Take Back the City visited sixth form students from Ark Globe Academy in Southwark. The school takes in a wide diversity of students from different backgrounds and this made for a very engaging debate with a wide variety of opinions expressed. Fittingly, when we began the discussion all of the students agreed it was the city's diversity that made it a great place to live; reflecting the value the students placed upon living and learning in an ethnically and socially mixed environment.
On more specific questions, the class was more divided. For example a greater proportion of the class believed that London rewards hard work than didn't. However a majority were undecided, with many arguing that it depends on individual circumstances. Opinion was equally divided on the Metropolitan Police, with a marginal majority believing that the police do a difficult job in the face of a hostile media reluctant to praise the service they provide. This was contested by one student who pointed to police discrimination and violence. Another student raised the relationship between justice in the criminal justice system and a meritocracy. She pointed out that those with an experience with the criminal justice system find it much harder to get a job.
On the question of whether politicians listen to "us" all the class agreed that they didn't; but gave different explanations for this. Some pointed to apathy amongst young people, including their reluctance to vote, which give politicians a reason to ignore them. When discussing the cause of this apathy students blamed the media for its failure to engage or inform young people, but also young people themselves who have a responsibility to engage in politics. All the students agreed that politicians listen too much to the wealthy.
This brought us onto the discussion of what London could look like if ordinary young people did have a greater role in the decision-making process. A number of changes were suggested including a lowering of the voting age, greater controls on the police, more apprenticeship schemes, legalisation and taxation of marijuana and greater funding for public education at the expense of private education. Having discussed these demands in the separate groups, a member of each group then stood up in front of the class to actively propose these demands. This was with the exception of one group that insisted on a more democratic procedure of proposing their demands as a group. After a lot of discussion, a fair bit of trash-talking and a lot of laughter, the students voted on the three demands they would like to contribute to the People's Manifesto. These were:
- Lowering of university tuition fees.
- More affordable housing in London
- Keeping the NHS in public hands.