Saturday, 9 May 2015

The morning after the night before

I stayed up all night on Thursday. It made for a fairly depressing night of television viewing . With my facebook friends clearly not being an accurate reflection of the views of the nation, there was much doom and gloom by early Friday morning. It would have been easy for those of us who would describe ourselves as "left" to fall into a depressed inertia or wallow in the self-pity of wondering why everyone else couldn't just think like us. It was to remind myself, as well as others, that I wrote 
So a depressing election night draws to a close ... But politics doesn't just happen once every five years, it happens every day: in creative action, in voices speaking out about what they believe, in changing hearts and minds. So I will not cry into my morning cup of tea, I will aspire to go out and continue with the real politics I and others can believe in. because boy will there be work to be done!
I know I am extremely lucky to be able to be involved in lots of things about which I am really passionate. So for me, that real politics began on Friday morning when I had the privilege of helping facilitate a mock election among the students I teach at St Chad's Sanctuary. Their insights and ideas were just the inspiration I needed at that moment.

Beginning with a discussion of the necessary qualities of a leader, none of them, funnily enough, mentioned being photogenic or media-savvy. Instead they called for those who are honest, promote justice, have faith in the new generation, are good diplomats, are fair, want human rights, are "strong but also kind" and, in a tell-tale sign of other experiences who are "able to pass the power to others in a good way". 

Fourteen students from Iran, Eritrea, Congo, Sudan, Guinea and Syria formed four political parties. They wrote their manifesto, trained up their candidate, presented their ideas and voted for the new prime minister. Any of them could have got my vote.

As this was going on, there was plenty of opportunity for discussion: about policies and the things they hold dear, but also about political experience and what it means. My Congolese student who had previously told me "I don't like elections because too many people died" was clearly in his element presenting his vision for an alternative. The Sudanese students reflected on whether the situation in their country, where opposition parties are allowed to exist even if the endemic corruption and violence means they are never elected, is perhaps slightly better than the experience of their Eritrean classmates, where all opposition groups are completely outlawed.

Relatively limited English didn't prevent them choosing policies which encompassed big themes. They were a reminder of how often our politics, bogged down in  minutiae and personalities, forgets to communicate the principles and values we ought to hold most dear. In spite of hesitant English and evident nerves, they presented their ideas with clarity and passion.

For all  of them, peace, justice and human rights were significant priorities. They spoke of their desires to stop all wars, to make friendship between different countries, to allow people to have different opinions, to value people's culture and religion and identity. They spoke of the need for economic development, suggested a higher minimum wage, better training and more jobs. They campaigned for affordable food for all. Education figured prominently, with calls for free, better quality education for all, and specific mentions of the need to educate girls in Africa. Access to free healthcare, medical centres in villages, better care for the disabled and more doctors and nurses were all mentioned. 

While lots of their ideas were clearly borne out of personal experience,it was refreshingly evident that these were not self-interested ideas seeking only what was best for themselves, but that they encompassed a vision of a better world being possible. One party even named themselves the "New Vision Party." "We will help all other people and other countries who don't have what we have" promised the young Eritrean woman who was eventually elected.

Sadly they are not allowed to vote and influence who is in power in Westminster. But as long as there are voices which dare to believe in a different vision, there is hope for our "politics" yet.

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