Two weeks in Trump’s America

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Pier 39 – San Francisco

Dario, a native Brazilian, was the first person I met when I landed in the United States two weeks ago. “I have been learning English for 1 month and been living in America for 4 months” he told me, as he drove me from SFO airport, through Oakland and up to Berkeley, where I will be studying for the next 6 months. We exchanged some broken English and I learnt about his 15-year-old son who recently enrolled in High School.

The second friendly face I met was my house mate, Manisha, Indian born, she emigrated with her family here 20 years ago. After graduating a year early from college she is now working hard at a San Francisco start-up. I often hear her on the phone to her parents switching between English and her native language with ease.

Ali, a local coffee shop owner, welcomed me with a beaming smile and a handshake when I bought a coffee before my first class on the following Monday. “I don’t know what is happening with Mr Trump, it’s concerning” he said, as he asked me about my studies, Brexit and told me I was always welcome in his café.

In the introduction meetings for other visiting student researchers I met people from all over the globe, Iran, Turkey, Germany, the Philippines and the Netherlands – to name just a few. We conversed in speculation about what Trump will do in his presidency, but felt assured that as we had arrived before the inauguration, we had lucked out.

I watched the inauguration on my first Friday in the US, I winced at Trump’s hypocritical message and wondered how long it took his speech writer to plagiarise lines from Avatar, Bane and Bee Movie. But I still held onto some level of optimism that he wouldn’t be able to do anything that disastrous – at least not right away.

I had always planned on attending the San Francisco Women’s March on the Saturday. Not necessarily to join in with the chants and voice my grievances, but I could tell it was going to be historic and I wanted to be a part of it.

The 15-minute queue just to get out of the Bart station confirmed my suspicions and by 5.30pm I was marching down the road, in the pouring rain, with 100,000 women, men and children. The various signs demonstrated the diverse reasons why people were there; reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, equal pay, immigrants’ rights.

Women's march San Francisco 21/1/2017

Women’s march San Francisco 21/1/2017

With over 2 million people marching in the US alone, I don’t think anyone went to sleep that night without feeling emboldened that there was a strong force against what Trump stood for and planned to initiate.

Yet, that feeling of optimism and unity took a knock the following Monday, when Trump signed an executive order to block federal funds being used to “provide or promote abortions”.

The five days following that first executive order have been tumultuous. Protests have taken place nearly every day, particularly in neighbouring Oakland, and everyone you speak to has no idea what’s coming next.

When the news broke on Friday that Trump’s latest executive order, banning all refugees for 120 days and immigrants from 7 Muslim majority countries for 90 days, had come into effect my mind immediately turned to the people I met when I first arrived.

Though they are all citizens, Trumps actions are surely enough to make any non-Anglo-Saxon feel unwelcome or uneasy.

America is a nation of immigrants and the often used term “melting pot” couldn’t be more accurate. According to Pew research, today 14% of Americans are foreign born, compared to 5% in 1965, in the last 50 years 59 million immigrants have arrived here and by 2055 the US will not have a single racial or ethnic majority.

When you’re in a country surrounded by people from all ethnicities, nationalities and creeds, it boggles the mind to see what Trump is doing. Despite his election win suggesting the majority of Americans would agree on his immigration stance, 57% say “having an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups and nationalities makes the United States a better place to live”.

On Saturday I received an emergency email from UC Berkeley’s International Office. “For the near future, Berkeley International Office recommends minimizing international travel due to the changing nature of the new administration’s policies on visas and U.S. entry.” Signalling this could only be the beginning of what’s to come.

Over drinks with some fellow international students we discussed the email and what the next six months could have instore for us as visiting immigrants. One student from Turkey said, “At least he’s honest. At least we know what his game is.”

As a journalism student I can’t help but feel a pang of excitement for what I am witnessing and the opportunities before me. But as a human being, I am also scared and anxious for those who have already begun to feel the effects Trump’s Presidency.

