Alice Carder | Contributing Writer | Monday, 13 July 2015

Ask An Adult: What is an Activist?

Meet The New Female Activists

The Debrief: Suddenly found yourself signing up to anti-austerity Facebook groups, attending marches and signing petitions against the budget? You're part of the new generation of young female activists that have emerged since the General Election

I sat in the bath and cried until the water turned cold the morning of the election. I felt defeated. Five more years in a country where the rich get richer and everyone else pays the price. Five more years in a city where my landlord can put the rent up to whatever they want, whenever they want. Where the number of young people living on the streets continues to rise and children are forced to eat from food banks or starve. All the while banks get handed fat sums of tax payer pounds in bailouts and multi-billion pound corporations get let off from paying their taxes. 

Brought up by my single mum, during the Conservatives’ last reign, I instinctively knew things were about to get a lot worse for working class women in particular. This was a feeling not disproved by George Osborne’s budget announced last week, which, in the words of the Women’s Budget Group, will ‘redistribute money from the purse to the wallet’.

‘The majority of people losing from cuts to tax credits (£5.8bn a year by 2020) will be women and the majority of people gaining from rising tax thresholds (£1.5bn a year by 2020) will be men,’ explains Professor Diane Elson, Essex University and Chair of the Women’s Budget Group. ‘A benefit system is a necessary part of providing economic security, especially for people with caring responsibilities.’ 

Faced with the choice between immediate and irreversible depression at such unscrupulous injustice, or direct action, I went for the latter. And that's how I became an activist. I am not alone, thousands of women have been spurred into activism since the election, with one group Amazing Lefty Women Working Together to Make Things Better gaining 22,138 members since May 7th. 

It’s not a term I'd have used to describe myself before the election, but then as Rebecca Vincent a 30-year-old tattoo artist and mum puts it, ‘In today’s world an activist is just a normal person who gives a shit.’

After the election I felt bereaved, like someone had died. I was told I was over reacting, but I knew deep down things were about to get a lot worse for a lot of people.

Rebecca is one of thousands of women across the country who have been spurred into activism since May 7th. ‘After the election I felt bereaved, like someone had died,’ Rebecca says. ‘I was told I was over reacting, but I knew deep down things were about to get a lot worse for a lot of people.’

Rebecca started volunteering for a food bank, collects sanitary wear for a women’s refuge and is on a waiting list to become a visitor of the elderly. ‘I’m very lucky. I’m self employed and busy. My husband is the same, and our daughter never has to worry about her next meal. So many people don’t have that right, and it disgusts me. I want to help those who need it and show my daughter these ethics. When I was a child, my family lost everything, it’s the same for my husband. Now I take my daughter to marches. We’re an activist family.’

Rebecca Pattinson, a 29-year-old social media design manager was so uninterested in politics before this election she stayed in bed nursing a hangover the first time she was eligible to vote. ‘My attitude was how can one vote make a difference? So I sacked it off.’ 

I’m a girl from Liverpool and I work in Hackney –  they're two of the poorest areas in Britain and the proposed cuts are going to devastate these communities

‘This time round, I’ve realised you can’t be complacent when you’re unhappy with your government. The current government need to be reminded that they have won their position by a tiny minority and they have a population to answer to, not just their Eton peers. To get all Mathematical on you, only 37% of voters went for them and yet they have 50% of the seats in parliament and ALL of the power. So there’s 63% of voters who don’t agree with the current political situation.’

Rebecca attended the People’s Assembly Anti-Austerity March in June: ’It sounds wanky, but I felt that I had a duty to attend. I don't agree at all with the proposed cuts that the Tory government want to make. I'm a girl from Liverpool and I work in Hackney - once you strip away the wags and the hipsters from these places, you realise they're two of the poorest areas in Britain and the proposed cuts are going to devastate these communities.'

‘I was so nervous when I turned up to the protest - I heard the phrase "Kettling" beforehand a few times and it didn't sound too pleasant, but within 20 minutes I found myself marching and dancing alongside a samba band and laughing at the most inventive and funny protest signs I'd ever seen.’

Never considering herself an activist before, but devastated by the election results and determined to be heard, Rachael Eyton a 27-year-old health food co-op member and quad skater from Sheffield, travelled to London to take part in the same march. 

