Madeleina Kay is an artist, writer, musician and prominent political activist with the remain campaign. You may recognise Madeleina from her YouTube sensation video ‘All I want for Christmas is EU’. We’ll be talking to Madeleina soon about her role in the remain campaign, her music, art and her involvement as a youth representative for the EU.
Over the weekend 5th-6th November I was invited to attend the European Society (TES) conference at Europe House in London. As the Campaigns Officer for the Sheffield Youth for Europe society, I was privileged to represent my own University of Sheffield, as well as Sheffield Hallam University. I attended the event with a fellow University of Sheffield student, Logan Robin, who is a national representative for Youth for Europe.
The first day was attended only by representatives from the national groups, most of who were under the age of 25. The agenda was for TES to present their projects and initiatives and to discuss the future structure of the organisation. It was inspiring to learn about their corner stone projects, which include “Café Europe” and “Europe at School”. Café Europe is an initiative that is being run with support from Starbucks, where campaigners can organise café meets for around 30 participants to discuss and educate others about Europe and the EU, all with free drinks provided. Europe at School is another incredible project, where volunteers can go into schools to educate groups of secondary school/college students about Europe and the EU.
We also received presentations from the founder of Involver and the Director of the British Council. I was excited and reassured to discover these positive initiatives that allow volunteers and campaigners to make a real and tangible difference.
The conference was a brilliant opportunity to meet and network with like-minded individuals and groups who are working to educate the public about the benefits of EU membership, protect the benefits the EU brings us and promote European culture and values. It was reassuring to see so much positive action from so many young people representing a diversity of groups, including; Youth for Europe, the Young European Movement (YEM) and the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) amongst others. On the second day, which was attended by delegates from other national organisations, the groups were given the chance to present about their aims, achievements and future initiatives. We were also privileged to have the inspirational founder of Scientists4EU, Mike Galsworthy attend the conference via Skype to participate in a riveting debate entitled ‘Brexit: Checkmate?’. It was evident that there are so many inspiring, hard-working, intelligent and passionate people working for a stronger European community, the main challenge will be to bring these groups and individuals together and unite their efforts.
Engagement with the youth
One of the key issues that was repeatedly raised during the conference was how to reach a wider audience and educate others on the benefits of European citizenship and the importance of remaining in the EU. And most importantly, how to engage those who have not had our privileged education and who haven’t experienced the benefits of European culture and opportunities such as Erasmus Plus. We were asked to participate in several activities and discussions, where it became clear there is a huge disparity between the individuals leading these pro-European groups and the people we most need to connect with. For example, we were asked to participate in a role play activity used in the Europe at Schools project; the level of debate between participants was highly intellectual, insightful and very entertaining, but it was pointed out that in reality, the children/students we will be working with are unlikely to understand terms such as “democracy” and “policy”. We were also asked to propose potential campaign projects, one suggestion included a “trilingual debate on the impacts of Brexit”, which is a nice idea in principle, but unfortunately embodies exactly the type of exclusivity and intellectual prowess which has led so many Leave voters to feel disconnected and suspicious of EU membership. My suggestions of a “Eurovision Song Contest style talent show” and “The Great European Bake Off” were received with laughter, but in reality, they are far from a joke. The popularity of such supposedly light-hearted cultural events gives them the potential to be key influencers of public opinion. That’s one of the reasons why I draw satirical cartoons, write children’s stories and perform Brexit protest songs; on the face of it, they may seem whimsical and superficial bits of entertainment, but under the bright colours, animal characters and satirical lyrics, there is a serious message. Having a diverse and accessible range of materials is going to be crucial to move the campaign forward and engage people who are otherwise disinterested or disconnected with politics. This is one of the reasons that I am such an advocate of Scientists4EU. Mike Galsworthy is a brilliant public speaker and his videos are creative, entertaining and educational. Providing content that is able to engage and inform without patronising our audience is an absolutely invaluable contribution to the campaign and should be a lesson to all individuals, groups and organisations in how to move forward into this uncertain future.
A positive future
The TES conference was a brilliant opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals, connect with campaigning groups and gain a sense of the range of initiatives that are being developed that have the potential to make a real and significant impact. The number of intelligent, hardworking young people attending the conference who are devoting so much time and energy to their groups and campaigning projects is testimony to their passion for the European cause. The conference reinforced my understanding of the many benefits of EU membership and the need to continue our fight to remain within the union.