As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Channel Islands and the start of the end of WWII, and as we continue to be living in a restricted way due to coronavirus, it seems a good moment to consider what freedom means. The Arthouse Jersey project The Face of Liberation posed the question of islanders, ‘What does freedom mean to you?’, as they took their photos earlier this year for a huge photo montage. A huge photo and a huge question.
Liberate’s vision is for an inclusive society where all citizens of the Channel Islands are accepted equally by government, organisations, society and themselves regardless of their personal characteristics. If you cannot access the education you deserve, if you cannot get the job or promotion you are qualified for, if you cannot register the birth of your biological child, if you cannot have your identity legally recognised, if you cannot live without fearing assault, if you cannot enter premises on the island because no consideration has been given to your needs, if you cannot feed, clothe or house yourself, how free are you? And, how free is the society in which you live?
For us as a charity, then, freedom means nobody being left behind in our islands. Easy to say, much harder to achieve. Our work involves holding up a mirror to government, corporations, charities and individuals and asking the question, ‘Is this what inclusivity really looks like?’. It is easy to be complacent when you live in a democracy that is economically rich and to assume that everyone is doing as well as you. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the fault lines in British society in a starker way than any other national happening in recent times.
This week Liberate was due to be part of a human rights conference in Jersey that would have seen some inspirational international speakers visit the island to discuss how far we, as an island, have come from Liberation Day to today, and how far we have yet to travel.
When the world saw the horrors of the Second World War it made a promise. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. It set out a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations and, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected in order that future generations should not have to suffer what millions had suffered between 1939 and 1945.
The Declaration remains an ambition that 70 years on has not been fully realised. Countries still go to war, commit genocide, sponsor terrorism, sanction torture, violate human rights, silence free speech, rig elections and deny citizens access to basic essentials. This will continue to happen until populations – everyone, you and me – speak up and take a stand against those who profit from the denial of others’ freedoms.
As individuals in Jersey, this means engaging with politics and electing those who seek to unite not divide us, telling our leaders in the workplace that we want to work for ethical organisations who put people before profit or power, intervening where we see people being treated unfairly in society, and volunteering our personal resources to help those who need our support. The UN’s 17 Global Goals provides organisations and individuals with ways to start acting on inequality in human rights.
The world was forever changed 75 years ago. Britain was not the same country in 1945 as it had been in 1939. The joyous celebrations of VE Day and Liberation gave way to a period of grieving, hardship and austerity in the years that followed. 75 years on and the crisis we are living through is also likely to give way to a period of severe deprevation. We are going to need to tackle the post-COVID period with a determination, similar to that shown 75 years ago, that the world will be a better place following the death and hardship we have endured. It will take our collective effort to ensure that nobody is left behind and that we truly are a society in which everyone feels free.