‘Why This Is The Year Of My Political Awakening’

Why I can't go back to sleep...

'Why This Is The Year Of My Political Awakening'

by Emma Gannon |
Published on

This is my confession: I’ve spent most of my life being out of the loop when it comes to the big P. Politics. At school it was the class I avoided at all costs because I thought it sounded dull; at University it was the section of the newspaper I would lazily skim read; and, to my horror, I even recently found (and subsequently deleted in haste) a very old dating profile I'd created from my late teens which in the bio read: ‘not that into politics! Soz!’

How did I manage to “opt” out so easily until recent years? Where were my online or offline influences to shake me out of my own privileged bubble? Why was I so turned off?

The current gruesome political landscape has given everyone a good shaking up. Whether you write about politics for a living or have been living under a rock, politics is something we can no longer ignore. It's vital and urgent. I, like most of my peers, was totally confused, hurt and disappointed by the outcome of the EU referendum; and any political complacency or apathy was well and truly put to bed when a reality TV star who hates women became the 45th President of the United States. Any usually non-political online environments, such as Facebook (normally just endless pictures of babies, cats and engagement rings) was suddenly alive with strong opinions, reactions and emotions about the world, the future, the anger, the divide and the necessity to take action.

I was in Las Vegas with my family the night Donald Trump was elected, and as I felt sick in the airport the next day at the state of the world, I couldn’t help but wonder, had Hillary won, would I have remained complacent and thought ‘yay for feminism’ and then rolled over back to sleep? Would I have thought the fight was over, when it's not even close? The feeling I felt that morning was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It is a privilege to ‘wake up’ to the reality of the world this late in life. One thing's for sure, Post-Brexit and Trump, there has never been more fire in our bellies to fight for what we believe in.

Was it fear stopping me from entering a dialogue before now, because politics is an intimidating place? Last year I asked the organisation We Are Europe to write a guest post on my blog urging young people to register and vote in the EU referendum and shortly after I received death threats in my comments section for the first time by opposing voters. ‘This,’ I thought, ‘is what it feels like to be fired up about politics.’ It’s not always comfortable but it feels essential (especially right now) to care deeply about what is happening around us. At the Women’s March in London, I read a sign that read: ‘So bad, even introverts are here.’

At school I thought politics was boring because I thought it was just a bunch of posh men in grey suits using weird buzzwords. Now, even though we still need way more diversity inside cabinets, we are inundated with diverse political role models and groups, especially online. From young writers like Lauren Duca at Teen Vogue whose piece ‘Donald Trump is Gaslighting America’ recently went viral; to Helen Mirren using the Golden Globes stage to comment on Trump, to Laverne Cox encouraging people to support transgender issues at the Grammys, to Madonna rocking up at the Women’s March, to Cynthia Erivo doing a spoof rap video to promote Hillary Clinton. Celebrities have never been so vocal and they’re not scared of using worldwide platforms. The Obamas made politics cool again (and I'm not just talking about those Joe Biden memes). Activism exists on a daily level now too, from groups like the UnIdle Collective that encourage one small political action a week via Instagram, to people like June Eric-Udorie using Twitter to help raise money for young black girls to see the movie Hidden Figures.

I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenage self that politics can be for you if you make the effort to engage with it. I’m proud of the teenagers out there right now fighting for what they believe in, in a way that I didn’t when I was a teen. Politics is deeply personal, it effects every single one of us deeply and it affects decisions on a micro and macro scale. To make change, we have to be part of the system, but that means it’s up to us to opt in. Politicians won’t do anything for the people who do not vote. Only 36% of millennials turned up to vote in the Brexit poll. Older people turn up all the time and ask for what they want, hence Brexit, free bus passes and free TV licences for over-75s and triple-lock pensions.

My message is simple: get involved. This year, I found myself invited to speak at the Oxford Union, the UK’s most famous debating society, having dinner with current and future politicians and realising I can hold my own when it comes to debating passionately about my beliefs. I recently had dinner inside the House Of Commons to celebrate MP Jess Philips’s new book Every Woman. Seeing someone like Jess doing the tough job of being an MP inspired me so much because she is someone I can relate to (a woman! She's cool and clever and swears!) in the political sphere was just the reminder I needed. Politics isn’t a private members club if you don't let it be.

We all have a voice, and it’s extremely important that we use it. My political awakening has meant I can’t help but notice those people (especially those with big platforms) who remain silent on issues they could comment on and raise awareness of. Please speak up.

Now I’ve woken up I can’t go back to sleep.

We have work to do.

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Follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaGannon

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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