This oh-so-appropriate title is handpicked from an article back in 2016, framing the potential implications of “Brexshit” within the context of Environment Law in the UK and Europe. Reading the report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change on the impacts of global warming rising above the 1.5°C target, this hugely comprehensive piece is forebodingly more relevant then ever:
“Scientists might want to write in capital letters ‘ACT NOW IDIOTS’, but they need to say that with facts and numbers… and they have, said Kaisa Kosonen from Greenpeace”[ii].
After many thousands of miles living on the road in the last year from Calais to Greece - cooking ‘recipes of HOPE’ with displaced humans across Europe in The Welcome Tent - our home (as economic migrants or Brexitfugees?) now overlooks Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Valley in the Alps. We see the impact of this environmental “catastrophe” everyday, looking out the window at glaciers melting at a rate arguably only possible with global warming? The stark reality of our current situation is so much closer than many perhaps care to think, but with eyes glued to our screens, the sales of Merel boots with their Polar Bear logo continues to rise, while the existence of real live Polar Bears becomes ever more precarious.
My passion lies in human rights and equitable participation for everyone on this planet. Yet, with no planet there will be no rights to fight for. It really is that serious. No single industry, discipline or person can solve the complex problems we face in this age: the issues are all consuming, inter generational, conscious and subconscious, too overwhelming, fear inducing or just being plain ignored.
This past year, I can now say with evidence, that many of the issues presenting themselves around the world have foundations in the colonialism of our past – and present - from which our ancestors and current public administrations continue to rape and reap the rewards. Indeed as much as I support a welfare state, many of our government and public service systems are a clear demonstration of exploitation by design, only remaining intact due to our collective and complicit silence in the face of injustice. As we look for a scape goat for our current catastrophic situation, the finger of blame points to ‘Those Black People in Boats’ - already silenced by public systems so shamelessly outdated that one can conclude these systemic failings must be orchestrated.
People fleeing war, conflict and environmental conditions – legally entitled to protection under international law - are literally dying to get to safety in Europe. Thousands of people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in recent years and many more returned notably to the Libyan coast under the hugely criticised Italian and wider European Migration policy changes. Human Beings - care workers, engineers, farmers, business owners, mums, dads, children. Human Beings who should and could be welcomed as part of a Loving and Living Europe.
Instead, the “powers that be” are pumping finances into a shameless Media which is continuing to fuel hatred, misogyny and prejudice and a divide-and-rule contractual, avoid-all-liability, immoral approach to just about everything from selling weapons of war, the rise and rise and rise of technology and health, social care and support service contracts which enable the “haves” and perpetuate the marginalisation of the “have nots”.
I used to lead the first social innovation research lab in UK government. I quit when I started to volunteer in Calais in the winter of 2015. The hunches, the guesstimates, the theories that I kept to myself, because They Could Not Possibly Be True, I now know are Absolutely True. “White supremacy” is the plague of our time, debilitating conditions created by those who have decided on our behalf – to pitch us as mere mortals against each other, like cocks in a ring – while the Winners of Capitalism sail off into the sunset.
I argue therefore that the saving of ‘civilisation’ cannot be left merely to politics. Many, if not most, of our public, government and larger agencies (from across sectors) are demonstrating Deliberate Moral Amnesia while chasing the money, clearly visible in their malpractice within frameworks of consent, globally. This is Colonialism demonstrated through abuse of the “how” of Exploration, of Cooperation, of Collaboration, of Agreement.
Until CEOs from across ALL Sectors understand the simple difference between “doing with” or “doing to”, current leadership models will fail us. The reality is that “land grabbing”, “pussy grabbing” and “contract grabbing” are all one and the same: all likely to increase as those with limited intelligence and weak hearts fear losing their control over the finite resources in this world.
So at this absolutely-beyond-critical-moment in the history of humanKIND, who indeed does have the answers? What is our Plan B? For sure we have Tech and Artificial Intelligence, Genetically Modified crops, insurance scams and Robotics as well developed “saviours” to future-proof our bubble lives. Yet the important question for me is will they merely keep us alive - in a slowly dying-inside type of way - or will they keep us alive and LIVING, nourishing us in a way which makes the stars twinkle in our eyes and songs of freedom dance in our souls?
