Many people will tell you that the Capital of ‘The Country’ is London. We know differently, because when we say The Country we mean Wales, and our Capital is Cardiff.
If you live in Caernarfon, as I did for a time (I still have an crush on the Cofi accent) then Cardiff is far away. It can be reached by rail only by leaving Wales and by road only via a feat of endurance. It is over-reliant on major sporting events for it’s sense of identity. Cardiff isn’t perfect, but for those of us who live in the City (or near it) it’s ours.
This post is a reflection on where the campaigning, marching, placard waving heart of Cardiff is going next.
But first, I want to talk about the view from my bedroom window (there’s a connection, I promise).
I live at the top of the big hill that leads to Penarth from the Cardiff Bay barrage, and then keep going up a bit more, and then up that next really extra steep bit (trust me, on a bike you feel every one of the 89 metres). All the way to the top.
And from here, from my bedroom window I can see the Welsh Senedd.
The fact that I have this view is a privilege (I can also see the summit of Pen-y-Fan on a clear day). But it is also a provocation. Because I find that I am watching. I’m watching Carwyn Jones, and Leanne Wood, and all of the other 58 Assembly Members. I’m watching you Vaughan Gething (because you are my Assembly Member I should stress, not in a literal way, although you do live down the road from me… )
And now that I think about it, on every occasion that I have sat in bed drinking a cup of tea and looking at the Senedd building in the four years we have lived in this house (not as frequent an occurrence as I would like, due to the small people in my life) I’ve been mulling it all over.
I’ve been looking at the rest of Cardiff too, at the cityscape. It is breathtaking.
Sometimes I imagine what this view looked like twenty years ago, before the barrage drowned the mudflats of the Taff and Ely estuaries. Or fifty years ago when the docks were still in full swing. How did Cardiff look in 1595, when the very first cargo of coal left these shores?
I imagine this view five hundred or a thousand years ago. What would I have seen from this spot on Penarth headland in 50AD, when the Romans arrived and first built a fort on the site we now know as Cardiff Castle?
So maybe it’s because I have this view. Maybe this view is the reason that recently, when shit happens, like Brexit, or Trump, I feel like I am just looking out at Cardiff and feeling like I see the big picture. Looking at the Senedd, and thinking that we are missing a trick in Wales.
For a long time I observed this view quite passively. But recently I have come to realise that I am not just an observer of this landscape, I am also a part of it. Or I can be, if I choose to be. I can decide to place myself in this moment in Cardiff and Wales’ history, and be a small but valid part of what comes next.
That each of us can.
This is quite a surprising and powerful realisation to have, if you have become used to assuming you can’t change any of the stuff that feels too big to fix.
The morning after Brexit, I now realise, something irrevocable changed in me. The words ‘something has crossed over in me and I can’t go back’ keep coming to mind, albeit that I would hope for a less dramatic denouement than the protaganist who coined them.
That morning I woke up. Early. After not enough sleep. And I just kind of knew.
I felt a shift in the tectonic plates on which Wales sits. If you were awake at 5am perhaps you felt it too.
Because Wales wasn’t always here, in this place.
If you don’t believe me, go to the National Museum in Cardiff and watch the video of the earth’s continents drifting, as they have over the last several billion years (you can check out the worm exhibition too while you are there). Wales is helpfully circled in red as it drifts across the prehistoric globe. We have come a long way (all the way from the southern hemisphere).
Very, very slowly.
Fortunately, political plate tectonics move more quickly then their geological equivalent.
That morning, the morning after the referendum, I stood at the top of the stairs at about 5am (because that’s where I collided with my husband on his way to search for Euros stashed in out of the way places – he was on his way to Paris to watch Wales against Ireland). I stood and I stared in disbelief at my twitter feed.
And I felt the earth move under my feet.
I feel that I can share this with you, because whether you are Cardiff too, or not, you won’t have forgotten that we voted to stay, along with the Vale of Glamorgan, and Ceredigion, Gwynedd and Monmouthshire.
Since then, a lot of other bonkers stuff has happened.
And some of this bonkers stuff, as did Brexit, has brought us out on the streets of Cardiff, in our thousands.
We have marched in solidarity with women all over the world.
We have marched in solidarity with refugees, migrants, people of colour, and any and all the people that Trump is looking for ways to oppress.
We have marched against austerity.
We have sung ‘Hen wlad fy nhadau’, and waved banners in anger, resistance, compassion and defiance. We have done this for the oppressed everywhere.
