By Cecelia Bittner. Paris, France.
My resistance to the massive fear of ‘the other’ and sense of scarcity that fueled Donald Trump’s election has been to support refugees on their difficult, often horrific journeys. The current political environment encourages people to fear the other and blame everyone from Mexicans, to Muslims, to Planned Parenthood, for their problems.
These toxic, borderline fascist sentiments are rampant throughout the United States and Europe. Politicians are comparing refugees to insects and ordering short-sighted actions like the demolition of refugee camps (further displacing thousands of people) and spending millions on pointless walls. Our governments are essentially waging a war against anyone born outside of their borders. In this environment, showing empathy and compassion are acts of rebellion.
I see the thousands of volunteers, like me, who are working hard to support refugees throughout Europe and beyond, as being on the ‘front lines’ of the opposition, fighting fear with love (and food, sleeping bags and first aid).
I spent most of 2016 fundraising, buying, packing and distributing food to the thousands of people living in ‘The Jungle,’ a refugee camp in Northern France. Besides satisfying the need for nutritious food, we provided culturally appropriate ingredients and even more importantly, respect and dignity to people who were risking their lives each night trying to jump on lorries (‘trucks’ in American) and trains headed to England.
By September of 2016, my crew of around seven people (almost always women) was distributing food to a little over 10,000 people a week. It was hard, heart-wrenching work and we put our health, happiness and safety on the line over and over again because every bag of food, every can of tomatoes, kidney beans or fish, was our way of saying, “your life matters.” Each bag of food served was an act of resistance against a political and social system that tells refugees that it would be best if they just disappeared.
Since The Jungle was demolished in October, people have been scattered throughout Europe, often stuck in a miserable cycle of seeking refuge in cities/countries only to be disappointed (or much worse) and moved along. I followed the need to Paris where I started Solidarithé with three other Calais veterans, because a lack of information leads to people feeling even more powerless about their situation. Again, each cup of tea, each map, each list of services we distribute- each small act of kindness- is an act of resistance against a political system that essentially deems some lives more valuable than others.
Charismatic leaders with hateful rhetoric are encouraging frustrated people to point fingers and indulge in their anger. History is repeating itself and it’s sad and scary and dangerous. Go ahead and protest in the streets, write angry Facebook rants and so on, but also make sure to look people in the eyes when you’re walking down the street. A simple smile can prevent fights and keep people hoping in even the most hopeless situations. Caring about each other (and supporting good politicians and policy change) is the antidote to terrorism, fascism and Trumpism.
My path is rather extreme; you don’t have to live in a squat or get tear-gassed regularly in order to stand up against fear and hatred. The resistance is in acknowledging and connecting with people, it’s in contagious smiles and firm handshakes and good chats over cups of tea.
Besides the obvious actions (get involved in local politics, support good journalism, protest whenever possible), here are a few ways to resist:
- Smile at people on the street.
- Lend a helping hand whenever possible.
- Expose yourself to different points of view via discussions and selective* media consumption (*fair, honest media coverage).
- Support legitimate charities and grassroots organizations with donations (youcaring.com/solidarithe) and/or volunteering.
- Raise awareness. Talk about the hard things. Share uncomfortable Facebook posts.
Cecelia Bittner is one of the founders of the Paris refugee support initiative, Solidarithé. Solidarithé is a tea van that serves refugees and people living on the streets of Paris a hot drink and empowering legal & practical information. Refugees need to know their rights, how the legal process in Paris works, what services are available to them, when and where. And on the other hand, aid groups need to know where to bring their services, when and for how many people. Our solution is a tea van that collects and distributes information while providing tea and a safe space for refugees. Get in touch to show your support at firstname.lastname@example.org.