The New Levellers

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Let down, battered and bruised. That seems to be the general feeling amongst swathes of the younger British population when you question the current political climate. One built on fallacies, point scoring and a lack of cooperation. More generally, many people seem to feel alienated and excluded by British politics.

To a large degree, these feelings have been exacerbated, catalysed and felt more deeply in the run up to, and result of, the EU referendum. For many this was a protest vote, many they didn’t vote because they felt a disconnect of mistruths and a lack of belief in the politicians.

Whether you were an “innie” or an “outie” this campain demonstrated the deeper lying issues that run through British politics, particularly for the younger generation – a lack of care, a lack of voice and a lack of representation.

The New Levellers seeks to put an end to all this and offer a voice. A voice of hope, of reason and most importantly of cooperation.

At The New Levellers we believe in solutions, not problems. We want to see an engaged youth which will lead the next generation of this country. The two founders of this project, Nick Treloar and Sam Edgar are recent graduates in politics and international relations from Lancaster university and both 21 years old.

We don’t claim to know everything about politics and have the magic cure, far from it. Neither do we claim to be the next leaders of the country. What we want and we believe in is a fresh start and a renewed voice of passion, strength and togetherness, particularly for the younger generation.

Aims and Projects

This project aims to incentivise and encourage participation. We want as many people as possible to engage with us, write to us or for us, to contact us with their ideas and solutions and together we can come together and begin to change the current landscape.

We also want to harness the potential that is already there. It is no secret that there are thousands of politically active people online, who post and share their thoughts regularly. What we need to do is translate this into articles and action.

In the long run, with enough support we hope to influence government policy and put our voice back on the map. As such, we want to engage will all parties, groups, institutions, no matter the beliefs.

The first stage in our process is to ask as many of you as possible to fill out our questionnaire so that we can begin to build a consensus on feeling. The next step will to be to put the findings into action, developing research and building a voice for the issues that we collectively see as under represented and often neglected.

We hope to see as many faces as possible and are excited for the next generation to come through.

Get involved

Website

Questionnaire

Facebook

Twitter 

How the government has closed its doors to young people

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Flickr/James Blunt

The average age of a British MP elected in the 2015 General Election was 50, which hasn’t changed from the average age in 2010 – showing no progress in that Westminster demographic  in the last five years. Twenty year old Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South in Scotland, was elected in 2015 making her the youngest ever elected MP since 1667.

Yet, young people are still disproportionately underrepresented within the halls of Parliament, could the government themselves be to blame for this?

Over the last 30 years the average age of MPs has remained relatively stable around the average age of 50, and it’s clear there is a need for more youth engagement and involvement in Westminster. One way the government has tried to increase youth involvement is through volunteering. Volunteering has become, for many young people, the starting point for a career in politics and currently seems to be the only starting point.

Volunteering in Westminster usually entails interning in an MPs office, which for many includes uninspiring general office work; folding letters into envelopes, data entry and all of which is usually unpaid. Does this really provide young people with the relevant skills to gain a paid career in politics?

Volunteering is meant to be beneficial to the participant and the people you are working for, to provide you with the well needed experience to get a paid job in future and gain insider knowledge. Yet, from my own personal experience, I have found volunteering in UK politics to only be beneficial for the offices, who give the volunteers the jobs they don’t want to do themselves.

Experiencing it first-hand

When I initially applied to volunteer with my local MP I wanted to gain some experience in politics before graduating. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do a week’s placement in a parliamentary office in Westminster.

It cost me a small fortune in travel, accommodation and living expenses for the week, and unfortunately the realities of the experience didn’t counteract those costs. I spent most of my time putting letters into envelopes, phoning up various people and putting petitions into the computer. The only highlight, and moment which felt like I was immersed in Westminster, was sitting in on PMQs.

The government seems to do very little to help recruit young people into politics and the only way in is through unpaid and unengaging volunteering – which doesn’t even give you the relevant experience to get a paid role in the sector. Most parliamentary internships seem to revolve around campaigning, which also don’t provide the experience or expertise which would help you land a paid job in the future.

