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24 hours of inspiration

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Only six days to go.   Then, for considerably more than 24 straight hours, I’ll be not only awake, but busy setting up ticket and book stalls and coordinating volunteers, interviewing a friend and colleague about her desert island choice of records on our pop-up radio station, and then at 17.00 on Thursday 19 April welcoming audiences to the first talk of the 24 hour marathon.  And then I’ll be buzzing around, keeping an eye on everything, looking after our speakers, MCs and volunteers, taking a few photos, tweeting, listening to as many of the talks as I can and listening into the radio when I can, changing into my PJs at around 11.30, giving a talk myself at 2.00 am on Friday 20 April, introducing the Goth slot at 3.00 am, changing back into daywear at around 6.00 am, doing a radio show with Mike about places and music that mean something to us at 11.00 am, and then, after Tony Ryan brings the talk programme to a close, saying some possibly incoherent, unavoidably emotional words to thank everyone for their contributions, and to send our audiences, speakers and volunteers safely on their way home.  My family will scoop me up, pop me in a taxi and get me home, where I will almost certainly be asleep over a pint of beer by around 8.00 pm.

It does regularly occur to me during the course of this event that it is pretty incredible.  During the night shift especially.  It might seem a bit like one of those anxiety dreams – you’re in a lecture theatre in a University (a fairly normal setting, for many of us), but it’s 2.00 in the morning, and you’re in your jimjams.  But unlike those dreams, it’s not uncomfortable, far from it, because you’re not the only one – many of the volunteers will have slipped into panda onesies or whatever, and the speakers, however eminent, have all been advised of the dress code, however they choose to interpret it.

24 Hour Goth Slot

But it’s not just the uncanny nature of the night shift, it’s the whole event. It’s the fact that each year I send out invitations to colleagues at all levels asking them to give a half hour talk on any topic they like, at some point over a 24 hour period, accessible to non-specialist audiences.  And before I know it, the programme is full, and I’m turning people away.   Some people come back, year after year, but usually around half of the speakers  are new to the event.  And each year we recruit student volunteers from across the University and all around the world, who throw themselves into the event with enthusiasm and creativity and energy.  Each year people offer more than we’ve asked of them, wanting to be involved.

Initially this was down to the Tim factor.  That first year, our student volunteers had all been taught by him, and inspired by him, and they all loved him and missed him terribly.  Most of the speakers had worked with him – one flew over from Lausanne, another came up from Oxford, just to be part of it.  It was inevitably, at least in part, a memorial to someone who had played a vital role in the University, in the Physics department, and in the academic life of generations of students.  Obviously, five years on, the undergrads at least never knew Tim and the majority of speakers probably didn’t either.  But his story still touches people and in any case, almost all of us have our own cancer stories.

Almost all of us have lost someone who we loved, someone who inspired us.  Each year I think not only of Tim and Victoria, but of my mum and her mum who I never knew, of Jos and Dorrie and Anne.  I think of the survivors too, of Lorna and Sarah and Linda and Bev, amongst others.  Each year names are added to the list.  This year I will think of Maryam having treatment in the US for ovarian cancer, Jennie about to go into round 2 of chemo for acute myeloid leukaemia.  I think of Jonathan and of Sheena.

Tim’s story is of course not just a story about cancer.  It’s the story of a teacher who connected with his students, who encouraged and inspired them, who made complicated ideas accessible and who was passionate about not only teaching but learning as a lifelong activity.  And that’s the other reason why this event goes on, from strength to strength.  Because the University is a place dedicated to teaching and learning, full of people who are passionate about teaching and learning.  Because we get a buzz out of encountering stuff we don’t know, didn’t know might be interesting, didn’t know we might be able to at least begin to understand.

24 hours of inspiration.

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If you’re in the neighbourhood, do pop in.  For however much time you can spare, for as long as you like.  It’s not just talks, there’s 24 hour boardgaming too, if that’s your thing.  And live music too.

And if you’re not in the neighbourhood, you can listen in to Radio Inspire, which will be broadcasting a mix of music, interviews, spoken word, quizzes, and more music throughout the event.

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Everything we raise, through selling tickets and cups of tea and buns, goes to this year’s two charities, Rotherham Hospice and Impact Living.  What we do in that 24 hours makes a difference to the charities we support and this year it will help to provide end of life care in people’s homes, and to support vulnerable young people with cancer.

Come along if you can, listen in when you can – and if you can, please donate.

