It was an odd feeling setting off for Barcelona after such a tumultuous week. Britain has voted by a narrow majority to leave the EU. And while many of the 52 per cent who voted to leave are jubilant that they have ‘got their country back’ there is grief among those who valued their citizenship in Europe.
It was difficult to peel myself away from all the discussions and responses to the tumultuous events, including resignations and leadership contests. On the Saturday I left there were demonstrations in London, people declaring their love for Europe. I talked to two people before I was due to go to the airport who were close to tears as they talked about their shock and upset at the outcome of the referendum.
I’ve felt wrecked by the decision, which is why it’s a relief to be in Barcelona in the bar of a hotel/hostel where that decision doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of people’s minds. The decision to leave felt like such an act of aggression, the taking back of sovereignty, an act of violence, frustration, a howl of abandonment. Someone wrote a post about acts of self harm. Not all the people who voted out were of that mind, of course. And there’s the awfulness of the fact that their anger and frustration was ‘played’ by people who have no real regard for them, whose agenda is probably nothing to do with meeting those desires.
But something has been stirred up, something that has been expressed in acts of ugly racism and there’s a sense that we really have to take a stand, find our position, resist the awfulness that is happening. How can we do that? There are those who want a rerun, who are challenging the decision. Not only do I think that’s impossible, and fear that it could lead to mayhem – Nigel Farage’s comment about a ‘revolution without single bullet being fired’ was perhaps the most chilling thing I heard and linked to his earlier comment about violence happening if people don’t feel listened to, I think it would be unwise to try and reverse it.
But then what? We are being taken somewhere we don’t want to go. There is pain that the European identity that held us is being taken away from us. We feel disenfranchised, overlooked. And we don’t like the world of anger, hate and isolation that we are being dragged into.
I am at a loss in so many ways. Having felt grief before, I’m familiar with the process, of groping in the dark, of feeling that my bearings are completely gone. That I’m living a reality that was not of my choosing. I don’t know how much I can liken this to the inevitability of death, the fact of it just can’t be argued with. I am not certain if I should accept it, or agitate against it.
But I’m concerned about what the people are expressing who voted to leave. I don’t condone the racism, the hate. But I am concerned that if we organise to stay, we are just holding on to our privilege, preferring our sense of who we are over their’s. And if we were to stay, what reality would we be establishing? Could it be a real peace?
I was in Athens a while ago, and there was talk then about the Greek referendum, how they voted NO and wanted out, wanted freedom from the austerity that is killing them.
I didn’t follow the logic that I should vote out because Europe is so corrupt, but how realistic was the idea that it should be reformed as well? Not many people were pushing that agenda. It was a vote for the status quo, that was all that we were offered.
And so, if I saw the neoliberal system as the enemy, then as my friend wrote, it was a tactical decision about how best to achieve social justice. But now we are in a position that we are romanticising Europe, saying we want to be part of it, that we want baguettes and fromage, not Farage. What does that mean to people living in poverty, people who have seen their way of life utterly eroded?
Of course, the people they have handed power to don’t really give a fig for their lives, I think they are just fodder for their own ambitions, but people didn’t see that. They have been drip fed ludicrousness about Europe for years, and believed that if we were on our own, we could build a better country.
I think there was an argument for the fact that by being part of Europe, by pooling sovereignty, we had a better hope of peace. And I know that in the fibres of who I am, I have respect and longing for the vision of Europe that was at its heart. But it hasn’t been good for countries like Greece, it hasn’’t been good for many people. Those who felt it was good for them, say they want their country back, but doesn’t that show the heart of the divide?
I don’t know what to do about so many perspectives. I’ve taken a leaf from the book about surviving grief and tried to focus on the future, on building in the rubble of what we have now. I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do. I’ve pushed into the idea of a movement for social justice, but fear there is so much hostility among the people who are pushing for it, that they can’t build bridges. I’m not sure it’s Old Labour, just a lack of grace and goodness towards others.
I’ve pushed into the policies, the strategies, the ideas that I think could benefit others, for quantitive easing, for house building for debt holidays. I felt buoyed by the people who stood in Parliament Square and called for Corbyn to stay. But there is such a cacophony of voices, I don’t know what is really right. Some feel betrayed by the Left who didn’t – and still aren’t – fighting hard enough for a remain win. But what is that a fight for? To maintain a lifestyle that we have enjoyed, while for years, others have felt lost, bereft of all the certainties that they had. I don’t know if they will be served by this, my hunch is that they won’t be. But what do we do now?