This is a slightly edited version of an article written for The Bookbag, published on 26th January 2017.
Last weekend, following the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President, there were marches on a scale the world has never seen before – the Women’s Marches, protesting against Trump’s hateful attitudes and disgraceful conduct. Among the London marchers was a group dressed as suffragettes, wearing VOTES FOR WOMEN sashes, to remind us how hard women fought for the vote, more than a hundred years ago. Against a patronising misogynist like Trump, that fight still needs to be fought – no longer for the vote, but for equal rights with men, equal opportunities, equal dignity.
It wasn’t only women who marched. News coverage showed a sizeable proportion of men who know that women’s rights are everyone’s rights; there were children, babies, dogs wearing slogans. Those marchers stood up for fairness, consideration and respect for everyone. They were making a stand against racism and homophobia and hatred.
My latest novel, UNTIL WE WIN, is about Votes for Women, and the involvement of one teenage girl, Lizzy. My first published book, RUN WITH THE HARE, was about animal rights; and in both stories, my main characters – Lizzy and Elaine respectively – are campaigning against something they see as wrong, something that must change. Having done a fair bit of animal rights campaigning myself over many years (I support the League Against Cruel Sports, Compassion in World Farming and PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I know how easy it is to feel overwhelmed and despondent at the scale of the problem. Things change so slowly / the world doesn’t care / what can one person do, anyway? Thoughts like those, at low points, can make you feel like giving up – almost.
But the question “What can one person do?” feels irrelevant when you look at the coverage of those marches. It’s never one person. The suffragettes were powerful because they acted as a group – (even if, as in my story, opinions differed as to how best to make their points). The animal rights organisations I support work by raising awareness and appealing to the sense of empathy and fairness everyone has to some degree. Attitudes do change, even if very slowly. A hundred years ago, women didn’t have the vote. Forty years ago, few people bothered about whether their cosmetics had been tested on animals, coats made from the fur of exotic animals were considered fashionable and glamorous and it was seen as a bit peculiar to be vegetarian. Things change. Maybe, forty years on, the idea of eating the flesh of dead animals will be viewed with revulsion.
So, in a way, writing UNTIL WE WIN took me right back to my first novel. Something is wrong: unfair, unjust. It’s got to change. Both Lizzy and Elaine feel a burning sense of injustice, and both find purpose in life through their determination and commitment. I called my new book UNTIL WE WIN - partly because we know, of course, that the suffragettes did win, though not until after the First World War; and partly because of their fierce determination. They would never give up until women got the vote.
What a weekend of contrasts it was – arrogance, threats and empty promises from the new President in Washington; hope, defiance and solidarity demonstrated most emphatically by the marching millions. Even the blinkered Mr Trump can’t ignore it. That stand for fairness isn’t going to shut up and go away. Hatred and bigotry will not win.