Surrounded by office blocks and starbucks, boxed in, for now, with plywood, Abraham Lincoln is holding a letter to Manchester. To his brothers and sisters, Thank you for joining our fight and for downing your tools as we fought for justice and what is right.
Whilst the mill owners thought only of the costs incurred, kept sweating over timesheets and cotton loads, you thought of the lives yet to be lived free from slavery and for what is good for all humankind. You spoke of emancipation and showed your solidarity when you had hardly enough to feed or clothe your little ones lying in the slums.
You were not swayed by the propaganda of your nation, by the petty mindedness of your landlords and their accountants. When the cotton was delivered, you simply stopped spinning. Stilled, you could see and hear, breathe and remember how those selfserving masters massacred and killed in the name of progress. Theirs. There is nought so violent as the status quo.
Stop writing and filing and look up and out of the window at the man with a letter in his hand and remember the working men and women to whom it is addressed. Who stopped the deafening sound of the industrial revolution and who knew humanity and the deep southern sun could pierce the smog and grime of this city. This nation led by the same ruling class now as then.
How easily it slips, a physical manifestation of the mask you’ve worn your whole life to cancel the contagion of your true self, and, cornered, I can’t see you bare your teeth anymore. It allows me to see instead your fragility. Your face now a pleading window through which the birds fly. What else will escape?
A Portable Paradise published by Roger Robinson last year is essential reading. If you’re searching for meaning and truth in a world that has lost its mind, this is a good place to begin and to keep coming back to. I love poetry books. Like a good album, you can absorb the whole narrative and then come back and listen to each song more carefully and intently. The title sums up my feelings for all my poetry books, the only books I don’t feel guilty for keeping and hoarding.
This is a sobering and disquieting read and, for me, a privilege to be in the realm of Robinson’s Britain. Not the polite, sterile one that’s packaged and sold by the BBC, but the real, felt one. Beautiful and alienating, frightening and full of promise.
How a government treats the most vulnerable people in society is a good indication of how we will all fare in a crisis like this one. I’m relieved to live in a country where the government is doing something to ease the burden on those who struggle the most. That is how you safeguard society, even if it means fewer spoils for the wealthy. The economy will take a massive hit, but society will be stronger and we will slowly recover.
In the UK and the US you are punished for falling on hard times. The benefit system is punitive, stressful and inadequate as anyone working to implement it will testify. The mental and physical burden of poverty is regarded by those right-wing governments as a just dessert from which there is little respite in healthcare or safe and affordable housing. They treat people trying to make ends meet with contempt and, in recent years, haven’t even tried to hide it. They are dog whistlers who incite fear and hatred and they have overseen the rise of a fascist faction that defends their ideology with violence and intimidation. Ultimately, they are about pushing people off the cliff to safeguard their own wealth.
They’re locked in a headspin because at last their own voters are beginning to understand the reality of that aggressive stance. Their attempt to belittle society, ban collective action and kill any hope that an economy can serve everybody just backfired. Society, collective action and lifting everyone out of poverty are precisely what is needed to help us get through this.
They’ve been exposed and they will be held to account. That reality is slowly dawning on them too.