Photos of me as an activist: from my first demonstration against tuition fees in Leeds, 2010 aged 16, marching for refugees in Burgos, Spain 2015 aged 21, marching against Trump in Barcelona 2017 aged 22, canvassing for the Green Party for the elections in Sheffield, 2017 aged 22, collecting signatures for Amnesty in Berlin, 2017 aged 23.
It is surprising to see that whilst a lot has changed in between these photos, a lot hasn’t. My hair is still messy. I’m still passionately left wing, although my political party alignment has shifted back and forth between Labour and the Green Party. My first march was for myself, and my current £50,000+ debt because I pursued higher education. But since then I have marched for cuts affecting everyone in the UK, for refugee rights, and for women’s rights not just my own.
I love being an activist. Being on a march is electric – you feed off the optimism and energy of everyone around you, as you unite for a cause you believe in. Collecting money or signatures for a cause makes you sharpen your arguments and answers to questions thrown at you. Even (and this is equally a just as important form of activism, for those unable to get out, or for rainy days) sitting in bed on my laptop, signing petitions or sending emails makes me realise how important it is for activism to exist, and how lucky I am – despite my student debt and being objectified for having a vagina. You don’t know if what you do will have an affect, or change someone’s life. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. You can only try.
For me, activism is about optimism and passion.
I was reading an interview with one of my all-time favourite musicians, Frank Turner. In the interview his (classical liberal) politics get brought up and he says:
“My politics is liberal, which means I am not particularly in favour of an activist state or an activist government. So, if you are in a situation where the government is not able to do much, I generally think that it is good…A government tends to accrue power to itself and uses it for its own end. It’s much better when people and parties interact with each other (to resolve issues) at an individual level. People reaching out to each other, helping each other out and building communities is more important and interesting than state intervention and action.”
I have loads of respect for Frank Turner, he has intelligent reasons for his views. I don’t have to agree with him to still love his music, which is good because I completely disagree.
Sure, most governments end up working in their best interests solely to keep themselves in power. But this is precisely why we need an activist state – to keep them in check and call out any corruption etc. A democracy needs activism for it to be a democratic state, so that the general public have their say not just during elections. And I don’t see how people helping one another cannot exist side by side with activism. A laissez-faire attitude only works if you have the material means, but not everybody does. They not only need help from within their community, but from the state.
And if a government is proactive in changing the world, rather than offering a stagnated standard of living, I’m all for that.
For ages I refused to align myself with a specific political party, and even now, as a Green Party member, I will openly support Labour when I think they’re doing a good job or something better than the Greens. But, even with criticism of the Greens, I find it exciting to be involved with a political party which looks at the far off future, rather than just the near future.
Reading Owen Jones’s beautiful and heartfelt tribute to his dad, made me reflect on my own activism. And how I came to it. I didn’t grow up in an environment of politics and activism. Every view I have, has been a journey of self-discovery. From taking an A-Level in Government and Politics because I knew nothing and wanted to learn, to my Master’s degree in International Relations (and still feeling like I have a lot to learn), I have discovered my socialist beliefs, and a desire to put my privilege to use for a better world.
It was poignant to read how support for Labour has passed down from generation to generation. And I can sympathise with the persisting support of Labour, remembering all they have achieved and all they wish to achieve. But even though people dismiss the Greens for being a small party, it makes me wonder if this is the time, and it will be my generation, or the next, that will help push the Greens into mainstream politics. Labour represented the marginalised in the past, but in the modern era it is often the Greens pushing forward the issues which desperately need addressing, such as LGBTQAI+ rights and climate change, as well as a wide range of social issues.
If I ever have children, I would take care to not force my own views down their throat. But, like Owen Jones did, I would love for them to grow up socially conscious. If I have a life partner, I would love if he and I were to stand side by side for causes we believe in. At the very least, we’d need generally the same left-wing views (but not be afraid to contest and debate). Or if it’s just me, I’ll be holding the placards up for as long as my lupus induced arthritis will let me.
To be an activist is to not just want a better world for all, but to work towards achieving it. Whether it’s for your local community, for your nation, for strangers, or for the world – nothing is achieved just by complaining.