 

 

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It’s just another New Year’s Eve/Nothing changes on New Year’s Day…

… but that never stops us hoping that some things will change, making plans and resolutions, wishing and wondering.

Another tough year for so many of us, for so many people around the world.  Another year of preventable tragedy, of hatred fanned into violence, of brutal terrorist murders, of desperate poverty alongside profligate consumption.  Easy to despair, easy to give up.

I’d rather hang on to hope, and faith in humanity.  So rather than reiterating all of the evils and the horrors that this year has brought, and that we fear for in the next, I’ll remind myself that women are speaking up as they have never done before about sexual violence and harassment.  That the resistance is making its presence felt, here and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

In the face of lies we have to keep speaking and showing truth.  In the face of hate we have to keep speaking and showing love.  In the face of the horrors that seem to happen daily – in Kabul, in Las Vegas, in Manchester, in Mogadishu – we have to keep speaking and showing faith.

Keep on keeping on.

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.

Sheenagh Pugh – Sometimes

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day

E B White

Theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man…

Sweet moderation, heart of this nation
Desert us not, we are between the wars

Billy Bragg, Between the Wars

We are building up a new world.
Do not sit idly by.
Do not remain neutral.
Do not rely on this broadcast alone.
We are only as strong as our signal.
There is a war going on for your mind.
If you are thinking, you are winning.
Flobots – We are Winning
The simplest and most important thing of all: the world is difficult, and we are all breakable.  So just be kind.
Caitlin Moran – How to Build a Girl
If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if … nothing we do matters … then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.  … All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.
Joss Whedon – Angel
Never be cruel, never be cowardly, and never, ever eat pears! Remember, hate is always foolish. and love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind. … Laugh hard, run fast, be kind.
The 12th Doctor, Twice Upon a Time

Love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way, and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

Bertrand Russell, Face to Face interview, 1959

 

 

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Migration Matters

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Migration Matters Festival 2017 is a five-day theatre and arts festival taking place in Sheffield during Refugee Week (20-24 June).  Its aim is to celebrate diversity, and recognise the positive impact migration has on the city.

Sheffield was the UK’s first City of Sanctuary and it is a city that remains rich with diversity and interconnecting cultures. This year’s festival seeks to celebrate this history and culture with a vibrant and inclusive series of events.

Screen-Shot-2017-03-22-at-13.37.46Opening on the 20th June,  Migration Matters Festival will run alongside the annual Refugee Week celebrated across the UK.

The festival takes place across a series of city centre venues, uniting Sheffield’s communities and cultures.

The 2017 line up features established companies, emerging artists, community arts groups and charitable organisations. It’s a rich and soulful programme that brings the diverse and global mix of Sheffield’s communities together with artists from all over the world in a celebration of food, culture and performance.

Check out the full programme – there’s truly something for everyone!

All events are Pay-What-You-Decide though you are recommended to reserve tickets for high profile events – follow the link and search for Migration Matters to see everything that’s on offer.

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Dark Tower

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We don’t know how many.  We don’t know who.  We don’t know why.

In this vacuum of information, anger is building.

Some of this anger will be misdirected, as people lash out in their pain and grief.  That’s inevitable.   Since the early hours of Wednesday morning, those living near Grenfell Tower, those who escaped from it, those who have friends and family unaccounted for, will not have slept, will have been obsessively checking phones and ringing hospitals and begging for answers, at the same time as they figure out how to cope without their most basic possessions, how to deal with the practicalities of life in this new chaos.  Under that intolerable pressure, those we have heard speak have shown remarkable dignity and calm.

That may not hold.  Even if the bigger questions cannot be answered immediately, there needs to be a more coordinated, coherent response to the desperate need to know the fate of those still unaccounted for, and to the practical questions about rehousing and resources for those left homeless.  And even if those are the most urgent questions, the community needs to be convinced that the bigger questions – what caused the fire?  why did it spread so quickly?  why was the material used for the cladding in the recent refurb of a standard that is currently banned in the US and Germany because of its flammability?  – will be answered without obfuscation.

Answers need to come, and come swiftly.  And with them, practical help. Voluntary generosity has been overwhelming, and almost unmanageable – it must now be matched by an ‘official’ response.  That official response must be generous, if it is to defuse the tension, the gut feeling that had the inhabitants of Grenfell Tower been white, been wealthy, the building would have been designed to be safe, and any refurbishments would have made it even safer.

