Watching Lily Allen’s broadcast from the refugee camp at Calais today has got me thinking. Not just about the tragedy of people being forced into even further uncertainty and poverty by the French government's destruction agenda, but about how we speak out about social inequality. Is there ever a right way of doing it? A way that can have an impact without inviting accusations of self-righteousness, self-promotion or ingenuity?
Of course there is an uncomfortable dichotomy in watching a celebrity being trailed by a film crew through the midst of humanitarian crises. But, having seen and heard first-hand stories from the Jungle, I can’t imagine that anyone would choose to go there if they didn’t care. Allen showed huge compassion as she apologised on behalf of her country for the numerous incidences that have led so many children to becoming trapped in the camp. And what she got in return was a shedload of abuse for daring to express her opinion.
Many of the most vocal responders seemed to advocate, at best (you can imagine the worst), doing nothing; that children, stuck without clean water, proper food or shelter are not our responsibility. But how does that help? At some point, our individual ability to turn a blind eye becomes complicity in the death and destruction that so many people are facing. So I'll posit that we should always applaud those who choose to use their voice to try and affect change. Allen’s words may have lacked finesse, she could have chosen them with more care, but acknowledging (and feeling terrible about) the problem is surely the start of doing something about trying to fix it.
When we see inequality or cruelty or outrageously unfair lack of opportunity, it’s a natural response to feel impotent. To think there’s nothing we can do. That we don’t understand the issues enough to be able to do the ‘right thing’. To push those things to the back of our minds with a justification that individuals really can’t make a difference anyway. But what if we all did do something? And what if that something started with saying what we think? Of asking some difficult questions? Of expecting our politicians to engage with issues of social justice in a meaningful way? Putting your head above the parapet can feel scary, not least because there will always be someone who tries to knock you down. But surely doing nothing is never the answer. By beginning the conversation about difficult issues, we move towards knowledge and understanding, and then, hopefully, towards action and positive impact.
We might not always get it right. We might not always have the solution to these complex situations. But we do all have a voice. We have to do something. Let's not criticise people for saying the 'wrong' thing. Let's not hide from the problem. Let's keep talking until the noise is too loud to ignore.