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Why I’m Taking Part in the #BridgesNotWalls Action

Grassroots movements impact policies and social attitudes.

Over 150 coordinated “Bridges not Walls” actions are planned across the UK and Europe for January 20 — and actions are planned as far afield as San Diego, California and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In a show of solidarity with those resisting incoming US president Donald Trump, in London we will be dropping banners off each of nine famous Thames bridges to highlight and resist the right-wing rhetoric and agenda at home in the UK and Europe.

We cannot and should not ignore the fact that there’s been a 42 percent increase in reported hate crimes in the UK post-Brexit. Or the fact that increasingly popular nationalist right-wing parties like France’s National Front are being empowered by Trump’s election.

And what exactly is Britain’s Government doing? Well, former Home Secretary and now Prime Minister Theresa May has welcomed Trump and insisted that the US/UK “special relationship” will be built upon, and has even excused his creepy “pussy-grabbing” comment.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage is now being taken seriously enough to have his own primetime nightly show on Leading Britain’s Conversation radio — so more people can hear his xenophobic ranting.

And if that wasn’t enough, it recently emerged, as Gracie Mae Bradley reports in The Guardian on 1 December, that, “the government is trying to make schools part of its agenda to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants accused of entering the country illegally.” The Department for Education is conducting a census to collect data on the birth nationalities of students, which students and teachers have organized to (lawfully) boycott.

Whilst the government is busy creating this “hostile environment,” the tabloids are busy whipping up tension by reporting on how “isolated” and unable to integrate Muslims are, how unlike “us” they are, and how this alienation breeds terrorism.

In the face of these right-wing populist views Jeremy Corbyn — a bastion of hope for so many disaffected young voters — has just recently been persuaded to compromise his lifelong commitment to freedom of movement and set policies on reducing migrants’ numbers.

This is not the country or world I, and many more, stand for. I don’t want to stand back whilst a British Asian mother gets physically assaulted in Manchester and told: “I voted for you to leave so what are you doing here?” Or look the other way when a crowd striding through a London street chants: “First we’ll get the Poles out, then the gays!”

That’s why many of use heard and amplified the call by a small independent group of activists to speak and act out this January 20.

As a queer, mixed race woman and someone whose mother is a Zimbabwean immigrant, I do have a vested interest in Britain being a safe place for minorities. I know what it’s like to be put in a box and face sexual harassment, and my mum has told me of the constant racism and barriers she faced training as a nurse in Britain. But this is not just my personal issue, this is everyone’s issue.

To make Britain a place where immigrants are not welcome, is to forget that immigrants are part of what makes Britain great. They already do the jobs many of us don’t want; they deserve the chance and opportunities to make even greater contributions to our country, like my mum has.

We need to reverse the decline of youth centers and gay-friendly venues, the gentrification of our cities and so much more. To do that, we must build bridges with activists we’re not used to working with – which is exactly what #BridgesnotWalls has begun to do. Groups like Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts, Take Back the City, London Mexico Solidarity Campaign and dozens more have signed onto the spontaneous action.

We have to collectively make our voices heard, or right-wing populist views will continue to dominate the narrative. We can no longer afford to be apathetic. We are actually going to have a President of a superpower who doesn’t believe in climate change.

Grassroots movements impact policies and social attitudes. Power is clearly still with the people, we just need to learn how to use it positively.

Many in the US know the time to act is now. In the UK, we agree.


Read the Dirt helped produce this op-ed.