Finding Hope

Just been to THE most inspiring and amazing talk I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. It was by Dustin Lance Black, at the Oxford Union. I had thought about maybe leaving early to go and finish coursework, and boy am I glad I stayed. I met him and Tom Daley beforehand, and immediately felt him to be an incredibly wise, grounded, experienced presence. I can see what Tom sees in him: he’s almost magnetic in his immense interestingness. He answered my question about advice for writers; championing individuality over commercially popular routes or genres of writing.

Then came the talk. He held a moment’s silence for the Manchester Arena attack of last night, which set the tone for an hour that held in it all the gravitas, and, importantly, hope, of a speech of one of the world’s most famous activists of times both past and present. He said it’s more important than ever that we come together and feel equal, but also that it’s time to hit out at those who don’t celebrate togetherness, *cough* Trump, and never to give in to fear. He addressed us all with such poise, never faltering his words, never doubting his argument or his purpose. He told us about the importance of stories, telling a few of his own along the way, including his first introduction to the word ‘homosexuality’, and his move to California, his first insights into what great leadership is (power and belief, passion and grace) and when his mother, a conservative Southern, Mormon woman, first truly accepted him for who he was, after his gay friends had told her their honest stories. He told us that the way to make change was to speak from the heart, to show people something through the power of anecdotal evidence, rather than argumentative and violent words or actions. He told us that you have to be yourself, as no one is like you; if you want to be a successful writer you can play the game, but once you’ve shown what you can do you should do your hardest to push what you actually love writing, to show that you’re the only person who can write that thing and write it well. He told us that you must be passionate about change, and not become complacent if something doesn’t affect you. He told us that in order to create diversity, you need a diverse team, sometimes comprised of unlikely allies, to create it. He told us his life story, and gave us hope for ours.

He addressed us as students of Oxford, showing us that, although we’ll come away from here with amazing knowledge and experiences, what’s really important is empathy, passion and curiosity. I asked him how to stand up to your peers, and those close to you with whom you may disagree, especially as there’s a rise at the moment of conservatism in those a bit younger than us. He told me to be patient as they inevitably have a reason to believe the thing they do, and that being ‘right’ isn’t everything. He told us that we shouldn’t help people to have their deserved rights because it’s charitable or the politically correct thing to do, but that it gives us power. Power against those who set out to create division and fear. It’s one step closer to a world that is ‘we’, and not lots of separate groups of ‘us’ (a paraphrase). He even had hope, as movements nowadays are comprised of black and white, gay and straight, male and female, showing that rights are no longer the main goal, but equality for all, fought for by all.

Above all, he taught me to push for what I believe in. There’s no point waiting for someone else to do it because you could end up doing it best. Classic me, but I couldn’t help a Harry Potter quote floating through my head: “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

Advertisements

Things to Smile About

For anyone wondering, perhaps still in a state of post-New Year’s, somewhat alcohol-induced confusion, I can reliably inform you that it is now 2017. And I haven’t written a blog post in six months! That’s the equivalent of just over the gestation period of a goat, time for 7.5 moon cycles and the building of a Rolls Royce (I spent a wonderful 15 minutes finding those facts, yes – I’m more than happy to provide advice on how to spend a wild evening). So, a lot can happen in that amount of time, and I don’t think you need me to recap for you. Although I will. Briefly.

I suppose one of the biggest changes, especially in mind of my previous post, is that the Orange One now controls the Western world. That was a development with which I was wholly dissatisfied. Oh, and Article 50 is actually happening now. Brexit is officially in the oven (cue all those seedy Bread-xit puns). In even more groundbreaking news, The Daily Mail has produced several recent gems of misogynistic articles (particularly that Leg-sit spectacular) – ha! what a surprise! what informed, intellectual journalistic heights they have reached!

