Monday, 30 May 2016

The Time I Stood Up

Late last year I decided to stand as a Candidate for the Green Party in the ward that I live in. Being a candidate was a real eye opener for me in dipping a toe in local public life. I was very lucky though to have the support of my friends and the party around me. I had an overall positive experience, though there were times when I wish I hadn't stood. In this post I will be just talking about a few of those points and experiences. Just as a precautionary, in case someone decides to use anything against me or the party, these are my opinions, not the party's.

My Hopes:
I went in with this thought that maybe other councillors worked together despite the pressures and cuts from central government. I thought that perhaps in local government people worked together to solve the issues facing their people, in this case, the residents of Cambridge. I was so wrong. But, the beast that reality is didn't show itself until about a month before the election. I may sound naive with my preconceived ideas of how the city councillors worked. I had been to a couple city council meetings a few years back to watch as a member of the public. Both of the meetings went without incidence. But I think my notions were very much based on the workings of Cambridge Green Party. I was made to feel very welcome from Day 1 and got involved in many aspects of the party. At every meeting I went to I felt so included; everyone was nice and really just amazing to me and to each other. I don't think I thought things outside, as in within the council would be different. I was wrong, obviously.

The reality:
I was shocked when I saw a video clip of a Lib Dem councillor insulting a Labour councillor at a local Homelessness Strategy meeting. I felt sick. Here were councillors meeting to find better ways to help one of the most vulnerable group of people but instead they were behaving like Westminster oxygen thieves. As you will know already if you have read my older posts, I experienced homelessness when I was 18 until I moved into my current home. To have these people that we voted for wasting time really made me question what I was really standing for. Because I would never become them, but if I was never going to become them, then who would I be? When Oscar Gillespie, the Councillor from Green Party told us about the poor behaviour amongst the councillors, I realised that it perhaps didn't matter if I won, because perhaps even then other councillors would probably shout me down. Would I be able to enhance the daily lives of my residents with all the politics and shenanigans? I also realised that there was a reason why Trump was doing so well in USA. As much as people love to hate ''Career Politicians'', it’s only a certain type of people who do well in politics. None of this stopped me from trying to win. I wanted to win. But I also worried about how this would affect my life financially. I am currently finishing a degree, and seeing that city councillors get such a low allowance worried me about how I would be able to carry on paying the rent. It also made me realise this position really is for the rich or the retired. You see, even though it is meant to be a part-time, I can't see how anyone can be a good, competent councillor as well as work full-time.

The shock:
One of my actions created a mini Twitter storm, and looking back at it now, yes I did feel like standing down, mainly due to fear, but also the abuse. I didn’t do anything hugely bad, I corrected a mistake as soon as possible. I put a poster up in public property; a bus stop by Pizza hut on Mill Road. It had a QR code to my video that a local hero- Antony Carpen had made, and it also contained my name and saying to vote for me. I didn’t think to add the imprint on it (don’t ask, I’ve already had a hard time with it as is).I took this poster off as soon as I realised my mistake- the very same evening, I also put a poster in a local shop- they accepted it, and it was also missing an imprint. Now, if I had known I was doing something wrong, I would not have put it on Twitter. That would be silly. But anyhow, someone retweeted it and it opened the floodgates. Another political party got hold of it and told me I would get my agent fired and the usual scaremongering. They also threatened to fine us. We didn’t have a lot of money anyhow and it really scared us. Friends came to my defence and one friend even wrote a blog post about it here. While this was all happening, another party member added me on Facebook, I thought to myself that people were adding me to show their support, but I was completely wrong. I was in a panic, and wrote a Facebook post about it, and being reassured by friends to not stand down. This person added me to just spy on my personal account and then write a scathing email to all the campaign team- which maybe they didn’t realise that I was a part of- something I really didn’t need it at that time. Perhaps other parties are different in not having such a close knit family feeling, but we certainly do so that made the shock even more real and it really hurt to see that. But to see friends and one other candidate putting themselves in the firing line was greatly astonishing. I also went to the shop the next day and put in the imprint. The photo I shared on Twitter included the photo of the poster with a smaller QR code with a message written in English but phonetically in Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. Thinking back on it now, I feel like maybe the other party people were just angry that I was trying to get people involved that they largely ignored: the ethnic minorities. During my campaign, I spoke to a number of people who are not white, and they all said they felt disenfranchised. I think that says more that I need to. I will write a post about that soon, one day.

The Accomplishments:
Since December, I have I feel really become an active member of the party. Obviously standing as a candidate would do that, but I’m also a part of the Campaign Committee and Co-Chair of the local party. I initially decided to stand because I was pretty depressed. I was going to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy sessions every week, and had a very bad year; I had had a break down earlier that year. My close friend Ed had cancer and it was very difficult to come to terms with his illness, and then in October he passed away. All in all, including other things, I was having a very shitty year, and part of the CBT is to make changes to your own life and to really work at getting better. I thought by standing I would be able to combat a lot of my issues surrounding depression and anxiety. I did and I feel tons better. But I really don’t think I would have been able to come out of the Twitter storm stuff and the horrible emails without the help of everyone at the party and my friends.

