Operation Traveller Vote: Here's how one organisation is encouraging people to vote
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Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities face more barriers than most when it comes to voting in a general election. From the practicalities of registering to vote with no fixed address to issues of illiteracy and apathy, there are a host of hurdles that need to be overcome before making it to the polls on Thursday. “As you would expect with all disadvantaged groups, there is a real sense of disenfranchisement within the GRT communities,” says Yvonne MacNamara, chief executive of the Traveller Movement charity, who lives in London. “You hear the same arguments against getting involved in politics as you do on the news when they interview any other group: ‘what’s the point, no one will listen to me anyway’.” These concerns have led the Traveller Movement to launch a campaign aimed at getting GRT communities out to the polls, called Operation Traveller Vote. The 2011 census – the first to include an ethnicity option for Gypsies and Travellers – revealed the community is the country’s smallest ethnic minority at 58,000 people. Add in the Roma population and the figure expands to between 80,000 and 300,000. Although there are few figures tracking democratic participation in these communities, the Traveller Movement says turnout is lower for them than for other minority groups. “We are trying to make politics more accessible and demonstrate that their voices do matter and they can influence decisions,” said MacNamara. “We have published easy-to-read guides on the manifestos, explaining how the main parties policies can and will affect their daily lives.” The organisation has also asked members of the community which issues matter to them and produced a list of questions for members of the GRT community to ask campaigners. Topics include site provision, services and health for the community. Cassie Marie McDonagh, 28, from Watford, is an Irish traveller who will be voting for the first time on June 8. She says she feels ignored, and that some politicians pander to the “settled” communities’ fears by closing designated sites for roadside travellers. But she added: “We can’t keep sitting back thinking ‘oh what’s the point’. We need to start showing politicians they have to help us too and the best way to do that is to go out and vote.”
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