Amid all this turmoil, however, I’d like to raise a few points of joy. 2017 has got off to a rocky start, yes, but I’d hereby like to remind you that goodness still has a place within it:

  1. The word ‘hereby’ still exists – I’d advise you to make good use of this, and petition for it to be reinstated into common parlance, along with its excellent counterparts, ‘whereby’, ‘forthwith’ and ‘yonder’.
  2. Beauty and the Beast‘s live action remake.
  3. Pineapple on pizza (controversial, I know).
  4. Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast‘s live action remake.
  5. Talking of which, tea in general. And biscuits and crumpets.
  6. Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast‘s live action remake (you get the point).
  7. Planet Earth is still full of lovely puppies and kittens that you can pet whenever.
  8. The incredible feeling of solidarity and support raised by the marches around the world in January. The Women’s March on London was the highlight of my year so far.
  9. Family.
  10. Friends.
  11. More puppies. And fully grown dogs.
  12. The amazing way in which London has recovered and kept going, as only London can, after the Westminster attack recently. It was a day that shook the whole country, as we mourned for the casualties. But people have shown an incredible resilience, and a refusal to live in fear, to give in to the wishes of terrorists. Think of the doctors who ran across the bridge to help the wounded. The MP, Tobias Ellwood, who tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the police officer killed outside Parliament. Those great signs in tube stations, stating that life would go on as normal.
  13. Moonlight getting best film at the Oscars.
  14. Pizza in general.
  15. The amazing WOW awards at the Southbank Centre – I had the pleasure of going to the evening hosted by Sandi Toksvig and it certainly brightened up my year. A night truly celebrating, and relishing, what it is to be female.
  16. Disney announcing more live action films.
  17. Ice cream.
  18. Red Nose Day raised over £73 million.
  19. There’s a huge movement to save and look after bees.

I could go on.

This is an incredibly random selection, I know. It also contains some good things which are personal to me, as I’m sure we’ve all had our individual high points of the year. But I just wanted to do my bit to spread a little positivity and humour over a year, and, thus far, millennium, that sometimes feels a little scarier and more serious than its predecessors.

It’s so important at the moment to hear good news. After all, it’s better than fake news, and that was so last year.

Dear America – Let’s Discuss the Donald

Dear America,

Right. I’ve been wanting to have a word for a while, but I resisted because I believed it was none of my business, not being a US citizen and all. But now I feel I have to say something, even if it’s just to retain the nanometre of sanity I have left regarding politics. Specifically, your politics.

Like most of the world, I’ve been an eager viewer of the ever-engaging race for the Presidential election. And like most of the world, my reaction has wavered from amusement, to slight disbelief, to absolute shock, and now, if I’m honest, real fear. It pains me to admit this, because, as you may have guessed, I’m referring to the fact that a loud-mouthed orange with legs has reached the final of what has been a tumultuous competiton: five prizes for who this is. Dastardly Donald himself. The Trump. The Guy Who Has A Shedload of [debatedly undeserved] Money But Can’t Be Bothered to Buy a Decent Wig. And who wants to admit they’re scared of him?

So, this suggests: perhaps it’s not him we’re scared of. Maybe, instead, it’s the ideas he represents, the ugly sentiments he’s reawoken. Seemingly, the many progresses America has made in recent years regarding integration, economic stability, and basic human rights, are teetering on the edge of being overruled. All those policies, scratched out. All that work for a better future, eliminated. Yet people still want to vote for him. And in a way, I don’t blame them. Not because I think they’re voting for the right thing, but because of how they’ve come to vote for it. The indoctrination, for one thing.

Beguiling promises and ideas of a ‘greater America’: all too tempting for anyone who may have become disenchanted with recent politics.

