A tribute to tolerance and the politics of hope, not fear!
In her speech to the Democratic National Convention, the First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, passionately declared that the act of voting in the forthcoming US presidential election was not about left or right, or even Democrat v. Republican, it was about “who will have the power to shape our children for the next four to eight years of their lives”. It was an excellent speech and, although its broad purpose was to endorse Hillary Clinton as the best candidate for the presidency, it set out a robust defence of respect and tolerance whilst attacking campaigns of hate and prejudice.
These days, it is impossible to switch on the television or radio (you know, that talking box without moving pictures which your grandparents used to be so fond of) without hearing about some awful terrorist atrocity in the Middle East, some threat of terrorism in Europe, or some other existential threat to the world. These things are truly shocking and have great power to frighten us all.
Of course, attempts to prevent another terrorist attack in Europe, or seeking a way to end the ongoing war in Syria, are all critically important in the struggle to bring peace and stability to the world. However, it is the day-to-day language – the rhetoric of politicians – which has given many such cause to feel anxious and sad. The idea of a politics of hope, not fear sounds like more of the same tired rhetoric from politicians whose words seem to be carefully constructed to make it on to the 6 o’clock news bulletin; after all, sound bites are surely easier to digest with one’s evening meal. But the meaning and the truth behind the idea is very important and easily overlooked.
Michelle Obama’s speech was so important because she stripped away the usual political point-scoring and focussed on the idea that politics can change the lives of all citizens, indeed all human beings, for the better. During the lead-up to the EU referendum (yes, some of us are still on about that) there was, unfortunately, an almost daily serving of fear-based campaigning; fear the foreigner, fear human rights (as though they can only be invoked by those on the wrong side of the law), fear asylum seekers etc.
It’s easy to zone-out from the noise of political discourse and to feel helpless or jaded. But it is more important than ever to challenge lazy assumptions about people from other cultures and backgrounds. It is time to point out to the casually racist relative that no matter what a person’s skin colour or background, we are all human beings with a similar set of innate values and motivations; the desire to protect our children from harm, to love freely, to have the opportunity to succeed. It is time to ask those who may agree with Donald Trump’s ‘straight-talking’ Faragesque style: who actually benefits from such deliberately inflammatory rhetoric?
Jeremy Corbyn has many detractors but, without getting into the nitty gritty of the Labour leadership contest, there are surely very few people who would disagree with his desire to establish a gentler and kinder politics; the kind of politics which promotes inclusiveness and tolerance – the very opposite of the hatred and sickening violence which left the Labour MP Jo Cox murdered a week before the referendum.
The first lady’s speech touched on many themes and one of the most powerful moments was when she pointed out that, for the last eight years, her family has woken up in a house which was built by slaves. She powerfully explained what striving for a better existence can achieve; that through hope and positive action, the ‘sting of segregation’ and all other forms of prejudice and discrimination can be overcome. Her rallying cry was that in politics, hope, and not fear, will secure the prosperity and humanity of our children’s generation and all future generations.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel that there’s not much left to fight for anymore or that all the important campaigns have been led and won; the rights of women, LGBT rights, equality for black people and ethnic minorities, and many more. Many rights have only recently been won and they need protecting. Now, perhaps more than ever, there is a pressing need to promote the kind of politics that Michelle Obama so passionately endorsed.
Written by Jamie Scott Wright – OULS News Reporter