The Land Is Ours
Nikesh Shukla is a novelist, screenwriter, and the editor of Rife Magazine, an online platform for young people based in Bristol. Here, he considers the fallout of Brexit following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, and where the disempowered youth could turn next
Even when you turn up, you’re not heard. That must fuck with your head. Even when it affects you the most, so you turn up and cast your vote, you’re not heard. That must make you feel like not bothering next time. Even when you defy the doomy statistics about voter turnout in your age demographic and turn up and put a cross in the box, you’re not heard. Does it make you want to burn everything to the ground? I hear you. In the hours after the referendum result was announced, I was told to “go back to brown land”, someone threatened to set my ‘greasy ass’ on fire, and a friend of a friend comforted me by telling me, “don’t worry, you’re not that kind of immigrant”. Three days later and I couldn’t leave my house because I was afraid of being shouted at on my way to work. As I helped the young people I mentor make a film in the street, I overheard one man yell at another, “well it’s not your fucking country, is it?”
"We have to believe in hope in these dark uncertain times"
The first general election my friends got to vote in was in 1997. I was just too young to vote, but I was invested. I was listening to Naxalite by Asian Dub Foundation over and over again, feeling this burning sensation in my chest, because again and again until the land is ours and again and again until we have taken the power. I remember watching a student debate, with people making the case for the different parties. Watching it then, we were excited about Tony Blair. We knew he was dangerous, because that’s what the billboards told us. But we needed that danger. We needed to emerge from the increasingly heavy tread of Tory rule. My friend Simon made the case for the Situationists and tore up a mocked-up ballot paper. Will wore a shiny red shirt and pleaded for people to vote Labour. No one remembers who made the case for the Tories, but if my memory serves me correctly, he definitely had a briefcase. The next day Simon and Will hugged over the result, both in red this time, and it was sunny, the air felt light, we had taken the power and the land was ours.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because we’re agents of hope. We have to believe in hope in these dark uncertain times. Hope brings us together. Hope unites us against the rise of fascism. Hope is safety pins on chests. Hope is making art that challenges the status quo. Hope is that moment in Network when Beale yells, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more”. Hope is knowing that turning up and voting is half the battle. Hope is the pursuit of the accountability of elected officials. But maybe the worst has happened already. How much lower can our faith in our country get?
"Whatever happens next, as these generations wither away and die, is in your hands, and you know exactly what to do with it"
I’m getting distracted in my message of hope. That happens when you’ve barely slept, and you’ve cried, felt angry, numb, and terrified for your baby as you’ve devoured the internet until 2am most nights, trying desperately to fathom what is going on. The future is uncertain. Here are things you can do: volunteer in grassroots projects, donate money to charity, report hate crimes and step in when you see them happening, think of small positive local things to do, tell your MP they need to do better, believe in change, because that change is you. Look at the demographics. Whatever happens next, as these generations wither away and die, is in your hands, and you know exactly what to do with it. I trust you. It’s your world. And my daughter’s. And I have to believe that whatever state it’s handed over to you in, you’ll know the right way to put things right.
Look, I’m not going to tell you it’s okay. We don’t know. But we have to hope. My friend Josie texted me this morning saying, “we are all still here and none of us will give up”. We are better and we will keep going. Again and again until the land is ours. And again and again until we have taken the power.