Talking politics with "Village Bloggurls"

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Participation Monday, May 12, 2014 View Count = 1359

Talking politics with "Village Bloggurls"

Today's blog post comes from Samara volunteer Mana Sadeghipour

Last month, Samara teamed up with facilitators at North York Community House (NYCH) to host a Democracy Talks session with the “Village Bloggurls." The Village Bloggurls are a girls-only group consisting of mentors and mentees who meet after school once a week and engage in activities and conversations aimed at preserving the self-esteem of the collective. The girls are aged from 7 to 16, and together, they maintain an online blog about their day-to-day experiences. Check out their website at www.villagebloggurls.ca!
 
Right off the bat I, and I think many of the community leaders in the room, were pleasantly surprised by the girls’ knowledge of democracy and willingness to talk about leadership. A hesitant and young mentee led the discussion by simply explaining that a citizen is “someone who belongs.” Hearing her say that so succinctly made me further appreciate the role that a sense of belonging really plays as an indicator of a strong democracy. Yet it is one that so many of our modern democracies fail to encompass. Instead of considering the ideals and visions of the citizenry, leaders and intellectuals often lose themselves in the complicated intricacies of politics. From my own experience as a first-generation immigrant, I can say that the day I received official paperwork after three years of residency was certainly not the day I felt like a Canadian citizen. Rather, like this young woman stated, the feeling of inclusion to my adapted society arose when I began feeling integrated within its social infrastructure. Association with my new found Canadian “citizenship” developed through years of gaining social networks and inquiring about the country’s socio-political state. Eventually, I felt incorporated enough to decide to pursue an academic and professional life in the field of public policy.

After discussing citizenship, the facilitator asked the girls to describe their ideal leaders. By taking this more personal approach the facilitators were able to ease the girls into a political discussion. I find that people often doubt their own adequacies and wonder whether they “know enough” to talk politics, forgetting that we all have the right, ability, and obligation to participate in the decision-making processes of our communities. That conversation can start with something as simple as considering which leaders we’d like to emulate. It was great to hear the range of the girls’ responses—from Martin Luther King Jr. to Viola Desmond and even Emily Murphy. They elaborated that they perceived traits such as bravery and perseverance against discrimination to be indicative of an exceptional leader. Notably, many students pointed towards the civics classrooms in their schools as the places that provided them with information about historical figures and democratic societies. For me, it further reinforced the powerful role that I believe political education can play in the lives of students. 

The last section of democracy talks was a bracelet-making activity. The girls were given bowls full of differently coloured beads, and each colour represented a valuable feature of democracy - green represented fairness, blue was openness, and pink was participatory. It was interesting to observe the politically charged discussions that arose at each table as the girls made their bracelets. One mentor explained to her mentee that “someone with lots of power” was her idea of a good leader, and at another table mentors and mentees separated bead colours while chatting about the notion that someone could be a bad person but a good political leader. 

At the end of the exercise we came back together to discuss reflections on the activity. One mentor said that although she was familiar with the concept of democracy, making these bracelets taught her that openness, fairness, and the other ideas we’d discussed are all integral parts of a democratic system. This was a moment of reaffirmation for me since her statement supported my opinion that the longstanding claim that youth find politics dry or boring is baseless. When given the right tools, most youth and adults alike find it fascinating, not to mention significant, to think and talk about the decisions being made within their civic realm.

By the end of the seminar, some of the girls explained that they intended on discussing the details of their Democracy Talk with their civics teachers since it encouraged them to think about important issues that directly impacted them in their communities. They hoped to use concepts such as openness and fairness in their upcoming projects and assignments. Ultimately, it was rather fulfilling to witness a small but significant example of the spillover effect that stems from engaging in politically charged conversations. My hope is that at some of the students from the Village Bloggurls will carry this experience with them in the future as guidance for envisioning the societies and political structures they hope to build for themselves and future generations. 

Mana Sadeghipour is a 4th-year U of T student attaining an HBA in Political Science. Mana spends half her days working as a court reporter at a mediation firm, and the other half researching about immigration politics and the behaviour of the Iranian diaspora in the Greater Toronto Area. Her interests include photography and political theory, and she plans on pursuing a Public Policy degree in the near future.


About Democracy Talks:
Samara’s Democracy Talks have been held across Canada and are now being integrated by North York Community House into programs ranging from English language conversation circles to youth leadership programs.  If you are interested in learning about integrating Democracy Talks into your organizations programming contact John Beebe or visit our website.  
 

Read more about Democracy Talks

The plane has landed

Wisdom from the frontlines

The power of political conversation



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