When arranging my work experience in London I had no idea where to start as the information completely varied from office to office. Most MPs websites do not have a page relating to volunteering roles, what’s on offer or who to contact.

So I decided to email the offices directly via their constituent query emails. My local MPs office, who I volunteered for, arranged a week for me straight away after accepting my application. Though they gave no indication of the type of work I would be doing.

How history does it better

When arranging volunteering in the history sector I had a completely different experience. As I have a history and politics degree I decided to investigate working in both industries and I applied for a specific role as a tour guide for a heritage site. I was invited for an interview by the sites’ Volunteer Development Officer, whose role was to recruit volunteers and be their first point of call with any issues.

The Officer was in place to create a dialogue between volunteers and heritage workers, on what was working for the volunteers and what wasn’t. It’s safe to say I enjoyed my whole summer working there, even taking on two different volunteering roles.

Volunteering at a heritage site offered all types of work, such as customer service, behind the scenes and conducting research. Training sessions were also regularly put on for volunteers, to help them gain relevant experience and knowledge of the industry.

They offered coffee mornings and one-on-one advice sessions with people that worked in the industry. And there was also an active effort to ensure volunteers enjoyed what they were doing and wanted to stay. I enjoyed the experience so much I now work part time in the same place I did my volunteering a year ago.

The government should make an active effort to recruit more people into politics. Offering volunteering that would be relevant for young people, guiding them on what exactly is needed to get into the sector.

There should be a volunteering policy put in place across all MP officers, to make volunteering more engaging and make it easier to find available roles. As well as offering a minimum wage for volunteers, ensuring people from all background could have the opportunity to gain experience.

Training and help should be set up for young people who wish to apply for paid roles after or during their time volunteering, such as help with applications, offering references and interview techniques. Unpaid volunteering roles shouldn’t be offered by MPs that are unwilling to offer references, help volunteers with getting a paid role or those who have no intention offering you a paid role in the future.

The lack of young people in most areas of politics shows that this is a significant problem which is not being tackled. Westminster should take a leaf out of the National Heritage sites’ volunteering process, and the Houses of Parliament may start to look less like an over 50’s club and more representative of Britain.

Ukraine and the Importance of Accuracy

Recently, an article was published on The Despatch Box regarding the wider context of the West vs. Russia series which has unfortunately been renewed for another season on the world stage. Like the writer of this article, the idea of making Russia angry is not one that appeals to me, but the article had another dimension connected to the events unfolding in Ukraine over the last year. It is this element of the article that left me troubled, and writing as I do now.

The most obvious thing of note when reading the article in question is how unashamedly loathsome the writer finds the EU to be. It actually becomes amusing at a point, particularly given how large of an effort it requires to make the EU look like the bad guys of the Ukrainian Revolution, but he finds a way.

After making some amusingly ludicrous comments regarding Russian foreign policy, “Russia is a power that is actively opposed to the principle of interventionism…” we get into one of the more hurtful and serious elements of the article, which I feel needs to be addressed and corrected.

When entering the topic of Ukraine at the beginning of the article, the writer makes clear his belief that In [his] view the EU is the aggressor in the Ukraine affair,” and goes on to accuse the EU of funding the Euromaidan protests. Something which neither makes sense nor has any evidence backing it up.

That’s right, the group that was building barricades out of snow and using wooden shields to try and stop bullets must have been so grateful for all that EU funding they got. You can really see where it went when you watch the footage of Ukrainian security forces gunning down citizens as they attempt to carry their dying comrades down the Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

This is where I got angry, and where I feel some corrections are necessary. The idea that the brave souls who stood up for what they believed in and were killed and wounded for it were an “EU funded mob” overthrowing a democratically elected President is an outright lie, and as such a blatant and horrendous insult to those who died standing against the tyranny of their apparently democratic leader.

