Here come the girls… with women all across the world taking to the streets to join in political demonstrations, our resident news hound and political girl wonder, Elisa Colton has been reflecting on the impact of this new era in feminism, and what we can all do to make our voices heard.
It must have been one of the first days in a good few months that I’ve logged on to twitter and not been thoroughly depressed by the news. Instead of violence, hatred and bitterness my newsfeed was filled with photos of women marching for progress. Almost out of nowhere a huge progressive movement became visible. Throughout the world women (and men) took to the streets to protest about the election of Donald Trump to the White House. A day after his dreary inauguration and his graceless inaugural speech this was a blast of euphoria, a shining example of hope not hate. The sight of hundreds of thousands gathering in cities from Paris, to Barcelona, to Accra in Ghana, to Anchorage in Alaska, Kolkata in India, and Phoenix, Arizona brought a lump to my throat and a pricking behind my eyes. And if this sounds dramatic, or laced with too much emotion, then contemplate the very real progress that women have made across the world in the last few decades and then contemplate how easily that could be taken away through draconian legislation passed by a demagogue who surfed to power on a wave of hatred and the fear of a changing, and more equal, society. A key part of Trump’s administration will be efforts to overturn Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court ruling which has protected abortion rights since 1973. That’s 43 years ago. Is that really the era conservative Americans want to return to?
This exasperation was evident last Saturday. One sign read ‘I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit’, held aloft by a woman in her late sixties who had clearly been part of the huge equal rights movement in the 60s and 70s. In the UK three women dressed as suffragettes reminded us of the sacrifices made by our mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers for the privileges we have now. Our country has a glorious tradition of protest marches. It has made us into the peaceful, stable democracy we are today. We should be so proud of that and honour the memory of those who marched before us, for us.
Many wondered why women in Liverpool, or Manchester, or London, or Bristol were marching about the presidency of Donald Trump. How can it possibly make a difference to their political system? But it’s really not about that. The march was a sign of solidarity, a way to say to those who live in another country we’ve got your back and it’s not ok for your government to enact legislation that will make your life worse. And as well as moral support against the general grimness of a socially backward US presidency, and the borderline fascistic movements spreading across Europe, it’s about telling our own lawmakers that won’t stand for it here in Britain. That we will not put up with it. Some commentators slammed the women’s marches at the weekend, saying they don’t and won’t amount to change. Well the kernel of every political change has started with protest at the status quo. If you’re inspired to do more, and to prove those stuffy old (often male) commentators wrong then here’s how to go about it.
March, march, and keep marching.
These boots were made for walking…. the streets alongside hundreds of thousands of other like-minded individuals, calling for change. Numbers make the news, so adding your presence to swell the crowd does make a difference. Coverage in the news means politicians sit up and take note. Write a witty placard, and get the kids involved. News photographers love getting pictures of cute children taking part in a march, and the image reminds those in power that they should care about future generations. Go live on Facebook in the midst of a march. Tweet all your followers what you’re up to. Some may be surprised or doubtful, some may get the motivation they need to get out there and join you. Marching is powerful, plus it’s fun, even when it’s freezing cold.
Find your cause.
For every person who held up a ‘not usually a banner kind of person, but geez’ or ‘I’m a bit cross’ there were others who had a specific cause to raise. For many reproductive rights were an issue, even though in England Scotland and Wales women are able to get contraceptive services, including abortions (although this is still not the case in Northern Ireland). Others highlighted climate change and the lack of any significant progress being made to ensure our children’s children will inherit a clean planet. For others the gender pay gap, still an issue for so many of us, was forefront. Whatever the cause if there’s something you feel passionately about then chances are others feel the same way. Do some research, find a pressure group and join them. Add your voice to theirs and give them your hard-earned cash so they can lobby for your cause.
Write to your MP.
This is the easiest way to directly access politics, and you can do it in about 15 minutes. In our political system MPs have to act on the best interests of their constituents, but most of the time they have to guess what that is because no one tells them what the problems are. Write a letter or email to them. It make a difference. Address them politely, naturally, but let them know how you feel about an issue, and why it negatively affects you. They must respond. Some will just tow the party line, but if there are enough letters sent to an MP they start to get worried they’re ignoring a big issue. If you can get your friends and neighbours to write to them to then your MP will start getting very worried and actually start lobbying the government on your behalf.
Join a political party.
Ok, so the system we have ain’t perfect. Our political parties appear tribal, and as individuals we don’t always feel like we fall into those tribes. But decisions are made within a parliamentary democracy by parliamentarians, that’s the system we have. The best way to reclaim politics and make it less tribal, and much more reflective of your views is to join a party and influence it from the inside. If you join a political party you’ll be made very welcome, and will probably meet a lot of like-minded individuals (and it can be a great networking opportunity). It’s fascinating to see how a party operates at grassroots level, with volunteers spending their time campaigning in local and national by-elections. Which brings me to my next point…
Run for office.
Dust off that pantsuit. Hillary we’re following in your footsteps. But seriously, the UK has a shocking ratio of male to female MPs. We need more women, intelligent, passionate, motivated women to put themselves forward to represent people and to make a difference. Even if that’s just at a local council level, you can get involved and be that change that we need. Only 29% of our MPs are women. The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality, says ‘ensuring that women have equal access to power and are equally represented in our democracy is a matter of both social justice and democratic legitimacy. Women have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives’. This happens at a local level too. Get involved in local campaigns and let your voice be heard.
Talk about politics.
Yes, I know, we’re British, and it doesn’t really seem like the done thing. But if the last year has shown us anything it’s that people in the UK have some very strong political views. But who says politics should be dominated by those who shout loudest. The tiresome to and froing of PMQ’s, full of smug debate club wordiness is deeply off-putting I know, but look at how the French do politics. The up-and-coming presidential contender Emmanuel Macron is 40, hot, intelligent, and married to a woman 20 years his senior. Simone de Beauvoir is a national hero. Philosophy evenings are more popular than gigs. People gather in cafes or dimly lit bars to discuss politics and philosophy, to debate the most important things in life. Chanel ambassador Caroline De Maigret in her book ‘How to be Parisian’ says a Parisienne ‘talks politics with her mouth and sex with her eyes’. Politics does not have to be the preserve of earnest young men in ill-fitting suits, or blustering, swaggering entitled types with a degree in double-speak and obfuscation. We can shape politics to fit the changing nature of the population, and to better represent us and our hopes and dreams. Politics is upon us whether we would have it or not, but if we can harness the passion and determination of the millions who marched last Saturday then the future is already looking brighter.