East Croydon Cool talks…Activism

East Croydon Cool talks… is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. With New Year’s Resolutions high on the agenda (as well as the impending B word), we spoke with local young activist, Georgia Walters.

What does Activism mean to you?
To me, activism means doing something. It means trying to change the world in whatever way I can, no matter how big or small my actions are.

At what age and how did you start to get involved?
I have always been very loudly feminist in my beliefs, probably since my preteens – so from a young age I’ve been vocal about my beliefs. In terms of political activism, I first got involved with Labour Campaigning a couple of weeks before the 2017 general election. I was newly 17. It may have been the middle of my AS exams, but I felt like I needed to do something tangible to make a proper difference. I signed up to distribute leaflets to commuters at Sandilands tram stop. It was about as grassroots – and soggy – as campaigning gets. Trying to hand leaflets to commuters in a torrential downpour isn’t exactly the best start to being an activist. But it was a start all the same!

During year 13, I devoted free periods and weekends to Labour campaigning. I’ve done two election days (GE 2017 and the 2018 Locals) and they’re so much fun to me! The aching feet after hours of canvassing are well worth it. I also worked on an EPQ – an extended project worth half an A Level, where you’re allowed to research whatever you want. I decided to research LGBT-inclusive learning. Throughout secondary school, my self-esteem was affected by the fact that I couldn’t see myself in what I was being taught. History, sex education, English syllabuses, and the general environment around me was heteronormative. I hardly knew gay people existed. I produced a dissertation exploring why LGBT identities are neglected in the classroom, and how we can continue to improve the situation. I’ve just sent my dissertation to educators and activists of all backgrounds, in the hopes that it’s a good resource to refer to when trying to improve inclusive learning in the future.

And on top of that, I love the odd protest, even if it’s not as much of a direct action. My first one was the NCAFC (National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts) student demonstration. More recently, like half of London, I was waving a placard against Donald Trump in Trafalgar Square…

But activism doesn’t have to be dissertation writing or placard waving! I’d consider small-scale efforts to be activism too – from homeless shelter/library donations, to refusing single-use plastic, and thrifting clothes to combat consumerism.

How is everything you do connected?
I do a lot of seemingly fragmented stuff: the odd labour campaign, a dissertation on education, and smaller scale charity stuff. I think it’s all tied together by a contempt for the Tories.

Okay, I want to be funny about it – but seriously! I probably shouldn’t get too party-political here, but everything I do is a response to something that has been caused – or worsened – by the Conservative party.

I started campaigning because I was sick of being too young to vote, when I had opinions that mattered. I wrote my dissertation because LGBT people still aren’t represented in schools – a lasting effect of Section 28 (legislation introduced under Thatcher). And I donate stuff whenever I can because I can see funding cut impacts in schools and in homelessness stats.

Do you think today’s generation are more politically and socially engaged than previous generations?
I live in a bubble, working and hanging out with people who are likeminded. So initially, I read this question and instantly thought of friends like Ellen Jones (a previous Stonewall Young Campaigner) and awesome people like Dan who organises Croydon Youth Labour. I know (and follow) so many people in my generation who are doing incredible things.
I think young people are becoming increasingly socially engaged, because social media exposes us to inequalities around us, and that drives us to do something. But at the same time, not everyone is a doer. There’s so much apathy.

This generation is definitely aware, but I don’t think we’re fully engaged. We’ll retweet that Blue Planet clip, then buy a plastic-contained takeaway. We’ll give spare change to the homeless, but probably won’t volunteer at a shelter. We’ll express our political views, but won’t go as far as canvassing and campaigning.

Obviously that’s a sweeping generalisation. There are so many amazing young people making meaningful impacts. But rather than simply praise that, I think I’ve got to point out that we could be doing so much more. I could be doing so much more.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t vote? (to persuade them it is worthwhile)
Vote for others, as much as you’re voting for yourself. For everyone doing well under this government, there are perhaps dozens who are struggling, or in poverty. Everyone knows that. It’s on the news every day. Free school meals and holiday hunger; homelessness levels; food bank usage. It’s easy to skim read the newspaper, become desensitised, not bother voting because you haven’t seen it with your own eyes. But you really can help to change things like that.

I know you’re tired on your train back from work, on the average election day… but an extra five-minute walk to your polling station is well worth it in the long run. 😊

I think a lot of people don’t vote because they think a single vote won’t make a difference. Croydon Central is such a good example where Labour only lost in the 2015 election by 165 votes. There were undoubtedly more Croydon Labour supporters who decided not to vote that day. If they had, we would’ve had Sarah as our MP for much longer than we already have – and probably wouldn’t have such a dire funding situation in our schools. (Thanks, Gavin).

Also, voting is something we often take for granted. We’re so lucky to be able to peacefully walk to a polling station, let alone cross that ballot.

What do you see as the biggest social issues affecting younger people today?
School funding. Over the last four years studying in Croydon, I’ve become hyperaware of cuts to schools. Even what seems like a small issue can have such a devastating ripple affect. A lack of adequate funding for resources can disrupt a child’s education or limit their opportunities to an extent we often don’t realise.

There are struggles to afford senior teachers, or even enough SEN and sanitary staff -something Sarah Jones MP highlighted in her research on school cuts. I definitely experienced the under-staffing issues for myself last year.

Creative subjects have suffered so much. There was always a running joke in my school about there never being any glue sticks in the art department. At times, it was often because we genuinely couldn’t afford them.

And after talking to school libraries in the borough, I’ve learned that many have had their budgets slashed. It’s often difficult to afford new books and keep the library updated and appealing for today’s young people. I’ve tried to combat that as much as I can, donating a few hundred teen novels to my school’s library. If anyone wants to do that, by the way, and doesn’t have a connection with a school – please check out the Book Buddy charity!

Has there been a rise in Community activism?
Though most of my Labour campaigning has been in Croydon, I don’t think I’ve been involved long enough to see a rise! But over the last year I’ve definitely been learning about more and more fantastic community projects – such as Croydon Nightwatch.

Do you think the Instagram generation are more keen on being seen as socially conscious than being socially conscious?
Mmm. Yes and no.

Thinking about myself, I’m keen on being equally seen and being socially conscious. I big up things on Twitter because as wonderful as it is to do things, I think it’s also important to promote causes. Leading by example n all that!

For instance, every time I donated to my school library, I’d tweet a photo of the books. It’d often generate a few conversations, lots of retweets. Up to a thousand engagements. And in turn, at least a few people have contacted schools to donate some books.

So for me at least, I am keen to be seen as a socially conscious person. I’m cautious about overstepping into bragging about the stuff I do on social media. It does look like I’m desperately trying to paint a good image of myself. But, well, I am doing good things. And if that inspires one person on my social media, then it’s worth it.

As long as you’re not doing it for the likes, or the retweets – POST AWAY! Get involved with your community. And tell people what you’re doing. It does wonders. Whether it’s changing an older person’s perception about young people, or encouraging others to take action – you’re doing good.

To learn more about Georgia, visit her website.

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