Listening to People about “Brexit”

We are a small developing RC Community here in Lancaster, a city in the northwest of England that voted narrowly to leave the European Union.

We did a listening project in the city after the “Brexit” referendum. The city council provided the insurance we needed and circulated information about the project to all the city councilors—three of whom got in touch with me and said how important the work was and how we should all be working to combat racism and xenophobia.

Eight of us went out into the city centre with placards saying, “Listening in Lancaster—a safe place to talk about your feelings after the referendum.” We had leaflets about what we were doing, as well as leaflets about RC for anyone who wanted to join us as listeners in the future.

We talked to about fifty people. They were split between the “leave” and the “remain” sides. Some talked about their fears for the future. Some said, “Get over it; we voted to leave,” but then added that they weren’t happy about the racism and xenophobia that has surfaced in England since the vote. One man said, “We working-class people have felt disenfranchised for years; finally we’ve voted against the establishment.” This made me (as a middle-class woman) think hard about what has just happened.

I met a city councilor who hadn’t wanted to campaign for “remain” in the working-class areas of the city because he hadn’t wanted to listen to racist attitudes. This made me think about the importance of having slack so we can listen to what people are actually saying and feeling when they say, “Immigrants have taken our jobs, houses, and public services.” (I have been discharging on that for two weeks.) The media have been telling people for years, and particularly before the referendum, that “immigrants are a threat,” so I know it’s not anyone’s “fault” if they believe that. (I also know that not all working-class people believe it.)

We made contact with a group of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds who were demonstrating against the result of the referendum and about not having had a vote. They felt it was about their future and that they hadn’t been heard.

Our local city council had a debate, which I attended, about challenging racism and xenophobia. It was horrifying—nearly every councilor told a story about local immigrants in their area being asked when they were going home. A five-year-old Polish girl found “Poles go home” written on her desk at school. A French family was told not to speak in French and “That’s what we voted for, for you to go home.”

I sometimes work in Scotland, and the atmosphere there is very different. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, has told all immigrants in Scotland that they are welcome and that their contribution is valued. And it seems there has been no rise in hate crime in Scotland since the referendum.

Fiona Frank

Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of wide world change

(Present Time 185, October 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00