It is impossible to ignore or turn off from these events

Photo: "Woman's March" by Gordon-Shukwit. Taken on January 21, 2017 via Flickr
Photo: “Woman’s March” by Gordon-Shukwit (January 21, 2017) via Flickr

Wow! What a year it’s been so far, and judging by the daily news feeds across mainstream and social media – ‘it ‘ain’t over, not by a long shot,’ as the American’s might say.

While we continue to reel over the realities and future uncertainties of what ‘Brexit’ may pose (which for those of us unclear what this is somewhere between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’), the planet and its inhabitants have been dealt another blow with the election of the business tycoon, Donald J. Trump as the 45th President the United States.

It is impossible to ignore or turn off from these events. They continue to dominate the lives of all of us around the world. Even my 5-year old son comes home from school talking about American politics! The fear of the uncertainties that the future may pose is palpable on a global scale and heightened with misunderstandings and confusions around ‘post-truths’ and ‘alternative facts.’

The underbelly of the messaging since Brexit in June last year (at least the more public and hotly debated view) is the popular rise of the ‘far-right’ politics that is currently enveloping the world. This has (re)surfaced to our attention since Brexit, has been compounded with Trump and the mood is spreading across Europe with the anticipated elections in France in May and the rise of the National Front at the helm of Marine Le Pen.These ripples of political change are claimed to be sweeping throughout the western world. What has engulfed the debates is the public and unashamed racist, sexist, populist rhetoric that has promoted nationalism and isolationism. The public displays of hate in various parts of the US, UK and now Canada aligned to this is just as disturbing.

The impact of all of this on human rights and human development – and in particular women’s, minority and religious rights along with climate change will experience a set-back – or even perhaps a reversal if current trends continue.

It is no secret that President Trump is, for example:

  • anti-immigration in his continuing plan to ‘build a wall’ across the Mexico-US border, deporting millions of ‘illegal immigrants’ and prohibiting entry to ‘all’ Muslims.
  • has clearly defined himself as a climate change denier aiming in his first 100 days in office to “cancel” the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which seeks an international commitment to reduce global temperatures.
  • proposing to overturn the 1973 landmark decision, Roe vs Wade, which allows women to access legal abortions, control of planned parenthood, alongside his now public history of misogyny (hating/distrusting women), is bad news for women’s rights.

The desire to control and limit women’s reproductive rights in a country that has pioneered democracy and freedom is noxious. What is much more toxic however, is that Trump politics are a symptom of an increasingly rising distaste among populations for the status quo who are demanding change and accepting of this by-product.

And change is indeed imminent.

I am reminded of the 1981 hit single The Lunatics (have taken over the Asylum) by former Specials band members Fun Boy Three, written during the tense political times of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (ironic this is relevant today with reality TV celeb Trump and second female Prime Minister May!?). Lead singer Terry Hall was quoted as saying – some 35 years ago – that the single is “a song of today.”It is important to communicate the reasons why the band wrote the single and why more than 3 decades later it’s message eerily remains ‘a song of today’ in 2017:

“The lunatics, however, are not your usual madmen, but the leaders of the western world…Dipped in fear and ominous atmospheres, and fired by barely suppressed rage, lead singer Terry Hall finds himself in a mad house where the schizophrenic cynics in charge strip him of his rights, freedom and dignity.

Everything about “The Lunatics” is drenched in oppressive atmospheres, from the whop of the baton beats and the thumping of the bass, to the ominous synth that mournfully accompanies the trio as they lament the fall of civilization and the rise of dictatorial democracy.”

The oppression that the above review alludes to is outlined in the lyrics of the single which reveal the impact of the ‘lunatics’ attempts to “take way my right to choose… my point of view…my dignity… my family…

But this blog isn’t about the raging internal political debates facing the US or the UK. Instead, I want to consider what this means potentially for development education and for those of us who continue to strive for a better world.

For that, I turn to another historical even that occurred last year. The awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature which this year went to legendary folk singer/songwriter, artist and writer Bob Dylan.