My other achievement was writing the Homelessness policy for the Cambridge Green Party Manifesto 2016. I sent a copy of it away to 2 prominent charities in Cambridge and received positive feedback from them. It has a seal of approval from people who work with homeless people every day. For me, that is a great achievement. I feel like although I don’t know where my career is headed at least I have done something with my degree even before graduating. The very short version of it can be found here ( pp.15-16). I guess a minor achievement was not embarrassing myself in front of Natalie Bennett who came to our fundraiser in April. I was star struck- we all have our own heroes- she’s one of mine.

A Long Day:
On the day of the election, we were out before the sunrise and got in the next day at sunrise too. It was a long day; I spent a lot it walking back and forth from our headquarters to the Polling Station to leafleting. We even had Natalie Bennett come to see us and give a speech! By the time it came to going in for the count, we were all pretty exhausted.

An Incident:
At the Guild Hall, a few of us were in the Petersfield counting area and next to us was the Queen Edith’s count. I had heard of a certain other candidate standing there but hadn’t met him before. Then around some time after midnight, in between the next batch of counting, he approached me and started asking me about my parentage- I told him where my family are from in India. I thought perhaps we could talk about something we had in common- he is from another part of India himself- something he told me as a reply. I asked him about how it was looking for him and he told me it wasn’t good and about how many “resources” the national party put into his campaign and how Lords had helped him with canvassing- very much showing off. And I said it was a shame, and that local politics was different to central politics and asked what he stood for. He started telling he was a businessman and also made certain comments about ‘working hard is the only way to make it’. When I tried to tell him about recent research that says social mobility is no more. He told me to shut up as he hadn’t finished. He said it in such a way that was rude and also in a way that he thought that we were in India in the 1950s, and to be quiet. I decided to overlook that, mainly because I didn’t want to muddy the name of my party by saying what I really should have said and I was also very shocked. He then carried on telling me how he came to England with not a lot of money and made a lot more by working really hard, and that with hard work anyone can be rich. He then asked me if I was married, I pointed out my fiancé who was helping us the whole day since 4.30 am and was now helping with the counting. He looked shocked and was visibly 'disturbed', as my fiancé in his eyes and my mother's eyes is unacceptable because he is an English, white male. He quickly realised this and just said, ‘Oh! O-kay!’

He then asked me, ‘Can I ask… I don’t understand why second generation girls always sleep with goras?’

I mean shocking right? I really didn’t want to speak to him anymore. He was trying to embarrass me, trying to 'cut my nose'. I told him I loved my fiancé and just tried to be pleasant despite that. He asked me about my family and I was honest with him. Though when I told him a little bit about my childhood, he did start showing me more respect- mainly due to telling him what my father did for a living, even though it has nothing to do with me. He then also went on to tell me that next time I visit India, I ought to go to his state, as it’s clean unlike ‘Punjab which is very dirty’ and not very nice, that I should see ‘the real India’, that has ‘educated people there’. Luckily, a fellow party member came and sat between us and it kind of ended the conversation. But in our first ever meeting, he tried to embarrass me and insulted me, made sweeping generalisations about a whole group of people- of Punjab and 2nd generation British Indian women. On top of that, he showed off how much the national party threw money at him. I really don’t think I would have come out of it not feeling shame- had I not been so tired and feeling happier in myself as a person. Shame and honour are 2 things that are very important to many people from South Asian communities, I am confident that he knew what he was saying- he was trying to bring shame upon me and question my honour. We also discussed integration of communities and trying to get more ethnic minorities to vote and stand, and we also spoke about other things- we didn’t agree on a lot of stuff and we agreed on other stuff, but what he said to me personally is what I’ve highlighted the most here.

Also another incident took place as I was going into the main hall for the results- a lady who was from another party observing the Petersfield count decided to come up to me and patronisingly told me how great it was that I tried unlike the 2 other parties. It was said in a bitchy way and, having already suffered from remarks by someone else, I really didn’t need that too.

So, we didn’t do so well, I came second. I didn’t really knock on doors as much- mainly due to having 2 bad experiences from residents who were really rude- it really scared me. I also don’t think we as a party realised how much Jeremy Corbyn would affect our votes. But we live and learn, next time, I’ll be even more confident. I did my best, and I will stand again. We as a party will improve and learn from this. I personally feel that I have grown as a person, and next time I will make sure I work on door-knocking but also I hope people will be nicer too. Just because we are standing in local elections doesn’t mean we don’t have hearts. If we’re meant to take crap then we have to become heartless- do people really want people with tough skins to stand for them or do they want people just like them? Career politicians or everyday folk? Which is it?

A really amazing feeling was walking down the road on the day and people just stopping me and telling me that they had voted for me. It was a surreal feeling, people had voted for me and they believed in me. 321 people voted for me, and though it’s a fraction in the grand scheme of things, for me it’s 321 individuals who believed in me. I am most thankful to you. I am also thankful to my friends both old and new, who despite their ill health and or busy schedules came out and helped me by leafleting. My special thanks also goes my fiancé who helped put up the poster boards around the city and got sun burnt as a result. He also leafleted with me come rain or shine, and walked over 18 miles on the election day delivering early morning leaflets, telling at the Polling Stations, going home to feed the Chairman Meow (I will write a post on our cat soon), and then helped with the count as well as doing his own life things.

Until next time,
Sen x (aka Sharon Kaur)

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Twitter: @senlanoire