Vigil for Jo Cox and the Victims of Orlando
We have come together here today, like many thousands around the country in the past few days, to remember the victims of a hate-filled gunman who turned the joy and friendship of relaxation and fun in a gay nightclub in Orlando into a bloody massacre. 49 people with long lives and careers ahead of them, with loving friends and family, with partners and lovers and husbands and wives and children. No more. Lives ended. Over 50 people injured and maimed. Those who live on distraught. Hate walked in and ripped their loved ones away.
And now, we also remember Jo Cox, a politician – that most despised word – who burned brightly in Westminster for only a year before being snuffed out by a hate-filled gunman as she went about her duties as a public servant.
The following morning I – like councillors and Members of Parliament and Assembly Members throughout the country – was out and about meeting my constituents, attending meetings and events, holding surgeries. Not through bravery or bravado. But because it felt right. Because it is what we do. Because Jo would have been doing the same had she still been alive.
I didn’t know Jo well. But I can tell you that what you have heard is true. She was a force to be reckoned with, a five-foot tower of passion and life, committed to making the world a little better by her efforts.
So, in their memory, and in the memory of others killed in hate-filled murders and terrorist massacres, and in contemplation our lives too, let me ask a simple question today:
Is this it?
Is this it, really? This is what we have become? That the best we can hope for is to stumble from one atrocity to another. That we accept a society where bile and spite and hate is poisoning our discourse and spilling into violence?
Where in politics senior statesmen and party leaders see fit to set one group against another for political advantage, and to reap votes they sow seeds of despair and anger, stoking resentment and hatred. Is this it?
Where the most prominent journalists in the most widely read newspapers flog their wares by running daily front-page stories of being over-run by people of different skin-colour, different sexuality, different religion, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Is this it?
Where keyboard-warriors feel it is acceptable to threaten rape and murder of people who they disagree with politically, or to threaten their families, or to wish they would die a horrible lingering death. A particularly nasty venom is reserved for female politicians. Is this really it?
We all share a responsibility. I share that responsibility. The way you and I carry out our debate and discussions is important. Let’s agree to disagree, but let’s take out the poison, let’s take out the guns, let’s take out the hate.
You and I should leave here today, in the memory of those who have been killed when poisonous hate and seething anger boils over into inexcusable murder and massacres, to conduct ourselves decently: in our thoughts and in our actions, moderating the language we use and the way we exchange views.
But I tell you this as well, and I am a moderate man in my views and in my ways: I will not tolerate intolerance any more. I pledge this to Jo Cox, and to those murdered in Orlando, that I will not stand as newspapers and so-called political leaders and individual members of the public see fit to whip up hatred and division. I will not stand by. You should not stand by. We should not stand by.
This is not it. We are better than this, or at least we can be. We must challenge intolerance at every turn. It is not just the gunmen. Our words are equally lethal, because they set us on the road to calamity, or to peaceful co-existence with others.
It is the millions of idle, thoughtless comments on the street and on social media, steadily stoking the hatred of people who are gay or lesbian, transsexual or transgender, of people who are of different skin colour or ethnic origin or country, of the Jew or the Muslim or the Christian, of the Romani people or the trade unionists.
Language matters when it is used carelessly or deliberately to stoke hatred: “swarms of immigrants”; “rapists and murderers”; “skivers and strivers”; “corrupt and venal politicians” … the language of hatred and division is deadly poisonous.
I say to you clearly and loudly, if the tragedy of Jo Cox, and the tragedy of Orlando tell us one thing it is this: there is no us and them, and there never was. There is just you and me. There is us.
We stand together with the LGBT+ community, now and always. We stand with all politicians in every country who give their lives to public service. We stand with those fleeing persecution, fleeing for their lives from countries ravaged by war or famine. We stand with those who are subjected routinely to casual hatred on the streets and in the media. There is no them and us. There is only us. And we must stand together.
We all have a responsibility. Every single one of us. We need to be more vigilant in our words and in our actions and in our thoughts. Be vigilant.
Don’t be afraid to speak out against injustice and intolerance. Jo wasn’t. Be intolerant of intolerance!
It is what Jo Cox would have wanted, what she fought for all her short life.
This is how we will build the society of tolerance and understanding and peace that will allow us to argue with respect, seeing our commonality and respecting our differences, making change in the ballot box and not through violence, treating each other as we would want to be treated, loving one another for what we hold in common as well as our differences.
This will allow those of us who want to, LGBT or not, to party the night away in a gay nightclub without fear and to emerge the next day as teachers and entrepreneurs and shopkeepers and politicians and family and friends. It will those of us who want to worship freely in our mosques and churches and synagogues before sending out our children – boys and girls – to play together in our parks and playgrounds; it will allow us to argue passionately on the political stage, but with respect, and to walk out of the debating chambers and television studios shaking hands, not shaking fists.
They only thing we should not tolerate is intolerance. The only thing we should hate is hate itself.
We all have a responsibility to be vigilant. Each and every one of us. Together we can create a better society, and a better world.
Let us begin today.
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