Thursday, 4 May 2017

"Will you be voting for the people who will make more parks?" - Reflections from an afternoon with Hannah and Nina

      "Our school has closed today because it's a polling station. Have you been to vote?"
      Hannah and Nina had come to visit. I could see two pairs of sparkling eyes looking back at me through the reflection of my rear view mirror as I drove us to a nearby country park. The last thing I had expected was to talk about today was politics.
      "I haven't been to vote yet, but might do after you two go home."
      "Why do people have to vote?"
      "It's very important. It's an opportunity for us to tell people what we want. When you two are old enough you have to go and vote, okay?"
      "Why's it so important?"
      I paused here. Do I go down that women's rights wormhole? Do I touch on how some people in this world still don't have a say? Do I know how to explain democracy or communism to an 8 and 12 year old?
      "It's important because a lot of people had to fight for our right to make choices. A lot of people had to do a lot of things in order that every person in this country has a chance to say how they want things to happen."
      This seemed to stem the flow of questions for a little bit. We arrived at the country park and the sun shone brightly. I let these two young ladies take the lead as we explored the space. We followed the river around to an area where we could wander right onto the riverbed and do some gentle river-bed combing. We like looking for treasures.
      We ended our park exploration at the fixed playground where there was the usual fare. Having done the swings and the slide, I asked the girls if they wanted to come and vote with me. They were interested to find out what happened at the polling station since their school had been turned into one, so this was an awesome opportunity. On the drive out of the park, we noticed an area that had been recently flattened.
      "Oh look, it looks like they're preparing to build something here"
      "It's probably houses," said Hannah with an air of nonchalance, "it's always houses".
      "Well, what else would you want to see built?" I said, with a smirk.
      "A park or something. But it's never that."
      "Well why do you think they don't build parks?"
      "Maybe they think people don't need them. Maybe they don't have fun."
      The subject changed, and other things were pointed at, and soon we reached my designated polling station. I parked up, and the girls quizzed me some more as we got out of the car.
      "What do you vote for when you vote?"
      "We can vote for people who make promises to us, like less homework, or more school dinners..."
      "Will you be voting for the people who will make more parks?" said Hannah, with genuine concern.
      "I really hope so." I was touched that this was the priority for her, and also quite sad that this was unlikely to be a priority for any of the candidates.
      "What other promises would you want to vote for?" asked Nina.
      I paused for a moment to think. I hadn't really looked at any of these promises that the candidates for the brand new Manchester Mayor had put across, and actually not being a very politically minded person myself, I actually wasn't really ready for this question. What did I want?
      "I would really like if someone could just promise to be nice, if I'm honest."
      "Well, that's a very important promise," Nina said to be quite earnestly, "it's important to be nice."
      We walked on and I explained that the voting inside the polling station is a bit of a secret so people don't talk very loudly inside. I also explained that I'd be happy to show them what I voted, but not for them to loudly broadcast it to the rest of the room. They nodded solemnly and then we went in.
      I whispered explanations for everything to Hannah and Nina as they looked on, wide-eyed at the volunteers helping at the polling station. After I carefully made my marks on my ballot paper, Hannah put my vote into the box and we went back out into the sunshine.
      There were more questions which required me to explain the merits and drawbacks of each of the parties. I tried to make these explanations balanced (and goodness, I had to dig deep sometimes) and eventually they seemed satisfied with my answers.
      There wasn't much more talk about the voting after this. We went home and admired our treasures while sat outside in the sun. I reflected on how funny our conversations were today, and how of all people, I was explaining the voting system to two interested children. I really don't know the first thing about politics so answering some of these questions took a lot of deep High-School-Lesson excavation, so I hope that it made sense.
      Today's conversations really meant a lot to me. Having talked to these young people about so many things today including health, education and even suitable phone usage (they brought it up, not me!) they chose to prioritise parks because they knew that there really weren't enough of them, and it was an important issue to them. They wanted me to vote for the people who will help build more spaces for them to play but I didn't know how to tell them that political parties of the UK don't really prioritise play, don't really think about the leisure time of children and are not in the business of play. How do I tell two members of our society that their needs are basically being ignored, but in the same breath encourage them to exercise their right to vote?
      Ultimately, these two young ladies know where their priorities are. And I have made an important decision and promise: whenever possible, if it is in my power, I will give these two the right to make their own choices, and to play. I may not be able to change way the world treats children, but I can make a difference to these two little ladies.

Thank you to Nina and Hannah for a lovely day of treasure hunting and political discussion!

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