully-digested. Because some commentators, our own government amongst them, continue to imagine that Trump ‘crossed a line’ or ‘went too far’ as if these retweets were some kind of gaffe that can be rectified.   But Trump’s retweets and his response to the criticism he received make it clear he hasn’t crossed a line.  On the contrary, he is moving very firmly along the tajectory that was established during his campaign, when he first reached into the fascistic underbelly of the GOP and US society: he is deliberately bringing fascism and racism back into the mainstream of American politics and pushing American society further towards the far-right.

He knows what he’s doing, and his closest supporters know it too. This is what the Bannon project is all about.  It’s what sexy/cool provocateurs and fake cultural insurrectionists like Milo Yiannopoulos are all about.  As the brilliant Buzzfeed investigation  into the Bannon/Yiannopoulos nexus recently showed, these people are conduits seeking to open up new channels through which far-right and even openly Nazi politics can re-enter the political mainstream and break down the barriers to such progress.

When Trump dubs calls CNN ‘fake news’ and tells the most jaw-dropping lies without even the slightest remorse or concern about whether he’s found out, it isn’t just because he is a narcissistic sociopath: he is deliberately shattering the intellectual context that makes evidence-based argument or rational discussion possible.

In Trumpland, there are no ideas that have to be respected, only feelings and instincts that don’t change when confronted with facts that contradict them.  Trump knows that his base has no interest in facts or truth and will love him as long as he sticks it to the ‘liberals’ or ‘lefttards’.  He knows that he can rely on the support of the intellectually and morally debased Republican Party, many of whose representatives either care only about their career or would not mind taking off their suits and putting on a paramilitary uniform should the opportunity arise.

They certainly don’t have to wear uniforms now, because 21st century fascists don’t do that until they are absolutely certain that they can get away with it.  Until then, they are content to allow their poisonous ideas to percolate,  until what once seemed abnormal and unacceptable becomes a new normal.  This is a long haul task, but Trump has powerful helpers: reactionary millionaires and Domininionist billionaires; Fox News, Breitbart, bullying shock jocks and many other fora that understand his game perfectly and have the same lack of scruples.

So Trump’s inadvertent tribute to the self-styled ‘Warrior for Christ’ Jayda Franzen isn’t just because he is a lazy, ignorant buffoon who can’t even be bothered to check a source – it’s exactly on a par with his tributes to the Nazis in Virginian and his praise for the Confederacy.  He is promoting her because he agrees with her, and because he wants to poison our politics as he’s already poisoned his own country.  Admittedly that isn’t too difficult to achieve in the toxic world of Brexitland,  and Trump has lots of willing  helpers swimming in the same dank waters.

These include not just the marginal crypto-fascist freakshow that is Britain First, which he has now transformed into a national brand.  Trump’s British co-enablers are way more mainstream than that.  They include Katie Hopkins,  Farage, Arron Banks, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch, all of whom have used anti-Muslim hatred as the acceptable face of racism and a kind of intellectual Trojan horse to insinuate far-right narratives back into the mainstream – just as Trump did yesterday.

All of them, like Franzen and David Duke, can look to the white supremacist fascist enabler in the White House who is clearly dreaming of a white Christmas everyday, and the sooner we recognize Trump for what he is and treat him accordingly, the better chance we have of stopping him – and them.

 

 

.