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You know how I almost started this post? With a standard disclaimer – “Although I found some of Paris Brown’s comments offensive…”, “Although I do not condone racism or homophobia…” – something like that. Because, yes, some of what she said was blatantly prejudiced and offensive. Words have power. When she casually uses the word “pikey”[1] to mean cheap, dirty, or criminal, it is another piece of hurtful rubbish being hurled at travellers, an already marginalised community[2]. When she uses the word gay as an insult and calls people “fags”[3], around peers who might or might not be gay, bi, or trans, she might be contributing to the shockingly high figures for mental health problems, self-harm and suicide in LGBT young people[4]. Not that one teenage girl could ever be held responsible for issues that large; not that any one person, regardless of age or gender, could ever be held responsible for issues that large.

And here’s where I start having problems. Paris’s comments upset me far less than, say, some of David Starkey’s speeches. A respected historian and political commentator, Starkey has written multiple books on the Tudors, appears regularly on BBC programs Question Time and The Moral Maze, and has written articles for the Telegraph. Shortly after the London Riots he claimed on Newsnight that white young people were becoming black, causing them to behave violently and anti-socially[5]. But no one has forced him to give up his job. And it hasn’t occurred to anyone to suggest that no middle aged white men should hold positions of power because of his actions. Similarly, Boris Johnson’s racist comments in the past (his description of the Queen being welcomed in commonwealth countries by “flag waving piccaninnies” or his suggestion when Tony Blair considered a trip to the Congo that “the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief”[6]) have not stopped him from holding political office.

I wonder, if Paris was older, wealthier, a respected politician, whether we would be having these conversations. Because right now, it feels like she lost her job for being a teenage girl, rather than because we do not allow people who make unacceptable comments to have jobs in politics, media, or policing for the rest of their lives. Young people can have a voice, but only at the discretion of the adult authorities, and only as long as they make no mistakes, is the message that I’m hearing at the moment, and I don’t like it.

But didn’t I want her to take responsibility for her actions? Do I really want the writer of those tweets officially representing young people? Yes, I did. I wanted an apology of some kind. I wanted a sign that she really had learnt better since then – that she understands why her language was a problem, and is working on whatever prejudices she still has. We’re all imperfect, we’re all prejudiced, we all make mistakes, learn new things. If she’d written them while holding her position, I might feel differently, but those tweets were written up to three years ago, when she was fourteen[7]. I’m not saying fourteen year olds don’t know better. I’m saying people’s opinions and attitudes change with time, and maybe we should allow for that.

You might have noticed, if this is a story you’ve followed in detail, that I haven’t mentioned her posts about drugs and alcohol. These things are completely different. Racism and homophobia; going out drinking, trying weed or ecstasy a few times. I don’t want racism and homophobia being fed into the police as “what young people believe”. But, a normal teenage experience does include some amount of experimentation with alcohol, and, yes, illegal drugs. Not everyone does it (strangely enough, teenagers are individuals who behave in different ways!). But a large number do. I don’t, genuinely don’t, think that makes her worse at advising the police on young people’s issues. In fact, it might make her better informed on, say, how illegal drug use among young people could be reduced without alienating teenagers from the police. It makes me hugely angry that a large amount of the reporting on this conflates the two, both inflating the importance of her having been drunk, stoned or high, and trivialising the racism and homophobia.

Paris has resigned. I wonder how hard it will be for her, now, to get a job in politics, media, policing, the third sector or public sector. I wonder if she gave up educational opportunities to take on that job, which will make it harder for her to find work for the rest of her life. But as much as one more young person joining the unemployment queue fills me with sympathy, it’s not the only thing that worries me. It is not yet clear whether another teenager will be recruited for the youth police commissioner role, or whether that entire scheme will now be scrapped. I doubt we’ll ever know what impact it has on wider issues; lowering the voting age to sixteen, anyone taking the UK Youth Parliament seriously ever again, opportunities for young people to voice their opinions in charities, schools, and local government over the next few months and years. That’s what this is about, really, as far as I’m concerned. Our voices being threatened, again.

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I haven’t written on the US presidential election yet. The concept of Romney – openly homophobic, opposed to sex education, opposed to any form of government funded health care – actually winning this election terrified me so much that writing about it rationally and objectively is incredibly difficult. But, I do think it is important that we talk about it here. Obama won the election because of the single women’s vote, African Americans’ vote, Hispanic vote, Native American vote, and many other groups. This has been broadcast by every pundit – some claiming it as a victory, a broad mandate, others protesting that few white men voted for Obama.

What people haven’t been talking about, is the youth vote. Both last week, and four years ago, young Americans voted overwhelmingly for Obama. In that election, there was a surprisingly high number of first time voters, people who were inspired to vote, and care about formal politics, for the first time.

Maybe you don’t have, have never had, a candidate like Obama to vote for. But, I don’t want to wait for the politicians to come to me. I know, they should be wooing your votes, our votes, but if they aren’t, all that proves is that we need to force them to listen. Some of you have the right to vote for your police commissioners this Thursday. That’s real, that’s important. Do you complain about being stopped and searched? About being scared to walk through the streets at night, alone? About not being taken seriously, as a young person, when you go to report a crime? This is your chance to tell people what you think about that.

