Sunday, 9 May 2010

Party Time, anyone?

I have been on my holidays recently.

The week was not a restful one, but hugely exciting. I participated in the democratic process of the UK General Election for the first time and as a party foot soldier. I don't intend to peddle my party's view point of the world but I will make a few observations.

From girlhood I have always been fascinated by politics and went on to study politics as a subsidiary at University. I have always respected, valued and honoured the work that our great, great grandmothers and their fathers did to get us all the vote and bring about our modern democracy. So I guess the seed was always there.

Well, for me this year it was now or never. I reckon it was my company's volunteering initiative that got me started: I realised that volunteering wasn't that painful and actually was FUN, so perhaps throwing my lot into the democratic process as a foot soldier might be interesting.

Not only was it interesting but utterly, utterly, fascinating. In the last few months I have realised that the gloss and glamour of TV politics is built on this amazing foundation of volunteering. People giving freely of their very busy lives to bring about the changes they want to see. How few people realise that the resources available at grass roots are so limited and the people available with commitment, even more limited.

Locally, the operation on Election Day, completely supported by non-paid party members and willing volunteers, was run like a military operation. Like many others ,for the whole week before hand, I had been walking the ward (the electoral area) delivering leaflets. On election day the 'Good Morning' leaflet is delivered to the people who said they were in our camp. At lunch time I was 'telling' outside the Polling Station and reporting back to the Command Centre so that the lists of those who hadn't voted could be prepared. Later in the day, the first 'knocking' to remind people to vote and then finally about 8pm I and many others were sent out on the final ''knocking' of the day. As dark fell it all felt lonely and tiring. I was disturbing people from their cosy dinners and TV watching and I felt that in this most marginal of constituencies we had lost a hard fought fight.

So what have I gained: well, a huge insight into how unremarked upon, dedicated people of all political persuasions, become passionate and committed and endlessly determined. Slogging round your local district is completely fascinating (''goodness, I didn't realise this was here!'') That It is tiring beyond thought, sometimes dispiriting but there is always great support in the common purpose. Most of all I have met some great new people and it has been an endless hoot. Most of all, and here is one for us, every single person matters. Every single person counts.


Would I recommend it: absolutely. Comfortable shoes and setting limits are essential

My most mischievious moment? getting into a heated debate with an innocent member of opposition about women in business, maternity leave and equal opportunities etc. He couldn't have known, could he? Well, I enjoyed myself...

My favourite moment: managing to speak formal and old-fashioned polite (but faltering) Spanish to the visiting Spanish Mum of a constituent, which charmed them both; it is amazing what you can find in yourself...

Postscript: At 4.30am Friday I found that we had, just, won.

Party Time, anyone?

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Some thoughts about blog conversations

There are blogs and there are blogs. Somewhere in the blogosphere I have a family/news/friends blog but here is the space for some thoughts.

I have been enjoying Confused of Calcutta's blog. It feels rather like a university seminar with densely packed thoughts being presented to its readers in rapid fire... and the conversation that goes on is clever, articulate and (most of the time) original. A recent discussion has been about "social objects" - (see Confused for more). But it has led me to wonder.... is the blogosphere, I mean here, the world of ideas, a man's world? How many women are involved in the quiet articulation of complex thoughts? It is hard to tell. But let me guess... I will guess that most of the commentators are men. Maybe women read these intellectual blogs, but do they comment - and get into the fray? I wonder. In a (fairly) recent discussion in Prospect magazine about racism, there were many, many comments and all, except one, were from men. So back to my question... is the blogosphere a man's world?

One of the truly brilliant things about the blogging is that you have no idea, only suspicions, through what they say, about who and what people might be . The glory is that we are all equally able to express our views and throw them into the pot.... and this is hugely empowering for many and provides many with new avenues of contact and thought.... but does it, in the end, not really permit inequality to disappear but entrenches it? The case is obvious when I think about the 'digital divide' - clearly those without computers, the very poorest are excluded, but this exclusion is not so obvious when we think about gender.

Do we find men gravitating to where they may always have been more comfortable - the realms of things (including the technical and ideas) -in which no social contact is required because it is all on line... and women gravitating to human blogging - about family and friends?

What does it mean, if that is the case - and does it matter? Well, for me the meaning is that far from the web being a democratising tool, it may entrench social stereotypes and be far away from the transforming instrument we tell ourselves it is. The question is still, as it is in life-out-there - are there reasons why women do not choose to participate, even if you remove the social structures which discourage women to participate? For here, in the blogosphere of ideas, is a place where these disincentives have been removed, as far possible.

I love the possibility of learning about ideas and interacting with people I would never come it contact with in my normal life, but I suspect of my gender and my age group, I am not in the majority.

Some provisional thoughts, interested to hear some comments.