But why? Sometimes I wonder whether there’s only a mainstream interest in politics when something is going wrong. Perhaps that’s why Obama isn’t widely popular anymore. Because he actually deigned to do good things. It may seem weird to those of you caught in the US bubble, but I’d like you to know that this man is very well loved around the world. For revising the image of America: making it a more inclusive, progressive and welcoming place for people from any gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or background. Note the recent legality of same-sex marriage across the country. An amazing step, that that joke of a ‘politician’ wants to overturn. Think how many people fought for that bill, in hard graft, amazing actions, incredible words. What a total lack of respect for these people, and for anyone else in the world who sees that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to legally join with the one you love. Obama did pretty amazing things for your health system too. These are only two examples; I could go on, but this isn’t what today’s post is about. Unfortunately.

I’d like to provide you with a little factfile/reality check about dear Donald (sarcasm), some snippets of what I’ve learned in my months of observation:

  • He’s not entirely a self-made man: this may come as a bit of a shock to some, but he’s not in fact as entrepreneurial as we all thought, having benefitted from a ‘starting fund’ of $1 million from his father. I found this particularly interesting, as, in my post A-level (that’s the last year of high school for those wondering from across the pond) mindset, having just studied The Great Gatsby, I began thinking that perhaps Trump’s appeal came from representing that age-old desire of prosperity: the American Dream. Thus this little fact made his other lies taste that bit more sour. It’s a sad truth that money can come in very useful when you suddenly want to enter into American politics. I’ll leave that thought there with you for you to make your own conclusions… (as I’ve stated, I’m merely an innocent observer, of course) [Following debate on 26/09: Hillary makes a good point when she asks where in the world his tax returns are?- probably in the land of tax evasion’s capital city]
  • An interview with him in People magazine of 1998 read thus: “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country… I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific”. Need I say more, apart from that this is an absolute insult to the intelligence and integrity of all those loyally voting for him. Not exactly a candidate ‘representing the needs of the people’!
  • Despite what he may say, he did mean all those things he said: by ‘things’, I’m sure you’re aware of what I mean. Perhaps you recall a little whisper about building a wall between the USA and Mexico, or suggestions that all Muslims are terrorists. Perhaps you’ve seen footage of him being disgustingly misogynistic. He said all these awful things to shock, of course, but why should that mean there’s not genuine intent and feeling behind them? (and yes, I wholeheartedly believe there is) Once he’s got a captive audience, he can say almost anything he wants to. And he’s spent years in the public eye, understanding the ways of the media. He’ll be fully aware of how exactly to manipulate people, and of how to make frankly fascist, homophobic, sexist, racist; various other assorted -ist ‘statements’ seem wise, strong ideas which can provide a foundation for a ‘better America’. Or, in reality, an America drowning in a sea of his own twisted, money-driven creation. As I said, just to be frank.
  • I could go on, but I don’t think he’s worth that much typing.

Now, I feel the time has come to address his rival: Mrs Clinton herself. Over the past year, I’ve heard an increasingly loud, resigned groan about her, manifesting in the words “she’s just as bad!” or “I suppose it’s a case of the lesser of two evils”. I concede, no politician is perfect. But to compare her to him with regard to the subject of evils is a bit of a long shot: I reckon we can all allow him to win that particular race.

A Hillary Clinton factfile, by comparison, would include, for example:

