No Vote Doesn’t Mean No Voice

Less Cuts More Cats

Photo: Jack Edwards

What do you do when you’re too young to vote but you want to change the way your country is run? You raise your voice. Leo Jay Shire talks to sixth-form group, Bristol Against Austerity, about their thousands-strong anti-cuts march.

On Wednesday, 13th May 2015, thousands of people marched through the streets of Bristol in protest against austerity cuts in Britain. The protest was organised by the group Bristol Against Austerity, also known as BAA.

BAA was set up by a group of seven determined young women. In fact, they’re all still teenagers.

BAA was set up by a group of seven determined young women. In fact, they’re all still teenagers, their ages ranging between 17-19 years old. Every member will enter adulthood under the newly elected Conservative government, yet some of them were too young to vote in this years election. Setting up BAA was a way to get their voice heard.

Ellie Scull, a member of the BAA team, explains why it was important to set up the BAA community. “We all felt very lost following the election result on Friday, and we were surrounded by people who felt the same way,”she says. “Under this new government, the needs of the working-class and the vulnerable would continue to be ignored in favour of cuts that would significantly benefit the rich. The fact that one million people (and counting) are currently surviving off food provided by food banks, even before the proposed £12 billion welfare cuts, is surely an indicator that we do not live in a fair society, and that the deficit needs to be reduced in less exploitative ways.”

Park Street March

Photo: Jack Edwards

Setting up BAA was a way to get their voice heard.

The movements protest focused on ending austerity measures initially put in place by the coalition government, such as cuts to housing benefit and replacing Disability Living Allowance and increasing university tuition fees which the newly elected Conservative government seem to have no plans to end. In the aftermath of the election, there have been protests all over the country calling for an end to the cuts. However, some people feel that the message behind the protests in London got lost in headlines more focused on the minority of protestors who acted violently. Pictures were posted of wounded policemen in the mainstream media, with predictions being made by the Daily Mail of a “summer of thuggery”in relation to the protests.

“When people act violently, then the natural response from the opposition is to respond with anger.”

But BAAs young women were determined to make sure that their message would not be misinterpreted. “When people act violently, then the natural response from the opposition is to respond with anger,” Ellie says. “We have provided no way for the media to twist the success of the event as they did with the London protests last weekend.”

The march, which went up and down Park Street, past Queen Square, and finally ended in Castle Park, stayed peaceful, following the requests of BAA. There was no sense of animosity towards the police who were present on horseback and cleared a path for protestors to walk behind. When a pair of fire engines approached, protestors were quick to clear out of the way and cheered as they went past. “We are so, so proud of the people of Bristol for marching with us and showing the ones who doubted us that we are powerful and our views matter,”says Ellie.

Police on horseback

Photo: Jack Edwards

We’re sick of being undermined and we need to prove to people that we DO have a voice and our voice can influence.

Thousands of people ended up joining the march and many of the crowd were young people, some in school uniform “We’re sick of being undermined and we need to prove to people that we DO have a voice and our voice can influence.”And proved this they have, all while studying for their exams. For now, these will take top priority. “We’re hoping to come back in full force in the summer,”Ellie says, “organising events and helping the most vulnerable by working with food banks and shelters.” Its evident that BAAs mission is just beginning.

This march was a demonstration that disproved the misconception that the youth are apathetic towards politics. Six out of ten people aged 18-24 turned up to vote in the general election this year, an improvement on the last election turnout and it seems that, eligible to vote or not, more young people across the UK are engaging with politics. Young people are the future but they’re also the present, and they’re determined to make sure they’re heard.

Bristol Against Austerity can be found through their Facebook page. Did you attend the protest? Do you feel engaged with politics? How else can young people make their voices heard? Let us know @rifemag

Related links:

Digestible Politics: Why Your Voice Matters by Yero Timi-Biu

My First Time Voting by Yero Timi-Biu and Leo Jay Shire

Digestible Politics: Should 16 Year Olds Get The Vote? by Leo Jay Shire

Why Politics Is For You, According To Rick Edwards by Jess Connett

To Vote…Always To Vote by Huw James