In the 2005 UK general elections, only 37% of the 18-24 year olds who were registered to vote actually showed up on election day[1]. Not counting anyone who simply wasn’t registered to vote. Out of over 7 million people in that age-range, over 4 ½ million young people didn’t manage to vote[2]. Polling data suggests that labour won that election with 40% of the vote, compared to the Conservatives 32%[3]. That election wasn’t even particularly close, and the youth vote could have swung it. Are you hearing me? If we actually voted, we could decide elections.

So, please, guys. Vote this Thursday, make your voices heard.

Information about candidates – http://www.choosemypcc.org.uk/

How to vote – http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/how_do_i_vote.aspx

So, the election is the day after tomorrow, Thursday the 3rd of May. I was originally going to give you all some information on Jenny Jones and Siobhan Benita in this post. But, I’m out of time. Sorry. Jenny Jones’s website is here and Siobhan Benita’s is here.

Who to vote for…

If you’re still not sure who to vote for, I’d recommend http://www.votematch.org.uk/
You answer some questions about what you believe, and what is important to you (it takes about 5mins). Then it will tell you which candidates you agree with most.

How to vote…

You should have had a “polling card” by post already. This tells you where to go to vote. If you haven’t had one, you might not be registered. Or, you might have forgotten about it, or someone else might have opened and binned or moved it. You can contact your local electoral office here to find out if you’re registered. You do not need your polling card to vote.

Polling stations (the place where you go to vote) will be open from 7am – 10pm, so you can go before or after work, school, or college. You go in to the polling station. You go up to the desk, and give them your name and address. They’ll check you’re registered, then give you your ballot papers (the pieces of paper you vote with). All polling stations should be accessible, and have ballot papers available for blind and partially sighted voters. If you need any help on the day, you can ask at the polling station – it’s their job to help.

For the London Mayoral Elections, you will be voting for three different things

1)      You’ll be voting for the Mayor. You do this on the pink ballot paper. You can cast two votes. In the first column, you put an X next to your 1st choice. In the 2nd column you put an X next to your 2nd choice.
First they’ll count everyone’s first choices. If someone has more than half of the vote, they’ve won. If not, everyone except the two people with most votes (Probably Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone) will be taken out. If you voted for a candidate who’s now out of the election, your second choice is given your vote. Whichever candidate now has most votes wins.

2)      You’ll be voting for your local London Assembly Member. You do this on the yellow ballot paper. The London Assembly represents you to the mayor. Your Local London Assembly Member is a bit like your MP. You put an X next to candidate you want.

3)      You’ll be voting for the London-wide Members of the London Assembly. You do this with the orange ballot paper. You put an X next to the party you want to win. The parties who win more than 5% of the vote share the eleven places depending on how many votes they get. (So if the Conservatives get 40% of the London-wide assembly votes, they’ll get four out of the eleven London-wide places)

Recently BYC volunteers went to the Youth Budget Conference, “Paying for it”, an event to discuss young people’s opinions on this year’s government budget. There was a panel who took questions, this was made up of MPs David Gauke, James Morris and Kate Green, Carl Emmerson (Deputy Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies), and James Cathcart (CEO of the British Youth Council). The event ended with Isaac Warburton (winner of the Citizenship Foundations “Chance to be Chancellor” competition) handing a Youth Budget Report giving the opinions of the young people involved in “Chance to be Chancellor” to the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.

I found many of the opinions in the Youth Budget Report surprising. Sixty nine percent of young people involved in “Chance to be Chancellor” would cut more than the government to reduce spending and the deficit. I had assumed that since young people are so reliant on government services, they would be well aware of the impact of government cuts.

One of the British Youth Council’s priority campaigns, as chosen by young people, is “Save our services”, a campaign to reduce the impact of government cuts on youth services. Someone from the Citizenship Foundation, at the end of the event, admitted to us that the young people involved in the Youth Budget Report 2012 and “Chance to be Chancellor” competition were not a representative group of young people[1], which might explain the differences. As the report was only given to the government very shortly before the budget came into force, I doubt that there was time for it to be considered by the government. Otherwise, I might worry about which young people were allowed to speak for us all, and why.

The budget itself, which passed into law last Wednesday, was controversial because of the reduction of higher rate tax, at a time when ordinary people are facing severe cuts.[2] If anyone’s interested in more detail on the latest budget as a whole, I’d recommend the guardian’s diagram, or more detailed tables.


[1] It seemed to me that there was a surprisingly low number of Black and Minority Ethnic young people, young people from lower income families, and young people with disabilities at the event.

[2]A few links to give you an idea of the cuts I’m talking about.   Welfare Reform, children and people with disabilities or Sexual Health Services or EMA or charging people to use the Child Support Agency. These are just the ones I could find in a hurry – I’m sure there are more that I don’t know about, or couldn’t find a decent source for.

