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Fighting the politics of fear: one man's mission to get you engaged


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“Everything is political” is the thought of Michael Sani, the business studies teacher-turned-social entrepreneur whose life aim is to get you engaged - and I’m not talking about putting a ring on your finger.

In 2010, Sani co-founded Bite The Ballot, an organisation that helps marginalised communities and young people in the UK get engaged in politics.

When Sani realised he’d never voted, he founded a lunchtime club at a school in Dartford, which brought students together to talk about the problems of political engagement. Since, it’s grown to become part of a movement of organisations that helped get 1.85 million people on the electoral role in nine days. In Sani’s words, “It was massive.”

The man, who Obama described as “an agent for change”, is no doubt a trailblazer amongst young Brits. But his organisation - which collaborates with the likes of Tinder, Uber and Deliveroo, as well as Facebook and Twitter - isn’t just about voting.

“Bite The Ballot’s primary focus is to make young and marginalised people play a key role in decisions that affect them. Voting is only one part of that,” Sani tells to me in a South East London accent. “If we all become political and begin to influence the things we want to see and the things we want to change, then in numbers we can begin to see change.”

Bite The Ballot is about bringing politics to where people are. It’s about removing barriers and illustrating to people the link between the personal and political.

As well as engagement, Bite The Ballot is about fighting the politics of hate and fear. “It’s about opportunity and about hope,” Sani says “Look at where we are now. We’ve got the rise of the far right, in France and Poland. In the UK, post-Brexit we’ve got bands of people picking holes in each other. The reality is the political climate caused this.”

Where does all this apathy come from? Sani thinks it’s threefold: education, media, and, class.

“There’s no political education, no sense of empowerment, if you look at schools attended by those with a working class background. There’s nothing to understand your role as a citizen, or the role you play in the world.

"When there’s no education, there’s a lack of understanding in the process of change and people don’t understand the power they have - that causes disillusionment. You tie that in with the main stream media, which is very much about fear and division, and can sometimes be guilty of painting a bleak picture of society.

"Then you add the political class and you just see them being so different to themselves - male, stale and pale - very elitist. The people in power are rarely effected by the decisions they need to make, especially when it comes to social justice and equality - because their lives have been very different.

"When you put all those together, the outcome that we see is the majority of people turn their back on it. They think nothing will change; they think it’s all the same. But what we should do, is turn (and say) “they’re all the same.”

“Everyone should leave school or education with a conscious understanding of how the county and the world is run; the role they can play in it.”

Sani adds that students need to know “who they go to if they want to create change or protect something. It’s our human right to be able to make change and want change. It should be part of the national curriculum.”

This isn’t just lip service: Bite The Ballot is now working with kids as young as four, to make sure they ingrain the importance of political passion at a time while children are still creating their value system.

“We’re looking at young people’s exposure to empathy and resilience, critical thinking, compassion and composure. All of these are character virtues and values that you would want in abundance if you were making decisions. You want your decision makers to feel this - not make decisions based on a balance sheet and numbers, but on how it’s going to affect people’s lives,” he says.

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