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The Future of Democracy

November14

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As part of Stand Up Be Counted – an initiative run by Sky News to amplify the voices of young people, yesterday I was a reporter investigating the pros and cons of lowering the voting age to 16. I was looking into this proposal amongst many other pressing issues regarding the state of democracy in the UK. I spoke to Graham Allen MP who chairs the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee. Today, this select committee launches a consultation putting a number of radical reforms to the public. The aim is to better understand public opinion on how to enhance democracy in the UK and to increase political participation. Some of these proposed changes are online voting, postal voting, lowering the voting age and mandatory voting.

“Decisions are made by those who show up” yet the voter turnout in the UK is dwindling drastically. At the last general election, 16 million people did not vote. Hearing figures like this only convinces me more of the urgent necessity to eradicate apathy and disillusionment. I ardently believe that young people do care and we are indeed passionate about positive change; we just don’t always know where or how to direct this passion. Nonetheless, living in such a digital age, we now have access to a plethora of platforms through which we can express our views and pioneer our very own campaigns. Young people are being recognised more and more as the valuable citizens that we are; the tide is turning but we need new waves of inspiration to prevent any stagnancy in our progression.

In terms of lowering the voting age to 16, I personally do not think that this is what needs to be done at this point in time. First and foremost, we need to deal with the low voter turnout of the 18-24 year old demographic (at the last general election, only 44% of this age group voted). Everybody is an individual and 16 – 17 years olds may well be different (as exemplified in the Scottish Referendum) however, our first steps towards increasing participation needs to be rooted in education. I find it slightly ludicrous that the government plays such a big role in education yet the majority of current school systems don’t do much to educate pupils on how government and politics actually works. The odd PSCHE/Citizenship lesson is simply not enough.

We need to do more to nurture the aspirations and innovative thinking of young people so that by the time they turn eighteen, they have the mind-set and the skills to make the difference they wish to. It does not make sense that we can learn all about the complex calculations within algebra but not know the formula behind our Parliamentary system. Or we can write essays on coastal erosion yet be oblivious to the erosion of human rights in the world around us. Traditional, academic subjects are indeed very important but the chasm between what we learn at school and what we need to know in the so-called “real world” is far too wide: we need to start bridging the gap. How can we be expected to effectively engage with the political system if we are not effectively educated about it?

I am grateful for projects and initiatives such as Stand Up Be Counted, UK Youth Parliament and BBC Free Speech which encourage young people to immerse themselves in debate and discussion. Excitement fills me when I ponder the prospect of a future where the potential of every young person is realised and where the word ‘change’ is not associated with empty promises or lofty fantasy but with an undeniable reality.

See video below for the footage of my report, broadcast on Sky News 14/11/14:
http://news.sky.com/video/1373046/should-16-year-olds-be-given-vote

Disrupting Disillusionment

September17

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Revolution is just a redefinition away.

With the imminent Scottish referendum – due to take place tomorrow – I can’t help but question whether 16 -17 year olds will actually participate. With so many distractions and diversions, the occupation of education, trying to figure out what on earth we want to do in the future, struggles with identity and insecurity, what place does politics have in our lives?

The word “politics” in itself has the ability to trigger an array of reactions. Some instantly envision the Houses of Parliament, some contend that it’s all a game of power whilst others think of economics and pensions. It’s easy to fall into a state of apathy and indifference when your idea of politics is defined by external influences. If someone paints you a picture, you can either accept it or discard it; resulting in this divide between those who are supposedly politically active and those who are deemed to be disengaged – and more importantly, disenchanted. But what about creating your own picture? What about moulding and shaping your own image of what politics is? It needn’t be limited to elections, parties and voting booths. Take hold of the creativity and innovation that is unique to you.

For me, politics is about engaging with society, it’s about justice and representation. It is about voicing the unspoken and unveiling what is “taboo”. However, it’s also the way I argue with my sister that Timberlake and not Bieber is the better Justin. It’s convincing my Head of Year that plastic, orange chairs do not look good in the Sixth Form Centre, it’s communicating with my Nigerian grandmother and getting her to understand my British accent. Don’t shy away from the concept of politics because you only see it on this large, grand scale of trying to make possible what the world is calling impossible – whether that be world peace, a higher employment rate or social equality. These issues are of great importance but also take time to make politics personal; make it mean something to you as an individual. Redefine it completely.