If a leader cannot see the need to take action when there are 800,000 of their citizens marching in their nation’s capital demanding action, then I do not see what right they have to call themselves a democratic leader. Let’s not even get into the use of violence during these protests, which alone I would dare say could be a legitimacy destroying act for the Yanukovich government if I even believed that there was no foul play during the election that made that government, which I don’t.

Now, I will concede that the Euromaidan’s movements could themselves be considered undemocratic. The rebels of Donetsk and other critics of the movement have frequently described them as a junta which would be accurate if the Euromaidan protesters had ever even attempted to take control of the Ukrainian government, but they didn’t. Instead, they set up democratic elections and elected a new leader as fairly and democratically as they could manage. If you’re still arguing that this new government is somehow illegitimate, then I’d question whether you’re paying attention.

But of course, the author of this piece is not concerned with what actually caused and sustained the revolution, he is instead at this point in his article waxing poetic on how bloody awful the EU is for democracy, because, as we have seen, he is an expert on the matter of democratic mandates.

My issues with this blog run much deeper than what I’ve stated here, but that is not why I wrote this article, I wrote it to clear up a central lie pertaining to an issue which I am very attached to and hopefully I have been successful.

Ultimately, the thought that I would like us all to go away with is that the events happening around us affect real people, they may seem distant and unreal but for a lot of people they are not. With this in mind I’d like to propose that we do our very best to understand our fellow humans’ actions, be informed on their reasons, and not allow bullshit to propagate for the sake of our partisan ideals.

By Greg Harrison


[Image Credit: Ivan Bandura]

UK Stands Against ISIS: Protection or Jeopardy?

Members of the British Parliament have taken the controversial decision to both support and engage in military action against ISIS militants occupying Iraq. The overwhelming majority of Parliament voted to back the potential air strikes in the country. Thus following in the footsteps of our long-standing allies, the United States of America and possibly jeopardising international relations between the UK and other Muslim states.

In an interview on American news network NBC, Cameron insisted that ISIS’ power came from the way in which it was ‘controlling’ the state, with its irrefutable power coming from both oil and weaponry. It is, of course, undeniable that ISIS, as an organisation that loathes Western culture and lifestyle, poses a threat to the UK and the US. From the protection and precaution sides of the issue, one can understand the reasons behind Cameron’s insistence upon military action: in order to preserve the Western way-of-life in an increasingly globalised and international community.

Not only is Western culture at peril, but it is Western populations themselves that may or may not become the innocent victims of this battle between politics and religion. If we, arguably, have allowed ourselves the liberty to intervene in the Middle Eastern states and effectively ruin innocent lives for our nation’s wellbeing, then what is stopping ISIS from doing the same? It is this looming threat of hate-crime towards Western states that has compelled Cameron to take such drastic action.

However, the very idea of Britain granting itself access to Middle Eastern and Muslim states with its own national interests at heart displays just how radicalism is born. Anger and hatred is justified when foreigners disrupt one’s way of life, and from that frustration, radical thoughts are formed and spread like wildfire throughout communities. Radicalism and organisations such as ISIS are the result of years of negligence on the part of Western countries towards developing states; we have a tendency to disregard their cultures, their political statements and their way of life as being secondary to our own democratic system. Is this perhaps where our fault lies? Do we, as a Westernised society, perpetuate a vicious circle of religious violence by denying people the very right to express their religion?

Britain’s involvement in Iraq and the debate over whether air strikes are ethical are, of course, multi-faceted discussions with neither a correct nor a wrong answer. At the end of the day, each party is merely trying to preserve what is in their own best interests. However, the ritualised killing of British aid worker David Haines and a potential threat to a second British citizen must not be ignored. These could be the stepping stones towards a larger, much more complex and even more dangerous threat to the United Kingdom. The question at hand is whether or not we can afford to take a risk.

By Sharlene Gandhi


 

[Image Credit: Señor Codo]

Vivienne Westwood, the #indyref and Political Campaigns: Broader Engagement in the UK Should Only Be Encouraged

Political activism is nothing new, but should we be more accepting of non-traditional platforms in order to engage wider audiences?

