What is democracy? Are we empowered in the decisions that affect our lives or is our version of democracy merely smoke-and-mirrors placating us with the illusion of choice?
In what is becoming a Bristol Cable tradition, we turn to a group of people to hear their voices on politics in the everyday.
What transpires is a passionate ‘femocratic’ discussion, in which the participants talk about democracy, parking, shortcomings in education and what can be done to invigorate our politics.
Bonny: As individuals, what do you define as ‘democracy’?
Nicole: My understanding of a democratic system is one in which everyone has an equal say in changes that they would like to see in society.
Ruby: Democracy is supposed to consider everyone on an equal level. . . Considering what’s happening at the moment, I don’t think we live in a democratic society. This is not a democracy.
Tessa: Also, it’s having the freedom to express what you want. Things like freedom of speech, religion and expression. These things are important within a democracy.
Bonny: Do you think that Bristol is democratic in the sense that you have described?
Ruby: I think Bristol is more democratic than other cities, but I don’t think that true democracy can exist when things like business come into place. Business . . . has a very adverse effect on a lot of political decisions.
Nicole: In Bristol there’s democracy in that we choose who makes the decisions, we can express our views on important decisions that are made, and as a means of communication between us and the council. However, our proposals can be overruled, which is where democracy fails.
Rose: Bristol is not a democracy. It comes across as democratic as long as you’re agreeing . . . The council makes sudden changes and reschedules meetings at the last minute, which makes it very hard to attend and have your say. This also makes it incredibly difficult for disabled people, parents, and people with mental health problems.
Bonny: What is wrong about the democratic system in Bristol?
Ruby: Bristol is special in that there is a lot of activism here, and spaces where actions for change can be discussed and planned for. However, a lot of it is ignored. Afterwards people forget and it is brushed over.
Rose: There is a lot of solidarity when it comes to social situations, but discussions don’t change problems and cloak the need for action. There’s a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy, which makes it a really dodgy system and hard to understand. This stops it from being true democracy because it’s not transparent, so people can’t have their say as easily.
Tessa: It’s a hierarchy of decision-making. If you can override the popular vote then there is no true democracy.
Bonny: What would you like to see improved in terms of services? What is good about the system that we have in Bristol?
Ruby: Bristol has really good youth services and outreach projects. I think youth clubs should be invested in where kids can hang out together.
Tessa: I think the council is putting its attention on the wrong things . . . like permit parking, which is just another way for the council to get money off people under the pretense that it’s trying to protect the environment. When the council wanted to put permit parking in place in the area where I live, people signed a petition against this . . . the council did nothing. Is it really a democracy if the council says it’s doing it for the people, the people don’t want it, but the council does it anyway?
Nicole: I think information is really important here. . . It’s hard to represent people when you’re on a very tight budget and you don’t know what people’s priorities are.
Bonny: Do you feel that young women know enough about democracy to make informed decisions when voting?
Rose: No, because politics is seen as quite masculine and argumentative. In the Houses of Parliament there aren’t many young people and that does affect who is likely to register to vote. I also don’t think critical thinking is taught heavily enough in schools, which is crucial for people to feel engaged with politics.
Tessa: Celebrities have a part to play in influencing people to vote. A few years ago, Russell Brand said that he didn’t vote because he felt nothing represented him and people followed his lead. But I feel like that’s just an excuse to not vote. If you don’t vote at all then you’re not actually standing up for anything.
Nicole: We’ve only ever had one female Prime Minister. In a way I see that as a problem because it should be 50-50. . . I see it as an improving situation. Like [in] any other sector of society, influence works via role models, so the more you have in there, the more girls will see [politics] as a viable option.
Bonny: How can democratic apathy be addressed?
Ruby: I think we’re lacking some positive role models and we’re not taught about specific people who have championed equality. Maybe doing some politics cartoons for young children?
Tessa: Having the time to do a bit of critical thinking is important. Analyzing what policy is best, which one fits you the most and then going towards that one. If none of them suits, then do something in your community to raise awareness of the fact that you don’t feel represented.
Nicole: It’s very important that children learn about the world and current affairs through programmes like Newsround. It’s a gentle way to introduce the problems of the world and hopefully means that by the time they reach voting age they don’t suddenly become confronted by an overwhelming amount of new and scary information.
Rose: A lot of women who have strong opinions about politics are also reluctant to join in with political debate because we’ve been brought up in a society that does not value opinionated women. You’re more likely to be seen as ‘outspoken’ or ‘bossy’ in that sense.