[SPEECH MADE AT THE STAND UP TO RACISM RALLY IN CARDIFF, 17 Nov 2016]
Good evening everyone. Noswaith dda pawb. Mae hi’n wych i weld gymaint ohonoch chi yma, ac i fod yma gyda chi. Gyda’n gilydd, mewn undod. It’s great to be here, and to see so many of you here tonight. Together. In unity. In solidarity.
World events are showing just how crucial our voice is. And how strong our voice needs to be. The morning of the EU referendum, my first thought was that so many thousands of people in the UK – not just EU nationals, but people of colour and ethnic minorities – must now feel so unwelcome, so unloved, and so under threat.
After Trump was elected, my first thought was that so many thousands of people in the US – not just people of colour and ethnic minorities, but Muslims, women, those from outside the US’ borders, and members of the LGBTIQ+ community – must now feel so unwelcome, so unloved – and so under threat.
And when I think about Calais and the refugee crisis – about all those people fleeing conflict and poverty – my first thought is that so many thousands of people from so many different places – who already are traumatised – must now, again, feel so unwelcome, so unloved – and so under threat.
All of these events appear to have legitimised hatred, racism and xenophobia. But in truth, it wasn’t just the EU referendum, the results of the US election, or our treatment of refugees across Europe, that made all of these thousands of people – across the world – feel this way.
It brought these issues to our attention, but discrimination, oppression and prejudice go much deeper than words.
Whilst violence – physical and psychological – cannot be ignored, these problems are not purely characterised by the crass headlines and campaigning of the EU referendum and Trump’s campaign. They are structural. They are institutional and societal. They are every day and everywhere.
We must challenge the violence, but we must also challenge these structures, these institutions and our societal norms that actively prevent people from having their basic needs met – not just food, water, shelter – but also love, respect, security, autonomy and purpose.
The Wales Green Party believes that every single person deserves to have these basic needs met. We don’t build walls. We build relationships. We build communities. Where every single person is important. Where diversity is celebrated. Where everyone feels welcome.
But in order to create these communities – in order to tackle discrimination, oppression and prejudice, we must look at where they come from. Why is popularist politics characterised by racism and xenophobia? This too, I believe, goes back to those basic needs. Because when basic needs – food, water, shelter, love, respect, security, autonomy and purpose – are not met, then this gives rise to anxiety, insecurity, and at times – aggression towards others. And these personal factors – anxiety, insecurity, aggression, can then be exploited. Nearly one quarter of people in Wales live in poverty – that means they struggle to put food on the table. Bleanau Gwent is one of the poorest pockets in Wales, and 1 in 5 people receive Government benefits.
In Bleanau Gwent – like many other places around Wales, and the UK – basic needs have not been met for generations. Not just basic needs like security and purpose – or meaningful work, but the basic needs of love and respect. Decades of being ignored by Welsh and Westminster Governments shows no love for these communities. Years of labeling people as benefit scroungers, as lazy; years of being told to work harder, to try harder shows no respect for these individuals. The anxiety, insecurity and aggression borne out of this need, is then exploited. 62% of people in Bleanau Gwent voted to Leave the EU, despite the fact that over £10m a year of EU funds have been invested there for the last 15 years. Incidentally, there is no promise of funding to fill this gap from Westminster, or Welsh Government; and the local council will face further cuts from our Welsh Labour Government this year. Things will get worse for those in Bleanau Gwent.
We must challenge the the structures, these institutions and our societal norms that actively prevent people from having their basic needs met – not just food, water, shelter – but also love, respect, security, autonomy and purpose.
The Wales Green Party believes that every single person deserves to have their basic needs met. We don’t build walls. We build relationships. We build communities. Where every single person is important. Where every voice is heard. Where no-one is left behind.
Inequality – both globally and locally within the UK, has been on the rise for decades. Wealth is more and more concentrated in the hands of the few, and the vast majority become poorer and poorer. This story that there is simply ‘not enough to go around’ has been building and building for decades. A story that is simply not true – a story based on lies – has justified the whole austerity project, and has opened up an avenue for fear-mongering, finger-pointing and scapegoating. This is the exploitation of the anxiety and insecurity caused by not meeting peoples’ basic needs. And it is perpetuated by those in power. We have to break that cycle. And that means a system where every voice is heard, and every vote counts. It means calling out those politicians who lie, and those institutions that perpetuate those lies.
World events are showing just how crucial our voice is. And how strong our voice needs to be.
Alongside campaigning in solidarity with refugees and migrants, people of colour and ethnic minorities; with women, LGBTIQ+ communities, and those targeted for their religion; alongside pushing our Governments to provide safety and support for refugees, and protecting the free movement of people; we must also tackle the root causes of poverty in our communities. Push for fair funding, fair representation and fair powers for Wales, and a democratic and accountable process for negotiating Brexit.
Whilst we must champion love over hate, we must also support and understand, not vilify and degrade. We must not let ourselves be divided and conquered.
I’ll end with something a German friend posted on Facebook the day Trump was elected: “27 years ago the Berlin Wall fell. Despite, not because of, leadership from the top. When people get together, good shit happens no matter who’s on top.” The tearing down of the Berlin wall began with refugees crossing borders. And it ended with people welcoming each other with champagne and flowers, and dancing together to celebrate a new found freedom.
We can, and we will do the same. We build relationships. We build communities. So that if others chose to build walls, we can get together and tear them down.
Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.