Since the beginning of 2020 it seems like there has been just one tragedy after another. The pandemic. The government’s mishandling of it, causing over 120,000 deaths. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. The performative responses to the BLM protests. The murders of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, and the disgusting Met police officers who took selfies with their dead bodies. Police brutality in both the US and the UK. The murder of Sarah Everard. The UK becoming a fascist state (see: The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill). The clear corruption of this government (77k on eyebrows?!). All of us have been affected in some way by the events of the last year in a bit. For some of us, our use of social media has become a practise of doom scrollers. Being in a perpetual state of lockdown obviously doesn’t help this, and it is so easy to see how we may begin to build overwhelmed by it all, especially those of us from minoritised communities. One of the reasons I’ve been so quiet on the blog front is because, even though I have things to say, I honestly don’t have the energy to say them. This United Kingdom and its fascist Tory government has me feeling exhausted. And what gets to me the most about that feeling of exhaustion is the feeling of powerlessness that underpins it. I look at all the ways this country is sinking further into the pits of hell and I despair at my inability to stop any of it. I’ve had to divest completely from electoral ISM, not least because we have no credible opposition, so I spend my days fantasising about when I can get the hell up out of here instead.
But the truth is, I’m not satisfied with that. Leaving the UK is not actually an option for me right now and won’t be for some time, and I have to think of those who aren’t even able to fantasise about it. While I’m here I have to resist. We all do. We have to keep trying, because if we don’t, well…it doesn’t bear thinking about quite frankly.
But how? What can I do?
It’s easy to feel like you, as an individual, cannot effect change. I was having similar thoughts recently, and my mind was brought back to one of the first blog posts I ever wrote: on Windrush and why the personal is political. It was an extract of a sermon I gave at St. Peter de Beauvoir Town Church in Hackney in 2018. I told the congregation that:
“As individuals and as a community, we do have the ability to make an impact. The political and the social are irrevocably intertwined and we ought not to be afraid or to shy away from that fact. The struggle is not over for the Windrush generation and, as we live in a world that carries out and perpetuates injustice after injustice, there will be many others we can stand up for. Every little we can do does help.
Whatever you can offer to do is valid. The problem is never too big or untouchable.”
I want to bring some of that spirit back with his post and, using my journey working on the Windrush Scandal as an example, give you some tips on how to get involved.
- Pick an issue
As mentioned in the introduction to this post, there is a lot going on in the world right now. There is a lot going on right here in this Babylon country. You cannot fight it all and it is perhaps not the best use of your energy to try to do so. But there must be an issue or a cause that stirs your spirit, that makes you so angry that you simply cannot sit on your hands. It may be something that affects you personally, or has affected people you know. Or it could be something that you’ve seen that makes you think “that is not fair.” As I’ve written before, my family was not affected by the Windrush Scandal, but we could have been. I got involved because, as a descendant of the Windrush Generation, seeing this happen to the elders of my community made me want to fight, and shouting about it down the phone to my mum or on social media just wasn’t good enough.
So pick your battle. Pick your battle and make sure you know why you’re fighting it. Also ensure that you can remain committed to it, because you will need to put in work. This is not going to be easy.
- Educate yourself about the topic
Genuine passion and commitment is a starting point. You also need to understand the cause you are getting involved in. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to talk to my mother at length about what it was like for the Windrush Generation coming to Britain, how she obtained her citizenship under the 1981 British Nationality Act, and so on. But I’ve also read much about the Scandal and how it came about; I’ve attended public meetings and taken notes. I am not saying you have to be an expert on the topic before you can help, but having foundational knowledge is important, especially if you are working on a cause that has a long history of resistance. Also, view your education as an ongoing process – you will learn much more along the way. When I first started campaigning against the Windrush Scandal in 2018, I was not that clued up about the history of immigration law in this country. I knew some of it, but not that much. However, as a result of this campaigning I’ve been involved in, I’ve received training on the Immigration Rules and the history of immigration law changes that led to the Scandal.
- Get involved at a local level
You do not have to have thousands of followers on social media or be famous like Marcus Rashford (who is a don, by the way) to effect change.
In fact, much of this type of work is done at grassroots level – with organisations working directly with people affected by the issue at hand. After the protest in 2018, I came across organisations that were actively working to both help victims of the Windrush Scandal and fight the Home Office on the matter. Look for those organisations that are working in your community or nationally. Research them – you cannot offer to help if you have no idea what they do. Think about the things you’re good at, the skills you have to offer and see where these may align with what the organisations may need.
Once you start getting involved, you will meet others and your experience will naturally expand from there. I met three other campaigners during this process, and we formed the Channels Research Group. Together, we delivered the ‘Burning Work’ conference on Windrush Day last year along with Windrush Defenders Legal C.I.C. From there, we have continued to work with other community groups – an example of how your experience will expand.
- Spread the word
I don’t think this one needs much explanation. Talk about the issue. Educate others. Use your voice the best way you can: writing, speaking, artwork, music, whatever. Invite people to your events to your marches. Spread the word, consistently.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed, it is easy to feel powerless. But, as I hope I’ve shown in this post, you are not powerless. You can do something. It takes effort, yes. It takes commitment. It is not easy. But it is necessary. As a country we are hurtling towards authoritarianism and minoritised communities are bearing, and will continue to bear, the brunt of it. It will take all of us focussing our energies to combat it, and we MUST do so. Politicians will not save us.