This week’s Campaigner of the Week, is 24 year-old Poppy Noor. Poppy is Emerging Leaders Advisory Board Member for UpRising UK – a UK-wide youth leadership development organisation, Uprising UK’s mission is to open pathways to power and opportunities for a diverse range of young people.
UpRising are supporters of Do Democracy which is a national campaign running during Parliament Week to find the burning issues that young people really care about.
Poppy answered a few questions for us about his campaigning:
What motivates you to campaign? How did you get into campaigning?
I have been campaigning for years, I just didn’t always think of what I was doing as political. I really started campaigning in my hostel when we started having to negotiate the rules which we lived under. That meant organising meetings with the neighbours to give them some insight into our lives and us hearing their concerns. We also met with lots of other young people in hostel accommodation to talk about our experience and what we’d like from the service.
The things that motivate me to campaign are the everyday things I see around me that I think are unfair, and the perspective that I think that I bring which many politicians don’t. Those things are what most young people can and should bring to the game because, let’s face it, it’s been years since most politicians sat GCSEs, or rented a house or even tried to get a job.
I am on the board for a charity called UpRising, which gets young people from diverse backgrounds into leadership positions. For me, everything I do with that programme is a form of campaigning, because ultimately campaigning is about changing things that you see around you for the better, and that’s what we’re trying to do at UpRising. So when I’m helping with interviews, I’m always trying to ensure that those we take on have really diverse experiences – from homelessness, to prison, to not having done A-Levels – because those people are too often overlooked in the rest of the professional world and their insights are an incredibly important part of the picture if ever want to tackle these sorts of social issues.
Campaigns don’t have to be detached from us or in some way more ‘political’ than we feel – they can be the things on your very own doorstep. Campaigning takes very different forms and just because you’re not outside the Houses of Parliament waving a banner in people’s faces doesn’t mean you’re not campaigning, or that you’re not political.
What would you tell other young people who want to get attention on an issue they care about? What first steps should they take?
I think I’d start by saying that young people should never see their age as a reason not to campaign, or to believe that their age means they speak with less authority.
The way that I got into much more mainstream campaigning (through newspaper articles and Channel 4 News) was sort of an accident really. I lived in hostels when I was 16 because I couldn’t live at home anymore, so I was on benefits but I was also going to school and trying to finish my A Levels. I just remember waking up one day and hearing politicians arguing on the radio about whether or not people on benefits had plasma screen TVs and I remember just thinking that my experience had been completely different. So I just blasted off this article and sent it into The Guardian hoping that they’d want a different opinion, and it worked – it didn’t matter that I was young or politically naïve.
Young people also shouldn’t see their anger as a barrier or a reason not to participate. I work with the Centrepoint Parliament, a group of young, homeless people who set a campaign every year and work towards making it happen. Last year they focussed on getting people registered to vote and were massively successful. Arguably, they are some of the people who can most easily get away with the bitter and apathetic line; who can complain that parliament doesn’t represent them or that they don’t have the time money or effort to campaign. But they use all of that as their fuel to make good things happen and they’re doing some great work one step at a time.
Politics needs more people like them, and hopefully more people who are reading this blog post who thinks that maybe politics isn’t for them.
So I’d say just go for it really. Speak from your gut and don’t worry about how others seem to be doing it. There are enough politicians, news-readers and journalists who want to argue based on the “raw figures” every day – don’t feel pressured to fight on their terms. That’s kind of what people love so much about young people I think – because everyone’s so used to hearing arguments about numbers that hearing angst-y and passionate young people reminds us that in the midst of all that mumbo-jumbo people do actually exist!
What would you say to a cynic, or someone who thinks that politics isn’t relevant to them?
I think I’d give them a bit of insight from the programme that I work with, UpRising. We always get so many brilliant young people who come in thinking that they don’t know anything about politics, and that they’re not interested. They are often the most political people of all. The reason I think they see politics as not relevant to them is because they’re angry. Politicians don’t look like them, and they see other forms of campaigning – such as the social action that the UpRising programme is based on – as a more hopeful means of making change.
But of course, because being young and angry is political and so is buying bread and going for a pint and all the rest of living life. It’s a point that sounds a bit trite now, the whole “everything around you is political because you pay tax and you vote for laws”. But I think the point is: yeah, you’re kind of right, politics isn’t relevant to you because young people are often overlooked when politicians write their manifestos and that really, really sucks: but that’s why you’ve got to get political.
You’re a voting population that’s a good few million strong, an undeniable force. You want to put politicians in the position where they’re scrambling over your vote, where they’re fighting over the thing that will make young people turn, because they want to be in at the next election.
Finally I’d say, don’t play yourself down so much. That politics surrounds us also means that I don’t believe that what young people care about can be confined to just our age. There are young people of all ages, social classes and so on, and that means that there isn’t an umbrella, catch-all “young people” kind of policy. Yes, lots of us got upset about tuition fees, or were angry about the axing of EMA – but actually, like everybody else, we are affected by things like the price of bread, getting jobs, rent becoming increasingly more unaffordable and what happens when Britain floods. So overall, if you have an opinion, it’s probably more political than you think.