We have in the last few weeks alone logged so many unnecessary deaths.  The murders of (mainly) young people attending Ariane Grande’s concert in Manchester,  and  (mainly) young people in Borough Market and on London Bridge.  And now unknown numbers of all ages, dead because a fire that started accidentally (as far as we know) spread with unimaginable speed through a high rise block of flats.

What those of us who have tried to honour the dead by recording their names and something of their story quickly discovered was that there is no such thing as an ordinary person.   The three names that have officially been released from Grenfell Tower confirm that.

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Khadija Saye was 24.  A remarkable artist, her work is currently exhibited at the Diaspora Pavilion during the 57th Venice Biennale.   Her death has been confirmed; her mother is missing, presumed dead.

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Mohammed Alhajali was 23, and had been living on the 14th floor with his brother Omar.  He came to the UK in 2014 and was studying civil engineering.  Syria Solidarity Campaign said: “[He] undertook a dangerous journey to flee war and death in Syria, only to meet it here in the UK, in his own home.”  The brothers had been due to join the Syria Solidarity Campaign on Saturday to take part in The Great Get Together, celebrating the life of murdered MP Jo Cox and marking Refugee Week.

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Of the third confirmed fatality, what can we say?  He was five years old.  Isaac Shawo has been described by his mother as a “beautiful boy”.  He was a pupil at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School and lived on the 18th floor of Grenfell Tower with his parents and three year old brother Luca, all of whom have survived. He gazes out from this photograph, and one can read so many possibilities into that gaze.  Possibilities that will never be realised.

Only three stories so far.  There will be so many more.  Their deaths are as arbitrary as those of the Manchester and London terrorist murders, even if no individual or group is as directly culpable.  They should not have died, they need not have died.

We have to change, we cannot continue to value property over humanity, to dismiss ‘health and safety’ which has saved the lives of so many as ‘red tape’, to denigrate the poor, the unemployed, benefit claimants and asylum seekers as scroungers and skivers.  We have to change.

David Lammy MP: “For your middle-class viewers, this is about whether the welfare state is just schools and hospitals or whether it’s about having a safety net. I get quite emotional as I say that. We need to live in a society where we care for the poorest and the vulnerable. And that means housing. It means somewhere decent to live. It was a noble idea that we built… and it’s falling apart around our eyes. That’s what it’s about.

 

You can’t contract out everything to the private sector; the private sector do some wonderful things, but they have for-profit motives, they cut corners. If you haven’t got the officers to check on the enforcement of buildings, don’t expect it to be done.

You know… are there fire extinguishers? Where are the fire extinguishers on every corridor? Where are the hoses? Are the fire doors really working? Where are the sprinklers? If you want to build these buildings, then let them at least be as good as the luxury penthouse buildings that are also being built.

But these buildings aren’t …. So you either demolish them and house people in a different way, or you absolutely refurbish them to the best quality that we can do.”

Jackie Long: “Do you think this says anything about the value that is placed on the life of people who cannot afford to buy their own property; to live in some of the nicer bits of Britain?”

David Lammy MP: “This is a tale of two cities. This is what Dickens was writing about in the century before the last, and it’s still here in 2017. It’s the face of the poorest and the most vulnerable. My friend who lost her life was a talented artist, but she was a young, black woman making her way in this country and she absolutely had no power, or locus, or agency. She had not yet achieved that in her life. She’d done amazing things: gone to university, the best in her life. But she’s died with her mother on the 22nd floor of a building. And it breaks my heart that that’s happening in Britain in 2017. Breaks my heart.

Lammy refers here to Dickens.  A tale of two cities, a tale of two tower blocks.  Different worlds, existing cheek by jowl, not recognising or understanding each other.  In Kensington, some of the wealthiest people in our land live alongside some of the most deprived. The top quarter earn at least £41 per hour, three and a half times the level of the lowest quarter at £12 per hour or less.  Within the smallest borough in London, and the second smallest in England, we can see starkly and uncompromisingly the divisions in our society.

These words are from perhaps Dickens’ finest novel, Bleak House, as he marks the death of a nobody, a boy called Jo.

Is there any light a comin?”

“It is coming fast, Jo.”

Fast. The cart is shaken all to pieces, and the rugged road is very near its end.

“Jo, my poor fellow!”

“I hear you, sir, in the dark, but I’m a gropin — a gropin — let me catch hold of your hand.”

“Jo, can you say what I say?”

“I’ll say anythink as you say, sir, for I knows it’s good.”

“OUR FATHER.”

“Our Father! — Yes, that’s wery good, sir.”

“WHICH ART IN HEAVEN.”

“Art in Heaven — is the light a comin, sir?”

