Rosa Doherty

Lessons we can learn from Extinction Rebellion

'We must not forget to look after each other and ourselves, especially those who stand up for our community online.'

June 27, 2019 15:28

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, racism and racial discrimination is one of many factors which can have a significant, negative impact on a person’s mental health.

It’s obvious really. And yet it is not something we discuss enough and have not done so properly in context of antisemitism which has dominated the conversation in the Jewish community for the last five years.

The reality of antisemitism has increased in our daily lives not due to the frightening rise of it on the far right but in the Labour party, the place that once provided many Jews a much needed sanctuary from societal prejudice.

On the news pages of this paper, I report on the conversations I’ve had with people about their experience campaigning against antisemitism. My findings were shocking and deeply sad. Every single one of them had suffered mentally as a result of their work.

Jewish or not, those that enter the debate do not only sift through streams of race hate but are also on the receiving end of some of the most vile and threatening racism against Jews.

This has resulted in people feeling isolated, panicked, gas-lit, paranoid and in some cases physically threatened.

They have had to make extraordinary changes to how they live their life, some modifying the journeys that they take to work or changing how they live in their own homes.

Many admit it is hard to draw the line between their efforts to monitor and combat antisemitism and it becoming an obsession.

This feeling has been exacerbated by Labour’s inaction. The more Labour obfuscate, triangulate and ignore the concerns of a minority group experiencing race hate, the more the trauma of that reality is entrenched.

It is particularly traumatic for a community that has always had strong links to the party. People who would ordinarily describe their feelings towards Labour as akin to belonging to a family, feel rejected unwanted and humiliated. You don’t have to be an expert to know those feeling have a negative impact on how one sees oneself.

Online, where the social media giants do virtually nothing to protect users , otherwise professional people are pushed to breaking point. Everyone I spoke to felt they had snapped and used language that was not normally typical of them or considered appropriate in public discourse.

At the worst end of the scale , some had sought medical help and been prescribed medication for depression and anxiety as a result of feeling bombarded with hate and abuse.

At the lesser end, people talk about antisemitism in the Labour Party as if it is normal to feel isolated or frightened in their political movement.

All of this is being enabled by a party whose current procedures and culture are not only clearly not fit to deal with racism but not set up to care for or foster the positive mental health and well-being of its members. It is the darkest irony that one of the party’s strongest advocates for mental health, Luciana Berger, was hounded out of it because of the racism she received.

And our problem is that this culture does not look as if it is about to change. We need a response to mental health and racism and we need it now — before it causes irreversible damage for just one member.

Extinction Rebellion. the headline-grabbing movement which uses nonviolent resistance to protest against climate change, has a whole section devoted to wellbeing for activists on its website, encouraging them to be “prepared, both physically, mentally and emotionally for whatever you might be getting up to.”

Whether you agree with its aims or not, this is impressive. Compare this to the people who got into speaking out about antisemitism online accidently, not prepared for or having considered its impact. How can we support them? 
 Extinction Rebellion recommends “buddying up” with someone who can look out for you. They set up “wellbeing sanctuaries” as well as first aid points at their demonstrations to provide physical and emotional support to people who need it. This kind of forward-thinking approach is what the Jewish community needs to safeguard the wellbeing of people involved in calling out or on the receiving end of racism.

The failure to notice this impact on mental health shames the Labour Party of course. But as we condemn them, we must not forget to look after each other and ourselves, especially those who stand up for our community online.



June 27, 2019 15:28

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