THE BLOG

In Our First Election Campaign, WE Are Still Learning Lessons About Being Seen and Heard

14/04/2016 11:55 | Updated 14 April 2016

When my daughter was little, I used to sustain myself with thoughts of how it would feel once we were part of society again - once we had persuaded people to understand and support us.

I used to do this as I made to-do lists on the back of my hand on the way to work, planning how to fit around office hours the calls to her school, the council, the autism advisor and the educational psychologist in an endless paper-chase to prove the need for support.

I would do it as I went to collect my daughter from the school playground and the crowd of parents would part before me - a silent Red Sea miracle of disapproval for the friendless parent with the friendless, 'difficult' child.

I would do it when she cried with the frustration of her isolation and when I held her and whispered to her that we were two, not one, and that together we could keep going.

It was odd, that time. We were both shockingly visible in our difference - and yet completely unheard. It was like shouting behind glass.

Eventually, we found our people. We found help in communities of other parents and other children with similar experiences. And we were carried by the generous optimism and practical support of the voluntary sector, that does such necessary work in holding up to politicians and society the true diversity and experiences of our country.

And because of those people, I learned that it is possible to turn and face the stuff that diminishes you and seize hold of it and claim the right to turn it into something else.

I have been putting that into practice for the last year now with the Women's Equality Party and in our first election campaign I am learning another lesson about being seen and heard.

In some respects, it's a familiar one. It's partly about money, again. Like my fight for Grace's support and the fight by the charities and organisations that supported us, to make a case to government for a share of a dwindling pot of cash. As a political party, WE must fight to be seen and heard in a system where the parties with the most money wield the most power.

It's also about access, again. WE are influencing the political debate, but we have to fight to do it. In the campaign period, that's a very real fight about getting a space on the same platform as the other candidates: The advice from the Electoral Commission to debate organisers is to give seats only to parties that have already won elections, stifling any new voices and movements instantly.

Faced with such a broken model of democracy, some hustings organisers have done away with the 'rules' and invited me to speak alongside the other candidates about how WE can make London more equal. The Pride London hustings was one such event and so was the recent event organised by the End Violence Against Women coalition - an electric night where candidates were rightly held to close account. These organisations know that if we stick to the rules, we will never get anywhere.

Today there is a hustings in London organised by the biggest disability charities. It looks to be an excellent event. The organisers have been meticulous about enabling the participation by providing easy-read information, documentation in Braille and agreed timings.

I won't be there because as a candidate for a new and different party I have been deemed ineligible to participate.

This has so many echoes of the space in which I existed with Grace in those early years that it is tough to find myself here again. But it has doubled my determination to be heard and to make the case to everyone in this election - the voluntary sector included - that if you want to see change, you have to open your doors to it. If you want politics to make space for and reflect the experiences of our whole population, then you have to be part of that change.

During today's debate I will be cheering on the activists and campaigners who want their politicians to do better. I pledge to do better. And I will not give up.

Vote WE on May 5. Give half of your four votes in London to equality - because that's fair. Let's change the status quo and build a better London.

Sophie Walker is the leader of the Women's Equality Party, and the party's candidate for the London Mayoral Election

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