On 19 March this year, a day after it was announced that schools would be closing across the UK, Marcus Rashford, a Manchester United footballer, sent a tweet that sparked a movement to end child hunger. Hard work on the ground, and a celebrity's connections and profile, are part of what made this possible. Jessie Joe Jacobs, Democracy Network Coordinator, discusses our aim to better connect those working to address issues of power inequality in the UK to see real improvements in our democracy, and the progress made so far.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to change daily life, Marcus worked with food charity FareShare to provide free school-meals for children in the Greater Manchester region. Through Rashford’s connections with the charity, and his increasing profile as a footballer, he wrote an open letter to the the UK government calling on them to end UK child poverty and reinstate school meal vouchers for families in need. His letter went viral and, a day later, the government announced a change in policy.
Many campaigns, projects, fundraisers and task forces have been launched on the back of Rashford’s connections, support and actions. The initial initiative alone raised over £20 million to provide three million meals across the UK.
Of course, it was more than just Rashford’s social media account that made this possible. It was the combination of valuable and sustained work of the poverty fighting projects on the ground, amplified through the connections and platform of a celebrity footballer, which led a nation to take note and a government to take action.
My role at Involve is to develop a Democracy Network, to better connect those working to address issues of power inequality in the UK and see real change in improving our democracy. Who has the power, and who makes our decisions, can affect nearly every aspect of our lives and plays a major role in how big issues around the globe are tackled. Our network will create fertile ground for connections to be made, so we can be greater than the sum of our parts. Our hope is big changes to our democracy will happen, alongside the small everyday changes and strengthening of the projects and issues we care about.
At present, we are focused on building the relationships and governance structure that will act as a solid foundation for years to come. This has included setting up the steering group for the Democracy Network, developing a plan of activities for next year and meeting and engaging with over 100 people and projects working on democracy.
We are aiming for big things in 2022. We are setting up a council of reference to ensure a wider group of those passionate about democracy are shaping the Network. Through this, we will explore its focus and activities, including ideas like a democracy festival, combining efforts around a single advocacy campaign and how to help organisations secure funding.
We may have to navigate the continuing impact of COVID-19; but this won’t stop us achieving our goals of a stronger, more effective and connected movement for a democracy that is fit for the 21st century. There has never been such an important time to stand together for a better democracy and push for a society where power is more equally shared.
See you in 2022 - it's going to be a big year for democracy...