‘Protests make me feel like I’m doing something. They let me know I’m not alone. The sense of community is amazing, I feel connected with people across the country who are all taking similar action. I believe we need to be part of the solution, be the change we want to see in the world. Together people have so much power and we need to get organised to affect change in this country. Mostly we need to question everything, don’t believe the lies we're fed by the tories and by the media. Austerity is a lie and we don't have to put up with it.'

This year I've really started to look into the holes of the establishment, I've climbed in, had a good look around, and now I can't get out.

Nicole Latchana a 24-year-old video editor and writer attended her first ever protest just last week: ’I've always questioned what I've been told and this year I've really started to look into the holes of the establishment, I've climbed in, had a good look around, and now I can't get out. I realise that we are living in lies and I will never be able to forget that. I watched the unfolding of the budget speech and tried to pick my jaw up from the ground. I felt compelled to join the protest in Parliament Square in the hope of soothing my frustration in some way.

‘There was a real sense of togetherness [at the protest]. I no longer felt like a minority in my views.  I felt I could approach anybody and they would be a friend because our core values were aligned.  I got the feeling that if someone needed help, they'd get it. It gave me a vivid picture of what the world could be like.’ 

All over Facebook groups are popping up with women like me and you sharing ideas and organising. But whilst social media is a powerful tool, it is easy to get caught in a feedback loop which distorts your perception of what’s really going on. It takes stepping away from the screen to see that real change happens in real life.

‘I was feeling pretty excited before the election,’ Rebecca Pattinson says, ‘There was a real buzz happening online - this American 'Yes We Can' sort of attitude was occurring on my social feeds and I felt sure that we were going to see a real shake up in Government which I welcomed. 

Alice Carder

‘I stayed up until 3am waiting for the result and was shocked to my core when the BBC called it. I remember thinking 'Are people really this stupid? Have they not been paying attention for the past 4 years? Do they really want this to carry on?' And then I realised what I'd been seeing online wasn't the big picture and I was the stupid one for just assuming that the country was going to change because a few left wingers had willed it on Facebook.’

‘Activism seems to be a common topic of conversation now,’ Rachael Eyton says ‘My Facebook feed is full of people raising awareness of various issues and petitions. But for me activism needs to be real life. Find out who your MP is and talk to them, donate to local charities, support your local foodbanks, businesses and cooperatives, set up your own project.'

Rebecca Vincent agrees ‘I'm annoyed I didn't do more earlier. It's not difficult or time consuming, it’s easy because you care. I was surprised at that. I’ve made friends with people I’d never have otherwise met. I’e found out about areas of our community I never knew existed. People are continually bringing new information to the table and I feel like I am learning all the time. It feels great.’

‘If I meet people who want to get involved, but are worried it’s not for them, I just show them the facts. I show them how things are going to be for others. It's not about doing what's right for you, it's about doing what's right for our society.’

People are continually bringing new information to the table and I feel like I am learning all the time. It feels great

‘The election results riled me up so much that it awakened something in me,’ Rebecca Pattinson says, ‘I’m scared of this government and what they have planned for our society, but I’m not scared to have a view anymore. I used to be worried about my political views not aligning with my family’s or my friends and was shy about having an opinion on things when I knew other people knew way more about politics than me. Now I've realised that doesn't matter. It's up to me to educate myself about our current political situation. People are going to disagree with me, my opinions are going to rock the boat, but you know what - bring it on.’

What do all of us women have in common? We are empowered. Our actions are aligned with our thoughts and feelings about what kind of world we want to live in and the more we do the more we want to do. Unless you're David Cameron scrapping trident and banning fracking for good, nobody can save the world. But activism isn't about being a superhero, it's about putting those feelings you have, the ones that say 'hang on this isn't right, that isn't fair, I don't want people to suffer unnecessarily', into action. Besides just think of all those lovely endorphins you'll get knowing you did something good today. 

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

Unhappy With The Election? Leaving The Country Won't Fix Anything

What Were The Women's Hour Power List Doing In Their Twenties?

Simon Cowell Wants To Turn British Politics Into X Factor Gone Wild

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Tags: Politics