Here we go again #Elections2017 – the analysis, the campaigning, the tactics, the lobbying, fake news, real news, promises… about to overwhelm us again. The pundits and the pollsters are not going out of business yet. Manifestos and polices are being shaped up as you read this. Two things are certain: this election will be about 1. Brexit and 2. immigration. Or immigrants.
Democracy is broadly understood to be a political system based on values such as freedom, equality, human rights, the rule of law that guarantees those rights as well, as free and fair elections, for us – the people – to decide who will have the privilege of upholding, implementing and guarding these values on our behalf. We hold ourselves and our governments to higher standards and as a result we enjoy peace and prosperity.
For migrants, refugees and members of other minority groups, democracy offers an assurance that we, too, are members of society and can live our lives with dignity, freedom and justice. However, migrants and refugees remain the least represented and most marginalized groups in the UK. Around elections, minorities are maligned, ignored or pandered to as an interest group, making real representation of the will and the interests of our communities seem beyond our reach.
Over the past few years, opportunities to practice democracy through voting have come thick and fast. The 2014 Scottish referendum was followed soon after by local elections, then a general election and then the 2016 London Mayoral Election. Later last year we had the EU referendum and now we have regional and mayoral elections, followed by another General Election in June. With so many opportunities to express our will, democracy seems to be booming. And yet somehow many of us feel increasingly anxious, unheard, unrepresented, unequal and worried about our future and that of our children. Many people are cynical about elections, yet they have never seemed so important.
For us at Migrants Organise, elections bring a number of challenges. Our aim is to facilitate meaningful integration and in 2014 we began working with our member communities to ensure that all those who can, register and vote. Voter registration has become a priority for our Leadership Academy and it has produced results. Just in 2014, nearly 5,000 new voters have been registered by 25 of our community leaders. But there is a still long way to go.
In the 2015 General Election, 16 million people who had the right to vote did not do so, and in the EU referendum, 13 million chose to forgo their democratic right. It is essential that these citizens – many of them migrants and refugees – be encouraged to register and ensure their voice and the issues they care about are reflected in our national politics.
At election time, we, the immigrants, quickly become everybody’s favourite villain. In the run up to the EU referendum, the negative framing of immigrants by some politicians reached a new low.
The huge spike in reported incidents of hate speech and hate attacks around the same time are just the tip of the iceberg, and demonstrates that there are real victims of the poisonous political rhetoric.
So what can be done?
We need to make sure this election is different.
This year, as always, migration will be an issue. Immigrants already here will be demonised and dehumanised, blamed wrongly for all sorts problems, from the NHS crisis to housing shortages, from an increase of unemployment to poor social care, from an increase in crime to further economic deterioration of areas left behind. These media myths have created the ‘legitimate concern’ that today characterises the public debate on migration.
Our communities, too, have legitimate concerns about what life is like in Britain for migrants, refugees and BME communities. Our legitimate concerns are for the safety of our families after a rise in hate crime, the detention and deportation of our friends and family, and the uncertainty that continues to hover over our fellow citizens from the EU. Our legitimate concerns are for rights-based immigration reform based on the shared values of democracy and fairness.
These concerns and values are shared across our country, for they echo the broader demands in our society for a healthy democracy, a strong economy, functioning public services and a culture of solidarity and mutual support, inclusion and welcome. This election needs to be about what unites us, not what divides us. It needs to be about fighting for the interests of migrants and society at large.
Migrants Organise will continue working to grow the power of our communities, to build common ground, to enable us to connect and be understood, to contribute to our new communities as equal members, to speak out about our experiences. We need to make sure that our voice is heard at this election, and that all our communities are mobilised to register and vote.
We will be organising a number of public events to facilitate voter registration and conversation amongst all people of good will who share our values of justice, fairness, rule of law, equality and human rights.
We will be a resource to all those who share our belief that we all have responsibility to make democracy work and make Britain welcoming and safe for all.
A lot is at stake here for all of us, we must do the right thing. Join us doing that in an organised way.
If you would like to mobilise in your community around elections, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can send you an information pack and can help support your work. The pack will provide information about how to run a voter registration events, but also ideas to help your communities raise the issues that matter to them – especially important for migrant communities not permitted to vote at this general election.
If you would like to contribute to our work, please think about making a donation which we will use to support our member communities mobilising around the election. You can donate directly online via our Charity Choice page.