I woke up today feeling anxious. Anxious because I know that my future in this country is at stake. All the plans I had for a life in Britain, the hopes that I came here with and matured as I settled in, are on hold. But as I write this, I know there is nothing I can do apart from wait. The House of Lords are voting on an amendment to decide whether three million EU migrants can stay in the UK. They will decide whether we’ll become the bargaining chip Theresa May wants us to be.
Over the past year, my life in the UK has been the subject of a heated debate. Time and again I have heard politicians, journalists and activists talk about the economic and social benefits of leaving or remaining in the EU, citing different sets of cold, alienating statistics. The one thing I hardly ever heard in the media was people like me, for whom this isn’t about numbers or abstract economic models, but the lives we lead every day.
I spent much of last year campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU. I knocked on doors, gave out flyers and spoke at a rally organised by young people in Trafalgar Square. But when it came to the day of the referendum, all I could do was sit back because I didn’t have a vote. I asked friends to vote for me and trusted that some of them would. I kept refreshing Twitter every couple of minutes, feeling a new sense of optimism or despair with every bit of news. On the bus home from a results party I attended, I couldn’t help but wonder who on the carriage voted to get rid of people like me.
I came over to the UK from Poland in 2012 to study and build a life, but five years later and I find myself powerless. Left out of the conversation and watching other people make decisions about my future. This is why I am involved in organising Take Back Control events across the country. Because the desire for control isn’t confined to die hard Ukip supporters, but is a desire that cuts across the whole of society. For migrants, taking back control is not about asserting our national identity, but having a voice in the country we call home. Not just in debates about whether we’re allowed to stay, but in every decision that affects our lives.
Just like British citizens, migrants are routinely denied access to stable, decent quality housing. We suffer the same low paid, precarious, zero hours cycle of dead end work. We also lose out when the Conservatives assault our NHS and public services. We too grow angry when corporations refuse to pay tax and ordinary people have to cough up instead. Taking back control isn’t a zero sum game. Migrants gaining power doesn’t mean it has to be taken away from British citizens, because so many of the issues we face are the same.
Despite my anxiety about today’s vote, I know that taking back real control means migrants and British citizens doing more than casting a vote, but working alongside each other, in our communities, together.
Ana Oppenheim is Organiser of takebackrealcontrol.com
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