On Saturday the 25th of April we decided to bring Votes for Everyone out into the world for the first time. Where better to do it than Deptford Market? Here is a near-perfect reflection of the beautiful diversity of London, accompanied by a constant bustle and embedded in the heart of a thriving community in Lewisham. The market has also been around for 150 years, establishing itself as part of the area’s proud heritage.
We set up a stall mid-way along the high-street – put up our umbrella over us, placed our banner over the table and set to work. Our plan was to speak to as many people as possible about Votes for Everyone, to hear about their experiences and opinions and hopefully to get a few people to commit to a vote-share.
The day started out in a typical British fashion: with drizzle and overcast skies. However, as the other stalls set up around us beams of sunlight pierced the clouds and transformed the market around us into a vibrant hubbub of colour and noise. Handing out flyers we began to speak to individuals from a growing stream of people.
The response from people was predictably varied – from absolute disinterest to passionate engagement; from total support, to a seething anger at what we were doing. This was exactly what we had set out to do – to throw Votes for Everyone out into the community and learn from the responses our idea generates.
The most controversial aspect of the project was the aim of giving votes to prisoners. Many felt uncomfortable with giving their vote to a person who had ‘given up their citizenship’ by committing a crime. People felt particularly uneasy about the prospect of sharing their vote with violent criminals and sex offenders. It was interesting that the typical perception of a prisoner tended to be someone convicted of sexual assault, even though the majority of prisoners currently serving sentences were convicted of non-violent and non-sexual crimes. We talked about these issues a lot and many were surprised to hear that the European Court of Human Rights had declared the stripping of the right to vote was a violation of prisoners’ human rights.
We also spoke to people who had lived and worked in the UK for a number of years, who had established themselves in Lewisham’s community and were proud to call it home, but yet still did not have the right to vote. An American woman talked passionately about how not being able to vote left her feeling as though she were not a full citizen, as though she was an outsider in her own society. Others shared tragic stories about forced deportations of family members and the trauma that it inflicted upon their families.
People of all backgrounds were generally supportive of including migrants in the Votes For Everyone project. In a week that saw 500 asylum seekers drown while crossing the Mediterranean, UKIP continues their anti-immigration rhetoric, and Katie Hopkins went as far as to describe those victims as ‘cockroaches’. When faced with tragedies such as these, the cloaking language of ‘immigration’ is torn away to reveal the very real people who lie beneath it. The people of Deptford overwhelmingly agreed that there should be Votes For Everyone.
As the sun disappeared behind the houses, and the stream of people slowed to a trickle, we decided to call it a day. Out of the hundreds we began with, we had a single leaflet left, reflecting the enthusiasm with which people had engaged with the Votes for Everyone campaign. We packed away our stall and said goodbye to those clearing up their own space around us. Although tired, we were also filled with an excitement about the local community’s response to our initiative. We had learned much and were determined to build on the success of a beautiful day in Deptford Market.