When Britain First marches outside your show which is on at a Quaker Meeting House
12th April 2019
The producer of Jabberwocky Market, Caroline Pearce has organised for DAR, Darlington Assistance for Refugees, to be at the end of every showing of Now Is The Time To Say Nothing, offering tea, cakes and a chat about how to help with local refugee support in the area. It is almost the perfect blueprint for how I wanted the show to be held – come see the work, connect to a displaced artist’s story and then find out how to help refugees who are right on your doorstep.
Tonight, I met two local women who regularly check in on Syrian families who have been placed by the Home Office in Darlington, as well as an elderly Yorkshire man, Paul, who up until recently had two men from Sri Lanka staying with him – they were meant to stay for two weeks and stayed for eight months. One day the two men said they’d received a text message that they were leaving the next morning but they didn’t know where they were being taken. Paul stayed home from work to be there when they left, questioning the van driver in order to get assurance that they were going somewhere safe.
The show is in a Quaker meeting house right in the town centre. Around the walls are slogans ‘Quakers for Equality’ and campaign against arms trade posters. One lady in her eighties who works at the meeting house and is a practicing Quaker tells me she thought of WWII (which she remembers) while watching the show and kept telling herself off – ‘I’m meant to think about Syria’. Her words made me think about the themes a little differently – about the show a little differently – it made me think about war outside of Reem’s story, war as an imprint, a mark on people who lived in places and times where it took something from them and lives were changed. The same lady tells me about her neighbour Pam who when only five got sent out of London during the Blitz to Wales – which meant she is now fluent in Welsh.
A show about the every day of war is being performed in a Quaker Meeting House. As the subs rumbled it felt odd to be shaking the floors of this building – a building which stands so clearly as a statement against war. A sign on the wall says it was used as a hospital during WWII. In the very housing, the brick and mortar of this showing, is a shared set of values: war is madness.
We all drink tea and share nods, stories, values and more nods. It is lovely and also a little sad – this isn’t a show that sends you skipping home. Yes war happens, it is sad but also as Reem says ‘we are lucky enough to be alive’ and we are lucky enough to be having a chat and a cup of tea.
While nodding and feeling happy to meet these nice people and hear their stories I get told that on Saturday there is a Britain First march. It is scheduled in Darlington town centre, almost right outside the venue. This is a party that specifically targets Muslims and revels in Islamophobia. A party against multiculturalism in all its forms, who want to bring back the death sentence, ban the use of the word racist in the media, and bar followers of Islam from public office. I was told this while nodding and I noticed my head became a little heavier and a little more bowed.
And yes my first, naïve perhaps, artist thought was those Britain First people they are the ones who should see the show – that’s the outreach we should all be doing – down with all this nodding, let’s have the difficult conversations. And yet today, even though I do advocate and believe in difficult conversations and for art to attempt to truly be less social acupuncture and more social dynamite, I feel that after a day of meeting beautiful people who are all made weary and heavy by the way the world looks right now I feel like maybe us nodders need to stick together right now and on Saturday.
So I am going to go to that march and stand with the others who’ve come to show support for the Muslim community. I know that some of the people I’ve met at the show will be there, people I’ve met who aren’t afraid of difference, who have housed people who are scared, who have known the scream of the Blitz and want Britain to be a place of refuge from places in the world that currently aren’t safe.
I know people’s reasons for their political alignment is full of complexities and I don’t want to stand and judge but I also do want to stand fully in a place of saying no to racism and no to Islamophobia. While the work I spent five years making with my beautiful friend who happens to be Syrian, who happened to live through a war she didn’t plan, rumbles the floorboards of a Quaker’s Meeting House, I’ll be in Darlington town centre. If you’ve seen the show in Darlington and it moved you or if you just want to stand alongside some friends so you don’t feel alone in saying no to Islamophobia – see you there at 1pm.
“Whether in times of war or times of peace the Quaker is under peculiar obligation to assist and to forward movements and forces which make for peace in the world and which bind men together in ties of unity and fellowship.”