The EU Referendum is one of the most emotional political happenings I can remember; it has touched deeply on issues of citizenship and freedom and it feels too big for me to not write about it.
I voted REMAIN because I love being a European citizen and because my worldview has been positively shaped by free movement.
I hitch-hiked to Southern Ireland when I was 18. I went to live on the road protest and stayed for seven years. In that formative time I was involved in many environmental protests and campaigns; fell in and out of love; made lasting friendships; and became disabled. I received healthcare from the Irish health authorities who diagnosed and treated my psoriatic arthritis when I was 19 and when I was too ill to work, I was able to claim state benefits. Propped up on steroids and coffee and working part time in an Internet cafe, I got a degree in Fine Art from Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.
More recently I’ve worked in Estonia and Belgium in connection with different projects including two editions of Tuned City, a collective exploration of the urban soundscape involving practitioners from all over the world. I learnt so much in these events, and the art projects that I have produced all over the UK have benefited immeasurably from those International learning experiences.
My entire network of friends, family and collaborators is woven from relationships enabled by free movement. My best friends are Irish; one of my most significant long-term collaborations is with an amazing comrade who is Greek; my partner for Ford & Merlini creative field recording workshops is Italian; and the creator of my all time favourite sound project – the aporee sound maps – is German. We have met in the amazing opportunities afforded by free movement and I cannot imagine making the work that I do without their influence. Likewise, I am proud to have knitting comrades in countries all over the world; I feel so lucky to have experienced textile traditions from all over Europe, and to be able to consider the meaning of my knitting within a global context.
My own life story, influential learning experiences and professional network is intrinsically bound up with free movement and for that reason alone, I was always going to vote for the UK to REMAIN in the EU.
However, it was difficult to ignore the insanely negative tone of the LEAVE campaign and the racist subtext of its anti-immigration stance. As the campaign wore on, I kept thinking about my own political leanings. When the now infamous Nazi-propaganda inspired UKIP poster (which is far too hateful to reproduce here) started appearing in the news, I began thinking that my vote to REMAIN in the EU also stood for something bigger:
I voted REMAIN because I am pro immigration.
The UK that I love and to which I feel I belong has been positively shaped by immigration.
When I was little, I went to a superb primary school with a very large proportion of children whose first language was not English. I remember the excitement of building a dragon with which to see in the Chinese New Year; making lanterns out of sugar paper for Diwali; and learning about Anansi the Spider God on the story time mat at the end of the day. I remember the beautiful, cursive letters of Urdu being present around the school as well as signs in English, and I remember the magical flavour of lemon biscuits we baked at home and brought to school for Diwali one year.
I remember learning to cook Ackee and Saltfish from Jamaica; making curries of all varieties from India… celebrating special dates for different world religions; making day trips as a child to the Croydon Mosque (a beautiful place that awed me with its air of quiet and specialness); and drawing huge energy from streets filled with diverse languages and accents. My girlhood took in all those reference points, and to me they are all a part of where I’m from.
As a teenager I had friends with whom I discovered broomstick knitting, drainpipe trousers and The Tindersticks. I also had a friend whose mother had moved to the UK from Jamaica as a small girl. Her family returned from holidays with photos of mountains and palm trees and she introduced me to hot sauce, Red Stripe beer, Mary J Blige, and Jungle music. We danced to Original Nuttah by Shy FX and UK Apache in her bedroom and Queen Latifah was our guiding light. We loved and memorised her speeches from House Party 2, and the perspective of her character – Zora – gave us a significant and empowering role model.
For my A-levels, I studied the work of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. That is a separate whole other post or series of posts, but brings me to my conclusion that the UK in which I grew up taught its young people about the positivity of multiculturism; the enriching effect of immigration on UK culture; and the dangers of racism.
This same UK produced Jo Cox and the compassionate political viewpoints for which she was tragically murdered. The words of her maiden speech are important to remember in the tide of hate crimes reported since the LEAVE victory;
Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.
I know that many people who voted LEAVE did so for a diverse range of reasons that did not include racist beliefs or anti-immigrant sentiment, and that many people optimistically hope that the joys of free movement will be protected in the negotiations that lie ahead. However the bigger picture of the LEAVE vote and its connections to other ideas about the world in which we live continues to be massively depressing, at least to me.
I am thinking very hard about why I didn’t write a post like this one before the referendum, and about what I can do now.
The main positives to take away are the high turn out for the polls and the vast rise in political engagement that this referendum has unleashed. I was heartened by a friend who says she feels this is the shakeup that the UK needs, and that, in the long run, the momentous referendum may eventually lead to good things. It’s really difficult just now to imagine what those might be, but I am bearing her hopeful words in mind…
This post has been hard to write and I’m sure it’s not easy to read, but I have been unable to proceed as normal in the wake of the Referendum.
I feel the LEAVE vote has had its say and I really needed to share what my REMAIN vote meant to me; it was inexorably bound up with ideas of tolerance, multiculturalism, freedom of movement and free speech, and connected with a European citizenship that I deeply, deeply treasured. The LEAVE vote was Political, but its effects feel deeply, deeply Personal. I have tried to explain why this is.
Thank you for listening.