Regardless of whether Dylan did or didn’t merit the award or the controversy around whether he did or didn’t want it, his music and writing, which has spanned more than 5 decades, have talked of revolution and change. In his 1964 hit single “The Times they are A-Changin’” Dylan critically reminds us that our job as defenders of human rights, as change-agents for our future on this planet is not yet over, in fact, it is just beginning.

“Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls…

For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win

For the times they are a-changin.”

What ‘Brexit’ and the US election has unravelled is the desperate need for all of us, and in particular the young people of this planet whose future depends on it, to seek the change and future we would like to be a part of, just as they have been called to do in the past. Whether we like it or not, this is a future evolved into a globalised society – a planet that is interconnected at a whole variety of levels. We are no longer able to be ‘isolationist.’ We cannot – and should not – survive it alone. This means we need to find a future that incorporates tolerance and inclusivity and not hate, denial or exclusion.

I recently by chance came across a blog by author and speaker Caroline Myss. In her blog, she says that “In truth, all of us are standing at the precipice of change and the outcome is unwritten. All of us hold one pen each in our hands. We are still voting, in other words, on how the future will unfold, regardless of who is in office.” While much of her focus is on spiritual reflection and change, she provides an interesting angle on the political situation and some solid ideas for change and political action:

“A presidency is not a kingship. Presidents must work with Congress and the Senate. This is a nation of laws and rules – not a dictatorship. And it is also a nation in which the population has the right to speak out and speak up. All too often the population becomes silent after an election instead of remaining active politically through phone calls or emails to the offices of local senators and congressmen/women. Become a pain in their necks. Stay apprised of current issues. Participate in the running of your government as a way of life. Let this election inspire a reason to become a political agent for change in some way.”

The revolution has begun. While we were all glued to our fears of Republican racism and sexism, the uncertainties of Brexit, change has happened.

In Jefferson County for example, the southern state of Alabama quietly elected 9 black women as district and circuit court judges. In Minnesota, former Somali refugee Ilhan Omar won a seat on the House of Representatives of the 90th Minnesota State Legislature. Asian-American former veteran Sammy Duckworth won a seat on the senate for Illinois. Kate Brown has been championing women’s and LGBT rights since she became Oregon state governor in February this year. Kamala Harris became the first black politician to represent the state of California in the Senate and is the second black woman to have ever been elected to the chamber. Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada, became the first ever Latina elected for a seat in the Senate and Pramila Jayapal (Washington) became the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress winning for Seattle’s 7th Congressional District.

In the UK Guyana born Gina Miller challenged the government’s proposals to ‘trigger’ Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the UK’s retreat from the EU. The high court ruled in her favour, agreeing that the government could not invoke Article 50 without first seeking approval from Parliament.

All over the world people are unifying their disassociation with the current ‘hate’ rhetoric that is beginning to shape our politics. For some, under the hashtag #notmypresident, wearing a safety pin has become a symbol of their solidarity with victims of racial, religious, sexist and homophobic abuse in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president.

Others have demonstrated their support for Hilary Clinton and have disassociated with the new President. Some are signing petitions denouncing Trump’s hate agenda, such as their Global Open Letter to Donal Trump. We were all glued to our screens and radios as the women of the world unite against sexism. And this week individuals and groups all over America are demonstrating their distaste for the President’s extremist stand on immigration. And don’t forget the ongoing demonstrations, activism and call for human rights in the  Dakota Access Pipeline protest which began nearly a year ago.

In opposing the unfreedoms of apartheid in South Africa, the late and great Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa who fought tirelessly against an oppressive, racist state reminds us in his acclaimed autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom that hate is taught and learned it is not natural and therefore can be ‘un’taught:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

So, the challenge is yours to respond to.

I’ll leave you with a quote from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who, from 1955 fought for the equal and human rights for African Americans, the poor and victims of injustice in an increasingly oppressive racist environment until he was assassinated in 1968.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

…Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”