July 20, 2016

Jo Cox

Jo Cox was an activist to the last – we have to continue her work

by Kirsty McNeill

Every morning I wake up to a photo of Jo Cox. It is from the moment at my wedding when confetti was thrown. She is in the middle of the frame – in the thick of it as always, grinning at the joy of others, hands clasped in the encouraging applause, which was her physical default. The morning afterwards, as others nursed their whisky haze and considered their journey home through Scotland’s January snow, fearless, tiny Jo climbed a Munro and sent a photo of a congratulations message she’d carved into the ice at the top.

Jo Cox Birthday Memorial - photo https://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/

Jo Cox Birthday Memorial – photo https://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/

The year before she had shared dinner and drinks with a group of women from all over the world. She told a story about being a girl who was too shy to call anybody to find out how to get from her home village to Leeds. She managed it in the end, because somebody put an arm round her shoulder and said, “Of course you can do it, I know you can.” She was reflecting that everything she’d ever achieved since had happened after encouragement like that and asked us to do that for one another and for other women. Through her work with women candidates for political office and other campaigners I watched her do it again and again. Half holding you upright, half shoving you forward. That’s what it meant to have Jo’s arm around your shoulder.

Much has already been written about Jo’s many identities. Our friend Jo was a forceful feminist, unwavering humanitarian and relentless campaigner – for the people of Syria, to stop women dying in childbirth just because they were too poor to have the care of a midwife, to embrace the stranger and make refugees welcome.

In itself, this is an inspiration for all of us to do and be better. But for me the revelation of Jo’s life was not just what she did, but the how she did it. Jo believed in the power of common action, never just asking, “What do you think?”, but “How should we do it?” In her mind there was no question that could not be answered in working together.

Jo didn’t just believe in her ideals, she did something to advance them every single day. For her it wasn’t enough to be thinking about big things, you needed to be busy making them happen. That’s why her friends are immersed, even in the midst of our sorrow, in raising funds and building a worldwide mobilisation to show, in Jo’s words, that we have more in common than that which divides us. Given the nature of what has happened and the times in which we live, it could be easy to stay frozen in grief, asking ourselves how to respond. But Jo was, to her fingertips and to the last, an activist. This is her tribe and this is what we do.