I have met everyday people forced to flee their homes due to war, people in detention without trial, people forced to be sex workers, people who have lost loved ones far too young, people living with terminal illness and irreversible health conditions. I know people who have experienced none of the above, and still day-to-day is a struggle. A screen works for a while as escapism and then eventually can become addictive. Yet, what makes the difference for every single person that I have met is not a screen, but the simple humanitarian act of a hand up – not a hand out – a real human connection that gives the gift of hope in return for a smile.
If we have any chance of a future, based on the evidence in the 1.5°C report, we must learn how to grow together. Not by commodifying food and knowledge and selling it on at a fat profit, but through genuine consensual agreement, where all parties are beneficiaries. We must learn from people already connected intrinsically with nature, living in harmony with the land, with the earth. We must learn from the knowledge, wisdom and courage of people whose lives have already been in battle, who have the scars, the testimony and the strength to prove it. Perhaps we will find that these are the same people?
We must learn not only to tread lightly on Mother Earth, but nourish her as we nourish our children. We must re-educate ourselves about ‘herstory’ as much as history, because unless we go forward collectively with action and not merely words, all of our children will fight and die together in each others’ arms.
So where’s the revolution we all need? Across Europe, it is the volunteers and displaced people I have seen “on the frontline” that, while dodging the further policy changes to criminalise their actions, continue to offer a humanitarian response – a hand up - beyond and despite the existing political system. Brave and humble people who have decided to hide their own tears by helping others, voting with their feet and acting with their hearts in this, the Age of Aquarius, which will be infamously known as the age which revoked the licence to rescue.
“if your feminism isn’t intersectional it ain’t shit” (IG punsn.roses).
How can all of us – together – share the one goal of saving the planet so my son’s generation will have a home in 50 years and so our descendants can exist for the next million years? Dividing our causes is a misuse of our resources: we must prioritise collective action by finding a way to harness separate energies and campaigns into whole system synergies. Unification around that one goal requires interconnection of ecological and humanitarian strategies at a global and local level, enabling us all to survive and thrive, while simultaneously learning coping strategies for enduring the shocks that are coming.
Reenergised with stories of commUNITIES already working towards this noble goal, I continue to look for cracks in the system, connecting the brightest stars. Indeed as Leonard Cohen sang:
“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”.
“Our society has been built on rotten foundations, and if these foundations are left ignored they will fester… As White people we must honour the knowledge and expertise of all communities by a change in our behaviour, through action to decolonise our systems…”Read More
Institutional racism still plagues policing, a chief constable has warned
This quote is from an article last month, two decades after the Macpherson Report (1999) found that police failures allowing the racist killers of black schoolboy Stephen Lawrence to escape justice, were in part due to "institutional racism”. I remember it well as at the time I was a Law student studying Race Relations.
Today, as we approach 2019, I have just completed a 16,000 mile journey with my family cooking with and learning from displaced peoples across Europe. Rarely, other than humanitarian volunteers and police authorities, did I see a white face in the makeshift camps and communities where we worked. I would argue that institutional racism goes far beyond the police force in the UK. Even more worryingly there is a surge in far-right activity. A talk given by the Institute of Race Relations’ Director Liz Fekete for a UK Parliament Roundtable on Racism and Hate Crime earlier this year can be read here.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-
and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I know from personal experience that if trauma is not acknowledged and healed, it will not go away, but instead will fester. Can the same be said about trauma resulting from systemic racism? As a global society, if we do not acknowledge these entrenched injustice issues and actively facilitate the healing of trauma caused to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, I do not believe we will ever be able to move forward together, as an inclusive, future-proof global society.
So as white people, what can we do about it? Starting from today. Now.
