Today would have been Jo Cox’s 42nd birthday. A few days after her devastating death, we are gathering around the world, from London to Washington to Aleppo to Darayya, to celebrate Jo’s life, her warmth, love, passion, flair, and her belief in the humanity of every person in every place.
Phil Bloomer is the Executive Director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. He was previously the Campaigns and Policy Director at Oxfam Great Britain.
Jo was one of the most kind, caring, and committed people I have had the privilege to know.
But she could also make herself a right royal pain in the backside if she profoundly disagreed with you: a lesson many political leaders learnt too late, and to their cost.
I first met Jo when she was fresh out of university, when she worked for Glenys Kinnok, a European Member of Parliament Jo would engage me in conversation as I waited for the Minister – often about the appalling nature of my clashing ties, but always about what was happening in the world around us. Jo could chat to anyone – even me.
That’s because Jo loved people: she was cheeky, with a dry, sardonic humor, often aimed at herself. She could happily spend hours playing with refugee children in a camp, or engaging rather la-di-da intelligentsia in an international think tank. It’s also why Jo, with her husband Brendan, spent their summer holidays working with war orphans in Sarajevo.
But wherever Jo was, she was always herself. Authentic. I never saw her put on airs and graces, nor speak down to anyone.
Jo was also fearless. Or at least could make herself appear to be when it mattered. In the early 2000s, Jo was in her late 20s, and looked about 17. She had a very broad Yorkshire accent yet was unanimously appointed to the Head of Oxfam’s Brussels office, due to the power of her intellect, persuasion, and passion.
Jo loved justice. She felt it in her guts.
Her experience as a working class northern lass at a Cambridge college helped her realize that our society was profoundly unequal in power, assets, income, and life chances. She saw how privilege is replicated by an elite from one generation to the next.
Jo also understood how power works and how to speak truth to power with carrots and sticks to make them act with greater humanity. She was moved almost too much by the suffering she saw while working in Darfur, and devoted years of her life to help refugees. In 2007, she organized a visit of eight global women leaders to Darfur, including parliamentarians and African economists led by former Irish President Mary Robinson. After the emotional trip, Jo then organized a tour of the world’s capitals to put maximum international pressure on the regime in Khartoum from Washington DC, London, Paris, Brussels, and Berlin.
And finally, Jo loved love. Jo knew in her bones its transforming power, perhaps because she came from a loving family, and a close working class community in Leeds. Jo loved her kids –three and five years old – with the same furious passion, dashing home from Parliament to tuck them into bed at night, before dashing back for another late night vote.
Love also inspired Jo’s politics. When she made her first speech as a Member of Parliament, she spoke to that love when she said “while we celebrate our diversity, we are far more united, and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”
Jo’s politics embodied the great words of Martin Luther King, also a victim of political murder: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
That was how Jo conducted herself, at Oxfam, at other organizations she worked for, and as a Member of Parliament.
In reaction to Jo’s death, Mary Robinson said, “A light can shine through when it has the integrity of everything Jo lived for.”
It is up to all of us to make sure that happens.