Y vote 2014 on the British roads and cities

As soon as I heard about the Y Vote 2014 bus tour, Y Vote on the Road!, in the United Kingdom, I knew  that I wanted to participate. I was at the Y Vote convention on ‘Mobility & Education’ in Krakow at that time, which I really enjoyed, so I applied for the bus tour as well. I had never been to the UK before and I was eager to discover the country and get to know its’ people. Even though we should have already known something about the European institutions beforehand (after all, we were promoting the elections), Luis Alvarado Martinez (the President of AEGEE-Europe) gave us a short, but very clear presentation about the institutions and the Y Vote 2014 Project anyways.

London – Political debate

In London, we had our first (and biggest) debate with six Members of European Parliament (MEP) candidates and representatives from the League of Young Voters, European Youth Forum, the National Students’ Union and Liberal Youth. A lot of interesting topics were discussed and interesting ideas were born:

“Many countries take it for granted that they are members of the EU. But if you are not just a member, but also feel European the heart, then you are also able to renegotiate the terms on which the EU exists.” The UK is more eurosceptic than most countries, but this does not mean they should be outsiders. They should be the driving force for a change.

“Every single opinion poll in Britain shows that young people (aged 18-30) are very much pro-EU, while the older generation (65+) is very eurosceptic. But the second group is three times as likely to vote, so it is crucial for young people to be motivated to vote too.” This also goes for extremists: these people are way more likely to vote than moderate voters, and thus extremist parties get more votes than they actually deserve.

“Disengaged voters raise some concern. It is going to be the Youth’s Europe for much longer than it is for the older people, and they should think about that.”

“Referendum? Exiting the EU? Why don’t we renegotiate? The EU has done good things (e.g. the single market, Erasmus, funding programmes), BUT there should be a discussion about reforming the way it works now.”

“We should bring the discussion back to individual stories and what people have brought us.” A lot has been said now on the European level, but it is still the same (local) people living in Europe.

“We do not compete with workers in China on our salary but with technology and such things! We have great (vocational) education, and we should find our place [as the EU in the world]. Nation [in the EU] have to change.”

Bristol – MEP Candidate debate

The day after, on April 3rd, we started our bus tour and headed to Bristol where we had another debate with another candidate for the European Parliament, named Kay Barnard (Liberal Democrats). A few students from the university also came, and we talked about genetically modified food (or GMO) food, youth unemployment, renewable energies, and climate change in the context of the upcoming European Parliamentary elections. It was interesting, once again, and our external participants were also very involved with the topics.

Swansea – Workshop

After a good night out in Cardiff, where we were quickly promoted to VIP guests in the club (if you have seen Jersey Shore, you can imagine what VIP means), we continued our travel to Swansea. Luis had left us in London, since he had to go to another parallel Y Vote convention in Brussels, therefore Beata Matuska (Network Director, Comité Directeur) was leading us from now on.

We put up our beautiful stand with information materials in the restaurant and asked people to join us for a workshop after. In the end we did not get any participants for the workshop. Hence, we did the workshop by ourselves, which, in the end, was also very valuable, since we got to discuss a lot of topics.

Birmingham and Leeds – Participants in the spotlight

The Y Vote bus tour was aimed at getting more people to vote and how would we achieve this, if not with a street action. We gathered, did some ice-breaking games (I am really jealous of people who can remember names within a day…), and discussed possibilities for what we could do on the streets after that. It was harder than we thought, but not impossible to get people to speak on tape. It was very interesting (and shocking), that only very few of the people on the street knew about the EU and the elections. Some voices we heard:

“Ignorance is the reason that no one wants to be part of the European Union. We need the European Union.”

“The people who support the EU do not see the downsides, so it seems they are not telling the whole truth, but at the same time, the people who are completely against it, do not see the positives.”

“We do not really know enough to be able to vote, really.”

We just had a quick stop in Leeds and implemented another street action there. We blew up balloons, played ninja in the city and did a bit of sightseeing before we left for Manchester.

Liverpool – Question time and the NUS National Conference

This was the earliest morning of our whole journey. In Liverpool we split up, so 5 of us represented AEGEE and the Y Vote 2014 Project at the NUS National Conference, the largest student democratic event in Europe with more than 1000 delegates from 300 universities. The others went for another city rally, but this time we combined the fun with thematic questions. On our To-Do-List were things such as “Take a picture with a family”, “Take a picture with a police-officer”, but with each one we had to have a talk about the European Union and the elections as well. We put together a set of three questions that everyone had to ask, which most of the time resulted in interesting conversations that often took 15 minutes or longer.

One of the questions was: “Name three things that you know about the European Union”, and to our surprise, a lot of people could only come up with one thing. In the end, these three questions proved to be very valuable, since we could compare answers instead of going through all the conversations.

Durham – Our last city

Our last day had arrived, and we spent it in Durham, a cute little town located almost in Scotland. There actually is an AEGEE local in Durham, and they provided us with a very nice tour-guide that had set up another city rally to make us move through the city. We split up in groups, asked people about the upcoming elections, and distributed so many balloons, that it felt like every single kid in the city was walking around with one.

To sum up, it was really great to participate in this event. Content-wise, we could have reached way more people and could have worked much more efficiently, for example by promoting our workshops before we actually arrived at the university. It seemed like we appeared out of nowhere and disappeared two hours later. With a clearer plan and more visibility before the event, we could have put our work into more tangible results. The participants were very pro-active and I learned a lot about the UK and how people actually see the European Union – especially that its citizens are not at all as euro-sceptical as we hear. I also learned that technically, there is a lot of information about the EU distributed, but people are not going to search for it themselves. It is really weird to me that students have not heard about Erasmus. Projects like the Y Vote 2014 therefore should not stop after the elections. It should be carried on to keep the European Union in people’s mind, because that is the only way for people to be informed about the EU. Yes, between 22nd-25th of May and after, my Facebook timeline was flooded with voting-related posts, but what about the weeks before? Yes, political parties put up their huge posters two or three weeks before the elections, but do they mention the European Elections, or even Europe on it? Many of them do not.I wish that this beautiful project may continue, and make Europe visible all the time, not only at the time of the elections.

Written by Philipp Blum, AEGEE-Aachen