On December the 12th I’ll have my first chance to vote. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I first learned about the heroic and inspiring fight of the suffragettes over 100 years ago. I’m a full-time volunteer at Volunteering Matters, focused on the youth-led education project WASSUP (Women Against Sexual Exploitation and Violence Speak Up).
In my work for WASSUP, I often think about the impact of politics, both personally as well as systemic change in society. If young women can take control of their bodies and come together to challenge oppression and abuse this is a deeply political act. When women raise awareness of their rights and opportunities, this is as much a political act as volunteering at a foodbank or clearing up natural spaces.
Day to day, I hear a lot of people saying that the main political parties have little to offer young people. They say that politics is somehow ‘broken’. I hear that it is silly and idealistic to want more than “Getting Brexit Done.”
I am suspicious of this cynicism – particularly where I see it in the media. I can’t help but feel that it’s part of an effort to turn off young voters who are attracted to more radical agenda, and who want to reverse the horror of austerity which has had such a disproportionate effect on the lives of young people.
I’m sick of the image of young people pushed in the media – that we are obsessed only with our phone and getting the perfect eyebrows, that we don’t have the experience or the interest to understand politics.
Politics is impacting our everyday lives. I think that any eighteen year old in this country can recognise the epidemic of mental health problems in their peers and has noted the daily roll call of dead teenagers as a result of gang crime. They have seen the lack of teachers in their schools and hopelessness of the dream of ever being able to afford their own homes.
My personal mission, disseminating domestic abuse and gang grooming awareness to young people and professionals in Suffolk, has shown me we need radical change in our society. We hear of the than 4 million children are in poverty in the UK, and of the more than ever waiting in food bank queues.
Yet I’ve seen how it’s not just hunger impacting vulnerable young people – cuts to youth facilities and safe spaces has meant more children being groomed into gangs. Too many young people are forced to walk through a world with the wounds of childhood trauma unacknowledged.
This epidemic is not without cure. Taking care with who we vote for is how we can start the solution, and is how we can stand up for those too young to cast their vote. Investment in public services may seem expensive, but if children can grow up safe and secure, not fearing hunger, violence or exploitation, we will all benefit.
This is how we will really ‘take back control’. By hearing the voices of young people we support and empower some of our most vulnerable citizens, and can create a fairer, more humane and equal country that we can all be proud of.
Lanai Collis-Phillips is an 18 year old volunteer, activist and poet from Ipswich, and is an Ambassador for the #iwill campaign.