Once we break down the artificial presumptions of what politics is, we have more freedom to engage with it – regardless of the context. Everybody has something to say and no one can articulate your distinctive thoughts and opinions better than yourself. Our picture of politics needs to evolve. It is not one man holding a megaphone but a continuous conversation. It is not about winning a seat but about taking a stand.

Twitter, Tumblr and Me

August6

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How many versions of yourself exist?

I would say I have about five at the very least. The Facebook self which displays my optimistic, “living life to the full” façade, the Twitter self is where I attempt to appear as deep and philosophical as possible (basically retweeting a bunch of Walt Disney quotes), Tumblr is the perfected presentation of my inner – or wannabe – hipster self and Instagram is last but not least, an exhibition of my select, selfie-worthy moments – you know, the ones which are “completely spontaneous” and you just happened to quickly take them on your way out (in reality, about 30 minutes was spent planning the position of your face, hair fixing, hunting down the best lighting and scrolling through filters). Then there’s me. The real me. The individual that cannot be expressed or defined in the confinements of a twitter bio or a Facebook profile picture.

Being part of a generation birthed in the midst of the digital revolution and where social media is omnipresent, it strikes me how so much time is spent creating all these different online versions of ourselves and so little is left to actually discover our true identity. It’s like instead of human beings, we’ve become mannequins, dressing up for show, adorning ourselves with possessions, people and places – all for display- until we’re either accepted and people buy into our pretences, or rejection causes us to scale down our worth and our self-imposed devaluation means we are accepted for something much lower than our priceless selves. You are more than your YouTube hits. Your amount of followers does not reveal your significance. Don’t just “Do it for the Vine”, do things because they matter, do things because you’re passionate, do things to create moments you yourself can cherish and not to please a virtual audience.

In this whirlwind of constant posts, pictures and self-promotion, while the world sees only your ‘final cuts’ and polished performances, make sure there are people in your life who get to see the ‘Behind the Scenes’ footage: expose your unscripted self every once in a while. Take off the accessories and embrace discovery: there are hidden treasures within you waiting to be unearthed.

Mirror Mirror on the wall

January10


I wrote this quite a while ago and just stumbled across it in my old archives. Enjoy:

Imagine you are looking into a mirror. What do you see? A reflection of yourself, a depiction of your appearance, an image of who you are? This is not the case. This mirror distorts, deceives and disappoints. It paints a picture of something you know is untrue: it’s not you. You step forward, you step backwards, you reach out and touch the mirror. It doesn’t change. This tainted image of yourself remains: it haunts you. Where can something so enthralling be found? In the enchanted woods of Narnia, on the yellow brick roads of Oz, or perhaps in the castle-like dwelling of Prince Charming? No. What if I told you this mirror was here, on Earth; in fact, you look into it almost every day…

The Media. The Media is one of the most powerful tools in the World; it has the ability to shape who we are and how we think. Yet if we young people take a look, unjust stereotypes and ludicrous labels is what the Media reflects. I say hard-working, the paper says “Hoodlums”, I say talented, the Radio says “Troublemakers”, I know we’re creative but the TV shouts out ”Criminals”. When we look to the Media, instead of seeing and hearing about the vast majority of us who do make positive contributions to our society, the reflection is only ever of those select few who decide to do wrong…but how do they represent us all? Why should they symbolise the youth? We are individuals! He is not her and she is not me and I am not you. The bad choices of one young person should not affect the options of another and the crime-filled past of one youth should not affect another’s future. The Media is a catalyst for many pessimistic preconceptions regarding the youth and it needs to change.

The Media is capable of hugely influencing our identities as young people; the labels supposedly spell out who we are and the stereotypes tell us how to behave. Well, once they’ve created a mould, why not try to fit it? Society expects us to act a certain way, so why not comply? Why build up a good reputation when there’s no expectation? This broken mindset is something that constant negative portrayal can cause and it is an attitude we desperately need to rid ourselves of. There needs to be more media focus on positive representation of young people. Less condemnation and more inspiration, encouragement rather than judgement; stories not on past and present gang leaders but of future world leaders.

