One hundred years ago today a woman named Emily Davison threw herself under the horse belonging to the King at the Epsom Derby as part of the Suffragette movement to allow women the vote. She along with many others fought for women’s rights and stood up to be counted when it mattered. I believe we’ve lost that spirit in the UK. Over the last few days many in Istanbul have stood up against the regime in Turkey and its erosion of personal freedoms and the liberty in society – in this country those sorts of protests are not likely to be seen, or if they are they’re usually hi-jacked by those with a different and more anarchic agenda. Have we lost our fight?
If you consider how few people under the age of thirty currently vote or have any interest in politics there is a real malaise in society today that leaves us at the government of the day’s will. We don’t do much apart from sign a petition let alone get up off our backsides and march to make a point. Those who do are on the extreme fringes of society like the English Defence League or have a historical reason like the Orangemen but they don’t represent the majority in their beliefs or attitudes.
Davison’s sacrifice was for the greater good of society – but maybe it’s because we don’t really have a society anymore that causes the lethargy? People don’t feel that politics connects in any real and meaningful way with them – decisions made are forced through by party whips, against popular opinion and disregard the wishes of the constituencies the MPs represent. And we all accept it. Every time. Since the marches against the Poll Tax in 89/90 and the Anti-Iraq war marches in the early 2000s we have just shrugged our shoulders and concluded that regardless of our thoughts the decision will be made without our input of consent. Davison and co would be ashamed of our attitudes today considering they gave their lives so we could all vote and have a say; to be a true democracy.
I’m not advocating a mass suicide attempt each time the policies don’t fit with our own beliefs, but perhaps we need to engage teenagers in politics – not party politics – but politics that affect them and will affect them in the years to come. In subjects like Economics, Modern Studies, History, English and even Geography maybe we need to be more candid about the way in which language and rhetoric is used, the power that exists in the collective voice of a nation and show how important politics actually is. Most people will have never heard of Emily Davison but they could tell you who Rosa Parks was, and as powerful a figure Parks was in our own country the suffragettes movement should be underlined. Also when discussing the Second World War there needs to be an emphasis on the politics of the war and the reasons why. It’s not that the story of Hitler’s rise and the atrocities in the Camps isn’t important, because it really is, but again highlighting the importance of standing up for our rights needs to be made more strongly to show that people fought, campaigned and died for the democracy we all take for granted.
Looking at Syria, Egypt, Turkey and the Arab spring we can see that the fight is there in people when pushed to the point where they are willing to fight for what they believe. In the UK, and the west in general, we have the foundations of equality and freedom that these people are fighting for – but the real stories and people behind those liberties we all have should never be forgotten and we need to have the spark in us to ensure our country continues to have and respect those rights others died for.