Y VoteBus_front_LondonAs soon as I heard about the Y Vote 2014 bus tour “Y Vote on the Road!” in the United Kingdom, I knew I wanted to go there. I was at the Y Vote convention about Mobility & Education in Krakow at that moment, which I really liked, so I applied. I also had never been in the UK before and was eager to discover the country and get to know its people. As soon as all participants arrived to London and we all found our way to the hostel, Luis Alvarado Martinez (president of AEGEE-Europe) and Beata Matuszka (Commité Directeur) welcomed the participants. Though we should know about the European institutions (after all, we were promoting the elections), Luis gave us a short, but very clear presentation about the institutions and the Y Vote 2014 Project. After, we went for food, took a stroll along the Thames and had a first beer in the pub, before our real programme would start on Wednesday.
DSCN0213London – political debate
In London we had our first (and biggest) debate with six MEP candidates and representatives from the League of Young Voters, European Youth Forum, National Students’ Union and Liberal Youth. A lot of interesting topics were discussed and interesting ideas were born, of which I would like to highlight the following:

“Many countries take it for granted that they are members of the EU. But if you are not just a member, but in the heart, then you are also able to renegotiate the terms on which the EU exists.” – the UK is more eurosceptic than most countries, but this doesn’t mean they should be outside. They should be the driving force for a change.

“Every single opinion poll in Britain shows that young people (aged 18-30) are very much pro-EU, while the older generation (65+) is very eurosceptic. But the second group is three times as likely to vote, so it is crucial for young people to be motivated to vote also” – This also goes for extremists – these people are way more likely to vote than moderate voters, and thus extremist parties get more votes than they are likely to deserve.

“I am concerned about disengaged voters. It is going to be the youth’s Europe for much longer than it is for the older people, and they should think about that.”

“Referendum? Exiting the EU? Why do not we renegotiate? The EU has done good things (for example, the single market, Erasmus, funding programmes), BUT there should be a discussion about reforming the way it works now.”

“We should change the discussion back to individual stories and what people have brought us” – a lot has been said now on the European level, but it is still the same (local) people living in Europe.

“We do not compete with workers in China by our salary but with technology and such things! We have great (vocational) education, and we should find our place [as the EU in the world], and nations [in the EU] have to change.”

“We are expected to achieve so much whilst we do not even know how to solve simple problems, like paying the rent.”

Bristol – MEP Candidate debate
The day after, on April the 3rd, we started our bus tour and headed for Bristol. I think every single participant was looking forward to visiting Bristol, because we had received many good recommendations about it. Sadly, we were there only for the afternoon and then left for Cardiff. In Bristol, we had another debate with another candidate for the European Parliament, but this time only one: Kay Barnard (Liberal Democrats).  Few students from the university had also come, and we talked about GMO food, youth unemployment, renewable energies, and climate change in the context of the upcoming European Parliamentary elections. It was interesting once again, and our external participants were also very into the topics. For me, maybe even a little too much, but I was not there to judge but to listen how things work in the UK.

Swansea – Workshop

SwanseaAfter a good night out in Cardiff, where we were quickly promoted to VIP guests in the club (if you have seen Jersey Shore, you can imagine what “VIP” means), we continued our travel to Swansea. Luis had left us in London, since he had to go to another parallel Y Vote convention in Brussels, therefore Bea was leading us every since. Bea had done her Erasmus at the Swansea University, and was very excited to be back. She showed us the long (but cold) beach, and we walked for quite some time, only to arrive at what is probably the cutest little university I have ever seen.

We were told to put up our beautiful stand with information materials in the restaurant and ask people to join us for a workshop after. Personally, I had very interesting talks with some elderly people there, but in the end we did not get any participants for the workshop. Hence, we did the workshop by ourselves, which, in the end, was also very valuable, since we got to discuss a lot of topics.

