Growing up I’d never really been interested in politics, well that’s not really accurate. I had no interest in politics nor did I have any political knowledge. Once I completed my GCSEs and got back into school I found I had to choose a fourth subject to study for my A-levels. A history teacher of mine suggested that I may be interested in politics and it would be worth a try at least, so I decided to give it a shot as I had nothing to lose – if I didn’t like it, I could drop it after a few weeks anyway.
So there began my political journey. I was now a student of politics even though I didn’t have any idea whatsoever of what this actually meant. Growing up all I knew politics to be about was that some politicians somewhere didn’t build me and my friends a promised playpark in our estate, meaning that we only had a bus stop to play football against. (One of my friends claims that I nervously whispered to him in one of my first classes, ‘so, what is democracy?’) I really did have a lot to learn…
Once I started studying politics a rather strange thing happened – I became hooked. The subject was genuinely interesting to me and I was somehow annoyed at myself that I didn’t take an interest earlier. Possibly, this was because to say that the learning curve I was on was a steep one, could fairly adequately be described as an understatement.
Naturally as my studies progressed I began to learn more about our political parties and I learned more about my own political views which was followed by my realisation that there was literally not a single political party that represented the vision of politics that I wanted to see.
Que NI21. In my second year of studying politics NI21 was on the horizon, I remember watching John McCallister resign from the UUP live on The View and I was filled with hope. Hope that there might finally be a political party that I could relate to. So after becoming a bit of a political nerd/geek I jumped at the decision to become a political activist, I assumed that this was surely just a natural progression. So I got involved.
It wasn’t long after becoming a party political activist I found myself self-censoring every single word that I would post on social media in my attempts not to bring the party into disrepute. Maybe I was over-sensitive? Probably. Anyway I didn’t like the fact that I was doing this. I’m young and on the whole I am a sensible enough person (I like to think), so I hated that I was always being too aware of what I was posting. I felt like this was me diluting my own thoughts, my own personality. Yes some people will be thinking that, what I thought was self-censorship could be called taking responsibility – and that’s fine, but it made me feel uncomfortable.
One thing that I am is a questioning person. It’s in my nature to be inquisitive and I make no apologies for that, even if I do ask a few silly questions. I remember fondly the time that I tweeted a question in to Mark Carruthers to ask of Mike Nesbitt during a UUP party conference and it gave me a buzz. It excited me the thought that I could ask questions of political leaders and hold them to account.
After being a political activist for NI21 for some time I felt myself losing my passion for asking questions as this was replaced with a concern to always defend the party line rather than asking questions of others and of my own political views. This made me uncomfortable – I didn’t like the idea that I was becoming a nodding head, similar to the type of those dogs that you see sitting in the front of cars. Nodding being the only function they know. It seemed counter intuitive to my nature.
Other political activists will tell me that they don’t agree with everything their political parties do but my qualm is that many don’t feel comfortable to express their grievances in public and that’s something for me that I was personally not happy about. We have a political culture where it’s okay to disagree with party policy, but my god don’t you dare go saying it in public.
I don’t apologise If you were hoping to see NI21 being slated in public because you’ve come to the wrong place and wasted a few minutes of your life as that isn’t what this piece is about, and nor should it be twisted in that respect. If anything this is a criticism of myself. NI21 has some truly fantastic people, if you are ever in need some inspiration you only have to look to some of the candidates that are standing for NI21 that are passionate and committed individuals in their conquest to make Northern Ireland a truly better place. Because of that I am going to continue to help some candidates to get elected on Thursday 22nd, but after that I want to dip my toe into the journalistic pool.
During my involvement in NI21 I’ve had a brilliant time, I’ve made lifelong friendships and learned a lot about myself – maybe most importantly that party political activism isn’t quite for me at the minute, maybe it’s a maturity thing, maybe not. Time will tell.