Today, thousands of friends and family of Jo Cox gathered in Trafalgar Square to celebrate her life.
I had never met Jo but she was a close friend of a number of my friends and we had corresponded over email on how to stop the bombing in Syria and to deliver humanitarian aid to the civilians affected there. And we had both supported the nomination for the Nobel peace prize of the White Helmets — unarmed Syrian volunteers who have been digging people out of rubble, providing first aid, rushing the wounded to hospitals and giving victims burials.
At Trafalgar Square on Wednesday, the head of the White Helmets had flown in from Syria to honor Jo. Malala Yousafzai was also there, describing how Jo had been a champion for women and children. Malala also noted that after she had been shot by the Taliban and needed a refuge, it was Britain who had taken her in. Representatives of the archbishop of Canterbury, the Jewish community, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Hindu Council of Britain, and the humanist association all took the stage together.
Speaker after speaker described how Jo made each and every one of us want to be a better person and to do more for others. She was a campaigner, an activist, a politician. She had such compassion for all including the disadvantaged and immigrant communities. She truly believed that we achieve far more together than we can alone.
Her husband, Brendan, asked that Jo’s death lead to something good in the world. He said that if she had been alive today, she would be rushing around campaigning for people to vote to remain in Europe as she hated the idea of building walls between people. Jo wanted the world to be a better place. She believed in tolerance and respect, and spoke out against extremism. Her killing, he said, was an “act of terror” designed to promote hatred. The man who murdered her last Thursday in her home town in Yorkshire did so because he opposed her political views.
Children from Jo son’s class came on to the stage to sing “If I Had a Hammer.” They were white, black, and brown — the faces of modern Britain. And the crowd joined in with them hammering out the call for justice and freedom.
Jo’s favorite musical song was “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and the cast of Les Miserables took to the stage to sing it for her, for us, for Britain, and for the world.
Jo was the best of British in her values, her activism and her internationalism. She made the world a better place. In her maiden speech in parliament she noted that we all have so much in common, that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. Jo lived for her beliefs — and died for them. And as we grieve her death, we commit to taking forward her legacy, to hope and not to fear, to love and not to hate. We all — in the most unBritish fashion — joined hands, sobbing and laughing, held our arms up high, and committed to “love like Jo.”
Emma Sky is Director of Yale World Fellows, a British expert on the Middle East and former U.S. political advisor.