But there is something weird missing.
Where are the voices at these marches, linking all of these themes to the nature of Wales as a Nation? To a discussion about what we do next? Where is the passionate, articulate leadership standing up for Wales and what we believe in, in the face of those who are desecrating our values, in our name, on our behalf?
Not long after Brexit, after the Tories went in hard against immigration at their conference back in October last year, the hashtag #wearewales/#niywcymru was trending briefly. It served as a focal point for reaching out, expressing postivity, inclusivity, love and compassion in the face of hate and blame. People from all over Wales declared the value that friends, neighbours, colleagues and family members from all over the world bring to their local communities in Wales.
What next for these sentiments?
If we as a Nation, and we as a Capital City, reject the divisive, hate filled tone of the political discourse that led to Brexit, and that has surged since, then what does this mean for Wales? What are we going to do about it?
Its not enough to show that we abhor racism, sexism, homophobic, transphobic and other hate filled speech. We need to build an alternative narrative, advocate for an alternative civic identity in Wales that embraces all Wales’ people, regardless of where they come from. And it’s hard to do that if we aren’t willing to have a proper conversation about Wales. If we don’t have the conversation about Nationhood, and identity, and what it means to the way people feel, to live in a state-less Nation, then we will surely just be lost to the vacuous, bile-filled, post-truth, other-blaming culture that has permeated so insidiously throughout Westminster Politics.
I know deep down that it is time for people in Wales to wake up and stand up for what we believe in. And I see those around me starting to express the same thoughts, and start asking the same sorts of questions about what we want life in Wales to be like in the future.
So getting back to that view, it’s time for us to decide in Cardiff, whether we are just another UK city.
Or are we really a Capital City, that would be the capital of the Nation State of Wales, proud of all it’s people, valuing them equally? What does it mean to be a Welsh City, and how do we express that?
Are we ready to march for something?
So since my moment of ‘something crossing over in me’, rather than going on the run from the law, holding up a gas station and sleeping with Brad Pitt, I have been Chairing meetings of Yes Caerdydd.
Less rock ‘n roll, but not without it’s challenges (I’m pretty sure it won’t involve setting fire to any petrol tankers, but I remain hopeful).
As well as chairing meetings, I’ve also been involved in organising rallies, street stalls, film showings and other events, along with a growing band of rebel freedom fighters (well, they are all pretty normal blokes actually, and lately some women too…)
A lot of the people that come along to Yes Caerdydd meetings are like me, kind of newly woken up. We appeal to those we call ‘indycurious’. Many have been around in the movement for many years, but this is the first time (for a long time at least) that there is something really tangible happening. There are people meeting, and talking about what Wales’ future might be, what it could be if we were independent.
It’s exciting. People give great feedback like:
‘Now that’s what I call a meeting’
‘I always leave Yes Caerdydd meetings feeling inspired…’
I can’t claim any credit for that, it’s about who you have in the room, and we have great people.
And it’s about the topic, of course… which is.. inspiring.
These are people that want to make a positive change. Some are political in other ways, some not. Some were born in Wales, some weren’t. We have had nearly all political parties represented so far. There are radicals amongst us (if you can call wanting a fair, just society and an economy that works for everyone, radical) and some big questions. For instance whether we need to challenge some of our fundamental economic assumptions.
There are things that not everyone agrees on, of course.
So we have embarked on a journey together, and it’s very early days.
But things are happening in this city. Maybe you feel it already, or maybe not yet, but there’s something out there….
There is a very volatile mix of fear, anger, hope and frustration. There is defiance, and outrage, and friendship and imagination. And if those things mix in the right proportions, then very interesting things begin to happen indeed.
And in the meantime I am curious, curious to see what the view from my bedroom window will look like next year. In five years. In ten.
What will this view of Cardiff look like in 2033, when my daughter, our youngest, turns eighteen?
Will there be meaningful work? What will that look like? Will Wales still be described as poor?
Who will have inherited Cardiff, will it be the developers?
Will we still have European friends in our neighbourhood, or will we have driven them away?
Will we still live alongside our Muslim brothers and sisters, or will we have barricaded ourselves behind a wall of fear?
Will we choose to do something now, that will make this view a better one?
I hope so.
Yes Caerdydd are holding an open meeting this Thursday the 23rd of March, from 8pm, upstairs in the Tiny Rebel (formerly Urban Taphouse) on Westgate Street.
Come along if you are curious.
You can follow Yes Caerdydd on FaceBook and twitter @yescaerdydd