Peaceful protest runs in my family. My Grandfather Ted was a conscientious objector and protested about war in the 1930s. As you’ll find out if you listen to my short story Make Love Not War that story is quite literally a part of who I am. When I was a little girl I also recall my father reminiscing about anti-war protests during the 1960s and as a SOAS student myself in the late 1990s I couldn’t help but get involved in the odd demo myself. Still I think it’s been more than a decade since I last dragged myself out to protest. I am not proud of that; it’s just a fact. But yesterday I did.
I went along to participate in ‘Set Her Free’ and I want to share something about that, and why it feels so important to me. I had the great privileged to meet Natasha Walters and her friend Meltem Avcil when I shared the stage with them at TedXCoventGarden last December. And the talk they gave that day, ‘As a woman, my country is the whole world’ really struck a cord with me because Natasha spoke of her horror when she discovered what was going on in our immigration system and the fact that it routinely detains people without trial simply because they are not born here.
The idea that the place which you happen to be born in effectively becomes a crime has long horrified me too, as have so many of the stories I have heard over the years from friends who weren’t born in this country and have had to deal with trying to fight their way through our system in order to visit our country or stay here to continue with their life and work. I have long known our system to be unfair, unreasonable and often racist but I am ashamed to say that despite that I have done very little about it myself.
I want to change that now and I hope that participating yesterday in ‘Set Her Free’ demonstration which was organised by Women for Refugee Women (which Natasha started in response to her horror) is at least a start. My motivation is that I cannot understand how we have got ourselves in to a position that despite living in an ever more connected world we have erected huge legal walls around ourselves which actively work against us building bridges with and supporting people from other parts of the world. It is madness to me that a woman can come here seeking refugee and be denied her rights and detained.
Its also madness to me that a woman can want to come her seeking work to improve the life of her family and children and we consider her a criminal. All these things happen to men and children as well. If the war to which my Grandfather so passionately objected taught us anything surely it is that when we forget, even for a minute, that we are more alike than unalike and put up false barriers between ourselves, the consequences for us all are simply horrifying. It is a great shame that there are so few politicians right now brave enough to challenge the stories about immigration which tell us that we must build bigger walls (I believe the Home Office calls these ‘better borders’).
Why don’t we ask why? Why have we accepted that borders are the answer at all? Like Natasha and Meltem I think that instead, our country is the whole world or as I put it at a talk I gave about our ideas of home last year, ‘our home is this planet and we all have a responsibility to make sure that we can all make a home here’. So as One Billion Rising asks us to rise up and dance for an end to violence against women I think its is time to ask ourselves whether it isn’t also time to rise up for our connectedness to one another and an end to the mad discourse about immigration which had us imagining that we protect ourselves when we discriminate.