As a journalist, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit how little civic involvement I have had up to date. Although, there are reasons (or excuses) for this.
One is that when I began learning in school that I had a voice and could make change in my community, even as a child, I was sceptical. But after being encouraged by a teacher, I wrote to an MP about some issue or the other and when I didn’t receive so much as an acknowledgement of receipt, this to me was confirmation of what I felt I knew all along – no one listens to kids.
The other is that as I grew up and watched politicians pitch their platforms and get their votes, the next thing I would hear is how few of their promises were actually ever kept. Despite the fight that has gone into ensuring I can vote as a woman, and despite obtaining my Canadian citizenship one year after reaching the age of majority and finally having the privilege, I just couldn’t be bothered.
When I told my colleagues this in journalism school, as you can imagine, many of them were appalled. Journalism and politics have always been so intimately intertwined that I can see how difficult it must have been to grasp that someone completing a master’s degree in journalism doesn’t even bother to vote. I felt that I could make much more change through the reporting and writing of stories than I could ever make by putting my faith in the platforms of politicians and hoping not only that my single vote would make a difference but that once they were elected, they would actually follow through on anything that mattered to me.
Having said this, I have more recently realised how much we really can make a difference. This is in large part thanks to a secular sermon I attended a few years ago through The School of Life given by Rebecca Solnit about Hope. She spoke on that day (and also reports in her book Hope) about the positive news we don’t ever hear about and all of the problems that used to be news but are no longer because of the collective actions of regular people. The seeds planted by Solnit’s sermon and book together with my experience of reporting out and writing stories as a journalist turned me. We can make change as Solnit points out through petitions and protest, through the telling of stories as I have said, and through voting as my fellow j-schoolers so passionately believe. But also, despite my fruitless letter-writing experiences as a child (both when trying to contact my local MP and Santa Clause), I have come to believe we can also make change through the writing of letters.
This week I read a short article in the Daily Telegraph that I loved so much, I clipped it out and kept it. It tells the story of a group of 12 students aged 6 and 7 from Hangleton Community Infant School in Hove, East Sussex, who were so fed up of their parents fighting about parking at their school, that they came together and over the course of a few weeks contributed two sentences each to a letter which they then sent to parents, teachers and residents in the community.
I have included the letter below, which on reading, I’m sure you will agree is an inspirational and encouraging story of young civic action. Not only did these children team up and take positive action against something that was of concern to them, but they actually made a difference to the situation as the community has taken on board their suggestions made in the letter. I think we can all learn a thing or two from these young politickers... I sure have.
As printed in the Daily Telegraph this Thursday 3 April 2014:
‘We found lots of people get cross about where people park their cars. We don’t like people being unhappy so we want to make all our friends and neighbours smile by helping people to make good choices when driving to and from school.
‘These are some of the ways you could help us: If you live close to school, maybe you could walk. It’s really good for you. If you need to come by car then please don’t park across driveways. People need to be able to leave their houses and they can’t get out. If you can’t leave your house/work with plenty of time to find a proper parking space, please try to park in the road so that pavements are safe to walk on and grass verges stay looking tidy.
‘Thank you for reading our letter we wish you happy school runs.’