Over the last four days I have attended two political events, a whole new world for me. On Saturday I was at the first party conference of the Women’s Equality Party, and today I attended a Health & Social Care event for Andy Burnham’s campaign to become Mayor of Greater Manchester.
I had been hoping to attend the WEP conference, but it was expensive and I wasn’t sure I could justify it. Then Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, and suddenly it felt like there was nothing more important than lending my support to a party dedicated to women’s equality.
I could only be there for the Saturday, but what a brilliant day it was. I had the privilege of hearing Sophie Walker’s leadership speech, which received a standing ovation and was one of the best political speeches I have heard in a long time. Passionate, sincere, spoken without notes or an auto-cue, the only other public figure to have spoken like this in recent times is Michelle Obama. I urge you to watch the full speech here:
My first breakout session of the day was led by Sue Tibballs, talking about the What Women Want 2.0 project. Please lend your voice to this if you have not already done so. The interim findings, according to the project’s website, “show that women are feeling angry and let down by the lack of progress towards gender equality and alarmed by increased and intense objectification of their bodies and those of their daughters.”
There were so many other sessions that I would have liked to attend, but I chose to spend the afternoon in the Open Space facilitated by Stella Duffy, discussing what the party had missed in terms of the policy areas it was already looking at. This was very much the place for me, as my areas of interest – maternity, infant feeding, family and the early years – did not feel a part of the WEP proposition.
Stella explained the way that Open Space works: anyone could call a “session” about whatever was their passion, and others could join sessions/discussions as they chose. She said that she would ring a bell and then the floor would be open for people to call sessions, but not to worry if no one stood up to begin with as often it takes time for people to pluck up the courage. Well she rang the bell and about 5 of us jumped up like we were out of the starting gates! I called a session on “Growing Families and Women’s Equality – can WE include maternity and the early years?” and the lovely Esther Malvern whom I had the privilege of meeting on the day called one on supporting women’s feeding choices. I wasn’t alone in my quest to bring motherhood to the conference!
Esther’s session was in the first time slot, and we had a fantastic discussion about all of the things that come into infant feeding, and what we would want the WEP to take on board when thinking about party policies on this issue.
Notes from all of the sessions were then to be typed up by Stella herself and fed back to the party leadership. Genuine crowd-sourcing of ideas and listening to all voices. There was so much enthusiasm at the end of the afternoon, people felt they had really been heard and that space had been provided for them to express their concerns and passions without fear of judgement or disdain.
You can catch up with the whole conference on Twitter by checking out the hashtag #WE2016
Today’s Health and Social Care event at Clarendon Sixth Form College in Tameside had echoes of Saturday’s conference. There was a genuine desire to hear the voices of the people in Greater Manchester and to have them contribute to Andy Burnham’s manifesto and proposals for the area. The hashtag for the afternoon was #OurManifesto. It was great to see some of the college students there taking part in the day, as well as members of the public from the area. I had to take David along with me so there was even a 3 year old contributing his opinions (which were mainly along the lines of “why do I have to be quiet?” and “can I have more chocolate?”).
I chose to attend the event today because I have so far been impressed with Andy Burnham as a political figure. My late friend Jane Hanley was a constituent of his, and always spoke highly of him, and I have yet to find anyone who has met him or worked with him who goes against her opinion. In a fit of post-Trump gloom I emailed him expressing despair at current politics and a fervent hope that he could address some of my areas of interest for Greater Manchester.
Not only did Andy respond with alacrity but he answered my queries, and did what he said he would do, namely popping in to Alison Thewliss’ APPG on Infant Feeding. In fact, he went one better and attending the launch of the UK’s first World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative report in Parliament that day.
A politician who says the right things and does what he says he will? Something of a unicorn I thought…..
Having listened to the speeches outlining the current thinking of the Burnham for Mayor campaign this afternoon, I joined the breakout session on public health. It wasn’t facilitated with Stella Duffy’s ease and warmth, but it was still an opportunity for everyone to have their say, and all were encouraged to do so. I was able to talk about the need for breastfeeding support, protection for health visiting services and school nursing, and the need for better support for new parents across the board, as crucial public health interventions for this generation and the next.
Unfortunately at the end of that session David had had enough of politics (he had been so good bless him) so we made our exit. Not before bumping into Andy Burnham on the stairs though, and having a quick chat about the stats from the WBTiUK report that had concerned him. He was gracious enough to ask me if I would like to meet up properly in the future to further discuss infant feeding and the early years, so fingers crossed we can find a time in his no doubt manic schedule.
What have I learned from these two events? I have learned that at least two political parties/campaigns are genuinely crowd-sourcing information and are open to hearing all voices. Your voice and my voice. That nobody else in the room has more right to a voice or an opinion than you or I, and that most of the people having their say are no more “expert” than we are. There are priorities being set and issues being considered based on the voices of the people who show up, so please make sure you show up.
Stand up and be counted.