Deaf Life28th February 2015

Deaf People 'Can Do' - And We Can Make A Difference

Politics is not just what politicians do - anyone can get involved, and anyone can drive change

by Natasha Hirst, Photographer and Deaf Life Writer

I am passionate about politics. People may roll their eyes and groan at this and wave their hands in the air saying “I hate politics, I hate politicians”.  But, politics is important. It affects every single aspect of your life, every single day.

If you have any kind of opinion about how healthcare should be delivered, or about the way that your council operates its schools, libraries or street cleaning services; if you care about how our Government prioritises the way your taxes are spent, that’s politics.

People confuse politics with political parties. That’s Politics with a capital P. You don’t have to be aligned with a Political party to be political. If you have a view about how you think our country and our health boards and our local councils should be run, that’s a form of politics.

We have a huge problem in the UK with voters feeling that there is no point bothering to go out and vote.  People say to me, “all Political parties are the same, what’s the point?”  People feel disenfranchised and they often don’t understand how political structures work or how their voice can be heard.  This is bad news for us all.

I became involved with politics when I was 18, in my first year of University.  For a long time, I didn’t consider myself to be political, because I wasn’t a member of a political party. I associated ‘Politics’ with people backstabbing and being hypocrites and with different groups of people getting all tribal and arguing for the sake of arguing.  All I wanted to see was people working constructively together, to create positive change. I saw ‘politics’ as a negative thing.

Becoming involved with my students’ union, I campaigned for better access to education for Deaf and disabled students at my University.  I set up BSL lessons in my union. From there, I took my campaigns to the National Union of Students and I spoke at conferences to pass motions to lobby for changes to Government policies. I set up a petition calling for British Sign Language to be recognised in law as an official language of the UK.  It wasn’t successful, but I tried. 

At a conference for disabled students a friend of mine gave a speech and they said “if you want to change government policy, that’s politics.  We aren’t a support group, it’s our responsibility to change hearts and minds.” 

Only then did I realise that each time I talked about the issues that disabled students were facing and offered solutions for them; I was being political. I was calling for policies to change.  Here and there, changes were made in Universities across Wales. This happened because I stepped up and spoke about it and encouraged other people to join me.

Eventually, I was elected as the President of the National Union of Students’ in Wales.  I spoke for all students, not just Deaf and disabled students.  Most importantly, I was a Deaf woman in a mainstream political role. I lobbied the Welsh Assembly and Parliament on issues such as tuition fees.  I called for access to education for all. As part of the student union movement, I helped change legislation.  It gave me a lot of power to demonstrate through my own actions how Deaf people are perfectly capable of doing anything they want to do. Through that, I changed hearts and minds as well as policies. 

After I left the student union movement, I joined the trade union movement and I became involved in a political party. I’ve campaigned for improved rights for disabled people in workplaces, I’ve run awareness raising campaigns to fight against discrimination, I’ve spoken at conferences, lobbied politicians and marched on demonstrations waving my placards high. As a photographer I’ve documented election campaigns,and a range of campaigns about social issues. I am political, and I am proud of that.

Nobody achieves change alone.  “In union there is strength”. But different groups of people have different views about what needs to change and how it should change - that’s why we have political parties. Life would be easy if we all agreed, but it would be really boring too.

If you want to create change to policies, whether it is in your workplace, your local council or in the laws that our Government passes, that’s politics. There are many ways that your voice can be heard, which I’ll discuss in another article.

If I have a point here, it is this: we all have the power to create change. 

Things will only change if we get involved and make that happen.  

What do you want to change?

Article by Natasha Hirst, Photographer and Deaf Life Writer

posted in Community / Deaf Life

28th February 2015