Many of us have been left reeling by the result of the EU Referendum – and perhaps find ourselves going through the stages of grief: shock, denial, anger… The mood in Stroud, the small Cotswold market town where I live, transformed dramatically over night – from a sunny Thursday with Remain campaigners on the High Street feeling positive at the response they were getting from passersby (one of them said, ‘if it’s like this across the country, we’ll walk it.’); to a brittle, traumatized ambience as Stroud folk walked around in shell-shock at the victory of the Leave campaign. The fact that we in Stroud voted to Remain (80% turnout) provided little consolation. John Marjoram, our Green Party councillor called it a ‘tragedy’. But whatever the result we now have to live with what is (although over two million have signed the petition for a second referendum, asking for at least a 60% majority before such a dramatic and irreversible move can be forced on us all). Many of our European cousins living in this country have felt deeply hurt by the result (NB we are all Europeans, and for a while, still British – the two are not mutually exclusive). The country feels lesser somehow. It is an ignoble result – isolationist, xenophobic, selfish and divisive. Everyone who voted Leave had their own reasons – and some had thought things through carefully, rather than just follow the propagandist lies of the Murdoch press. But this is what the Leave message says to the world: We will pull up our drawbridge and its ‘Them against Us’. It’s a Trumpish way to conduct ourselves and we should be better than that.
And yet, what to make of the mess? and how to pick ourselves up from this difficult place?
With that in mind, yesterday morning I was compelled to suddenly organize a Unity Gathering. I rang around a few venues and within half an hour had booked the Star Anise Cafe, and had emailed everyone I know in Stroud. My partner promoted it via Social Media. We put it out there – and waited.
I was heartened by the response. Many good folk turned up – importantly of all stripes. Whatever people voted – or not – all were welcome. We broke bread together and shared our thoughts and feelings as a talking stick was past around (in the form of a plastic spoon!). Some shared poems, stories or songs – others offered the long, deep or wide view. Much wisdom was shared. We gained an insight into the reasons some voted to Leave. It wasn’t simply the response of the racist. Lexiteers saw it as a way of challenging the Neoliberalist rhetoric of a Free Market, and the corrupt bureaucracy of Brussels. For me it seemed to be a kneejerk protest vote against ‘Everything That is Wrong in Broken Britain’, but this was more than just the voice of Daily Mail readers, the 51.9% includes the voice of the disenfranchised – the disgruntled, disempowered Austerity-crushed working class that demands to be listened to. We heard the voice of the young, the non-British resident, the left-winger, anarchist, Christian, Green, Pagan, and non-voter. Complexity was found in both camps – and, through our colloquy, more tolerance and understanding.Such eloquent, considered, conscious and respectful debate seemed to be sadly missing in the mainstream during the days leading up to the referendum. It was only the tragedy of MP Jo Cox’s death which made all parties stop their respective trumpet-blowing, name-calling, fact-manipulation, and fear or hate-dealing, for a day or two at least. Yet before and since it has felt like the new Civil War. Once more we risk being divided and ruled.
More than ever we need to remember Jo Cox’s words: ‘we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’
I think last night, in Stroud, we demonstrated that.
It was a heartwarming event that left many of us with more hope. As one participant said:
‘…it was a very helpful evening and did much to keep the despair at bay and think about how to work with it and beyond…’
I left feeling a little more optimistic about things – or at least more optimistic about our ability as communities to face the challenges ahead. While people can gather in solidarity, share, and see beyond differences as well as respecting them – then there is hope for us all.
I encourage others to organize Unity Gatherings – many already have in their own quirky, creative ways – and help heal the trauma this county is facing. We are stronger together. And it is important to let all sections of the community know they are welcome and have a place at the circle – and a voice that needs to be heard.
Send a message of hope, love and inclusive out to all sections of your community.
“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.”
Rainer Maria Rilke