A while ago I was asked to participate in the campaign by the towns branch of the Fawcett Society to encourage young women to engage with politics and vote. I am proud to be a part of it but remain frustrated by the apparent ease by which the anti voting argument appears to shout loudly and more successfully.
The loss of faith in politicians goes some way towards explaining why figures like Russell Brand’s advice not to vote gained traction among the politically aware and disillusioned.
The trouble is, people like Brand ARE the establishment, no matter what he thinks: his money and fame insulate him from the effects of governmental decisions to an enormous degree. He has direct access to powerful people in order to petition them with his wants and beliefs, reducing his need to vote to assert his political will. His voice penetrates. Ours does not. And if the election results do not suit him, Brand can simply up sticks and fly off to another clime, or climb into that black Range Rover he has been photographed driving to avoid the political climate he failed to vote for. He totally ignores the fact that not voting means you have even less of a voice. You become a political ghost.
Social and economic justice was completely absent from the lives of those Suffragettes when they started campaigning for the right to vote: they couldn’t have been any more disenfranchised from the political system if they had tried. They had nothing to lose, thus negating the argument that a lack of agency and power means an inability to influence politics so why bother? Our political system was even more hidebound then – totally white, male and upper class and pretty plutocratic, to boot. But they did it and yes, it took longer than you think.
The Suffragettes’ desire for social justice was predicated upon resistance, protest and awareness that they had a struggle ahead of them but most importantly they also took responsibility for their own education in all matters political. They knew they had to redress the imbalance caused by the withholding of political education so they provided this to the women they encountered as they campaigned across the country, often to women who had been forced to cease formal education before their teens. And by doing this they empowered the men too.
This then, is what we should learn from and take responsibility for.
The ideal political state is one where there is a constant and lively public debate across all media, in schools, workplaces and homes.
Often the big beasts of politics suck the air from the subject, allowing their less pleasant habits and behaviours to distort what it is really about– the local, the regional, what happens to us in our daily lives and how we establish relationships with other people.
I refuse to believe that there is a whole generation so profoundly disinterested in what happens to them with regards to this; rather I think we have allowed politics to detach itself from the everyday. We fail our younger people if we do not help them to become active in community life, to understand how decisions are made which affect them and how they in turn can bring their influence to bear.
I strongly believe that in doing this, we make those first baby steps towards a more empowered and interactive electorate.
Focusing on local politics need not mean we regress back to the parochial and self interested. Look at how many events across the region involve charitable or social acts with international reach – our vision is brought to bear to make things better for others. We see our borough and county councils collaborating more with younger voices but are we making it clear enough to them that this is a deeply political act?
I accept that direct action with rather more immediate results can inoculate us against the seemingly tedious slowness of national politics but this need not be so. Encouraging people (and especially women who live in a world that is stacked against them at every level) to see that the will of the people can be fruitful is all part of this.
Back in the day we had to wait days for news to arrive via the scrap metal merchant or via newspapers brought by horse and cart, yet people managed to inform themselves. Nowadays we have no excuse with the whole world unfolding on our screens. There are plenty of websites that offer clear and versatile information about politics – the problem we have to solve is how to influence people to want to learn and get stuck in and it starts with the everyday bread and butter stuff.