Who are EU?

A demand for political education.

I am honoured to feature this guest post on political education from my friend Lisa. She is one of the people of whom I can say with certainty that she has worked tirelessly to make Manchester a better place. She relocated from a small village in Southern Germany to Manchester in 2012. She’s a RISO printer and publisher, educator, and graphic designer. Lisa is the founder and director of the amazing mind culture magazine NOUS, which promotes conversations around our mental well-being as well as other related social issues. She shares her print and design talents in risography workshops for community groups and arts events.

I can still remember the first time I consciously chose I wanted to identify as a citizen of the European Union. It was at school, during PE, Political Education, which our timetable dedicated about the same time to as it did for PE, Physical Education – 90 minutes per week.

This was after the introduction of the euro as currency, after I had travelled to neighbouring European countries with my family – passports unchecked – and after I had been on a bunch of cultural exchanges supported by that starred blue square. I was sixteen and caught in an idyllic vacuum, becoming a little more aware of what was going on in the world, aware of my possibilities, and conscious of the walls that had been built by the society I was a part of.

Our Politics trainee teacher was enthusiastic, driven, and did their best to unpick the complex politics behind the European Union for us. What did it all have to do with us what a bunch of representatives of whom we have never heard of decided in Brussels? They began the lesson with a thought experiment. Each corner of the classroom would represent an identity we should like to associate ourselves with – being a citizen of our hometown; being German; being European; or, finally, a citizen of the world. We had to pick one and take our stand.

“Who are you?” they asked. A question that everyone will actively or unconsciously define and recalibrate in the course of their life, and not just in a political sense; it seemed so complex to me! I did not want to be put in a
corner; whom would I group myself with?

I had never really felt I could belong to my closest locality. Neither football clubs nor church choir were a fit source for inspiration. The traditions and every day routine of rural countryside life had always felt protectionist and insular. Objecting to the new and hence constantly limping, my village life seemed too slow to catch up with global developments in gender studies, protection of the environment, and the effects of globalization.

To me being German has always been, to say the least, a little problematic ethically speaking. School had taught us so much about our shared national burden of guilt; it still floats like a grey veil over me every time someone asks me where I am from, even today. Not to mention the flaring xenophobia I had witnessed in my teens towards our Turkish, Italian and Eastern European compatriots. Our government had asked their parents and grandparents to come to help rebuild our broken country after the war. We needed them, welcomed them with arms wide open; then they, and their children, were dismissed, left behind, blamed for not wanting to assimilate and were forgotten. In my school – the equivalent of a grammar school – there was not a single student of migrant descent. Is this
what I wanted to identify with?

And what about the world? What even is the world? I could not possibly call myself a citizen of a place I knew next to nothing about politically, geographically, ideologically. Come on, are you really asking us this?Looking around the classroom, I saw many disenfranchised faces; tired of making decisions they could not relate to, not fully understanding what it all meant to be anything other than the obvious. We all slowly started scuffling our way into the unknown. We were taking our place in society – or something like that. The result of this exercise was, to be fair, exactly what you would expect. The majority of us mingled in the local corner, high-fiving each other, patting each other’s backs, sharing a warm feeling of home and belonging. A quarter stood in the German corner, mixed feelings flashing up on their faces: pride – I mean, come on, bratwurst, bread and Nena! – and fear – no one wanted to be called a Nazi after the lesson.

A couple of existentialists – a.k.a. goths – and the lefties, who had been inter-railing last summer and planned on spending their gap year in an ashram in India, picked the world corner. A shy handful of students, not even my pals (!), and I ended up in the EU corner. If this had been a fight, or a referendum, the winner would have been painfully clear. Mind, this was before our educational journey to discover the ins and outs of the European Union had begun. It was hard to get my head around how the rest could not see what the best choice was back then, and it is still hard for me to be empathetic with the other corners today. Were we a representative bunch in that classroom; would this pupil’s vote mirror a referendum on a national level? Was the outcome tainted by living in a bubble of the idyllic? Our little survey took place in a small village in the countryside. We were all teenagers. Most of our families are part of what you can compare to the British working class. The list of lame excuses goes on. The truth is though, this urban demographic is not even the national average. The European Union’s influence on our lives was not inspirational; we just couldn’t feel it in our place.

77% of the German population, similar to the British equivalent of 79%, lives in cities. Urban citizens are exposed to multiculturalism and the effects of globalisation. Both the benefits of migration and the negative effects of neglect of supporting integration can be felt in cities more than anywhere in the country. Hence, can we not expect the urban population to be more open-minded and compassionate. Are they not able to see how beneficial cultural and economic exchange was for one another – even if the ideals of humanism and equality are not at the top of your list. So, what is the issue then? Why are we unable to engage and enthuse the majority with such a potent concept of exchange and growth?

We have to encourage, engage and make everyone around us burn for politics.

I do firmly believe that the reason for a debacle such as the Brexit/Remain
campaigns run in 2016 is misinformation and a dire lack of education, starting at schools and universities. This is not only in this country though. How can we be expected to make an informed decision listening to politicians who are unable to represent us, whose opinions and stands can change from one day to the other? We have to realise that it is not enough to teach our children about politics as a side note. We have to continue educating ourselves, pestering our friends, our families about what is going on around us.

We have to encourage, engage and make everyone around us burn for politics. In Germany, I have felt that protest and political engagement can influence elected leaders. The engagement and fight of thousands of students, the outcry for the abolition of university fees, was heard.

As a German citizen living in the United Kingdom, I was not able to vote in the first referendum, and I will not be allowed to partake in any decision making in the future. All I can do is urge you to stay informed, cut through the smoke and take your friends, family, co-workers, neighbours, everyone you can with you. Tell them that listening to the media and parties is not enough. I urge you to fight for knowledge and education, for critical thinking and an open mind.

When we reached the end of our educational sessions about the European Union, our teacher asked us to take our place in our four corners again. I’m not gonna lie, the distribution was still very similar to our first results. The nihilists were still nihilists, the local folk still proud of their home town, the idealists still mingling in the world corner. But we certainly were all quicker to take our place. We had made an informed decision not because of a gut feeling but because it is part of our identity.

A second referendum will not take away the choice you made in the first round, it will give everyone a chance to reconsider or reconfirm their decision. What could be more democratic than that?


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