I just found my voice. Now they want to take it away.
Written by Stacy Hart
I’m 42. I’ve only just started protesting. I don’t want to stop now.
Mine was a low-income, council estate upbringing and I had a bog-standard state school education, which is to say that I learned nothing about politics as a child. Politics was something that happened elsewhere; it was posh men arguing about stuff that didn’t affect me, in a language I didn’t understand.
(Side note: I have come to believe that the lack of political or civic content in our education system is very deliberate and intended to keep politics to a small and specific ruling class of people, but that’s a whole other blog post.)
I got more confident and opinionated in my twenties, but it still never occurred to me that political activism could be for the likes of me. I didn’t even know how laws get made, for crying out loud! What good would I be on a march when I was never entirely sure what I should be asking for? Besides, there were pubs to be in and dancing that needed doing. And although I was very passionate and vocal about gender equality and equal rights for minority groups, I knew that progress was heading in the right direction; maybe it was slow, but we were getting there, right? It’s not like it was the bad old days, right?
(Side note the second: I fully acknowledge the white, straight-passing, able-bodied privilege that allowed me to ever vaguely feel this way).
Anyway. Relatively lazy and uninformed though I was, when the Women’s Equality Party started in 2015 I immediately became a founding member. I remember thinking that this sounded, for the first time, like something I understood and could get behind. And for the next few years, I started learning about the vast and deepening inequalities that exist in our society.
Having spent the previous few years as a stay-at-home parent to my two sons, when the youngest started school I had more time to devote to activism, plus, of course, with kids, the amount of time I could spend dancing in pubs was severely curtailed.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I got angrier and angrier. I decided to start a WEP branch in my hometown of Basingstoke; it took me a year of shopping the idea around before I found enough people willing to do it with me, but we officially launched in March 2019 and ran a paper candidacy in the local elections that year.
In May this year, we managed to get 16% of voters to tick next to our brilliant candidate: a pretty stunning vote share for our small, unfunded insurgency. I protested, locally and in London: anti-Trump, anti-Brexit, pro-carers’ pay, climate action. I marched, shouted, and sat.
I feel like here, in the beginning of the middle of my life, I have finally found my voice, and the courage to use it.
To protest is to express disapproval of or to object to something.
Protesting wrongs and offering alternatives has become a huge part of what gives my life meaning, both in micro and macro ways. To say no, to ask racists to stop, to tell men that harass me in the street: “that’s not okay!”
Despite my fear, I have found the voice to do all these things, because I have learned that to protest is the only way to achieve change of any size. It’s not a coincidence that the Government making it harder for us to object to them is the most objectionable one in my lifetime.
Protesting gives those without a voice the power to express disapproval. If you are poor, if you are Black or Brown-skinned, if you are an immigrant, if you are disabled, if you do not have the ears of the mainstream media – where is your voice? Who will hear you, and why should they listen? Protesting in the streets is one of the only ways those without power can raise their voices to be heard.
With this Bill, the Government is giving itself the means to arbitrarily criminalise those whose voices speak against it. It also plans to reduce judicial review powers in a separate attempt at silencing critique.
Why would any democratic Government want this kind of power? Why would any democratic leadership systematically and methodically strip each check and balance from itself, one by one? Even the most noble-intentioned of Governments can’t possibly imagine that all future politicians will continue to be as pure, as righteous, as they themselves are.
I’m 42. I’m just finding my voice.
Now more than ever, that voice is necessary to fight for equal pay and an end to violence against women and girls; to campaign for the NHS to be properly funded; to protect a planet dying from the effects of unfettered growth and corporate greed.
That voice cannot, must not, be taken from me now.