I want to talk a bit about Martin Luther King, a great man.
I got to thinking about Martin Luther King today because a British MP was shot and killed in Yorkshire. The motives behind this are unclear at present. Some say that the perpetrator said "Britain First", the name of a far-right group in the UK. Perhaps he said "Britain first", a remark aimed at his victim's support of the campaign that seeks to keep the United Kingdom from voting to leave the European Union. Perhaps he said neither. Perhaps nothing. It doesn't matter, does it? Whatever he said, thought or did, his action was the snap of a society that has been stretched and stretched and hectored and frightened and alarmed to the point that it couldn't take the tension any more. Stretched and warped and terrified by the self same politicians and media that will now duly dole out their platitudes of shock and sorrow.
I spent the early afternoon doing the live blog for Twohundredpercent, the critically-acclaimed football website. I was covering England's match with Wales. It should have been a good day. Unfortunately, it was not.
When I checked to see Twitter's verdict at half time, instead I found out about this shooting. Shortly after the final whistle, the MP's death was announced. Her name was Jo Cox. She was 41 years old, 42 in a couple of weeks. She was only 6 years older than me and had two young children. She stood up for lots of causes that I, personally, find very admirable. But that doesn't matter, either, does it? What her political beliefs were aren't the issue here, the reason this is so numbing and horrible.
At moments like these nowadays, I find myself compelled to keep checking Twitter. Twitter - social media generally - has been such a force for good in my life that, when I am feeling lost or hurt, I guess I look to it so it can work its magic. But there was nothing there today. Just my own feelings reflected back at me. A scream in an echo chamber.
I saw all sorts of things being said. People who had never previously expressed any faith wondering if this year had been portentous of some sort of Biblical reckoning. People wanting to leave. People not wanting to come back. The journalist Abi Wilkinson asked "Does anyone have any thoughts about what we're supposed to do?". It's a good question.
Luckily, her erstwhile colleague Martin Belam had an answer. He posted a thread of tweets talking about expressing his thoughts and feelings and finished it with a picture of Ron Mael, from Sparks. It was a bit cryptic, but I assumed that it was an act of defiance. Why not defiance? I immediately went to YouTube and put on This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both Of Us. It summed up my feeling towards the growing cloud of extremism and extremist views in the UK. This may have been exactly what Martin Belam had in mind, too, for all I know.
Music is one of life's great consolations. When the world outside is raging in tempest, I use it as a coping strategy. Shut out the noise with something I can control. Try to find some calm, some sense of perspective.
Recently, I've been listening to Star Time, a 1991 four-CD compilation of James Brown's most essential work. Out of reflex, I think, I started there. I'm glad I did, because it immediately got me thinking about the Civil Rights struggle in the United States.
I am decidedly pro-EU. Next Thursday I will be voting to Remain and hope that as many of my fellow UK citizens as possible will do the same, But as big an unknown as a Leave victory is, as nauseated as worrying about it has made me feel lately, even Brexit isn't as bad as what black people had to endure up to the middle of the 20th Century in America (and beyond, and elsewhere). Being a member of what is now increasingly angrily decried and dismissed as "the left" is not nearly as niche or as vulnerable a position as it perhaps feels this evening. What it needs - what we need - is leaders.
Which is how I got to thinking about Martin Luther King. Few of us could ever aspire to match King for his measure, calm and constructiveness in the face of the most impossible, virulent and hate-filled odds. But we can aspire to at least try, in our own small way, to remember his example and to act on it.
Above all, leaders are brave people. It takes courage to stand up and speak your mind, to stand up for what you think is right. It is tempting to curl up in a ball and wish it will all go away. Brexit, terrorism, mass shootings in America, hooliganism in European football and now a political assassination on the British mainland. The world seems like it is out of control.
I choose to believe it is not. I choose instead to believe that the media is out of control. There is now infinite space on websites, timelines and airwaves to saturate the world with every single event that is happening. It is quite overwhelming, which is the problem to the greater extent. But it is a reality of life these days. To disengage from it would not be the brave thing to do. Not what a leader would do.
Jo Cox MP was a leader. Let's stand with her. Let's make every Jo Cox who falls doing good for humanity spawn ten more Jo Coxes. Not in a militant sense, but a regenerative one. A quiet determination to see everyone doing a little better, to see a wrong and try to make it right. To be brave. To stand up. To be counted in the best way anybody can: by example and by compassion; with humility and with humour; with humanity. Without ever losing sight of the world we would have our fellow live in.
This post is dedicated to Jo Cox MP (1974-2016). Here is a link to Oxfam's Syria appeal donation page, one of the many good causes she supported during her life.