Here is a poem I wrote which explores this issue further:

Life is a double-edged sword

December10

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As soon as the lofty lyrics of “there is beauty in our tears” echoed out of my speakers, I remember inwardly contesting this claim. How could pain and suffering ever be deemed beautiful? Moments that are breath-taking and moments that are heart-breaking rest on such different ends of the puzzling spectrum that is life; how can they possibly be intertwined?

The little voice of cynicism which pops up in all of us (yes, even us who paint smiley faces on our walls and have memorised every inspirational quote that exists) cried out ‘No. There is not beauty in our tears. Have you seen the horror that is my face when it’s scrunched up with hurt? (That’s right, the movies lie to us. No, you don’t look pretty and tragic when you cry). At the time, this seemed to me to be the overwhelming, resounding truth.

This changed however when recently, I had to deal with a huge disappointment. A hope, an aspiration, an image I had created in colour – envisioning the future- suddenly turned to grey, and crumbled under the blow of rejection. Lying in my bed that night, after having had quite enough of my own sobbing and snivelling, it dawned on me that this was it. This. Was. Life. In all its gritty fullness. We often hear that ‘life is not a fairytale’ but I only partly agree. We undoubtedly are not always blessed with ‘Prince Charmings’ and ‘Happily Ever Afters’, but there is likeness in the restlessness embodied in Goldilocks as she endeavours to discover perfection, there is kinship in the rejection reflected in the lowliness of Cinderella, and if you think there couldn’t possibly be a family as crazy as yours, imagine what Snow White had to deal with living amongst the seven dwarfs? What I’m trying to get at here is that life should not be and is not a Hollywood film where the bad bits are edited out and the good bits are enhanced but more like a home-made video where we are stripped from falsities; our fears and failures as well as our smiles and successes are on display. With this realisation came an absurd sense of freedom. The trouble and turmoil I face simply means that I am getting older and will get wiser in the ways which I overcome. I am growing. There is a heightened awareness of the richness of life and the individual experience.

Does disappointment still suck? Yes. Does pain and suffering remain sad? Yes. Don’t negative emotions still cloud over a previously bright day? Yes. But without clouds, there could be no rain. And without rain, there could be no rainbow.

Catwalk

November15

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It hit me like a UFO falling from Space.

I was lucky enough to attend a Charity Fashion Show for an emerging Maternity Clinic in Uganda. As I watched and cheered and laughed at the models strutting their stuff down the catwalk (secretly wishing I could walk on heels without the risk of falling into train tracks/tumbling down stairs/breaking everything precious in sight) – all shapes, all sizes, all skin tones – it made me wonder why on earth the fashion industry still refuses to embrace diversity. Why is it only at a Charity function, with volunteering models, and not at London Fashion Week, that we can witness a plethoric presentation of body images? Why settle for monochrome when there could be a metaphorical rainbow?

Fashion is for everybody. It is a mode of expression, of self-definition, of creative liberation. It therefore does not make sense that when we celebrate style, there is only one type of woman on show. Surely, one is more encouraged to invest in clothes when there are people who look like you in them, and “work it” (excuse the colloquial cliché but it had to be done). A catwalk should be like a mirror, reflecting who we are, commemorating our individuality, whilst bringing us together in our connection to fashion. At the moment, however, there is a chasm between what the media deems as “beautiful” and then the remaining 6 billion of us. Beauty is not an intricate code of DNA found only in a select few, it is whatever we as society, choose to deify. This power of definition lies within us, so why limit ourselves? If we would flaunt our “flaws”, smile at our so-called shortcomings, disregard the digital enhancement and focus on our own advancement… you never know.

The word “ugly” may someday cease to exist.

Can I go to Neverland now?

