Last Mile Lobby of Parliament and Rally: 5th November 2018
Prof Emmy van Deurzen, founding chair Voices for Europe
Friends, it is so important that we have, once again, come together here today, to be with each other and raise our voices in unison, after forming our human chain to Downing Street and delivering our letter to Mrs May. We owe many thanks to the 3Million, the British in Europe and to Unison for organizing this wonderful event for us. As the pressure of final decisions is upon us, we must remind ourselves where we have come from and where we are now.
There has been too much pain and too much sorrow. We have had to wait in uncertainty for far too long. Let us though make sure not to drown in our sorrows and to stay clear in our minds about where we are going together now. For our movement, in its many splendored diversity of voices and groups has become a life raft that will be invaluable to our future and we must make it strong.
Let us remember too, that we need courage and persistence now, because our fight is not yet won. We all know that there are many ways in which it can still go wrong.
We have heard from many amongst us about the harm that has been done to us. The lack of dignity and safety we have had to put up with and the feeling of being treated disdainfully, of not having our established rights secured and of being bullied by the hostile environment, has become the background noise of our everyday lives. And we all know that our suffering has been unjust and unwarranted. It has led to many departing these shores and others, unable to do so, living with continuous depression, anxiety and insomnia. All of us have gone through a crisis of identity by being deprived of equality with our fellow citizens in Britain. After all these months of doubting ourselves and being in limbo we hardly feel we belong anymore. But what has hurt us most is the deafening silence from too many people in this country who would diminish our experience and do not want to hear from us in our plight.
We must bear in mind that it is a very small minority of British people who have betrayed our trust in this country in this way. The large majority of British people are marching besides us and some of them are here today, standing shoulder to shoulder with us. They feel similarly to us. They too have that same sense of betrayal and disappointment, sadness and upset that we feel. They too experience insomnia and an eerie feeling that our country is not thinking straight and has gone astray.
Nevertheless I am aware that all of us EU citizens don’t often feel this support. We often feel abandoned to our fate and alone. At the free emotional support service we created at the Existential Academy to support EU citizens in their emotional distress we have listened to people telling us of their despair and isolation over and over again. Each person has a different story and each is in specific circumstances that make the pressure unbearable. But all of them share the same sense of disbelief that this could happen to them, when they never did anything wrong and did their utmost to contribute to this country which has paid them back with disdain and has completely changed the rules on them. Often they feel cut off from humanity, uncertain about who they are or what will become of them in this country, which for various reasons they cannot escape from. They chose to live and work in this country and made it their home. Now they feel scorned and disappointed, treated as an object of pity at best and an object of hatred at worst. They also often feel too scared to speak about this publicly or sometimes even within their own family.
It is sad and unconscionable that this country has fallen so low that it would treat 5 million people so shabbily, depriving them of a vote, when the referendum outcome was so vital for them. This is undoubtedly a human rights infringement, as people are no longer feel safe in their home. It reflects very poorly on what has happened to democracy in this country. And this, European friends, shows us that this country is in more trouble than we are. It has chosen to alienate itself from its 27 neighbours and will be forsaken by them as it purloins the many long-standing pacts and treaties we all made together over decades. It is on the wrong path towards a cliff edge and it is on the wrong side of history. This country has been led astray by profiteers with an unnatural and unhelpful sense of grandiosity and self-importance. This country needs to hear from all of us. Don’t mute your voices. For we are the canaries in the coalmine and we are the first ones to witness to the fact that the oxygen of democracy has run out on us. We must speak about this often and clearly. The country needs to hear this, because what has happened to us will happen to others later. And all of this is a scandal and a shame to this nation.
For a country that is scathing towards those who have the courage to migrate, a country that reviles you when you are at your most vulnerable, a country in which 5 million people are disenfranchised from a vital vote, and where they have to plead for their rights, is a country sinking into disrepute. It is a country in deep trouble indeed. Remember who we are. We are strong and decent, good people who came her in good faith and legally, making our lives here and contributing. Now we have been treated as if we had done something wrong or as if we are second class citizen who must be made to apply for the right to stay. We are spoken about and we are rarely invited to speak for ourselves. It is as if we need to be kept aside from the mainstream and have to be controlled and defeated.
Yet, we are an asset to the nation. We make a net contribution to the economy. We have brought a wide array of skills, experiences and abilities derived from the many roots of our European culture. The UK has thrived on our presence and has greedily absorbed this new workforce and then has taken it for granted. The country should celebrate and value and protect this diversity instead of pretending it can do without it.
The petty nationalism that currently thrives is not unique to this country. It is based in a loss of trust in global post-modern society. People feel as if their lives no longer matter and they are encouraged to blame this on the migrants, because they have been told it is their fault that their lives are under threat of their presence, even though this is a blatant untruth. The same is happening everywhere in the West. Too many think that cutting off from others will be a solution to our global problems. But this cannot be. We can only solve problems together, collaboratively and this is why we need our European Union.
As EU citizens who have travelled, we know the importance of building bridges instead of burning them. We know how crucial it is for human beings to be tolerant and to connect with each other. Creativity, productivity and vitality come from being challenged by diversity. Turning away from it leads to isolation, denigration and unsafety. The world will not be saved by divisiveness and hatred.
We know this from our own experience of migration and we must pass on this information to those who do not know it. We must rise from this undeserved suffering and speak our minds in public. Let’s not allow the press or the unthinking leavers treat us as if we were less than human. We have an enormous amount to teach them. We have become strong in our plight and suffering. We understand the issues. Let us rise to the challenges ahead together. Let us help to save this country from destroying itself. You and I have been tested and tried and we have been through the fire of danger and denigration. We have learnt, unexpectedly and to our great surprise and against all expectations, what it is to be discriminated against and to be hated and isolated. We have lived in despair. We have been patronised, betrayed and dictated to. We have felt estranged and alienated. Some of us have even feared for our own survival. We have not been given a voice, we have not been consulted anywhere near as much as we should have been. We have not been given the outright guarantees we needed from the start. The freedom of movement that was the reason for our mobility has been treated like a source of danger instead of as the precious and hard-earned safeguard to contemporary free and liberal society that it truly is. Lets speak about these things. Lets share our hard earned wisdom.
After so many sleepless weeks and so many dark nights of the soul, we can now claim our strength and keep our eyes on the real goal: to obtain justice and preserve all of our rights. That is the only acceptable solution. Nothing else will do. Let’s look after each other and let’s look out for our country too. The EU will have to learn lessons from this calamity as well and we must provide the feedback that allows them to do so. Let’s not be mute. Let’s be calm and strong and before too long we shall rise, together, from this darkness. We shall win our fight and know once more that we have human rights.
We are of great value to this country. We belong here and have earned the right to be treated with fairness.