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  • Writer's pictureHersh Thaker

Speech at "Empower a generation" event.

In my role as a member of Youth Parliament for Leicester i was invited by Operation Black Vote and Unison to speak to a group of students at the Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth College in Leicester on political participation and share my experiences of it.

You can read the full transcript below.

"I would like to start by saying how fantastic it is that OBV and Unison have put together this event and bought the line-up of speakers that we’re going to hear from today. Just to introduce myself, I was a student at QE as of last year, I’m currently on a Gap Year and was until recently a member of Leicester Youth Council and U.K Youth Parliament. I have three quick points to make to share some of my motivation to get involved in politics and speak about the Youth Council Itself.

1. To start with, I’d like to share an analogy with you. It’s an analogy for our education system. I’d like you to think of our education system as a sandwich factory; let’s call it the education factory.

How does it work? Well …

1. We enter the conveyor belt at primary school, each with our own characteristics and undeveloped moral but are essentially a blank canvass.

2- We move along the belt onto secondary school, essentially being filled with the same ingredients, that being the National curriculum.

3- Then onto college and university, we pick our subjects so we’re given different branding but aren’t too different.

4. Once we come off the belt, everything we have known or seen will have been shown or given to us by the factory, hence unless we’ve gone out and sought it everything we’ve seen and done is similar

This was explained to me as a 15 year and it massively changed the way I began think, act and make decisions. And it inevitably led to my interest in politics and decision to run for youth council and youth parliament.

What’s my point?

Well, once we’re cast off the production line along with 500,000 other graduates all fighting to find our place in the world, we need to stop and think. How much of the world will we have actually seen? How much different will our life experiences have really been? What will we have done that really differentiates us? And what will we have done that has made any difference to the world? It’s a daunting thought.

These were all questions which empowered me to want to create the experiences and opportunities that have not simply been shown or fed to me by the factory, BUT ones that I have gone out and made for myself. And what better way to do so than being involved in politics, where creating change is at the centre of what we do.

2. Coming to my second point, I’d like to shine some light onto what the youth council actually does and my experience of it, in particular.

We have 40 youth councillors that represent 8neighbourhoods of Leicester. Within which there is an executive body and there are two members of youth parliament and two deputy members. All members are democratically elected in. At the last election 7500 votes were cast in total from schools and clubs across Leicester. Our structure closely resembles the structure of the council

But the question is, are we effective? Well yes we are. The structure is there and it’s up to us to use them and for other young people to come to us as tell us what needs to be done.

An example of this is the study space campaign I’ve recently completed, which I hope some of you have made full use of, where working with the head of library services in Leicester we created a total of hundred extra study spaces across the city at virtually no cost to the council. Now this was an issue I used to complain about as a student, but have been empowered to proactively do something about it.

Also, on a national level, as a Member of UK Youth parliament, I had the privilege of debating in the House of Commons chamber last November and we collectively agreed that the cost of public transport is the issue most affecting young people across the country. And we are still in the process of lobbying the relevant sec. of state on this. So you see, there is real opportunity to make change, even if it’s just small.

3. On my third and final point, I want to bring it back to the title of today’s event. This idea of ‘Empowering a new generation’ and particularly how the Youth council has empowered my generation and will continue to do so in the future?

Quite simply, it has completely opened up Leicester’s political institutions to its young people to an extent that we hold similar powers to actual councillors. Just think how empowering it is to know that a 13 year old has the potential to similar political powers to a middle aged councillor!

How so;

- We’re given a full flavour of political campaigning through running your own one

- We have access to cities decision makers such as Sir Peter, who himself has been a massive champion of ours and has supported ever since he was an MP

- We run meetings in the council’s chamber

- We have seats in most of the council’s decision making and scrutiny panels.

- We have our own office in the town hall with full use of facilities of the town hall.

- Regular meetings with council executives

- We even have our own council badges!

Now I don’t mean to brag about one particular institution, when there are many other fantastic ones working to empower young people in different ways. But what it does demonstrates is just how much value is put on the us and it now must be up to us, as young people, to go and make things happen for ourselves.

What the YPC offers essentially is a structure in which we can flourish and serve each other. It isn’t about being spoon fed, it’s about using your initiative and creating your own opportunities and campaigns. Surely these are the ideal conditions needed to empower creative young minds. It reminds me of something Bear Grylls recently tweet, (Not originally his quote) - “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”. And this is exactly what we’re doing and giving the space for young people to do in Leicester.

Just to conclude, obviously the YPC isn’t the only organisation out there and I’m not here to sell it. It’s just an example how young people are being empowered here in Leicester. But as I said at the start, the motivation to want to do something special should come from within ourselves and these organisations should only be channels for us to do good.. Steve Jobs said something relevant to this in a speech at Stanford University which particularly stuck with me and I’ll end on this. He said, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

For me, the privilege of being a Youth Politician has given me the opportunity to serve this higher purpose myself… by doing things like this, and I’m really grateful for it.

So thank you very much.


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