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Brexit: Heartbroken, But Not Broken

Brexit? London, UK 2016. PHOTO: Tomek Nacho (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Brexit? London, UK 2016. PHOTO: Tomek Nacho (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Morning clouds of disbelief have given way to sadness. I'm grieving, as are at least 16 million other people around me. Not only for the EU and for a united stance against the horrors of the world today, but also for the country I grew up in.

It's been exhausting to follow the lead up to the referendum. To feel myself tense up as someone in the room mentions UKIP, or Brexit. To have to be the one to say “but they're racist” and be met with “but their economic ideas make sense” by people I had formerly respected—and to repeatedly realise first-hand that so many of us have no problem with ignoring bigotry when it suits us. To know that if this had been the political climate when my parents were coming over from Bangladesh in the 70s, it's highly unlikely that I would ever have been able to grow up in the UK, or had any of the opportunities afforded me during my childhood.

“. . . had this been the political climate when my parents were coming over from Bangladesh in the 70s, it's highly unlikely that I would ever have been able to grow up in the UK, or had any of the opportunities afforded me during my childhood.”

It's been a strange process to watch from abroad as this anti-immigrant, xenophobic sentiment took hold in the UK. At first I tried to ignore it. I had that privilege: I live in Berlin, it doesn't affect me so much. Slowly, I took more notice. I started to talk to friends about it, to engage online, and yesterday, I flew back to help with some last-minute campaigning for the Remain campaign on polling day. I'm proud I did that, but I regret so much that it took me so long to get more involved.

I suspect many people will share that feeling today, too. Ignoring what's been going on in our country's politics is what got us here today. We were too comfortable, and uninvolved in decisions and politics that have made a huge impact on our lives. We didn't realise how much we had to lose, or that we needed to actively protect the rights that we enjoy, no matter how we feel about party politics.

Talking to friends yesterday, it came out that many of them talked about politics on Facebook for the very first time thanks to this referendum. Many of us grew up with a deep mistrust in the British political system. Seeing white men who went to Eton and Oxford coincidentally rise through the ranks to run the country, over and over again, will do that to you. Many in my social circles were relatively happy with the status quo. Not ecstatic, but doing okay; struggling to buy houses, but with jobs, and slowly paying off student debt. Again, a privilege, and one clearly not shared by many of the marginalised and disenfranchised people across the country who used this occasion to finally make their voices heard.

“Many in my social circles were relatively happy with the status quo. Not ecstatic, but doing okay; struggling to buy houses, but with jobs, and slowly paying off student debt. . . a privilege, and one clearly not shared by many of the marginalised and disenfranchised people across the country who used this occasion to finally make their voices heard.”

The country is split. The voting shows that. The splits are stark, too, from age, to levels of education, to geographic borders. Party politics had little to do with this. The lies and the misinformation that was spread during this campaign were poison, ugly untruths, irresponsible in the deepest sense of the word.

It's been hard to watch that happen, too. This is the dirtiest, most vicious campaign I've ever seen. Jo Cox's murder was an extra, devastating blow, but as Alex Massie wrote, you can't shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, and be surprised when someone breaks. I'm sad for the result, I'm sad for the way that the campaign played out, and I'm sad about the rising waves of right-wing sentiment that are spreading across the country. This isn't the country I grew up in.

And now? The fact it took us too long to realise what was happening, to take the threats seriously, to not just push for change but to defend what we hold dear, is something that we need to remember and not repeat. We've lost a lot yesterday, and our country won't be the same again.

It's nothing like the process I would have wanted, but we can't lose more, and now we need to do the very best we can. Whatever the party politics, those standing against bigotry, discrimination, and downright idiocy must stand together. I'm in grieving, but I'm conscious of the active, vocal role that we all need to play to prevent this getting worse.

As my friend Sarah wrote this morning: I'm heartbroken, but not broken.

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  • M.Regina

    Thank you for your reflections on Brexit. I agree with you that we have not been taking the importance of standing up for constructive ideas sufficiently seriously–and I think the young generation ought to be far more involved in political decision-making because it is THEIR future, THEIR lives that are being affected most detrimentally by the rising xenophobia and nationalism around the globe. I am utterly saddened that the majority of Brits chose to undermine the vision of a United States of Europe and acted on delusions of PAST grandeur and “sovereignty”. Do they realize that the world has become far too small and interconnected to afford unilateral decisions?
    Let’s hope for a turn-around and the recognition that cooperation and community are most important for our well-being.

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  • Bob

    I am sorry to disagree with you, but your opinion is exactly the sort of narcissistic nonsense which actually hinders the Left. Most people who voted Leave did so for reasons of sovereignty – that’s what the post-polling suggests. Sticking infantile labels: ‘racist, ‘xenophobe’ on people with whom you disagree is frankly feeble. the way you prevent extremism is to give people power, not justify taking it away from them.

    Loss of control, over borders, over laws – the massive democratic deficit in the EU – is a huge issue, and hiding behind a few silly slogans and a dollop of identity politics doesn’t cover over those flaws. Rather than posters with silly slogans, you’d do better to work out how the EU can sort out the massive social, economic and political problems that are building up. Idiocy from one side generally produces a counter reaction: be it Russian Tsarism accidentally giving birth to Bolshevism, or 1930s German chaos giving birth to Nazism. The Brits are leaving in part because we fear that the EU is going nowhere fast. And look to the EU’s failed policies if you want to know why extreme politics of the Right and Left and gaining (albeit slowly) traction in the EU – and I don’t include Leave supporters in that because we want to keep our liberal British state, and feel we can do a better job of it outside a EU that so often resorts to silly slogans as a sticking plaster to hide fundamental flaws.

    Good luck

  • rwscid

    This vote was up or down, but the issues are not black and white.

    Brussels has been pushing its 508 million citizens around for decades. The bureaucrats were so confident of their wisdom/brilliance/sincerity that it bothered them not a whit when, for example, they wrote a 454 page ‘Constitution’ for the EU. And when that monstrosity was soundly rejected by a large portion of the population, Brussels failed to take the hint.

    Of course their actions were always well intentioned, since of course Brussels was doing it ‘for your own good.’ You have heard of the straw that broke the camel’s back? It can never be identified – the back just breaks. Every … single … time.

    Were the EU to have focused intensely on promoting unregulated free trade in goods, services and labor, instead of hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations for everything from soup to nuts (yes, they regulate condoms), people would not be blaming Brussels for the problems of the world.

    You got what you deserved, not because you were not paying attention, but because long ago you bought into the notion of a benevolent Big Brother watching over you, and you exhibited an irrational fear of an unregulated free market, the most powerful economic engine and force for good the world has ever seen.

  • If we talk about real democracy, real empowerment of people, real development of the world, let’s first respect the voice and opinion of people; let’s not perceive them as ignorant, less knowledgeable and irresponsible.

    • James Lambers

      A democracy needs these three things to function effectively:
      1) An enlightened and interested population
      2) Respect for the will of the majority
      3) Respect for the rights of the minority
      If any of these three criteria are de-emphasized in favor of the others, that is a serious problem. Considering all of the reports of racist incidents occurring after the vote, and the fact that concrete steps toward an actual exit have yet to be taken, the UK could very well go 0-for-3 in this situation.

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