Today marks the UN International Day Against Racism, and for the first time in its history Parliament will have the opportunity to mark this important day. In the context of an imminent Brexit, where article 50 is reported to be triggered any time this month, it is imperative that we take this day to reflect on how far we’ve come, as well as how far we have left to go.
It can seem slightly tokenistic or abstract for such a day to be announced from up high without it being linked to broader – and more tangible – forces on the ground.
However, in the current climate of rising hate crime, xenophobic policies, the emboldening of the far right, the ongoing murder and harassment of black communities at the hands of the state, and the election of right wing governments across the globe, today can also be an international line drawn in the sand. A day which allows us to take stock of the challenges we face and the important work being done all around us to fight back and to put forward a vision of a different society – one founded on solidarity and inclusion.
In an atmosphere of growing intolerance and a lack of willingness to listen and embrace our differences, we must be the ones to reach out to others and champion a better future.
This year, at NUS, we have worked to take on some of these challenges and use our platform and the weight of our movement to offer a different vision.
We marched with tens of thousands of others in the aftermath of the US election and called for our own government to scrap its racist, xenophobic, and islamophobic policies. We organised local workshops for students interested in developing anti deportation networks, as well as a national day of student walk outs with the ‘One Day Without Us’ migrant strike. We took the government to court over their wrongful termination of 50,000 international students’ visas and in the face of growing nationalism and exclusion, we intensified our links with others abroad – from Black Lives Matter in the states to the movement against islamophobia in France.
Hate crime too has been a key focus for us. As president, I organised a series of round tables with a wide range of organisations to discuss the reality of hate crime and how to take action. These have focused on Ableism, Antisemitism, Interfaith, Islamophobia, LGBphobia, Racism, Sexism and Misogyny, Transphobia and Xenophobia.
Since then, we have held a national summit, which brought students and campaigners from around the country together to plan, discuss and strategise in anticipation of the struggles to come.
Finally, we have continued to lead the fight against Prevent and launched the Students Not Suspects help line as well as the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project.
I believe it is right for our unions to put these questions at the heart of what we do. And I look forward to continue to fight alongside all of you in the years to come, both on officially marked days and on every other day that the beast of racism raises its ugly head.