The dismal state of centre-left politics worldwide left me in resigned despair. Charles Dickens inspired me to re-engage. Us Fabians are in dark days and hope is needed.
Travelling around Europe I was stunned by how much closer the Refugee Crisis feels compared to Britain. In Greece thousands of tattered tents spill out of derelict stadiums and airports; there were powerful exhibitions in Amsterdam and Berlin, and a 16 year old boy from Afghanistan- the second biggest refugee group- slept in our night-train carriage. An Austrian passenger noticed my shock at this young teen’s lack of papers, possessions and company and remarked: ‘That is quite normal’’. Witnessing the desperation and mammoth numbers-a record 750,000 people have requested asylum in Germany this year alone- made me despondent that in June 2016 sixteen out of twenty six countries in the EU commission rejected a quota-sharing system to host these fleeing people. Watching continental Europe struggle to respond especially magnified my sense of shame at Brexit because it felt like Britain had voted to leave this responsibility.
My disappointment in politics has only increased now I live in France. Each morning I read the newspaper Le Monde (The World).
Day one headline: “EU in existential crisis”. Thanks in part to Brexit an institution that epitomises peace and progress now hangs in the balance whilst extremism and nationalism is on the rise.
Day two: “Le Pen have 30% of popular support” and Le Pen (the far right anti-EU party) and the centre-right Candidate are predicted to be the frontrunners in the Presidential race; Hollande’s centre-left Party will very likely not even feature.
Day three: ‘Trump Jr likens accepting Syrian refugees to accepting dangerous skittles’. Just seeing the name Trump hammered it home that worldwide we are amidst a popular movement intent on building walls and isolationism.
Day four: I didn't open the newspaper. Why face Brexit, Le Pen, Trump, Labour division? It was just too dispiriting and alien to my views and the views of most my contemporaries.
Then I stumbled upon a letter Charles Dickens wrote to his friend Wilkie Collins discussing a cynical reclusive character in his work.
Dickens wanted to express that: ‘you can’t shut out the world; that you are in it, to be of it; and you get yourself into a false position the moment you try to sever yourself from it; you must mingle with it, and make the best of it, and make the best of yourself in the bargain’.
That was 1858: a time of slums, slavery, workhouses yet Dickens and many others did not surrender to the direness of the situation... and thus I looked again at my closed newspaper.
Instead of just sighing at the news I researched ‘refugees Paris’ and discovered a fantastic grassroots charity- Réchauffons Corps et Coeurs. This organisation was started by teenagers from a district more ‘famous for car-burnings and real no-go areas’ (SecretsofParis) and simply describes its mission as having a: ‘unique goal of helping others’. So far I am assisting with deliveries and translations and it is uplifting to see that we can do something to help: now is not the time to give in. Dickens wrote from, and humanised, the perspective of the vulnerable; the outcast; the orphan. I wonder who his modern subjects would be. Ultimately his wisdom in doggedly recognising and celebrating invisible people feels incredibly relevant especially when one considers that Dickens himself was at one point completely destitute.
In the news, internationalist progressive views seem silenced, so I for one, am trying to pipe up.
Eleanor Vincent is a Young Fabians member