I haven’t blogged for ages. Partly because my life has been stupid busy – work, studies, family life, Women for Independence, hobbies and a million other things – but also partly because I’m struggling with many of the feelings that I’m sure others are struggling with. Everything is making me cross. I’ve been involved in quite a bit of anti-poverty work this summer, a consultation on what happens to people when they are in crisis or suicidal and looking for help, Brexit and Brexit and… more…bloody Brexit. And across all those things what I have consistently found missing in our wider society, is empathy and kindness.
Last week I was utterly appalled at the video that circulated of the young Syrian refugee being attacked by a taller boy in Huddersfield. It broke my heart, not only that a boy who fled a terrible situation in his home country should be so cruelly treated in a place where he should be able to expect to be safe, but because the boy who treated him so badly was just 16. What are we doing to our children in Britain today, that they grow up with such hate in their hearts and such aggression? As the story unfolded it was suggested that the boy’s social media profile was full of links to Britain First posts and Tommy Robinson’s evil mutterings. We are seeing this more and more, I wrote at the time of the EU referendum about the dangers of legitimising the voices of hate and I fear more and more that I was right. It scares me and it leaves me feeling impotent and bleak.
All this came to mind as yesterday, I was heading off to an event where I had been asked to read something I had written about movement. This was a civic event organised by Dr Clare Daly who heads up Birchwood Highland’s Highland Migrant and Refugee Advocacy Project. I was surprised to be asked to write a poem. I play with poetry and words but I write poetry like I sing – for my own pleasure and no one else’s as my long suffering husband can confirm. I certainly never really thought of myself as a “migrant” despite moving from Rochdale to Caithness in 1997. But Clare explained that the event was looking at movement – the movement of people from one place to another, and that experiences of movement whoever we are and wherever we are moving from, are stories of shared experiences and are powerful and moving stories of people and their resilience.
So I went along yesterday, clutching my wee green book to read my poems – Northwards and Yellow Submarine. The event was fantastic and inspiring. We heard from Philomena de Lima who is the Director of the Centre for Remote and Rural studies, a writer and a woman who’s work I have been aware of for over twenty years and never met. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity (I wittered a bit to be honest – she looked a bit startled!). Philomena set the tone of the evening by talking about what connects us, rather than what separates us. She pointed out that history is not the past – we carry it with us whoever we are. People bring with them their own history, the history of their families, their countries, their people here to where our own history is all around us, where the history of the clearances still resonates and shapes us. We are all of us migrants but that is not what defines us – it is not the sum of our experiences. Migrants and citizens alike have shared experiences, shared concerns, shared identities as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, employees, patients, friends and we share the rhythms of everyday life. We share the values of friendship, care and community.
The rest of the event celebrated exactly that – our shared values and our shared hopes and sense of community. There was the wonderful Heartstone – a project from Dingwall – who shared their story with us through words and dance. The Wee Choir from Forres who sang a several songs including a song by Karine Polwart that I loved. Its words of welcome ringing out around the Council chambers. We heard from myself and Kirsty Glass who wrote a moving poem which was also read out in Gaelic, about the clearances and we heard a remarkable musical collaboration between Sarah Fanet and her guitar and Belal on the Syrian Oud. I think though that the person who really caught the spirit of what we were trying to convey and what we are all hoping for was the lady from The Scottish Highlands and Islands and Moray Chinese Association – Monica Lee Macpherson. She shared with us some of her story about coming to Scotland from Hong Kong and then spoke so genuinely, without notes and from the heart, about how we need to be kind to each other and care for each other, looking beyond our differences to what we have in common. She reminded us that race, colour mean nothing because it is humanity which joins us together. She invited us all to join them in their café and she touched me with her message of hope and joy. Something I have found missing in civic conversations recently.
Philomena spoke at the start about the need to find shared spaces to connect with each other and a new narrative of social cohesion, because building a society which is better for the excluded, is better for us all. That was what was happening last night. We were building a society which focuses on what we have in common, on what we share and what we can share with others. It has made me feel hopeful and optimistic and I’m delighted about that.