"You’re never too old to become a fighter."
Jane Riekemann is... a writer, a co-founder of a short story prize and a teacher. She didn't ever think she would add campaigner to that list but two years ago she became one. In a warm piece she talks about how her activism has brought her into many interesting situations (and a few unpleasant ones) but whatever happens, there is no going back.A wonderful piece that reminds us to keep fighting for what we believe.
Jane Riekemann now lists activist as her occupation, though not on her passport, as that is what occupies her time.
A former teacher of English, Drama and, more recently, Creative Writing, she lived abroad for 17 years in the United States and Germany, moving back to the UK in 2001 - where she embarked on a new odyssey as a short story writer. She won the Woman and Home Short Story competition in the final year of the last century and thought it would be plain sailing after that. It wasn’t. With far more rejections than successes, Jane joined several local writing groups and through one met like-minded writers who joined her in setting up the international https://www.bathshortstoryaward.org/ now in its 7th year. She also does the publicity and co-runs the creative writing competitions for a local arts’ festival.
In 2016 she joined the steering committee of https://bathforeurope.com/ As a citizen of the world, as opposed to ‘nowhere’, she enjoys travelling and, at only 62, plans to roam the globe for many years though she loves her honey-coloured home in the suburbs of Bath.
I was 60 when I became a political activist for the first time in my life. On June 23rd I sat up all night in disbelief as the results rolled in until David Dimbleby announced at 4.40 am we would be leaving the European Union. I cried for hours. Tears of sorrow and rage. The anger has stayed and twenty-two months later still fires me up to spend the bulk of my week campaigning to stop Brexit. Within a few days of the vote, I’d joined the steering committee of non-party political, Bath for Europe which initially seemed like a support group for those equally dismayed at the way the country was heading. Over the past year and a half, I’ve yelled myself hoarse on protest marches, helped bring speakers such as Professors Michael Dougan and AC Grayling to Bath, thrown myself into the 2017 election campaign which saw pro-EU Wera Hobhouse replace the sitting Tory to become the first female MP for Bath.
But mainly I write. I chair our media group – we are the voice of our local campaign and it’s up to us to get the message out. So now, for the most part, I’m producing press releases, articles, leaflets and writing letters. Not much time or room in my brain to create fiction, especially short stories, my real passion.
In the past, I’ve taught Drama, English and Creative Writing in secondary schools, both in the UK and abroad. I co-founded and run an international short story award which has just closed and in between penning political pamphlets, I’m reading the stories that have been sent in and just relishing the chance to escape to other worlds. Even dystopian ones seem less bleak than our present one.
But one thing I’ve learnt is you’re never too old to become a fighter. Having sat on the political fence for most of my life, through trying to respect the opinions of others and not wishing to offend, I now place my blue-bereted head firmly above the parapet and wait for the shots to ring out. Most Saturdays I’m in our city centre handing out leaflets and asking people if they’re happy with the way Brexit negotiations are panning out. I’ve been called ‘scum’, a ‘traitor’ and been trolled in the comments section of our local paper. The younger me would have been embarrassed to have attracted so much attention but my 62 year old self was enormously proud of a blurry picture of me and others in the Daily Express last September, with the caption ‘Shameless … activists’.
I’ve often thought about why this is the fight I’ve chosen over so many other worthy contenders; for example, I didn’t go on the Iraq War protest in 2003. But, as well as considering this a disastrous national decision on so many levels, I do have a personal reason. My husband is German and, though he’s lived here for 17 years, has been sick with worry about his status - possibly like the 3 million other non-UK EU citizens in our country. The immigration issue has pushed us towards a more hostile environment where foreigners, not just those from the EU, feel unwelcome and that includes those who moved here as Commonwealth citizens more than half a century ago. I was born in Brixton in 1955 and some of our neighbours were part of the Windrush generation; in fact, the area in front of the library was renamed Windrush Square in 2005 to recognise the contribution they made to the community. I loved the buzz of multi-ethnic Brixton with its Caribbean market, reggae, gospel and later Motown sounds and am now horrified at the hurt and suffering inflicted on people such as former neighbours, their dependents and all those who came to our country to make a contribution. Until the tide turns, and I feel my country’s been reclaimed I’ll keep fighting and hope other women join me.