There is no escaping it, the arts cannot escape R day. Only recently I was working in a project at Fringe Arts Bath with an artist from Berlin. Without easy access to travel, no visa restrictions, and her right be be here, she could not have brought her sound equipment on a cheap flight, set it all up in a communal art space, got people engaged in the art of sound and the sound of art, and for me, most importantly, made a new friend with whom I plan to work on a European project next year.
Our differences are far less significant than our similarities- yes, I have grandparents who lived in Berlin, who were German, or at least Austro-Hungarian, (you see, there have always been political tie-ups in Europe, just some are by choice, some by force) before World War II. So her family and mine could have known each other. We both believe in freedom, in art, in friendship, not division, hatred, bigotry and selfishness.
And I lose track of the number of friends,(ex- boyfriends, acquaintances and just people I bump into,) who are in no way “English”. Almost everyone I’ve ever met can trace their families back somewhere “foreign” – often only in one or two generations. Only today, in an estate agency in Stroud, I was talking to the owner who has Italian roots. He is horrified by the way the referendum has opened up a new festering sore- which we all thought had long been cured.
And it is worrying that most younger people seem to want us to stay within the EU but it is many older people who seem to object. We want our children to be able to be citizens of the world, to travel, to work, to live, to love, wherever life takes them. We might want that for ourselves as well. But who is most likely to vote- the older or younger voter? Apathy has no place on Thursday.
This week I wish we were like the Australians, who make it compulsory to vote. We need everyone who thinks it’s not worth voting, or thinks it’s a done deal, to get out and tell the politicians, and those who support Brexit, who don’t give two hoots for the poor, for the workers on the minimum wage, who no doubt have exploited in their business dealings the use of cheap labour from Eastern Europe, who I’m sure would be happy to have a Croatian cleaner, a Romanian auxillary looking after their sick parents, even a Polish builder….. that stopping people from the EU coming into the country won’t change things for the poor. It won’t make businesses pay more than the minimum wage, there will just be fewer people prepared to do the work. It will make the economy more unstable so who will suffer most, and first? those who are least able to help themselves.
I worry about attitudes that are being voiced in the red top media and blue top social media. If something good can come out of the tragic death of Jo Cox, perhaps it will shock people into realising that this country cannot turn its back on Europe. We have always been part of it- Roman Europe, Saxon and Viking Europe, Norman Europe, Northern European – think William and Mary, George 1, we still make jokes about our royal family being German and “Phil the Greek”- there is no such thing as British other than what I had always assumed was a higher level of tolerance and openness than in many countries….and we have over the centuries had thousands of invaders, migrants, of refugees, of runaways, of thinkers and fighters, believers and philosophers, artists and musicians who have made and continue to make their homes here, in a country that has become progressively more tolerant and less prejudiced against “the other”. Let’s not turn our backs on what has made Britain a dynamic forward thinking place to live. John Donne got it spot on when he stated “No man is an island”- and we cannot afford to be in 2016.