We must mindfully use our own privilege to the advantage of everyone in our communities. Dr Willie J. Parker, Ob/Gyn Physician and Reproductive Justice Advocate, describing a group of white women wearing hoodies in protest to a shopping mall, commented,
their practice of the same action without consequence, demonstrates how people with privilege can use it to dismantle the system
Yet this is not simply a case of striding forward again with our own solutions. We must listen to and learn from the solutions that have already been offered by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, and there are already many. Furthermore, it is not enough to be non-racist but instead "actively anti-racist” as demonstrated through the work of Americans Angela Yvonne Davis, political activist, academic and author and Rachel Cargle and her groundbreaking fund Therapy for Black Women and Girls.
Three tangible actions I can recommend today:
Educate yourSELF - Me and White Supremacy Workbook This first recommendation is a life changing opportunity to support your own role in enabling the healing of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. A free, yet priceless, download for you, your organisations and your communities. Layla F. Saad has invested her heart and soul into the creation of this work, sharing wisdom from her personal and professional journey to become a better ancestor. The write-up of an incredible Instagram challenge which took place this summer, a universal resource for us all to acknowledge our past, present and how to work together towards building a better, inclusive future for everyone. If you can, please pledge to support her work here and do not attempt to teach this work yourself, paid or otherwise, without carefully reading and understanding the instructions in the workbook.
Educate your KIDS - Teach and Transform I have no hesitation in recommending the inspirational social justice work of this incredible teacher, Ms. Liz KleinRock. The resources do exactly what it says on the tin. Teach and Transform. Check it out.
Educated MEDIA - Building The North Star I first learned of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who launched The North Star, a prohibition newspaper in 1847, in my history lessons. I thought anti-slavery activism was confined to history, but tragically twenty years later I have been proved it is certainly still necessary. With the permission of the Douglass family, Shaun King activist and journalist, and Ben Dixon have revived the newspaper 171 years later. I am proud to be a founding member of this newspaper committed to taking a stand and fighting back against injustice, avoiding venture capitalist investment and co-created by the people, for the people. If you can contribute financially to support The North Star, you will be contributing to an aspiration for a better future. When you decide to join, do mention my name at the checkout.
Finally I want to share this story about Fannie Lou Hamer finding her voice. I hope it will inspire you to find yours on issues of racial injustice in your communities.
In August of 1962, eighteen local people from Sunflower County, Mississippi, including Mrs. Hamer, traveled by bus from Ruleville to the courthouse in Indianola. Despite armed white men milling about the courthouse, the group entered the registrar’s office, intending to fill out the voter registration form as best they could. Mrs. Hamer was the first to enter.
When the group began heading home, the bus–an old school bus now used to transport cotton pickers to the fields–was pulled over by the Indianola police at the edge of town. The driver was arrested for driving a bus of “the wrong color.” Fear rose among the passengers. But in the midst of the fear and uncertainty, Mrs. Hamer began to sing, raising her powerful voice first in church songs, then movement songs. This helped calm the other passengers. Mrs. Hamer’s voice continued to be a powerful tool that mobilized many in Mississippi and across the South during times of struggle in the Movement.
Slowly but surely, all the stories, recipes, hopes and dreams that we have gathered on our 16,000 mile journey around Europe are being woven into a book known as The Manuscript ;)
It is a formidable, yet joyous task, because each recipe is a story in itself, sometimes spanning generations, timezones and, of course, many borders.
At humanKINDER, food is the universal language we are using as the initial conversation starter, the shared experience, the common ground; a tangible activity that is the catalyst for forming a new relationship and friendship between strangers.
I first learned about Frederick Douglass abolitionist newspaper The North Star in US history lessons in the UK, many years ago when I was about 14. Douglass “envisioned America as an inclusive nation strengthened by diversity and free of discrimination” (more background here http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/exhibits/douglass_exhibit/douglass.html)
It was Shaun King’s reporting of the US mid-terms that really brought his incredible empathy, skill and professionalism to my attention. Benjamin P Dixon and Shaun King launched a campaign to rebuild The North Star on 1st November 2018. The bias in media coverage has been forever cited to me in my research work as the biggest challenge to progressive reform: this “liberation journalism” is exactly what is needed and we hope to support their work however we can.
