So here we are. I, and millions more, had been living in fear that this day would eventually come. But when I woke up this morning, after staying away from all the coverage from the night before, I did genuinely hope that the breaking news from 7am on my phone would be that the UK was still a member of the EU. And my heart genuinely sank when I read the actual headlines. And I cried. And I didn’t stop for two hours.
I’m an immigrant. It still shocks some of my acquaintances, because I’m French and I’m sort of white, and that’s not what the media and politicians tell us immigrants look like. But I am. And if I were allowed a vote yesterday, I would have been a Remainer. I have lived and worked in the UK for the past nine years, which is almost my entire adult life. I have never contributed to the economy of my home country, but I have contributed always to this country’s economy. Today, I, and many more like me, enter a potential two-year limbo, as we wait to find out what will happen to us and the lives and families we’ve built here. My being here is relatively new. Some people have been here for over 30 years. They are still citizens of their home country, but perhaps they have children here who are British. What will happen to them? I’ve asked myself that question hundreds of times over the past few weeks, but today, it is a genuine worry.
But of course, this decision doesn’t just affect the likes of us, who have moved here, looking to build a life somewhere where it seemed everyone could live together and be accepting of each other, no matter their age, size, gender, race, sexual orientation or belief. We did come here with a motive, I suppose, that of embracing the tolerance and acceptance this country seemed to promote, but also be accepted as we were. This decision also affects all British citizens who also enter their very own limbo period today. I’ve already heard and read many times today that there is no need to panic as nothing will really happen for two years. The actual removal of the UK from the EU may take up to two years, but the consequences are already unfolding as the pound reaches a 35-year low, and as my hairdresser just discovered this morning, that means her holiday to Ibiza this summer will cost her more money. But I am no economist, and perhaps the incoming recession won’t last as long as we fear, and perhaps in the long run, this might be a better situation for the UK. I have my doubts, but I am no expert.
I’ve gone through many feelings since the news came this morning, but surprisingly, I am not angry. I am mostly terribly sad, and scared. And I know that many people who voted yesterday are also scared. Not just the Remain voters, but a great deal of the Leave voters too. I don’t believe the UK is more racist than its neighbours. Immigration has been an issue in the Western world for a long time. I don’t think it means people are racist. It just means people see more poverty and more inequalities, and then they hear the people who shout the loudest tell them that the main cause for this are foreigners. It’s not just a British thing. I know for a fact that France is the same, and I would suspect many other countries share the phenomenon. Of course, bigots and racists exist, but nothing is as black and white as the good guys voted this and the bad guys voted that. So in a situation like this one, we really must take a deep breath, have a look around and try to understand what it is that people are trying to say. I don’t believe that the 52% who voted to leave, are evil, racist people. I believe a great majority of those people are in fact frustrated with society and austerity, and they are scared that things aren’t going to get better. I believe people who are scared always vote. Their voice perhaps matters the most. And as much as many people are unhappy with the results, the worst thing we can do, is tell the other side that they are wrong, or shameful, because the reality is much more complicated than that. They just want to be heard, and they were given a chance and they took it. And now, we must listen. What have they actually voted for? We might find out we want the same thing. We just thought differently about it, because it’s always just a matter of point of view.
The 28% of people who didn’t vote, however, aren’t scared. They’re perhaps blasé, or they don’t think this concerns them. I struggle with them much more than I do with the 52%, because to me, it sounds as if they care so little for their neighbours, that they can’t take 10 minutes out of their schedule to go to the polling station. But the truth is, they’re just disengaged from politics. Some of the people who voted are too, actually, and that means they might not be voting for what they actually want, as a protest. I believe you only ever punish yourself when you don’t vote. I also believe you should never vote against anything – but always for. And if there is nothing you believe is worth voting for, then you should still go out there and spoil your vote. Because that’s saying that you’ve acknowledged the question, but that you disagree with the offering of answers or solutions. And that means a lot more than just staying at home. Every voice matters. In recent years, we’ve been made to think that that’s not the case. The powerless get more powerless, the powerful get more powerful. But every voice matters. Sadly, we’ve all sort of forgotten how to vote and why it matters. For many, the word ‘politician’ only rhymes with ‘crook’ and ‘liar’, and for many, that means it doesn’t matter if they vote, because all politicians are the same, and it won’t make a difference. But every voice matters. And that’s why I can’t really feel angry.
The people were asked for their opinion and they gave it, and their opinion matters. But the real fear, is that we let that divide us. It’s okay to disagree with people. We are in a country where we are allowed to do so. The real fear is that we all stop listening to each other, to the point where we lose all empathy. You may not agree with someone but it doesn’t mean their voice is worthless. Perhaps if we listened to each other more, we’d understand each other more, and we’d all be more willing to talk to each other more, and work together more.
I believe the EU is a great way to bring people together. It is broken in many ways, but it’s also kept us safe from war in Europe for a long, long time. It’s also made a lot of things better since its inception. But perhaps it isn’t the ideal model. Perhaps there is a better way to work together. And perhaps, all us Remainers will be proven wrong in the long term. But instead of spending this time pointing fingers at each other, perhaps we should all sit down and reflect on what is happening and wonder why it is happening. And what we can do to make this all better for each other.