Over the past five months our members have been hard at work stoking the fires of democracy to light up their electoral force in seven of London’s most marginal seats: Hammersmith, Ealing Central & Acton, Westminster North, Brentford & Isleworth, Brent Central, Hampstead & Kilburn and Bermondsey & Old Southwark. Volunteers have also been operating phone banks to register community members and turn people out to vote. Over the past two weeks The Forum’s volunteers have called over 380 people and community leaders have met with hundreds of people face-to-face to get out the migrant vote.
Today in Westminster North, members of North and East African women’s group HEAR Women are organising themselves to walk in groups to polling stations, where they will cast their votes for the first time. Deqa Salad, CEO of HEAR women, explains: ‘Our staff were involved in The Forum’s training on voter registration; voting will show our strength, that we exist, we are not passive and we contribute positively to society’.
Since January, The Forum has been running voter registration actions and trainings in community and faith organisations, migrant groups, in colleges, at public events, and on local radio stations – including registering voters at a Latin American day of celebration at key marginal Bermondsey and Old Southwark.
In Brent Central, a constituency where according to research migrant voters could hold the balance of power, 18-year old Perry Joseph, whose grandparents came from the West Indies, is casting his first vote for the first time: ‘I am a bit nervous, but I feel more in control of the changes coming in the future, for better or for worse, I will stand up to make a change’.
Leao Neto, Brazilian Methodist Minister and member of the Brent Multi Faith Forum organised hustings that brought 135 voters together in Brent Central: ‘We were able to show our faces to the candidates, we were all immigrants with funny accents. Our hustings was conducted in a highly respectful manner, nobody called out at any of the candidates. It is important for them to see us and hear us, and we don’t want to stop, we want to keep meeting them, to hold them accountable. We are very proud of the work we have done with The Forum’.
In Ealing Central and Acton, London’s ‘bellwether’ constituency, Suzanne Alshaikh an 18-year old ESOL student from Syria commented: ‘[The training] made me to want more information about politics. Young people think politics is boring. But now I think that politics is important to me – many other young people are just suffering at the moment. This is maybe why they don’t care about politics.’
In Hammersmith, Kaveh Kalantari from the Iranian Association had never engaged his community in elections; ‘it was a first for us, we have never done this before and the team has learned a lot. Most of the 235 people we talked to about registering and voting had never participated before, they were older, with language barriers on low incomes. Today will be a first for them, today will be the first time that they will vote. The key lesson from this election is that migrant and BME groups all need to work more collaboratively, then we win influence. The training our staff had is sustainable, because they can use it in future elections’.
In Brentford & Isleworth, Rodgers Orore works with Riana Development Foundation Network, and has been galvanising his community to engage in the general election, “I work on youth & community capacity building programmes; participating in the democratic process has helped us to achieve this. Through the vote you can determine who is your leader and then hold them accountable. The Migrant and BME vote is the only way to influence certain policies and in Brentford & Isleworth we have significant numbers. Through working with The Forum and Citizens UK we have negotiated with our prospective parliamentary candidates on issues that are important to us.” His colleagues, George Osore, explains: “Many people have not seen sense in the past, but now through our work they will turn out in our constituency. They used to think that elections were not for them but for others, most of them are working and paying tax and they should know that they are contributing. With more people voting in this election we can realise the change that we need.”
For the last word on why it’s so important to vote, our member Bamidele Hassan shares his experiences of being denied the vote.
You have until 10 tonight to cast your vote, don’t worry if you can’t find your polling card, find your polling station here: http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/how-do-i-vote/voting-in-person?qp_h=AZJ-J6rbm2KfjpOW
For more information, or to arrange interviews contact Krissie Nicolson, The Forum – 07910 966738, firstname.lastname@example.org