Birmingham – Participants in the spotlight
The Y Vote bus tour was aimed at getting more people to vote, and how would we achieve this, if not with a street action. We gathered together, did some ice-breaking games (I am really jealous of people who can remember names within a day..), and then discussed possibilities for what we could do on the streets. There were quite some ideas that we had, for example, that we would colour our faces blue with yellow stars, or that we would do a street quiz. Another idea that we then put into practice was, that we would come up with a set of questions and ask people to answer them on tape.

It was harder than we thought, but not impossible to get people to speak on tape. What was very interesting though (and shocking), was that only few the people on the street knew about the EU and the elections. Some voices we heard:

“Ignorance is the reason that no one wants to be part of the European Union. We need the European Union.”

“The people who support the EU do not see the downsides, so it seems they are not telling the whole truth, but at the same time, the people who are completely against it, do not see the positives.”

 “We do not really know enough to be able to vote, really.”

Leeds – Participants in the spotlight
We just had a quick stop in Leeds and implemented another street action there. We blew up balloons, played ninja in the city and did a bit of sightseeing before we left for Manchester.

Manchester – Our hub for the next days

English breakfast Manchester would be our base for the next few days, before set off for Liverpool and Durham. Bryn, who got to know AEGEE member on his Erasmus stay joined us for 4 days and was our guide. Bryan is a teacher and had the amazing ability to remember all of our names within just a few hours. We went to have typical English breakfast – sausages, bacon, egg and beans. I must say, I still prefer my usual breakfast 😉

After, Bryn had organised a treasure hunt around the city, we indulged in with great enthusiasm and had a lot of fun!

Liverpool – Question time and the NUS National Conference
This was the earliest morning of our whole journey. In Liverpool we split up, so 5 of us represented AEGEE and the Y Vote 2014 Project at the NUS National Conference, the largest student democratic event in Europe with more than 1000 delegates from 300 universities. The others, including myself, went for another city rally, but this time we combined the fun with thematic questions. On our to-do-list were things such as “Take a picture with a family”, “Take a picture with a police-officer”, but with each we had to have a talk about the European Union and the elections. We put together a set of 3 questions that everyone had to ask, but this mostly resulted in interesting conversations that often took 15 minutes or longer.

One of the questions was: “Name three things that you know about the European Union” (or that it has brought you, or is bad about it…), and to our surprise, people often could only come up with one thing. In the end, these three questions proved to be very valuable, since we could compare answers instead of having to talk all the conversations through.

After being united with our delegates at the NUS National Conference, we went home to have another night out, this time at the place where they were actually filming for Geordie Shore (I can assure you Cardiff was much more Geordie Shore style) and where again – we had a great time.

Durham – Our last city
Our last day had arrived, and we spent it in Durham, a cute little town located almost in Scotland. There actually is an AEGEE local in Durham, and they provided us with a very nice tour-guide that had set up another city rally to make us move through the city. We split up in groups, asked people about the upcoming elections, and distributed so many balloons, that it felt like every single kid in the city was walking around with it.

London – Good bye new friends
Needless to say that after these 9 days together, we had a hard time saying goodbye on the 10th, but the fact that many of us had to catch busses and trains to the airport, we did not have much time to be sad about it.

To sum up, it was really great to participate in this event. Content-wise, we could have reached way more people and could have worked much more efficiently, for example by promoting our workshops before we actually arrived at the university. It seemed like we appeared out of nothing and disappeared two hours later, and with a clearer plan and more visibility before the event, we could have put our work into more tangible results.  The participants were very pro-active and I learned a lot about the UK and how people actually see the European Union – and this is not at all as sceptical as we hear about. But I also got to know that there technically is a lot of information around, but people are not going to search for it themselves. It is really weird to me that students have not heard about Erasmus. But I cannot blame them, really. Projects like the Y Vote 2014 should not stop after the elections, but keep the European Union in people’s mind, because that is the only way for people to be informed about the EU. Yes, between 22nd-25th of May and after, my Facebook timeline was flooded with voting-related posts, but what about the weeks before? Yes, political parties put up their huge posters 2-3 weeks before the elections, but do they mention the European Elections, or even Europe on it? Many do not.

So, I wish this beautiful project to continue, and make Europe visible all the time, not only at the time of the elections.

Philipp Blum