“It is close at hand. HALLOWED BE THY NAME!”

“Hallowed be — thy—”

The light is come upon the dark benighted way. Dead!

Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us, every day.

I do not pray.  At times like this I almost wish I could.  But my faith is not in any god but in humanity.  In the kindness of strangers, the coming together of communities in a crisis, the refusal to tolerate those who want to use such a crisis to disseminate hatred and suspicion.  I don’t pray, but I hope, I hang on to my hope. And my heart hurts for the people of Grenfell Tower.

 

 

 

 

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International Women’s Day 2017

20th century women – three generations in my family exploring what it means to be a woman.  My mum, who believed that it was for men to lead and inspire, but who led and inspired, nonetheless, despite herself.  I grew up wondering why I was so crap at being a girl (the endless Christmas and birthday gifts of cookery books and embroidery sets and dolls, all rebuking me for my ineptitude and lack of interest), but finding a way to be the kind of woman I wanted to be without the trappings that irritated and puzzled me.   My daughter managing to be so good at being a girl (all that pink, the Barbies and Bratz, the make-up and handbags) and being a fierce and clever and brave woman at the same time.

I thought of us all whilst watching the film 20th Century Women.  Annette Bening’s Dorothea was my age in the film, but Mum’s generation.  Dorothea died in 1999, five years after my Mum.  Their lives and experiences were so very different but there was something about her – the fact that she gathered around her people who needed shelter, nurture, companionship, the way she invited anyone she encountered to come to dinner, her desire and real effort to understand what mattered to her son and the younger women who were part of her life.

I managed not to weep, until the very end.  When Jamie says that he can’t explain his mother to his son, that’s when it got me.  Because I would have loved to see my Mum, watching my children grow up, and to see them turning to her for the love and pride and support that would have always been theirs.  And all I can do is to tell them about her.

If the women in 20th Century Women are all white, straight and comfortably situated, the young women in Girlhood (Bande de filles) certainly are not.  They inhabit the banlieue, their home lives are chaotic, their choices limited (by economics, by expectations).  The opening sequence is possibly the most powerful cinematic expression of the challenges so many young women face that I can recall – a girls’ American football team on the pitch, physically powerful and fearless, jubilant in victory, they pour out of the stadium a babble of raised voices, laughter, solidarity and shared experience.  And then they approach the apartment blocks, with the young men almost seeming to be on guard there, in ones and twos, and their voices are quietened.  One by one they slip away from the group and into their own lives.  But whilst the film gives us no cosy reassurances about what they face, it gives us along the way other moments of joyous girlhood – for example as they dance and pose and mime (in shoplifted frocks) in a hotel room to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’:

So shine bright tonight,
You and I
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Eye to eye,
So alive
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Shine bright like a diamond
Shine bright like a diamond
Shining bright like a diamond
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky

And they do shine, they are so alive, they are beautiful.

We’re half the world.  We’re all races and religions, all shapes and sizes, all political persuasions. We have disabilities and we have none, we are healthy and we suffer pain and indignity, we are independent and we need help to get by. We have money to burn and nothing at all.  We are mothers and we are daughters and sisters, we are friends and wives and lovers.  We are gay, straight, bi, trans, and every variant or combination of the above.   We are feminists, and we are ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ and we are most decidedly not feminists.  We believe in our right to choose, and we believe that women’s fertility should be controlled by the state, by the church, by men.  We wear pussy hats, and ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.

I can’t speak for Women.  I’m middle aged (at least…), straight, cis-gendered, without disabilities, white, university educated, comfortably off.   I am as baffled and dismayed by what many other women believe and fight for as I am about what many men believe and fight for.  I can’t claim to have experienced direct discrimination, I’ve never experienced sexual violence or domestic violence.  Everyday sexism, yes, of course, over the years I’ve clocked up a fair number of examples of that, in the workplace, on public transport, on the streets.  But the fact that, say, FGM doesn’t affect me or mine doesn’t mean I don’t give a damn about it, or that I shouldn’t campaign about it.  The fact that my career has encountered no overt obstacles due to my  gender, that I live in a society with laws to protect my rights to equal pay and equal treatment, doesn’t mean I have nothing to say about the women around the world for whom this is not true.  I can’t speak for Women, but I can and do and will speak about the experiences, the threats, the challenges, the obstacles that so many women share (even if I haven’t and don’t).

