Our campaign One Day Without Us was created last October, in reaction to the rising tide of post-Brexit street-level racism and xenophobia and the divisive and stridently anti-migrant rhetoric emanating from too many politicians that has accompanied it. Faced with the relentless scapegoating of migrants and foreigners and the shameful willingness of Theresa May’s government to pander to these sentiments, we felt that a strong response was necessary.
At a time when the political discussion about migration too often depicts a false narrative of ‘us versus them’, and when migrants are too often excluded from a debate that is supposedly about them, we wanted to provide an opportunity for migrants and British nationals to come together and celebrate the vital role that migrants play within their own communities.
On Monday thousands of migrants and their supporters delivered that response and took part in our National Day of Action. They gathered in streets and public places across the UK, in their workplaces and places of study, in rallies, demonstrations, concerts, poetry readings and testimonials in more than 124 different events. All these actions were planned and organised at a local level, by regional groups and organisers acting under the One Day Without Us umbrella. Thousands of people joined in the unifying action at one o’clock. Thousands more posted messages of support on twitter and Instagram. For much of the day our campaign dominated social media, and generated national and international media attention.
These events expressed migrants’ diverse concerns and priorities. Some focussed on the legal limbo in which millions of EU nationals have been plunged post-Brexit. Others focused on the unjust asylum system, on immigration detention, on the exploitation of migrant workers, on migrant rights in the broadest sense of the term. Others celebrated the contribution of migrants to the NHS as well as the many ways in which migrants enrich communities throughout Britain.
Together, our day of action reflected a common refusal to accept the exclusion and marginalisation of the men, women and children who have so often been dehumanised and belittled – and a common recognition that these tendencies are a threat to all of us. We thank everybody who has helped make this possible, from the regional organisers who put so much energy, commitment and creativity into their local events, to the local leaders, trade unions, businesses, universities, NGOs, charities and other institutions and individuals that supported us during the last four months.
Your efforts created the incredible platform that we saw on Monday. You opened a new space in which the voices of migrants and their supporters could be heard loudly and clearly across the country. That, in itself, is a formidable achievement. For our part, we regard February 20 not as an endpoint, but as a stepping stone on the journey to a better society and a new conversation about migrants and migration. Looking to the future, we take heart from the wide ranging coalition that came together around this event, from the local networks and alliances that have been forged and the generosity of spirit that made all this possible.
We hope that these networks and connections will not be allowed to wither. Because in the end the campaign about migrants and migrant rights is not just about ‘them’, it’s also about ‘us’. It’s part of a wider discussion about what kind of country we want to be, and what kind of communities we want to live in. It is at this level of the community that we can best combat the politics of division and hatred. We hope that One Day Without Us will continue to inspire its participants – migrants and non-migrants – to build on these alliances and that together we can find ways to promote the central message of unity, justice and solidarity that brought our campaign into being in the first place.