I didn't vote for the government we have in the UK. Since the General Election, we have quickly seen all too sobering evidence of the direction in which they want to move the country. I cannot support their attitude to border control and I note the fact that legislation is making it easier for human trafficking to flourish. Some of the stories I hear about the changes in benefits and the effect of the 'bedroom tax' demonstrate a bureaucratic disregard for the reality of living with poverty and disability while trying to access work and contribute through volunteering.
I'm grateful to a friend and fellow blogger, Tim Sorrell, for drawing my attention to the words of Herman Melville, a nineteenth century poet and novelist who was, himself, no stranger to poverty and bankruptcy. He wrote 'Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms of the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed and well-fed.' This accurately sums up my view of the approach taken by the current government to a number of groups of people in this country and beyond its borders.
But Melville's cri de coeur also resonates with personal challenge.
The news in the last week of people losing their lives while attempting to find refuge in Europe has shocked and upset many of us. How can we make a meaningful response? One way is the political path. Germany has set its face to welcome 800,000 refugees and migrants this year and friends report seeing posters saying 'welcome to refugees' in places like sports stadiums and bus stations. Britain, by contrast, has grudgingly taken 220 of the 4.1 million Syrians who have fled their country since the start of the current crisis. We have given Syria financial aid and sent a ship to the Mediterranean but these are not adequate solutions to a growing refugee situation. Contact your MP and speak to your local councillors. Is your town/city one that welcomes asylum seekers and refugees? Find out about and share the stories of refugees in your own area. Good places to start are car parks ('Can I wash your car?'), refuge tips and laundrettes where it's often possible to get into conversation with people who have recently come to the UK or who are in contact with those who have. Churches and Mosques often have asylum seekers and refugees in their congregations. As we have seen in the reaction to stories in the press this week, there is power in real life stories to shake us up, shame us and motivate us to begin to turn the culture of suspicion and fear around.
Refugee Action here has comprehensive information about volunteering, campaigning, donating and fundraising and can put you in touch with what's happening in your local area.
A charity that I think is inspirational is Musicians Without Borders. Their strap-line is 'War Divides, Music Connects'. Their work allows people of different cultures to come together and share on an equal footing the joy of music making. Music is really powerful because, for the duration of performance, it dissolves the preconceived power relationships and allows for a deep psychological meeting place. You can find out about their work and join in here