Bristol recently made international headlines, which has left many of us in this beautiful city arguing about a statue which most people had walked by, never even really noticing its significance.
Now we’ve been given a new view, we have been forced to look at an uncomfortable image of the past and that has been understandably painful for everyone.
I’ve seen so many social media discussions and heard those differing views, so I know we’re all hurting.
This difficult discussion comes on top of the tragedy of thousands of deaths from an invisible killer, which threatens all of humanity. The Covid pandemic came on top of a vote that had divided the nation. That’s a lot of trauma in a very short space of time.
I think it is time to stop arguing, say sorry, and start listening.
If I had been elected as mayor last May at the now postponed 2020 elections, it was in my manifesto to review the locations of statues and plaques. It’s important that we all see images which make us feel welcome in this city of sanctuary, not ones that oppress, offend or make us feel like we don’t matter.
In order to start healing, we need a grown-up conversation about these big issues of equality, diversity, and inclusion. We also need to tackle things like clean air, transport, and a safe place to live for all. I believe unless we cease to have decisions made in a ‘winner takes all’ way, we will continue to have a society where at any point, you and your view, and therefore your life, doesn’t matter.
Instead, I want to offer you deliberative-democracy, in citizens assemblies, neighbourhood, community or parish councils, as the way to make your votes matter and your voices heard.
So post-lockdown, I want to offer a future together, which capitalises on all those acts of kindness we’ve just witnessed. One which takes us forward not clings on to an outdated past. We’ve seen a tantalising glimpse of that greener and more sustainable new life. One with cleaner air, less congestion, and flexible working. We know in our hearts that everyone deserves our help, and I believe most of us would like to be seen as kind and caring people. I also know that, because thousands signed up to We are Bristol and the government’s scheme.
So many of us clapped on Thursdays for the NHS and carers, others stepped in when the state failed us over PPE, yet more pulled together in our communities to help save lives in our lockdown isolation. People did that, for everyone in our city regardless of whether we were like them or the total opposite. I think we did that because when we were faced with a common enemy, we remembered the one thing we all have in common, that we are all human.
How does our new shared future look to you? How can we go about those difficult conversations where we disagree strongly, yet do it in a polite and respectful manner? I think we want to live in an inclusive, diverse, and vibrant city, where we are all free to be ourselves, whilst respecting the right of others to live the lives they choose. For all to be full participants of our society without anyone being discriminated against, or finding barriers in their way.
So what will you do to make that happen? As that’s what is at the heart of this heated debate. Many of us have realised it’s not enough, not be actively racist, or discriminate in any other way, we have to do more than that. If we want equality, it is no longer enough to be an innocent bystander, we all have to take up our responsibility as a Bristol citizen, to build back better than any old normal.
Mary Page is the Lib Dem Bristol mayor candidate
Main photo of Black Lives Matter protest – by Ellie Pipe