~ by aga
Only two days after Brexit I was greeted by a flood of outraged friends in my facebook feed, sharing horrible examples of xenophobia, racism and islamophobia happening in their communities. Of course these events aren’t new but it really seems like Brexit gave racists the validation they needed to become more active in their hateful ways.
Outrage is good but solidarity is better
The overwhelming amount of personal stories being shared on social networks in which people describe the hateful things happening to them and their friends since the British people decided to leave Europe is only contributing to my worries and fears. What will happen when I return to the UK after the summer, should I even bother coming back or would I be better off leaving my friends and my life behind and starting over elsewhere?
Of course I am happy that the people on my facebook feed despise the hate and bigotry popping up across the country, yet their posts make me feel shit inside because they give a platform to – and thereby amplify – what a minority of British people have to say. Despite the Brexit result, I still believe that most people in Britain are not all horrible racists. I know that all my friends miss me and would love for me to come back. Yet seeing all these examples of hate makes me as an immigrant, feel unwelcome and sad.
So I started wondering what people, not just in the UK, can do to make refugees, immigrants, muslims and people of colour feel welcome and safe(r).
Here are five suggestions that anybody can go for right now.
1. Spread messages of solidarity
Write a message to a person who could be affected by anti-immigrant hate speech, ask them how they feel and let them know that despite what they are hearing in the media and on the streets, they are indeed welcome, valued and important.
Get some chalk and leave messages on the side walk and the street:
‘Refugees Welcome’, ‘I love my Eastern European friends’, ‘People of Colour are loved’, ‘Racists fuck off’, ‘My muslim friends rock’ etc.
Or write your messages on paper and stick them to trees, bus stops, lamp posts, leave them on public transport, around your school or university, etc. Here is an example of some signs our very own Casey made:
You can also head over to the Active Distribution Shop and get some solidarity stickers to leave anywhere and everywhere you go.
2. Show your solidarity with tokens
Get some cookies, sweets, sandwiches or any other vegan snacks and put them on a stool or little table on the side walk near your house. Next to it, on a piece of cardboard, let people know who this is for and why:
‘For my Polish (or Rumanian, muslim, Asian, etc.) neighbours. We say no to Brexit (or racism, xenophobia, etc). Solidarity and Love to all of you. Enjoy’.
You can do this with anything, a thermos with tea/coffee and a few mugs, a bunch of books you won’t read ever again, board games, plush toys, or roses, such as a vendor in Bristol did (image shared by Best of Bristol):
A bucket of roses with a note that reads: If you are an immigrant to the UK please take a rose! And remember 62% of Bristolians voted to stay in the EU!
3. Organise a demo
This act of solidarity with the victims of a hate crime against a Polish community center in London is an amazing example of people coming together in protest agains xenophobic attacks bringing gifts and messages of solidarity. It probably didn’t need much organising and came about rather spontaneously as a direct response to hateful graffiti sprayed onto the community center’s walls.
Organising a protest or demo for the first time might sound like a huge endeavour and might be quite intimidating. It also is a very empowering experience that actually doesn’t need much prep work and can often work very well if it’s even just a spontaneous stunt. In England you don’t even need to register a static demonstration with the council or the police. If you are planning a moving march or parade you will have to get a permit first.
There is nothing stopping you from grabbing a few friends and/or creating a facebook event page for a static demo in a well visited public place. You can meet beforehand and paint some banners (recycle old cardboard, sheets or the back of advertising banners from shops) with messages of solidarity on them. You can stand there with your banners and chant (with or without a megaphone). Some of you could give out tokens of solidarity, such as flowers or fruit from vendors who would throw these items away at the end of the day. You can ‘leaflet’ by giving little notes of solidarity to member of the public. One of you could bring a guitar/a drum/ a tambourine for some noise. You can sing songs and celebrate your international friends. Anything goes and it will bring a smile to people passing by.
4. Use social media to spread the love
Use your social media accounts to share pictures of acts of kindness like the above. Write a status update reminding your friends that they are welcome in Britain and that they are important to you. Take a profile picture with yourself holding a sign with a solidarity message on it. These little things might seem like a cheap excuse for activism but they actually go a long way. I had my facebook account deactivated for a couple of months until the day of Brexit. I received so many emails from my concerned friends in the UK that day and yet I felt a bit alone, sitting in my room in far away in Sweden, staring at my inbox. I felt the need to log into facebook to be closer to my friends and to experience this shock together. This was vital for my well being as it reminded me that not everyone in the UK felt hateful towards immigrants. So, if reflecting your solidarity online is something you can do, go for it!
5. Volunteer for refugees
If you live near Calais, consider travelling there for a day or two over the weekend. Friendly faces and a lot of help are always needed down there. You can find many local action groups on facebook by searching facebook for these (or similar) key words: ‘calais refugee cambridge’ for example. There is also a map on google showing where refugee aid is needed the most (but it’s only updated during winter).
No matter how you decide to help, always listen to the refugees and be there to empower them not to patronise or decide for them. Show your support and don’t act without consent.
6. Wear a safety pin
You’ve probably seen this campaign on social media: To show your solidarity and to make yourself approachable by people who are suffering from the horrendous hate crimes you can simply wear a safety pin on your top. You can get a pack of 50 very cheap in Boots or Superdrug or any stationary shop. This way you will have enough pins to give out to your friends or to pin to every item of clothing you have.
Additionally, pin a little rainbow flag to your DIY brooch (you can even just draw one on a piece of paper and pin it to your clothes). This way MOGAI/ LGBTQAI+ refugees, muslims, European immgrants and people of colour who suffer from multiple hateful attacks will know they can turn to you.
7. Don’t be a bystander
If you bear witness to a hate crime, be it the smallest act of hate, do something. Make sure you are safe, but don’t be afraid to be the first one to speak out. It is very easy to succumb to the so called bystander effect. So when we find ourselves in a large group of people and someone needs our help, it is very easy for us to not feel responsible for providing help. This is because psychologically we tend to justify to ourselves that in the mass of people, there must at least one person who is faster or more qualified to help than we are. On the other hand, if we then see somebody providing help, it is easier for us to join in and take action ourselves. So chances are high if you’re in a mass of people, everybody will wait for someone else to take action and at the same time if they see you take action they might find it easier to join in.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to speak out against a xenophobic slur for example, a simple: ‘Shut your mouth!’ or ‘You’re not speaking for anybody else here’ could do the job. You don’t necessarily need to turn to the attacker. To disrupt the violence, you could simply engage the victim in a conversation. Take their attention away from the bigot. Smile at them. Ask them to talk to you. Ask them where they are headed, talk about the weather or what they had for lunch yesterday.
Send us pics and videos of the examples of solidarity you have seen (we have a brand new instagram and twitter account). We want to spread the love to balance the few but dominant messages of hate out.