What I Did On My Holidays or, In Which Our Hero Remembers Something Important.
I was in the US a couple of weeks ago, as part of my ongoing mission to explore strange new cities, seek out hot and handsome men, and snog ‘em.
As much as I aspire to being a Picard, deep down I’m a Kirk and we all know that. Anyway.
I timed my visit to coincide with the US election, as I was planning on doing the wanky British thing of being amused by foreigners being passionate about something in a way that would never happen at home. And it would make a nice change from all the really depressing Brexit stuff going on in UK politics, to see Hillary Clinton become the first female president.
Except we all know that’s not what happened.
At the time, however, the group of people I was with were all still optimistic and upbeat, so we headed off to a bar in San Francisco, planning to drink and have fun as the votes came in.
What actually happened was a little different, although it definitely involved drinking. There was cheering for Hillary and booing for Trump at the beginning of the night, that slowly faded away and was replaced with a sullen, shocked silence. The drinks didn’t stop flowing, but no-one was talking anymore. Even my fantastic accent stopped having the desired effect.
As I headed home later that night, I had to pick my way around people crying in the street, fights breaking out and other stuff that reminded me most of the scene from Battlestar Galactica, just after they find out Earth is a nuclear wasteland and their whole mission has failed.
I’m used to seeing bleak shit like this on a weekend in central London, but this was different. None of these people were from Essex, for a start. This was San Francisco, where were the chilled out hippy types in tie-dye with flexible approaches to sexuality and access to large amounts of weed?
The next day, things were still pretty bleak. This wasn’t helped by the occasional sight of smug old white men wearing red ‘Make America Great Again’ caps. I was tempted to say something like ‘Dude, too soon.’ but doubted they would care and didn’t feel like it was my place, anyway. I didn’t live here, after all. I was just observing.
Later that day, I joined a friend of mine at a rally in the centre of town, to hear various people speak about the election and how they felt. I wasn’t expecting much, I’ve always found such things a bit pointless, but I thought I might at least meet some angry protesty men, and there’s nothing sexier than getting angry about social and political injustice. (I wanted to make a joke here, but that’s actually true - it’s fucking sexy.)
But what I got wasn’t political speeches. Or, rather, they were, but they weren’t the same as the ones I was used to hearing. There were all the usual complaints, the moans and the worry for the future that now looked a lot more uncertain, but there was something else. Instead of ‘and something must be done’, what I heard, time and again was ‘and we will do something. Whatever it takes’.
And the first thing we did was march, together, through the areas of the city with the highest levels of immigrants, with chants about how all immigrants were welcome.
And to anyone, including me, who thought that marches are a little pointless, I’d say that, after a nasty and divisive campaign, with a winning party being elected on promises to ‘send them home’ and that bloody wall, this was the most powerful gesture anyone could make. Thousands of people saying to the most vulnerable section of society in the country ‘don’t listen to them - we’re not all like that. You are welcome, and we will fight alongside you.’
And just like that, I wasn’t observing, I was participating. I’d forgotten how good it felt to actually get out and do something, instead of just moaning about it and waiting for someone else to fix it.
This got me thinking about all those people who happily tweet stuff like ‘It gets better’ and ‘Love wins’. Because it doesn’t, not on its own. As this shitty year has shown us, over and again, left to their own devices, hatred, fear and wilful ignorance will win every time. Love wins because somewhere, a lot of people worked at it. It gets better for you because you work at it. Lots of people, in small ways, every day. And it’s time we all did a little bit more.
Time to step outside those safe spaces, those echo chambers and those bubbles of like-minded circle-jerking.
And one of the best ways to start is by stepping away from Facebook and Twitter. Not permanently, but certainly a bit. Don’t get caught up in the latest twitter antics of idiots and bastards, look for the news that’s being hidden by the circus, look for the stories that the bastards in charge don’t want you to see.
Posting to Facebook and Twitter is a lot like having a wank - it makes you feel better and doesn’t bother anyone else in the slightest. In fact, I’m doing it right now and it’s lovely. But it’s not helping anyone.
So before posting a link to an article about what awful thing the government is doing next, or something disgusting involving Nigel Farage (which, honestly, is anything that involves Nigel Farage), stop and ask yourself “And what am I going to do about this?”. The answer should never be nothing.
Remember that awfully British poster from the war that got reprinted and stuck everywhere, about keeping calm and carrying on? There was another one, created at the same time by the same ministry that is a lot more relevant now. It reads “Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might.”
This is important because the more people who argue, who push back for basic rights for all people from all walks of life, the less likely it is that these bastards can convince us that their way of thinking is the new normal. Brexit and the US election have bolstered the confidence of racists, homophobes, transphobes and every other flavour of phobe out there, and it’s important that we don’t lose sight of just how awful these pe are.
Groups of people shouting ‘Heil Trump’ is not normal; the rise violent crimes against minorities is not normal; a Vice President championing gay conversion therapy is not normal; the Snooper’s Charter is not normal and we cannot afford to let anyone begin to think otherwise.
It’s easier not to, I get that. I’d much rather let someone else do it while I sit here and wank myself into a coma, but before reaching for the tissues and the baby lotion, picture the smug faces of people like Trump and Farage and Theresa May andPaul Nuttall and Michael bloody Gove.
If that doesn’t take the wind out of your sails, it might already be too late.