The Scottish referendum, finally complete, has been hugely controversial. It received news coverage from every possible angle and the events unfolding in the UK have been particularly keenly observed by countries with similar regional issues and contentions; Spain, for example.

But governments and news outlets have not been the only ones closely following events. From a less traditional platform and taking a rather explicit stance, prominent fashion designer Vivienne Westwood chose to debut her support for the independence movement at the 2014 London Fashion Week. She wore a Scottish flag across her shoulders, a ‘Yes’ badge on her blazer and proceeded to send her models down the catwalk wearing corresponding badges.

Using politics as an accessory is extremely problematic. It has the unfortunate potential to belittle the groups which the political issue relates, as well as oversimplifying issues. However, while some might choose to interpret the designer’s political campaigning both now and in the past as shameless self-promotion, it is undeniable that the visual nature of her efforts were both eye-catching and provocative.  And if this type of display has any potential to engage the otherwise apolitical population, who have been prone to political apathy in the UK, then it should only be encouraged.

Another perhaps unlikely politicised group is the younger generation. In the Scottish referendum, over 100,000 of the 3.5 million people who turned out to the polls (an 84.15% turnout) were 16-17 year olds. The level of involvement demonstrated by young people throughout the process has led Alex Salmond and Ed Miliband, among others, to call for the voting age to be lowered. Young people’s activism and political awareness in both campaigns was a clear sign of their willingness to battle for their beliefs, attempt affect the views of others and be politically active with a view to long term change. Given the opportunity and the right subject matter, young people are more than ready to engage.

There are comments to be made about both campaigns and their respective political engagement during the referendum. Without encouragement directed particularly at young people, this may be an opportunity missed, not only by Westminster, but by political industries and campaigners as a whole to engage masses of potential activists to carry forward future movements in a positive, liberal way.

We are one of the most privileged nations in the world. But where campaigns, particularly regarding human rights, are often resigned to the fringes of politics and largely ignored by mainstream media, young people have the potential to champion these in a unique way. Governments might not want to add fuel to an activists fire, yet I would argue that wider and deeper levels of political engagement not only legitimise democracies but support positive civilian-government interactions. In other words, it’s a win-win situation.

In a political climate where freedom of speech is an ever-growing issue, with journalists and tourists alike under threat in certain regions, French tourist Hervé Gourdel only recently beheaded in Algeria, no level of political awareness or engagement is too high. As such, visual displays of protest, that challenge the status of political campaigns as fringe movements and carry them towards mainstream audiences, should be highly encouraged.

A symbol used by the ‘Free Al Jazeera Staff’ campaign, and more broadly as a global protest in favour of free speech, was black tape across the mouth. The idea of displaying this symbolism on catwalk models is incredibly provocative. People are interested in politics; the referendum is evidence enough. Now, the key is promotion and education, which the fashion industry or similar platforms can promote through their natural engagement with mainstream media.

I am not advocating the commodification of politics. Campaigns are not to be packaged, marketed and consumed (I still detest brand fashion – Coca Cola t-shirts, for example). Yet at a moment where political apathy in the UK is being challenged, it hardly seems sensible to reject those who are encouraging engagement with current affairs. The size of the fashion sector (to name just one unlikely platform), its international media exposure and its relevance to people of all ages – particularly the young – provides a showcase for activists, as well as the opportunity to engage many more. London Fashion week alone was attended by international press from 43 different countries.

Taken with a pinch of salt and on the assumption that viewers conduct their own research, on the basis of what they have seen the industry perform, the sector can give visual, high profile support to movements that may otherwise suffer marginal coverage. Young people and adults alike have shown in their thousands that politics matters to them. So let’s continue to broaden its base of accessibility. I don’t know where the line falls between commodification and justifiable political platforms, but I am also aware that ignorant political engagement is probably worse than apathy. It might just be worth a try.

By Kay Robinson


[Image Credit: Kyoshi Masamune]