Dawit and Emma first met at Dutch Design Week in 2017 cooking “recipes of HOPE” together in The Welcome Tent, a repurposed army catering tent from 1956. One year and 16k miles later, Emma was back in Eindhoven working alongside Dawit, having successfully pitched together to the Dutch Design Foundation in response to their 2018 Theme “If not us, then who?”.
They had first connected while sharing poetry and discussing Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel’s statement “no human being is illegal” in The Welcome Tent. Dawit’s parting gift to Emma’s family for their journey was a lamp, designed and made by him at RefuBikes from repurposed bicycle parts, a humanitarian design project offering educational opportunities, purpose and community for displaced people arriving in Eindhoven.
“Together we decide how the world will look” said DDW Director Martijn Paulen. At humanKINDER we wanted to prototype an evaluation approach so that “together” could include even voices that have been silent for so long.
Dawit and Emma proposed an evaluation methodology that they hoped would shine a light on some of the less heard perspectives, a mobile and spontaneous approach which was creative, agile and relevant, offering a street view from a RefuBike Perspective. This was about building relationships and trust.
“We would love to work with the DDW team, as we recognize the success and influence of this event as it already stands. We come to you with a full comprehension of the urgency of a humanitarian angle as a necessity in the evaluation of such renowned world-class events in the global calendar”. Further motivation was found in Dutch Design Ambassador Ravi Naidoo, Founder of Design Indaba in South Africa, internationally renowned for connecting creativity and activism with social issues.
Dawit, whose homeland is Ethiopia, was brought against his will to The Netherlands before he reached adulthood. For the last six years he has been waiting for his papers. He has been actively involved in community at Huiskamer and Refubikes and recently become a Dad, yet still faces uncertainty without legal stability in either Ethiopia or The Netherlands. He is an accomplished poet, film-maker and is now studying an application programming course at the Eindhoven University of Technology.
After leading the first Social Innovation Lab in UK government, Emma’s experiences as a volunteer in the Calais “jungle” compelled her to quit and go independent as Founder of humanitarian enterprise humanKINDER. Emma has previously attended DDW as an expert in social innovation, invited by John Thackera to present The Dementia Diaries and BrainCell Boogie at the World Design Forum; facilitated workshops to support Leon Cruickshank, Professor of Design and Creative Exchange Research at Lancaster University and co-hosted The Welcome Tent as part of the VREEMDLAND at Huiskamer DDW 2017.
Meeting Muka this year, the Founder of MukaCariza - an exclusive, handmade bag brand “where Europe meets Africa” - was an incredibly moving and special moment for both Dawit and Emma because it validated their approach.
Muka had been invited to share the story of her business at the Dutch Design Week Storytelling Sessions at Huiskamer, yet spontaneously she shared the story of her life for the first time in public. As a child, Muka and her sister were falsely adopted from their homeland in Rwanda by the Catholic Church - even though her Father was still alive - and taken to Belgium. Over the next few years they experienced horrendous abuse from which they eventually managed to escape and live on the streets, while continuing to go to school. As yet Muka has never been able to return to her homeland: for those that have made the return trip they have discovered that all evidence of this modern-day-slavery has been destroyed.
Emma believes we must take a more inclusive and agile approach to evaluation - which may have more impact reframed in the “media” sphere - if we are to challenge systemic injustice, enabling the participation and elevation of all voices. This is not merely advocating on behalf of people, but rather creating a platform where people can advocate for themselves, through their chosen form of creative expression. We can only improve our outdated systems if we elevate and listen to all voices, including those like Muka’s that have been silent/silenced for many years. For Dawit and other people at the Huiskamer - a welcoming community for displaced people arriving in Eindhoven - Muka’s story was hugely powerful because she was also telling their story, validating many of their own experiences.
Muka now has three children and a successful business. It was an honour for us to meet you and listen and learn from you. Thankyou.
Excerpts from Muka’s story and other people we spoke to at Dutch Design Week 2018 will feature our forthcoming film.