Thursday evening outside Downing Street made for better the usual sound of traffic and bustling that would normally have escaped the streets of Whitehall.
Hundreds had gathered to express their distaste and anger towards current government policy; reflective of an agenda clearly targeting refugees. Matched in equal parts were the cries for justice, equality and compassion that pulsed vigorously through the crowd. The atmosphere was ever present in its commune feeling and sense of togetherness.
Having travelled into London to participate in the event, I was taken back by the steady stillness and humbling sense of unity that had replaced the usual frenzied commotion of London’s busy streets. It was gratifying to see such diversity within the crowd. It was made undoubtedly clear to all — Thursday evening was a united response aimed at raising awareness of the plight and suffering endured by thousands of refugees in Europe and across the globe.
Perhaps the diversity of organizations and more importantly, the need for an ever greater united stance against racism, is captured best in the words of speaker Sammy Cee - who spoke saying:
“You don’t need to be part of a group to stand in solidarity against a common oppressor.”
And that in representing the organization ‘Lesbians’ and Gays’ Support the Migrants’:
“To be constantly told that people from Africa and the Middle East are going to be homophobic makes me angry.”
Sammy Cee’s speech capitulated perfectly the sweeping generalizations made by some that takes place within every community. Continually, Sammy pushed across with feeling, the desperate need for our wider society to stand together in solidarity against the government and in support of refugees.
The desperate situation for many refugees this winter clashed bitterly with the raw emotion held by many speakers. Following a series of passionate and incensed speeches, many of which highlighted issues such as, Europe’s failure to deal adequately with the refugee crisis as well as the appalling condition of ‘Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre’. There was an undeniable sense that this government has blood on its hands, as the atmosphere grew charged the crowd drew together in peace and minute silence was held.
The most rousing and resonant speech, in my mind, was made by Shakira Martin, NUS Vice-President (Further Education). I was fortunate enough to speak to Shakira afterwards, to whom I asked “What angers you most about this government and the situation for refugees?”
Shakira responded stirringly in saying:
“Migrants and refugees should never be blamed for the deficit when women, children and families make the decision, to cross water and climb mountains, for a better life...
We should never shut the door in their face, at the expenses of the elite keeping their riches to themselves.”
I, and as I suspect, most others found Shakira’s words utterly relatable and in touch with our common humanity. I hope that everyone who attended Thursday evening was able to leave with a part of Shakira’s fierce and passionate drive which left the atmosphere so charged and empowered.
As I draw to a close my time at Thursday’s event outside Downing Street, my mind can’t help but stubble over the events unfolding in Paris, Baghdad and Beirut. When the atrocities that erupted over that one day almost extinguish all hope in the world, all of this can sometimes seem pointless. However, it is far from pointless, the need for more acts of solidarity across the country has grown.
As the refugee camp in Calais is set ablaze and the far-right gear up for even more attacks against Muslims and refugees, the need for us to stand up, speak out and march on gathers ever more urgency.