Can there be true democracy without freedom of movement for all?

First published in December 2020.

There is a fascinating debate going on in my Twitter timeline at the moment between several of the best immigration experts I know about how to campaign for change. Now, I am not getting involved in that, because frankly they are far brighter than I am, but it did make me think.

I am a firm supporter of universal open borders and often get told that it is pie in the sky and could never happen. It is too big of an ask for people to get behind.

Is it really, though?

Freedom of movement in the EU is widely, outside the UK, acknowledged as workable. Albeit on a reduced level the evolution of MERCOSUR in Latin America provides a framework for it. These regional systems demonstrate the economic effectiveness of allowing people freer movement between states.

We live in an increasingly globalised world. If 2020 has taught us anything it is as easy to hold a meeting with someone in a different country as it is in the same office. Social networks touch the four corners of the planet. Friendship groups aren’t limited by geography.

It is a big ask though, but it is a big ask which needs making.

I spend a lot of time working with people on messaging for campaigns. I also, unfortunately, have to spend time with groups explaining when it is time to walk away from a campaign. Framing your argument in the right way, and knowing which battles will undermine your longer term cause, can be seen as compromise. That’s not a problem, so long as your end goal is still made clear.

You think about the historic shifts in attitudes which have taken place in the field of human rights. Most, I would argue, came about because of big, eye catching, expansive asks. It is easier to break a big ask down into smaller ones than build on a smaller one after you achieve it. It is easier if you think about it in terms which people can relate to, and let’s be honest, most cannot with open borders. You need to borrow some money. Which is easier, going in big and achieving something less, or going in small and then trying to get more later?

We have a government which, right this minute, is launching an unprecedented attack against human rights, from multiple angles. It is a ‘big ask’ is all to clear, and even if it only achieves a fraction of it then millions of people will suffer.

If we are to fight for human rights, migrants rights, the environment, etc, then we need to be big. Not obnoxious, arrogant or abusive, not delusional as to what we want after a battle has been well and truly lost, but still big with how we go about it.

We don’t have the time for a gradual shift in public perception, which we are seeing in migrants rights. We don’t have another 40 years to push the positive dial into the 80% mark though. There needs to be a strong, coherent, effective campaigning on the big issues.

As I said, the debate regarding how to campaign is currently being held elsewhere by people with more knowledge and experience than I do. I do have some of both though, so there is my pitch, for standing up instead of stepping aside in case you offend people.🔷

Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 9 December 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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