November8

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Eternal childhood, escapism and an excuse to believe in fairies. My eighteenth birthday is fast approaching and with it, the desire to travel to a place where I can be a child forever is sounding more and more appealing. Oh I know, I’m still young, not exactly drawing up retirement plans or heading out to Bingo every Friday night (although, who doesn’t love a game of Bingo once in a while?). The point is, as I embark on the journey that is adulthood, the constant flow of “Wow, you’re growing up so fast!” and “What do you want to do in the future?” is transforming into the theme song of my life. My vocabulary is no longer “You’re it!”, “Play-time!” and “Cinderella” but is “Exams”, “University” and “Careers”. Does babysitting the ‘Lost Boys’ and brushing Tinkerbell’s hair count as a long-term plan?

Nostalgia seems to encompass everything I do. I see a kid running around and wish that I could get away with pretending to be Superman. I hear a child sing their heart out and feel sad that no one would ever smile and clap if I sounded that tone-deaf. I smell their chocolate-tainted breath and sigh because when you’re seventeen, biscuit crumbs around your lips are in no way adorable. I touch my round face and regret the fact that the cuteness of “chubby cheeks” has an expiration date. Childhood is bliss. It’s magic. It’s the time when if you announce that you want to be a Scuba-diver or a Princess, an awkward silence won’t be what follows, but rather cries of joy and encouragement. It’s like a snow-globe; with every shake and sway, every twist and turn – excitement, vitality, and life erupts and we are protected by the shell of simplicity.

My glass shattered many years ago with the dawn of the “Teen Age”. After hours of pondering and deep thinking, sitting on green hills, pretending I’m in a movie, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve always thought that broken glass looked beautiful; its glimmer, its irrevocability, each piece, akin, yet flaunting uniqueness. I have broken through the age of infancy and face the mountain of adulthood. The broken snow-globe is my reality; I await the challenges to come with a tender heart, embodied in the fallen fragments and with the ferocity of the sharp edges. Like broken glass, I will reflect the light of every song, every story, and every memory that shaped who I am today. My childhood will not be limited to the ages of four to twelve but with every fond recollection, I will re-live each moment. So sorry Peter Pan, you can’t fly me to Neverland. There’s no need. It’s in my heart.

Epiphany

October25

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What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘Epiphany’? Just the sound of it is somewhat fantastical. A moment of divine truth? An enlightenment? A shifted perspective? The scene should most certainly be encompassed by twinkling lights, angelic song and fairy dust. Your face will be magically illuminated at this precise moment of revelation (no one has a clue where this light comes from but hey ho, it doesn’t matter, you look like Aphrodite)…right? Wrong. Very wrong. My so-called “epiphany” came on a cramped and smelly tube on the London Underground. Twinkling lights? No, just the cheap, yellowy tint of artificial lighting. Angelic song? Nah, just the sound of an old man farting, hoping his straight face would keep others from noticing. Looking like Aphrodite? Far from it. My sudden outburst of tears left me with blotchy eyes and a runny nose, perhaps the resemblance of a bloated frog is the more fitting description. But did these grim realities take anything away from that unforgettable moment? Most certainly not.

Being a Londoner for seventeen years, you’d think I’d be thick-skinned and hard-hearted towards beggars by now. You see them in train stations and street corners all the time. But as this man walked onto the train, torn clothes and worn face, asking for money, the response (although it really shouldn’t by now) shocked me. Not one person looked up, people did not stir: he was completely ignored. It was as if his presence was non-existent and his cry for help was just an echo of the moving train. My heart broke. I could not believe the utter lack of compassion. As I gave the man some change, the condition of society began to dawn on me. I am in no way above it, I used to think this way and still do sometimes. But it has been ingrained into our minds that your career, money and power is what we should ultimately strive for in life. It’s not. What is the point in being the richest person in the universe if we cannot show kindness to our (metaphorical) brothers and sisters? Oh I know, it’s so cheesy…but it’s true. That man on the Tube was a human being, no different to any of us onlookers; he deserved to be noticed. If it was a celebrity that walked on, no doubt they would have the undivided attention of the whole carriage. Since when did fame and money determine the value of a person? We need to re-evaluate what really matters in life.

Love matters. Peace matters. Joy matters.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and the helpless, and see that they get justice”.

-          Proverbs 31:8-9

 


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