These Are The Times

Ever since Brexit, and probably during the build-up to it, I kept thinking, “this is what it’s like to live in history”. To live in a time when such monumental shifts are happening they will appear on a curriculum somewhere in the future, and people will be writing theses on 2016 in the way that they might write one now on 1066, 1918 or 1939.

Like most of the 48% of people who didn’t vote for Britain to leave the EU, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’ve been living in a bubble (London – the biggest bubble of all). Seventeen million people in the UK didn’t think the same way as me or my friends. I’d already had an inkling that this might be the case during the election that brought our current Conservative government to power, but Brexit was still a mighty blow and wake-up call.

As we approach Remembrance Day, I think about how the World Wars defined my family. I know about my great uncles Joe and William who both died fighting in France. I think about how being born in 1918 and serving in the Second World War defined my father – even his memoir was called ‘Between the Fires‘. He told stories to me when I was a child of how shells whistled over his head in the North African desert, and I treasure the little book of photographs he brought back with him, showing him with his army friends.

My mother was a teenager during the Second World War and told me stories of the American GIs in town, taking a gas mask to school, and the sound of bombs hitting Liverpool, across the River Dee. She told me how she used to hide under the dinner table when the air raids were on. These were the stories my parents told when they were asked about themselves. I thought they were all rather romantic and slightly wished I’d experienced them too.

For my generation, and for others, I think our story starts now. I don’t think we’ve experienced anything that has forced us to identify our place in the world until now. Yes, we’ve had the miners’ strike, yes we had to deal with the threat of nuclear war in the Reagan-Thatcher era, yes we’ve had the Falklands and Gulf Wars. But nothing, in my view, has made us look at ourselves and the person standing next to us until now.

There is a tidal wave of right-wing aggression sweeping world politics right now. Political popularity is being built on a rising tide of xenophobia and misogyny and I think we’re right to draw comparisons with the 1930s, and right to wonder how the hell this is happening again.

For a few years now, I’ve been bumbling along in a bubble of left-wing liberalism, finding my feminist voice and shouting about things I feel strongly about on social media. Even so, I’ve never really felt able to completely define what I stand for, beyond feminism, because I’ve bought into an amorphous cluster of already defined liberal ideas: I stand against racism, sexism and homophobia, and support human rights, freedom of speech and international co-operation, ‘just like everyone else’.

Except not everyone else does.

These are the times when I have to recalibrate where I stand in the world. This is not just a case of retweeting a few statements I agree with, or sharing a meme on Facebook that makes me feel like I’m standing up for my values. What are my values? What is my story? How am I going to live it? What is the real-life action I’m going to take?

I keep looking for silver linings, in this ridiculous, Trumped-up world we find ourselves in. One is that so many of us are finding our political identity for the first time and the confidence to show it to the world. There is no doubt in my mind that Brexit and the Trump win are part of a backlash against the liberal values I stand for. As Guardian US columnist Jessica Valenti tweeted:

Tonight is what backlash looks like – to women’s rights, to racial progress, to a cultural shift that doesn’t center white men.

I had no idea that the groundswell of support behind the ideas put forward by Trump, Farage and Johnson was so great. That the Daily Mail extremism of a Katie Hopkins or a Milo Yiannopoulos would actually be a populist view taken seriously by millions of people.

But it is. They are.

It’s naïve of us to think that we’re not at the centre of a huge historical moment right now. All we need to do is join the dots. These are the times when I am going to wake up and define myself within it. I have to. There isn’t a choice any more. There isn’t a comfy armchair to sit in and watch the world go by.

I’m very very scared by the US election result. They have elected someone who bears all the hallmarks of a fascist dictator – one who might overturn a woman’s right to abortion, who might build a wall to keep ‘foreigners’ out. So how wonderful is it that in a supreme case of role reversal, the German chancellor is the one to fire a warning shot across his bows:

Germany and America are connected by common values: democracy, freedom, respect for the law and for human dignity irrespective of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political conviction. On the basis of these values, I offer the future president of America, Donald Trump, a close working relationship.

So here I am, Mum, Dad. Witnessing something colossal on the world stage, in the week where we remember events we thought could never be repeated. For the first time in my life I believe that they genuinely could. And for the first time in my life I feel compelled to define who I am, and witness my friends doing the same.

These are the times.

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “These Are The Times

  1. Supremely well-written Lisa. Thank you for connecting the dots and sharing this for those of us who think like you do and needed to read it as we wring our hands in frustration or despair. There is a stand to make and work to do.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you Lisa

    As ever, it is a thorough and well researched piece which sets out clearly that we stand at a crossroads in world history. We cannot go back to the 1950’s, they’re gone. But we don’t want to go back anyway, to a time of racial discrimination and gender stereotyping, of isolation and monoculture, of restrictions and control.

    We might be in a metropolitan bubble, but we’re here through choice because we relish the opportunities that this place and this century provides. We’ve come from all over the country and all over the world. The answer to the questions facing this country (and everywhere else) must surely lie in addressing the root problems of lack of aspiration and opportunity not in finding scapegoats and lashing out.

    You help with that by speaking out. Loudly, clearly, and consistently. You’re on a mission, and it’s a good one.

    Keep it up and don’t let them grind you down.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I couldn’t agree more. The big question is, as you say, about living our beliefs out. And listening. All this frustration exploding into aggression because we haven’t listened to each other. In Madrid this week I was talking to people who also recognise the bubble and are fearful because the right is rising and everywhere the left is fragmented. I am terrified.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: These Are The Times | The Sick and the Dating

  5. I think there is a huge difference between the Brexit result and that of the election in the U.S.
    I too have over the years taken my stance….. I stand against racism, sexism and homophobia, and support human rights (within reason as I think we should have been able to get rid of Abu Hamza without resorting to the court of Human Rights), freedom of speech and international co-operation.
    I know Farage but have no idea who Katie Hopkins or the Greek gentleman are, their opinions are of no matter. Rightly or wrongly my vote was for Brexit because I dislike the UK being governed by Brussels. I hate the wastage of money, the continuing swapping of files and personnel between countries every month. I dislike the idea of a Superstate and the problems that have occurred using the one currency between the countries in the Eurozone and non Eurozone countries having to pay out to rescue them….no that I begrudge helping my neighbours.
    I do however like the trading partnership we signed up for originally.
    Non of the things that took my vote in the direction it went have anything to do with racism, sexism or homophobia that are all things that seem to have been just under the surface in the American elections.
    It’s hurtful that myself and other Brexiteers are continually cast in the mold of rabid right wingers when many of us have defended the same rights we’re accused of flouting. I even write a blog on human equality and freedom which disproves the accusation. There are times it seems like sour grapes which keeps these accusations flying about.Had the vote here gone the other way I don’t think we’d have seen street demonstrations against the vote like the U.S. is currently experiencing.
    Hugs
    David

    Like

Your comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s