  • She’s experienced: she’s witnessed first-hand the work that goes into being President both as First Lady to her husband Bill, and as Secretary of State for four years. I’d say on a scale of 1 to good work experience, it’s much better than a career Google summarises as a ‘businessman’ (hmpf) and a ‘television personality’ (oh good, at least he’s entertaining)…
  • She’s interested in a female-friendly future: think this speaks for itself. As a female, I’d rather grow up in a world in which our only remaining Superpower cares for the needs of more than half of the world’s population (yep, 52% – we do matter.) Hillary herself has been a victim of ‘casual’ sexism in the race for Presidency; she’s been viewed as ‘bossy’ and ‘shrill’ throughout her career, emphasised by both fellow politicians and the media, simply because of the long-held fact that that can be the only explanation for a successful woman. Yet, funnily enough, do we ever hear the same of men at the top of their profession? I also imagine that the recent scare with her health, which, by the way, I wish the media would calm down about and let her recover in peace, has been exacerbated by the fact that, as a woman, her body will be seen as being just as important as her political standing, if not more in some cases. I just hope she recovers quickly, and that you as voters don’t waver because of it: if anything, it shows she’s been working non-stop to ensure the country she loves will be in good hands. Anyway, Mrs Clinton has always supported the political, economic and social equality of the sexes, which is more than we can say for someone who seemingly doesn’t recognise the humanity of women. Plus, Hillary doesn’t stop there: she’s openly pledged that she’ll always support integration and stand against any unwelcome -isms. Again, that’s more than we can say for Trump.
  • The world would, in short, be safer in her hands: I think I can vouch for the rest of the citizens of the world when I say I’d feel much more secure with her in charge – remember, among other things, the President controls the ‘nuclear button’.

So, ‘make America great again’. What a catchy slogan, eh? Michelle Obama responded to this in a speech a few months ago, asking if she was the only one who thought America already was great. A sentiment I echoed in my past blog post about Brexit. Talking of that particular political tragedy, now, that was something nobody thought would happen. Who would have thought the UK would leave the EU, yet we did. Who would have thought Donald Trump would be in the last two running for President, yet he is. The unbelievable can happen, which is why I’m urging anyone with sense to go out there and vote. It’s so, so important. Because that old phrase is true: when America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold. Please realise what enormous responsibility you hold when voting. It may seem like a scratch on a piece of paper, but it means so much more than that. If you’re not sure what being a President entails (besides the obvious public bit, I’m talking about the relentless toil behind the scenes), then read up on it. You’ll soon realise that one of the candidates is completely unqualified and utterly unfit for the job, and it’s certainly not Hillary Clinton.

Yours sincerely,

A British student, hoping you’ll make the right decision for all of our futures.


For anyone interested, here’s an excellent Brexit-Trump comparison made by esteemed American writer and writer-teacher Chuck Wendig:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/24/you-want-trump-this-is-how-you-get-trump/

Featured image by ItalianInBoston on universalhub.com, all credits go to them

The EU Referendum: Lessons Learned

Nb: I didn’t intend for my second blog post to be quite this serious, but I needed to voice my feelings. Also, I’m going to address this post to my grandfather, who passed away last year.

So, it’s happened. We’ve left the EU. Bring back the empire, and all that.

I wanted to address this to you because you were always the most patriotic person I knew, and it’s refreshing to think of someone close to me who’s not feeling ashamed to be British today.

Ashamed. I never thought this day would come. A day when such a great country could concede to the pressuring lies of a media and certain politicians completely compelled by self-interest.

I’ve spent most of the last few months trawling through statistics and information that firmly convinced me that remaining in the EU was the right decision for the future of our country. But I won’t list them here, because the decision is made, and from now on what we need to do is create a suitable agreement.

Instead, I’d like to talk to you about what’s shocked me about the referendum process.

Firstly, the hyperbole and media fighting. I’m not exempting the Bremain campaign from this particular one, by the way. Both sides played their part in creating an atmosphere of increasing pressure and antagonistic tension, that was always going to lead to a boiling point. Surely everyone could see that this had all gone too far when Jo Cox MP was murdered for her political stance? Since when did we become a country with inhabitants ready to kill to prove a point? All I can say is that I offer my condolences to her family and friends; she did not deserve this at all.