I check my privilege, I acknowledge it, but it doesn’t have to limit what or who I care about.  And I know that in most countries, most of the time, women have to face a whole lot of extra crap that men don’t – they share the burdens of poverty, persecution and oppression, natural and man-made hazards and disasters but with the additional burdens that arise from the way they are viewed in too many societies, by too many men.  That their choices are deemed irrelevant, their aspirations ridiculous, their personal integrity always violable.  Whether these oppressions are enforced by law or merely by convention, they do oppress, and it takes immense courage to challenge them.

To all those who do, thank you.

And to my Mum, who would never have called herself a feminist, but who inspired me in that aspect of my life, as in so many others,  thank you.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/08/feminist-battle-women-activists-campaigns

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/08/feminist-stickers-china-backash-women-activists

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/mar/08/im-proud-of-my-sin-the-criminal-stars-of-iranian-tv-promoting-womens-rights

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The 24 Hour Inspire 2017

This year will be our fifth 24 Hour Inspire.  I would never have believed, if anyone had told me back in 2012 when we were planning the first one, that we could achieve anything like this.  We really had no idea what we were doing, and it’s thanks to the support of colleagues at the University who did know what they were doing when it came to events management that the first lecture marathon went so smoothly, and gave us the confidence to carry on.

The basic format hasn’t changed – 24 hours of talks on everything under the sun, all pitched at non-specialist audiences.  Each year there’s more in the way of fringe activities – art, poetry, music and more – and we have a pop-up radio station broadcasting throughout.

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Of course, most people won’t do the full 24 hours.   If you’re in the vicinity, dip in and out, come for just one talk, or as many as you wish.  If you’re not, listen in to the radio station (there’s a taster here: https://www.mixcloud.com/24HrInspire/24-hour-inspire-warm-up/)

As you’ll hear in the podcast, the 24 Hour Inspire is supporting the University’s We are International campaign.

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It’s at the heart of what a University is about – the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and expertise, regardless of borders and nationalities and across all of the barriers of language, religion and politics.   Our speakers, the MCs who will introduce them, the volunteers who will sell the tickets and the coffee, come from all over the world.  And many of those who are from the UK have spent part of their working lives overseas.

Not only that, but some of our talks reflect those international values – Paul Collini’s lecture on TB in the 21st century is based on work he undertook in Ghana.  Kate Shaw, who did her doctorate in Sheffield, is now based in Italy and works for Physics without Boundaries, and will be talking about their work in Nepal.  And whilst we start with a celebration of Sheffield (city of art, beer and music), our closing talk will take us to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Over the last few years, this event has raised significant funds for a number of cancer charities.  This year the beneficiaries will be Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and Teenage Cancer Trust.  Most of the funds are raised on the day, through sales of wristbands and refreshments, but you can also donate by texting INSP24 £10 (or whatever you wish to donate) to 70070.

It’s been called ‘the Glastonbury of lecturing’…

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and it’s a joy.  If you can, be there.  If not, do follow what we’re doing on social media, and on Radio Inspire (broadcasting from around 15.00 on 30 March), help us raise lots of funds for our chosen charities .

Be inspired.

 

 

 

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2016 – what the actual??

It’s been a funny old year.  Not so much of the ha ha, either.  Is there anything to be said that hasn’t already been said, better probably?  I doubt it, but I can’t write about the books, films and other cultural pleasures of the year without acknowledging the seismic changes and alarming portents that it has presented.

Reasons to be Miserable:

Daesh initiated or inspired terrorist attacks clocked up more deaths and more terrible injuries than the mind can encompass.  As always, most of these were Muslims, in Muslim countries, although our news media inevitably foregrounds the attacks in France, Belgium and the USA.  As appalling as those murders were, on my very rough calculations, Iraq was the worst hit, with over 450 deaths, followed by Pakistan.  I tweeted the names of the dead from Brussels, Nice and Orlando, but will never know the names of most of those murdered in Kabul, Istanbul, Jakarta, Baghdad, Ouagadougou, Quetta, Grand Bassam or Aden.

According to the UNHCR, the number of migrants dying whilst crossing the Mediterranean reached 3800, a record. Fewer are making that journey, but they are making it via the more perilous routes and in flimsier boats. Worldwide, over 65 million people are forcibly displaced, over 21 million are refugees, and 10 million stateless.    The vast majority of those displaced are hosted in neighbouring countries in Africa or the Middle East. Six per cent are in Europe.   Over half of the world’s refugees came from just three countries – Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

With regard to Syria, anything I say here may be outdated before I press Publish, but there can be no doubt that we are seeing one of the greatest tragedies of our times unfold, and that war crimes are happening there which will be remembered with shame and horror.

