November Update — One Year On

November is here. It’s a bit of a non-descript month, though I guess they like it in Lewes. (Now that we are massive, I should tell our non-Sussex-based followers that Lewes has a quite extraordinary bonfire every fifth of November. They burn crosses, roll burning barrels of tar through the streets and throw bangers at each other. Just FYI, the burning crosses are more of an anti-papist manoeuvre than a white supremacist one. It’s politically suspect, but it is spectacular, plus nobody’s been lynched since they drowned the magistrates in 1847).

Boys with tourches

Lewes Bonfire Boys CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

I’m hoping that November 2016 is going to go down in the annuals of thousand 4 1000 as a great month. October 2016 was certainly very exciting. We had loads and loads of signups this month and that’s probably because the wonderful Positive News and the world-famous New Internationalist ran features on us. You know you exist when the press are talking about you. If only the Charity Commission would hurry up and process our application, then maybe the BBC would come knocking. The great house hunt continues, but for now you’re helping to house four people. This is amazing because, when you’re homeless, November isn’t non-descript it is pretty close to lethal. Thank you.

If we are going to find new accommodation in February, the project needs to grow. It would be super lovely if you could share one or both articles with all your friends. Here are the links:

The New Internationalist Article
The Positive News Articles

They are also great reads, if you haven’t yet seen them.

We need to triple our income and we need to find those magic, sympathetic landlords. Those of us who have put the project together have, as you can see, been a bit haphazard in our approach to publicity. It’s not really our forte. I find it inspiring that there has been so much goodwill that our lack of polish hasn’t been an obstacle to reaching this stage. The search is on to find more volunteers to take the project forward. If you would like to be involved, drop us a line.

Meanwhile, I would like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have been in touch with suggestions for improvement. They are much appreciated. We are learning. One of the key bits of feedback we receive is that we make it look like we only allow £1 per month sign-ups. This, contrary to popular belief, is not true. I’m not asking you to increase your standing order. That’s not how we roll. However, if you did want to give more but were put off by the unclear message, do go ahead.

October also saw the first anniversary of our opening the bank account, launching the website and collecting money. It seems a reasonable time to reflect on what I have learnt. For me, the most life changing feature of the project is the realisation of how much goodwill there is towards forced migrants and how much anger there is at the current border regime. As I tried to express last month, I think that most of us don’t have very thought through opinions about the border, however, we are angered by injustice and moved by suffering. The project has caught the imagination of so many people simply because it provides a wonderfully inclusive and straightforward way of alleviating suffering and fighting injustice. Now, when I see the powers-that-be insisting that their constituents have legitimate concerns about immigration whilst further restricting the mobility of particular groups of people, what I see is a concerted attempt to build and maintain a political reality; one which many of us wish to reject.

The other thing that I have learnt is much more personal. Working on the project has brought me into much more intimate contact with people here, but on the wrong side of the border. It has been a frightening and humbling experience. I have been reading Arendt’s “Human Condition”, so you’re going to have to excuse a digression into the murky waters of her thinking.

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt Stamp Public Domain, Link

For Arendt, humans are both animal and rational. As animals, we share a universe with all other living creatures. We live in a never-ending, physical universe. We are part of cyclical, biological processes. It is a universe of toil and trouble. We must constantly produce only to consume, so that we can meet the necessities imposed on us by our biochemistry. This is neither good nor bad, not because it is neutral, but because the physical universe is outside the realm of reason. It is the realm of cause and effect. We are part of the physical universe because we are animals, but, as humans, we also live in the realm of reason. This Arendt calls, “the world”. It is the realm of freedom, the realm where we can act. Her strange thought is that humans dwell in a world of meaning. We are able to recognise and respond to the meaning of things by seeing what those things require from us and acting accordingly. Importantly, we can also create wholly new things by creating new meanings through our actions. In doing so, we change the world. However, there is a condition on the possibility of action and creation, namely, that we are with others. Meaning is always a public, political affair. It is product of humans talking and acting together. To live in the realm of reason is to act and to talk with others.

So why the digression? Well, what I have come to realise is that if you are trapped on the wrong side of the immigration system, denied access to an income and housing, then you are effectively exiled from the public, political realm. In the end, those border policies try to strip you of the world by trapping you in a never-ending struggle to meet your biochemical necessities. This, for me, is the frightening part. We live in a society which systematically attempts to prevent people from acting and creating. That is, a society that tries to prevent people from being free. The humbling part, for me, is that the people you are supporting are so resilient. They resist the attempt to deny them their freedom and their humanity. Not only do they find ingenious ways to meet their biochemical necessities, but they act and create. I don’t think that I could do it. Still, it’s a good deal easier to act and create, when you have a home. You are making that happen. Thank you. Now we need to expand the project to make the home, which you have facilitated and the residents have created, permanent and to facilitate homes for more people. It is a public, political action that we take together. If we can make the project really big, then not only will we end the exile of wonderful, resilient human beings, but we will also be part of changing our public, political world. It will be richer for being more diverse, and, in being more inclusive, it will be more fully human and that means more truly free. Let’s see what, next year brings. Thank you.

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