False claims were fired from both angles, leaving the average voter feeling throttled by a host of overwhelming, empty promises. How was a whole country supposed to make a decision based on such falsity? (A prominent example of which, may I add, would be the assurance that we paid £350 million to the EU each week – firstly, it was more like £190 million, which in the grand scheme of things was a negligible amount of our GDP; secondly, it has been admitted by a leading Leave campaigner, who’ll remain unnamed here due to my disagreement with his moral principles, and the fact that I’d rather not name him on my blog as I don’t think it’s earned such foul treatment, that that figure was a mistake. Oh great, so the UK has left based on a lie. Just to add insult to injury, we’ve lost more than this grand amount in the last few hours on account of leaving. How is that supposed to figure?) Freedom of speech is a tenuous topic. I’m all for everyone being allowed to say what they want, even if it’s used in a nationwide debate or newspaper in order to influence somebody. All I suggest is that they have the decency to be accurate and not to inflate a problem beyond its proper proportion. Something to work on in the future, perhaps?

Secondly, the xenophobia. There, I’ve said it. Time to acknowledge that it’s real and another problem with which we’re faced. The very notion of leaving a union like the EU is to me, excuse me for suggesting such a thing, exclusivist, isolationist, imperialist even. A nod to ‘the old days’, where Britain was a strong empire, a force to be reckoned with. But did we really need to leave a bureaucratic alliance to achieve this? An alliance formed on the basis of uniting enemies after wars that killed over 80 million people . An alliance that catered to the principles which Britain always swore to uphold. Tolerance, being one. If we’re really going to use the history argument, then we may as well get our facts right. Britain has always welcomed those in need, has been tolerant and inclusive. What a multicultural society should be. If you want proof, you only have to check the amount of refugees we took in after WWII. Instead, the rush of xenophobic ideas spurred by a campaign inspiring fear against immigrants has left the country divided in more ways than one. Posters and speeches presenting anyone ‘non-British’ as the enemy. Claims that we’ll be ‘flooded’ with immigrants. Interesting claim really, when you again look at the facts. Another false claim. ‘Casual’ racial slurs on the street are never just that. What even subtle moments of racism can lead to is terrifying. I for one don’t want to live in such an environment. Particularly with similar situations elsewhere in the world at the moment. What our country needs now is unity, a feeling of cooperation and togetherness, not more separation. We’ve done enough of that already.

Thirdly, I want to say that up to now I may have sounded scathing about the Leave campaign. I didn’t set out to be such, but it’s hard when I just feel outraged that our country has been cheated into a decision that I don’t believe was in our best interest at all. Make Britain great again, eh? Was I the only one that thought Britain was always great? One comedian described leaving the EU as being like a rebellious teenager leaving home only to live in the garage. The benefits we could reap from being in the EU far outweighed any situation we’ll be granted being out of it. We’ll still want to trade with them, after all. Rather embarrassing really. Not to mention harmful.

Finally, I just wanted to talk about the future. In the aftermath of this referendum, I feel let down and disappointed in what my country has decided. Personally, I couldn’t vote yesterday, as I was two months short of the age limit. In fact, I have been wondering if the result of the referendum would have been different had 16 and 17 year olds been able to vote. I frustratedly watched as my future was decided by those whose opinions differed so greatly from those of my own generation; the generation that will have to deal with and live through the consequences, good or bad. But it’s no time to blame certain people, or certain demographics. That would only cause more division.

From the experience of intently watching this referendum for months, and the way in which it was dealt with, I can conclude that something needs to change. We, as a country, must now try our best to adapt to our new situation, and to thrive again once more. We must be accepting of the people we meet, and those that need our help. After all, plenty of Brits have emigrated. We’d want them to be treated well.

Above all, I’d like to tell those who do not agree with this decision not to be ashamed of your country. It is a great one. Never doubt that. Because the second we doubt it, the second we succumb to a feeling of need, is the second that we are vulnerable to extremism. And nobody needs me to remind them of how well right wing extremism has worked in the past in Europe, especially when in times of economic disparity.

Therefore, I’d like to readdress my grandpa. All I can say is, I’m sorry. I know this isn’t the country you will have wanted Britain to become. But I’m hoping we can sort it out. We always have done. Britain is a country that should be renowned as great, not tainted by the stings of hate. Let that be how the rest of the world sees us.