 

I’ve been told to shut up about Brexit, that the people have spoken and they’ve said we must leave Europe and that’s that.  As if democracy means that once the votes are counted, those whose views did not prevail must be silent or be regarded as traitors, as if, had the vote gone the way everyone (including Farage and Johnson) expected it to, they would have shut up and let ‘the will of the people’ prevail.  Firstly, whilst a majority of those who voted said we should leave Europe, that is all they said.  They were not asked and so they did not vote on whether we should leave the single market, what should happen about immigration controls, what trade agreements should be in place outside the EU, what would happen to EU citizens based in the UK or vice versa, what would happen to those employment and wider human rights and other legal provisions currently under the EU umbrella.  And so on.  All of that has now to be negotiated and worked out, and that’s a job for Parliament.  How else could it possibly happen?  If anyone thinks they understand how the EU works and thus what are the implications of hard or soft Brexit, they need to read Ian Dunt’s book – Brexit- What the Hell Happens Now? Dunt isn’t talking about the arguments pro or con Brexit, but about what could happen now, what the options are, what the most likely consequences of each option are, and so on.

The US election outcome was described to me by an American colleague recently as ‘somewhere between a mess and a catastrophe’.   I am (for once) holding back from comment – I know how deeply this is felt by US friends, some of whom are now seeing fault lines in their families and friendships as some support what others find inexplicable and irrational.  We’ve seen a bit of that here since June. A left-wing Brexiter said to me recently that his view was that the EU was so compromised and corrupted that we had to break it in order to fix it.  My fear is that some things that get broken simply can’t be mended.  Something of the same feeling seems to have prevailed in the US – and that’s one of the reasons why the arguments against Trump failed to stop him winning.

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This is the year when I’ve felt closest to despair, for all the above reasons, and because the Labour Party, which I’d thought was my natural home politically, has been so ineffectual in opposition.  I took the hard decision to resign my membership – I doubt that I will join another party, perhaps I have to accept that there is not, and never will be, a political party to which I could sign up without caveats and qualms.  In that case I have to be led by my principles and values and be willing to back, vote for, work with those politicians and activists who seem closest to them, whether they be Labour, Green, Lib Dem, Women’s Equality or any combination of the above.

 

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On the other hand…

The Hillsborough inquests returned their verdict, and concluded that planning errors, failures of senior managers, commanding officers and club officials, and the design of the stadium, all contributed to the disaster.  The behaviour of fans did not.  Thus the tireless, dignified campaign fought by the families, survivors and their supporters, was finally vindicated, fully and unequivocally.  Read Phil Scraton’s Hillsborough – The Truth, updated in light of the inquest verdict, and Adrian Tempany’s account of that day and what followed, and his excellent book exploring the broader picture in contemporary football, And the Sun Shines Now.

Too early to say whether Standing Rock will turn out to be a victory for the Native American and other environmental protestors – but it was truly remarkable to see the army veterans who had joined them on the site asking for and receiving forgiveness for the long history of oppression and genocide against the indigenous peoples.

Too early to say, too, whether Gambia has taken a historic step towards democracy, or wheher the defeated dictator will be successful in his attempts to overthrown the result of the election.  (Meantime in Ghana another peaceful general election brings about a change of government ).

Too early to say whether hard right parties in Europe will prevail, or whether the tide will turn against them before people go to the ballot, but at least the Austrian electorate rejected the Freedom Party’s presidential candidate in favour of a former leader of the Greens.

 

If 2016 leads us to expect the worst (after two nights spent sitting up waiting for election results which delivered the outcome we feared most, against the predictions of the pundits), then we have to remember that this does not mean that the die is irrevocably cast.

So, reasons to be anxious, reasons to be angry, reasons to be sad – but not reasons to lose all hope.

I’ve tried, throughout this hard year, to hold on to my own brand of faith. It’s not been easy, and it won’t be easy.

In all of this, though, I have found joy in family and friends, in working for Inspiration for Life and in our extraordinary 24 Hour Inspire, in books and film and music and theatre and opera and TV, in my PhD research, in walking in the lovely countryside on our doorstep.  I’m bloody lucky, and I do know it.

If I’m going to sum up, somehow, what I want to say about 2016, I think I will leave it to Patti Smith, singing Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain, at the Nobel Prize ceremony.  She stumbled, apologised, and began again.  In her performance, and in Dylan’s song, there is humanity and hope.

 

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

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