Volonteurope champions active citizenship as a pathway to social justice in Europe and beyond, as it sees active citizenship as a means of challenging existing structures, improve social connectedness and giving people the tools to create real change. Volonteurope and the European Civic Forum with the support of a European Working Group on Participation, have been working together to produce a report on defining what are the characteristics that make a person an active citizen and develop a tool to measure the engagement level of individuals which we have named the Active Citizenship Footprint. The campaign and the event made me realise that there are so many ways to be an active citizen and engage for social change.
Our two year long campaign culminated with an event, How big is your active citizenship footprint? in which we launched our report Active Citizenship For The Common Good: The Active Citizenship Footprint. The event, which took place at our office in Brussels on the 19th February, showcased not only the work that Volonteurope, The European Civic Forum and the Working group have been doing to promote active citizenship, but also the work of several inspirational guest speakers who have successfully taken their campaigns from the local to the global level.
After an introduction by Oonagh Aitken, the president of Volonteurope, and a presentation of the report, we heard from our star speakers. Marta Lempart who is the initiator and one of the organisers of the Polish Women’s strike kicked things off. This was followed by Daisy Kendrick, founder of the Ocean Generation, a creative collective using music, gaming and tech, in order to mobilise millennials to think about climate change, and the pollution of oceans. Jules Bejot, from the Migration Policy Group finished off the discussion by presenting the campaign #WelcomingEurope, a European Citizen Initiative which seeks to reforming the EU’s migration policy.
The speakers truly made this event the success that it was. Each speaker had their own unique vision, mission and way of working to champion active citizenship and this made for a really rich, varied and thought provoking capacity building event covering some of the most pertinent issues today.
The Polish Women’s strike experience
Marta spoke about the struggle against increasingly repressive laws on women’s rights in Poland, and how her and a group of other women were able to mobilise half a million people to strike against the proposed total ban on abortions. Marta has a particularly engaging way of delivering a message. She does not shout, but through her raw and emphatic way of speaking, she really makes herself heard. She believes that in order to engage the masses you need to use language that is accessible to everyone and has emotional appeal, even if at times these are negative emotions. As she said, “it’s ok to be angry sometimes”. She recounted how this protest, Black Monday, which was inspired by a similar strike by Icelanders 4 decades previously, was special in that 90% per cent of strikers were from cities of populations of less than 50,000. Through encouraging local organisers to “do things their way” and delivering straight forward accessible advice to people, many of whom had never organised protests before, she was able to empower women to take control of the situation and make their voices heard.
The Ocean Generation: finding different approaches to engage the new generations
We then heard from Daisy Kendrick who is fighting for action against climate change and water pollution. On paper the Marta and Daisy seem to be fighting for their causes in very different ways. While Marta is bringing the fight to the streets, Daisy is promoting her cause predominantly through new technology and social media.
Yet both of these women are similar in that they are completely passionate about their mission and are achieving amazing results through finding new ways of reaching out to people who may not have engaged with the issue otherwise.
Daisy spoke about how through her campaign We Are The Oceans the organisation is collaborating with various different actors including those in the video games industry to spread the message of environmental sustainability. She teamed up with Rovio – creator of the most downloaded game franchises in history, Angry Birds – to create the Big Catch game. The game sees players navigate plastic-filled oceans, learning key facts along the way. Its outreach has been huge, engaging with more than three million players in less than a month. Daisy spoke about the efforts she and her team are making to translate activism through social media and gaming into real behavioural change and impactful action. When asked about how to make people really care about environmental sustainability, she stressed that we need to change the way that we are framing the message, and continue to search for new and innovative ways to reach out to people. Humanising and modernising the way the issue is promoted, could be the first step, so that environmentalism moves away from being seen as a “hippy issue” to one taken seriously by everyone.
The #WelcomingEurope campaign: using the direct democracy tool ECI to achieve change
Finally we heard from Jules Bejot who works for the Migration Policy Group that will soon be launching the We are a #WelcomingEurope campaign, a European Citizens Initiative which will endeavour to collect 1 million signatures within a year with the aim of reforming the EU’s migration policy and protect European citizens’ right to help refugees and migrants. He spoke about how local groups are being criminalised for welcoming and integrating refugees into the community, something that should be being praised and encouraged as it is in line with the European Union’s key values of human rights and non-discrimination. He appealed for people to sign the petition and volunteer any way they can through writing blog posts, providing translations, creating infographics and videos to get the message out and ensure that it is impactful.
Through our individual expressions of active citizenship, no matter how big or small we can come together to make a massive difference.
The efforts of Volonteurope, The European Civic Forum, our amazing activist speakers, as well as our audience who really engaged with the topics discussed, have made this event one of the most interesting ones that I have attended and I am so proud that it was one that we were involved in organising! The event left me really inspired to engage in the campaigns that move me and participate more in my local community, and I had the sense that much of the audience felt the same. Mission completed!!
Louise King, European Project Officer