We care deeply about our country and the decisions being made. We are interested in politics. But the UK’s current brand of politics is very rarely inspiring. It’s when our generation is inspired that we not only vote, but we mobilise.
We’re the sort of women who care about the world, do our bit and share our passions on Facebook once in a while, but when it came to politics we mainly just switched- off.
Of course we voted and discussed how things would be better if we had different leaders in power, or better policies on things such as inequality, climate change, rail fares and women’s rights. But until 8 weeks ago we felt pretty disengaged from the political system.
Like many voters in their 20s and 30s, we felt locked out. The most we felt we could do was rant about the changes we’d like to see on Twitter, knowing that it got us nowhere.
And we’re not alone. In 1964, there was little difference between the turnout of 18-24 year olds and the over 65s. By 2005, only 28% of 18-24s were voting compared with 75% of over 65s.
The problem with the current discussion around this perceived “apathy” is that most commentators get it wrong – we care deeply about our country and the decisions being made. We are interested in politics. It’s just that the current brand of politics in the United Kingdom is very rarely inspiring. And it’s when our generation is inspired that we not only vote, but we mobilise. Right now we’re not mobilising, and that’s a problem.
Engaging Britain’s youth in the EU debate
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just look at the movement to support Bernie Sanders in the United States, and Barack Obama before him; the Scottish Independence Referendum and the Marriage Equality Referendum in Northern Ireland. And then there’s the junior doctors. A group of people, as far removed from the stereotype of a politicised figure as you could imagine, who have been marching the streets in their thousands and taking to Facebook to defend the future of our NHS – and garnering support across the board.
On 23 June, the most important political decision of our lifetimes will be made. A vote to stay in the EU or a vote to leave.
The over 40s are more likely to vote “leave” than us, and they’re more likely to vote, full stop. Our generation has to vote “remain” in droves if we are to have a chance of staying in the EU. If we don’t vote, we hand older generations our future on a plate.
We first became aware of this when we were sent an article by the experienced campaigner Jonathon Porritt, who along with MP Caroline Lucas and Tom Burke, was concerned that the young vote was being taken for granted.
They were right. Yet all over Facebook… nothing. Not even from people like us – people who are normally more engaged.
No one was talking about it on social media and when you started a chat about it in the pub, people quickly admitted that they didn’t know enough to feel confident about arguing on Europe.
Because everything we had seen to date was uninspiring, negative, built upon narrow arguments about the economy and immigration. We began to retreat to our default – an angry tweet about how the referendum campaign was ignoring us.
But then something switched on.
We remembered how we felt after the 2015 General Election – when we woke up to shock political result – and we realised, maybe it’s not enough to wish someone else had done better.
Maybe, this time, we had to do something better. So we did.
Eight weeks later “We are Europe” was launched.
Highs and lows of launching the youth campaign
It’s been a tough ride – starting a political campaign in your spare time isn’t something we’d recommend lightly.
We’ve been taken aback by the barriers to political campaigning.
The trolls online, the level of knowledge needed to simply be featured in the media, the rules about campaigning. Our seed funding has been minuscule compared to the thousands of pounds being thrown around by all the other campaigns, and we’ve all been holding down full time jobs.
What has made it possible, and worth it, is that from the start we wanted this to be everyone’s campaign. We designed the process so that as many people as possible can create and shape the campaign with us – a strategy that was shaped by and with our friends.
We want people to tell the stories they care about in their own voices. People aren’t into politics because it is surrounded in jargon and the language of fear and privilege. But it directly affects every one of us and the day-to-day things we care about.
So we hosted two “sprints” for creatives, campaigners and doers across London to help us develop messaging, tactics and research. We dug deep into our address books for absolutely anyone who knows anyone who can help. The result – we are now a core community of more than 50 people, all shaping the campaign together.
Using creative arts to avoid a Brexit
At the launch party we packed a Hoxton club with the most amazing people and we have no idea how half of them heard about us. On social media, we’ve amassed a community of nearly 1,000 supporters, and we don’t need to police the trolls because our community has started doing it for us.
It’s so amazing seeing this butterfly effect happening and we hope it continues.
The amazing CrowdPac UK took the initiative to set up a crowdfunder page for us – in a week we’ve secured more than £1,000 of funding, but we’re hoping to raise £50,000. Every penny will then go towards our “creative commissioning fund”, a dedicated pot of money to support artists, creatives, musicians, etc. who have ideas on how to get people engaged in the referendum – whether it’s just to turn up and vote, or passionately share why they are voting “in”.
We’re using this campaign as a platform for people to speak up and remind others that politics can be done in your own way, with your own emotions.
We want people to feel they can vote for their values and base decisions on the things they feel strongly about. The fact of the matter is, no one knows what would happen post-Brexit. We must vote for a future we feel reflects our values. Everyone gets one vote, from Bo-Jo, to us, to Lily Cole – we’re just as important as the grey rinse brigade.
We are determined to live out a vision for a positive campaign based on values. We’re not about throwing around arguments or slanging matches. For us, “We Are Europe” is an opportunity for our friends to see something about the referendum on social media that reflects who they are, and not the negative.
As a generation, we want better for our politics. And as a generation, we’re proving that a better way works.
NB: The IPF’s opinion articles are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily endorsed by the IPF.