Edward Burke famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
In many respects that could be the strapline for the apathetic times we live in where ‘it doesn’t affect me, so I am not bothered’ seems to be the mantra of most people.
I remember the first time I heard someone say they were not signing a petition because the cause did not affect them. It was about education cuts, affecting the university I attended and I had been explaining what was happening to a lady who had passed by. She listened for about a minute and then said those fateful words ‘well it doesn’t really affect me’ and off she went. Aged 19, and having been on the streets protesting at third world debt only weeks before, her words shocked me – not wanting to spare 10 seconds to sign a piece of paper unless it was something that directly impacted on her!
Of course, since then, as an active member of the community and as a political activist, I’ve learnt that apathy and ignorance are the greatest weapons that discrimination, oppression and unfairness have.
Apathy has allowed the government and the wealthy to portray immigrants as the cause of other people’s poverty – rather than low wages paid by multi-million profit corporations. The belief that public servants, rather than bankers greed caused the issues in the UK economy, that young people are some sort of feral generation and that England is the envy of the world; only allows the government to continue to get away with whatever cruel policy they wish to impose on the people.
People often remark that, had they been in nazi Germany they would not have stood by as their neighbours were dragged off to concentration camp. But I think this is to ignore the nature of how injustice occurs: it does not begin with concentration camps.
Things chip away at the public consciousness – one idea at a time – the nazi’s started with the idea Jews held too many privileges compared to the rest of the German population and were to blame for the mass poverty that accompanied the end of the first world war.
People were only too pleased to blame someone else and gradually accepted more and more laws that stopped Jewish people owning property, owning telephones, sitting on benches and so on!
Drip, drip, drip until it led to gas chambers.
The idea this could not happen again or happen here is at odds with everything we see on a daily basis.
People have accepted a 169% rise in homelessness since 2010 with barely more than a shrug.
People hear that 17% of women’s refuges closed between 2010 and 2014 and council funding for refuges across England dropped from £31.2m in 2010/11 to just £23.9m in 2016/17, with 2 women being murdered by partners every week and do not give it a second thought.
Schools have faced cuts of 8%.
Are most people incensed by this? No.
Conversation in the UK continues to be dominated by outrage at the weather, bin collections and parking spaces.
Would anyone notice if the population were being systematically poisoned against a specific group?
Well I fear it has already happened. The radio today was full of people welcoming Trump and applauding his anti-immigration rhetoric and expressing a belief that we should not ‘disownersnthe office of American President’ and should remember America was our ally in the Second World War.
Let’s remind ourselves that Trump is a misogynist, a racist, a man who mocks disabled people, brags about sexually assaulting women and presides over a system which separates children from their parents, locks them in cages and leaves them, at ages as young as 1 representing themselves in Court.
It is him that disowners the office he holds.
But let us not forget he also the embodiment of a dangerous global movement that poses a real risk of a return of fascism in the West.
Austria now have a far right government, a similar party are threatening to become the opposition in Germany, Italy have a hard right party in power.
Closer to home we are now seeing a normalisation of racist language that just a few years ago I genuinely thought was about to be consigned to history.
Last year hate crime rose by almost a third. Britons who came here as children in the 1950s and 1960s recently were treated as criminals, with some even deported in the Windrush Scandal as the government set to bring a ‘hostile environment’ against migrants.
The truth is none of these things affect me. I’m a middle class, healthy white woman.
To some degree I’m insulated from a lot of the cruelty of the world. But I never want to look back and say while other humans were the victims of such cruelty I sat back as it wasn’t my problem.
By speaking out we can at least show those affected that there are people on their side, we can stop this rhetoric being normalised and maybe, just maybe we can stop the march of the far right.
Remember, the rise of Trump and the rest of his far right cronies is far from over, and all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.