Beatbullying, a UK based anti-bullying charity, organised an on-line march against bullying last week. Thousands of people across the world took part, asking the UN to add the right to be safe from bullying to the Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

If the campaign is successful, this will be the first change to Rights of the Child in over a decade. Currently, these rights include the right to education, the right to relax and play, and the right to a home and family life. But, for millions of children, those rights are not a reality. So, is there any point adding bullying to the declaration? Or would it just become another ignored right?

We don’t even know how to recognise, let alone prevent bullying. Most schools, admittedly not all, already have some kind of anti-bullying program. Posters and talks, or a peer mentoring scheme, or a “safe room” for victims of bullying during lunch and breaks. But do any of these actually work? We don’t even know. So would a legal obligation to fund them improve things? Not necessarily.

But, then, nothing I campaign for is a perfect solution. I know that. Nothing I believe in can be proved without doubt. I know that too.  Why do I expect perfection from anti-bullying work, then? I’ve taken part in peer-mentoring schemes, I know they can help people, even if they don’t help everyone. Raising awareness of bullying might not stop bullying, but it might make it easier for victims / survivors to recognise what happened, and get help if they need it. I’m sure the same is true of other schemes, that I’ve not worked with.

All of this is important. Bullying is often seen as a trivial issue only affecting a small number of people. Unfortunately, that’s not true. About twenty children or young people commit suicide every year because of bullying[1], and nearly half f young people have been bullied at some point in their lives[2]. I want to do something about that, if I can.

By adding safety from bullying to the Rights of the Child, we raise the profile of this issue. It could force our government, and others, to fund anti-bullying schemes better. It could give children and young people a recourse, if their school or college doesn’t do anything to prevent bullying.

So, I signed Beatullying’s petition (http://www.beatbullying.org/bigmarch/), and I’m asking you to do the same. Because, yes, we all deserve the right to be safe from bullying.  Because I want our governments to be held accountable for stopping this. Because it’s a start.

This Friday a group of British Youth Council volunteers joined other young people at an Equality 4U event in Stafford. The event’s purpose was to explore four key human rights campaigns. For more information about the event itself please see its website, or see the article going up on the British Youth Council’s website about the event. Of course, a single day isn’t nearly enough time to discuss any of these topics. It was an eye-opener. A starting point for conversations, and ideas.

We split up into four distinct work-shops, one for disability rights, one for BME[1] rights, one for women’s rights, and one for LGBT[2] rights. It’s a reasonably good way of dividing the conversations for a one day course. But in real life, people aren’t that simple. Many, maybe even most, people could identify as more than one of those things. How about a Black, gay man, who faces racism from some elements of the LGBT community, homophobia from some members of the Black community, and both from some other people? Or a women with disabilities, at greater risk of domestic violence than a woman without disabilities[3], but not able to access many rape crisis centres and women’s spaces?

There are already groups who are working on issues of equality that affect people with different identities. One of these is PISSAR, or People in Search of Safe and Accessible Restrooms, which was started by students at the Universityof California, to improve bathroom accessibility. The group is largely made up of people who don’t conform to gender norms, people with disabilities, and people who care for small children. They also recognise how important access to toilets is for street homeless people, but don’t have any plans to help solve that yet. A copy of the PISSAR checklist is up online here. Briefly, it includes whether the toilet is in an isolated space, whether it is fully accessible (grab rails, height of soap and pad/tampon dispensers, width of doors, etc), whether there are gender-neutral toilets, and whether there is a changing table. By refusing to ignore issues that are awkward or embarrassing, or to see these issues as trivial, they are tackling problems that are too often sidelined or overlooked.

For a lot of people, it’s easy to assume that any bathroom we use will fit our needs. But for some of the members of this group, that’s not the case.

From my experience, issues of inequality and oppression can often work like this, affecting things most of us are never even aware of. Why would you notice the width of stalls, or height of soap dispensers, if you don’t use a wheelchair, and haven’t helped a friend or family member who uses a wheelchair to cope with public toilets? If no one you know is gender non-conforming, and is hassled in single gender spaces because their gender is confusing or hard to read, gender specific toilets would never seem problematic to you. And if you’ve never been a single dad, would it occur to you to worry if there are only changing tables in women’s toilets? Maybe this all seems a bit over-the-top too you, or petty, or just not as serious as real politics. But all of these issues are stupidly important to people’s ability to get on with their normal lives.

If we can find all of these issues in something as mundane as toilets, how many other invisible issues must there be? I want to shine a light on those problems. I want to talk about them. And, maybe more importantly, I want to listen, and learn to notice the world around me more. Because if we don’t even see the inequality in the world we live in, and the things we do every day, how can we begin to tackle these issues?


[1] BME stands for Black and Minority Ethnic. It was the term used by the event. I’ve been told that some people find the wording problematic, preferring to use Black as an umbrella term, or marginalised peoples, or People of Colour. But I’m not confident enough of that to re-phrase it, especially as I wouldn’t be sure what to change it to.

[2] LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. It has been adapted and extended into a variety of acronyms, including LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) and the more memorable and pronounceable QUILTBAG (Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay)

[3] According to Scapegoat by Katharine Quarmby