Monday, 25 January 2016

You've got to do it, to be it, to see it

I keep thinking about the day I learned of Grace’s diagnosis.

I’m not really sure how I have time to do this, given the blur of busyness in which I currently exist. But amid the noise and movement and ideas and emails and meetings and phone calls and the thump thump of feet running and heart beating – there will suddenly be a moment of mental stillness and I’ll be back in that other room, on the phone, hearing the doctor’s words.

It’s odd that I managed until now to compartmentalise this moment. Frankly, it’s amazing that I could ever put it away. Because when it comes back to me as it has been doing, it is still – years on – powerful. I see it and feel it and am undone by it all over again. I am again the woman on the tube blinking away sudden tears while everyone pretends not to notice.

It’s just like the old days.

Only it’s not.

The reason I am remembering is a positive one. It is because of where I am now and where I am now is a moment that is on the edge of being extraordinary.

Finding out that my daughter had autism was not the end of the world. It was not a great tragedy. Finding out that no-one really understood what that meant, or understood how she felt, or appreciated or welcomed her as a person who lived differently – that, that was the thing that broke my heart.

Grace put my heart back together for me, of course. She just kept going and so, so did I, because she showed me how. Together we’ve created a space for her that allows her to be herself and to enjoy being herself. It’s a space we have continually to fight for, a space we have to keep pressing open when it threatens to squeeze shut. Some days we feel like Princess Leia and Han Solo in the rubbish compactor.  But other days I watch her and she looks like wonderful Rey, forging ahead bravely to her own destiny.

Learning how to see and understand my daughter has been the most important lesson of my life. It has taught me about diversity, and also how little I still understand about diversity. It has taught me to ask uncomfortable questions. It has taught me that making other people feel uncomfortable will frequently prompt reactions that in turn make me ill at ease.

But it has also taught me that if you want to see diversity, you have to get out there and be it. If you want a system that appreciates and embraces diversity, you have to get out there and build it. If you don’t make the changes you want to see, you can’t expect things to change. But – and oh, this is a wonderful ‘but’ - if you do make those changes, then wonderful things can happen.

After Grace’s diagnosis I campaigned to change attitudes with a quiet understanding that at most I was only likely to achieve small changes, mostly in the immediate space around me. For a while that was ok.

But now I want to make bigger changes.

The last few months of leading the Women’s Equality Party has shown me that bigger changes are possible, if you’re brave enough to reach for them.

I was one of the first founding members of the Women’s Equality Party because I feel passionately that diversity must be at the very core of everything we do and I want to create a space – and a movement – for everyone who feels the same way.

Now I want to change more than the most immediate space around me.

I want to change London.

And I want to do it by standing for Mayor of London, as the Women’s Equality Party’s nominated candidate.

Diversity is the motor that makes any city flourish. Let’s make London a city where people like Grace, and millions of others who are totally unlike her and unlike each other, can come together and walk side by side in common understanding and endeavour.

Let’s be the change we want to see. Come with me.

Because equality is better for everyone.