Citizens UK Election Assemblies

2 May

“This is not a hustings”, explained Sarfraz Jeraj Lambeth Citizens leaders from the stage of a vast King’s College lecture theatre, “this is an assembly”.

Last week English for action participated in two Citizens UK council elections on the same night with 32 of our students, teachers, volunteers and trustees split between the two events in Southwark and Lambeth.

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So what’s an assembly and how are they different to hustings? According to to Sarfraz, this event was an assembly because the candidates have been invited by the people to answer questions on their (our!) terms. In a hustings, the candidates have pre-prepared speeches and canvass for votes. Last week the candidates were asked to respond to specific demands that had emerged from months of listening and planning. They were given strict time-limits that were enforced diligently and when they failed to respond to the demand they were expertly pinned by one of the community leaders affected by the issue in question.

Both assemblies were full of theatre and emotion. People gave personal testimonies of their experience of injustice, from a young teacher desperate to rent a place of his own to a parent opposing the scourge of educational inequality that leaves working class children far less likely to achieve their goals than a kid with rich parents. The candidates were visibly moved by these testimonies and agreed to more than we expected.

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English for Action contributed three of these testiomonies and we are really proud of Adela, Jandira and Adriana for bringing ESOL to life in front of hundreds of people and the next Council leaders.

Adela, who has been an EFA teacher/organiser:

“Hi, my name is Adela – I am an ESOL teacher for English for Action and we are a member of Southwark Citizens. My journey to where I am now was not easy. When I came to England 8 years ago I didn’t speak much English and not being able to pay for English classes prevented me for almost a year from attending any classes. I started working as a cleaner and found myself in a situation where I was treated in ways that I had never imagined – people were purposefully making their houses dirty to see whether I would clean them – I had never experienced such mistrust from people. These experiences had a profound effect on the way I perceive myself and have affected me til now – I felt like a lesser human. I wasn’t able to re-act to what was happening to me because I didn’t have the language. I wasn’t able to stand up for myself and express my feelings. Later on when I started working in a pub the mistreatment continued the customers and the staff would tell me to go back to Eastern Europe– this experience was absolutely shocking for me I always perceived myself as European and I didn’t understand this divide between countries and again I was not able to say anything back to them because of the lack of language. You’re experiencing something unfair and wrong but you can’t say anything – it is like being a prisoner.

This is an experience that stays with me now – I am not as confident as I would have been had this not happened. This is just one story – there are millions of people going through similar experiences of feeling disempowered, not valued and not able to contribute in the way they would like to.”

And Adriana, our student-turned-volunteer:

“It’s so hard to do things here if you don’t know the language. You feel like lost you need help all the time to do simple things. So with ESOL I can feel confident to do things. I know I make mistakes but I can see my English growing. It’s so hard but with the support I can feel better to do what I want. It is helping me to find a job and feel a part of the society.”

And Jandira, who attends our classes at Sacred Heart and Henry Cavendish Primary schools.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Jandira and I’m from Angola and I am a student from EFA. When I came to England my English was bad, like really bad even though I took English classes back home. ESOL has given me the confidence to speak openly without fear. Before I would listen and not say a word and people find it rude they took it the wrong way. ESOL is important to me because I need and because for a greater education we need a base and for people of other language ESOL is the base like the foundation of a building. Our English classes is not just about learning English it’s about learning how to respect one another to learn different cultures and the most important to build good relationships, to share our opinions and respect each one of them. Nelson Mandela once said: education is a powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. We don’t want to change the world at least not now. We want you to change our world by supporting ESOL. Before I finish I would like to share with you one of my favourite quote by Albert Pike. ‘What we do for ourselves dies with us, What we do for others and for the world remains and is immortal’.”

So what did the candidates agree to? Here are the main agreements:

Southwark:

1 – First four Syrian refugee families to be rehoused in the borough by the end of the year and 20 by 2020

2- Sign the Peckham Citizens Charter for the Aylesham Centre so that it benefits local people and does not change the character of the town centre

3 – Work with Citizens to challenge the Home Office fees of £1012 for citizenship for children

4- Employ an ESOL officer to promote and coordinate ESOL provision/services.

5- Task this new officer to work with us to create an ESOL strategy for the borough.

Lambeth:

1 – A further 28 refugee families to be resettled in the borough

2 – Create and resource an ESOL strategy for the borough

3 – Work with Citizens to challenge the Home Office fees of £1012 for citizenship for children

4 – Help build Lambeth’s first community land trust (27 homes) in Streatham

5 – Work with us to create a Lambeth Social Mobility and Access to University Strategy within 6 months of the election

Tomorrow (May 3rd) is the day of the elections and we will find out who will control Lambeth and Southwark Councils. Then the hard work really begins as we work to turn the agreements we have secured into action.

 

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