In 2019, I moved from my hometown in Rybnik, Poland to study musical theatre in Liverpool. The move was a dream come true. I was finally in the heart of European musical theatre. I fell in love with the city immediately, spending time at the docks, Crosby beach, Sefton Park and wandering around the city centre. Everyone made me feel welcome, from my classmates and flatmates to people in the shops and in the streets.
Today, I feel part of this city, and want to contribute to its development. This is why I am voting for the first time in this year’s local elections – encouraging other European citizens to do so as well. As an organiser with She Votes (Ona Glosuje), a bilingual campaign mobilising UK-based Polish women to vote and get politically involved, I believe that the world can change if enough people show up to take action in big and small ways.
Women, in particular, have shown globally what they can achieve when they come together. I witnessed this collective power in 2016, when I joined the first Polish Black Protest – against attempts to restrict abortion in Poland. I was 17 and had never been an activist. I remember seeing all these women, dressed in black, with determination on their faces. I remember thinking that there were a lot of people at the protest, considering the population of our city.
I felt this same energy years later when an openly homophobic Polish presidential candidate came to rally in my town, I made colourful banners calling for equality, tied rainbow ribbons on my top and roller-skated to greet him at a protest. The crowd was wonderfully mixed: people of all ages, genders and political affiliations united against hate speech. Despite facing hostility and verbal abuse at the rally, so many people turned up to demonstrate. At both protests, when we raised our voices together, we were more powerful and part of something bigger. I believe that is what She Votes is about: the coming together to raise our voices as women voters.
On average only one in two EU citizens in the UK, and Polish people among them, are registered to vote. This is true even though we have seen a huge spike in voter turnout among diaspora voters during the last Polish presidential election. Many people like me simply don’t know that they can vote and run in UK local elections, or if they do know, they are hesitant to engage. My flatmate recently told me that he won’t vote in local elections because there is no perfect candidate. But did the women in Poland on Black Protest have a perfect solution to expanding abortion rights? I think sometimes we forget how privileged we are to have the right to vote. It has not even been 100 years since suffragettes won the fight for women’s voting rights. Withdrawing from voting is just as much a political choice as voting is. It’s always better to take actions, no matter how small, rather than wait and let other people decide for us.
In Liverpool and beyond, we are trying to reach as many different women as possible, using varying content and initiatives. Part of my task was to create content appealing to young people, so I started a TikTok campaign to educate and mobilise in a fun way. To make voting feel fashionable, I modelled for a photoshoot with Liverpool-based Polish photographers from Vision Studio, using the hashtag #votinginstyle to reach people not traditionally interested in activism. I asked: how would you like to go dressed on election day? Maybe you’d vote in a beautiful evening dress which you bought before the pandemic, and haven’t had a chance to wear yet? Maybe you prefer to go in your pyjamas? Maybe you’d like to wear something with your heritage, like a piece of clothing that’s been in your family for decades? Each of those choices makes a statement.
As a campaign, She Votes can provide you with all the necessary information and help you with the registration process, but it is your call to actually take action. On 6 May I am going to choose myself and vote. Will you join me?
Anna Drewniok is a musical theatre student at Liverpool Media Academy and an organiser with Polish Migrants Organise for Change (shevotes.org.uk).
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