I have been very open about how anxiety enveloped me for two years, restricting my everyday life. At most, I would be able to go and walk my dog at the park five minutes from my house with my mum – I would never go out alone and I would have multiple panic attacks in the day, multiple panic attacks at night. I’ve always been politically aware, growing up with strong working-class roots and parents who are left-wing, but I guess I always automatically thought “that’s the Conservative leader, we don’t like them” and “that’s the labour leader, we like them” when the news would be on. As I have grown older, it’s been the staggering difficulties I’ve faced as a direct result of austerity that have made me into an activist. I joined the Labour Party last year once the NHS mental health services had told me I didn’t meet criteria, during the midst of the new, extreme GCSEs in a school in one of the worst funded areas for schools in the country – it was a catalyst for me joining.
When I first joined twitter in September, I was still struggling really badly with anxiety and panic attacks. It hasn’t been until around January 2019 that I’ve gradually been able to go out and do things again, still in moderation, but slowly I was getting there. Around February, I saw Dawn Smith, one of the local Labour candidates for the Worthing Borough Council Elections like and retweet some of my posts – like most of my likes and retweets, everything gets bundled together so I don’t see a lot but it was the locality of her profile that caught my eye. I followed her but for a short period I felt too shy to reach out and say that I lived locally. It was a group chat I was a part of – named ‘young comrades’ at the time, where I was encouraged to go along to Dawn’s campaign launch. My friends Hardeep, Frank and Ryan, who I had only spoken to online, were going so I took the plunge and arranged to go, knowing I would regret it if I didn’t go to an event that was only five minutes away from me. The night before, I did feel wobbly and slightly sick because it was the unknown and it could have gone two ways – i would have a panic attack and would retreat back to my house for the next six months, or it would bring the best of me out. I am so glad that it was the latter. The first piece of advice I ever got about internet safety was never meet people online but there I was, with people that treated me as if I was instantly family. Every single person that came to the campaign launch made me feel welcome and loved – I knew I had no reason to feel nervous around any of them.
For the first session, I shadowed East Worthing and Shoreham’s Parliamentary Candidate Lavinia O’Connor, feeling too nervous to run a board on my own. The next few weeks, I ran the board (taking data from the voters) and found myself itching to say something from behind the gate. It was the fifth session where I started door knocking and the first time was on a notoriously bad road, where I was told to fuck off (I’ve honestly never been told to fuck off more times than when I’ve been out canvassing) and got dozens of doors slammed in my face. I was too scared to challenge anyone so I would scuttle away and feel disheartened that nobody would listen to me.
The team around me made me want to carry on – I believed in the candidate so much that I wanted to try harder than just let people shout at me or verbally abuse me. So, with every door knock my heart beat slowed a bit more, my legs didn’t tremble as much and I would say a bit more. There are three conversations that I had with people on the doorstep that will stay with me for a while and have proved to me why I do this
• My first ever Labour promise was from a lifelong Liberal Democrat voter. I spoke to him for a while and told him about my experiences with mental health services – he also had anxiety and expressed frustration with the lack of services. I said “I’m really not good with public speaking but I’m doing this because I want change, because I don’t want people to go through what I’ve gone through” and I could see him thinking about what I said. Before I left, he told me “it’s really impressive that you’re here now after going through that”. I thought of him when I looked at the sheepish pile of Lib Dem ballots and hoped he had voted for Labour like he had promised. He’s the first conversation that really stayed with me.
• On the evening of polling day, I knocked on a single dad’s door and he answered it with his young daughter who was in her pyjamas. He jokingly said that he would vote labour if I would help her with her homework – so on the doorstep, I helped this ten year old girl with what seemed like an impossible piece of homework, that I hope I managed to help her with from my hazy memories of GCSE physics. The dad went on to tell me that she went to private school and we spoke for a while. He asked me if I got paid – I replied “no, I do it because I believe in it so much” and he looked towards his coat and said “I’ll go down to the polling station”.
• I knocked on the door of an elderly lady and originally I thought she wasn’t too pleased to see me. I wrongly get apprehensive when elderly people come to the door. She was very vulnerable and frail. she said to me “I’ve never voted for you but you come here with so much passion and I’m getting to an age where I’ve realised they don’t want me. I have no social care and there’s no retirement homes for me to go to. So this time I will vote labour.” I got a bit emotional after that visit because I just looked into the eyes of a lady that couldn’t afford support but was so vulnerable. I wanted to go back to her and make it all better for her. A woman that has worked all of her life but has been damaged by the DWP so horrifically
These three conversations have really stayed with me from the campaign. To think I’ve been able to have these conversations with people when I couldn’t even buy something from a shop six months ago is something that has taken a lot of time for me to try and get to, but it’s something I think is a responsibility for me. As I’ve spoken to more and more people, I realise how I’m becoming firmer and not letting people dictate my opinions. This is a favourite quote of mine if I am feeling particularly anxious or sensitive
“Well behaved women rarely make history” – Rose Parks
I have never felt so sick than on the morning of the count – I wanted our candidate Dawn to get in so badly because I thought she was the perfect embodiment of change for our community. The count itself was an incredible experience that I really enjoyed – watching democracy in action was both exciting and scary. I was counting the ballots put in the Labour tray, seeing how much they were piling up, up and up, way past the Conservative pile. Most interestingly, I looked at spoiled ballot papers and helped decide if they should be disqualified from the count. Seeing the press say that these local elections are reflective of how much people want brexit is very true. 90% of these spoilt ballot papers were ‘Brexit party’, ‘deliver the will of the people’, ‘liars’, ‘traitors’ etc (and the other 10% were drawings of cocks). I never saw the purpose of spoiling a ballot paper before as I never realised it would be shown and people would have to read it – it has only confirmed my views of brexit and how dangerous it will be if we do not deliver it.
By far the best experience of the whole campaign was the moment five Labour councillors were elected for Worthing borough council, taking us from 0 – 10 councillors in the space of ten years. I cried euphorically because it meant everything to me. My feet were covered in blisters, my knuckles were grazed from killer letterboxes and doorknocking and I felt emotionally exhausted but that moment meant everything to me. I had been a tiny part of an election success and I was so proud of everybody that had participated. We are a group of true, passionate socialists that want a better future. My local Labour Party is a family and we all love each other so much.
I would take one or two beta blockers before going out canvassing and I’d sometimes feel the feeling of a panic attack arise but what made me push on was the comradery of those around me and the thought of not wanting anyone to suffer like I did. I will keep doing it, mo matter how anxious I am or how many tablets I need to take to get me out there. I am fighting for change and no one will stop me.
These are the people who have helped me so much, so I thought I would write a few words to them.
Dawn – For believing in me so much and being the reason why I got out and starting door knocking. Also for keeping me in check when I got the giggles and/or started being dirty minded. You have taught me so much and have made me into a feistier and stronger person.
Chelley – For being the most amazing mentor and helping me learn the ropes of everything and for always looking out for me. My best moments on the campaign have been with you and Dawn (especially the porch and panda incident). You are such a gift and asset to the party, we are all very lucky to get to campaign with you.
Margaret – I adore you so much Margaret because I think you are a bloody brillant woman. You understood my nervousness from the beginning and helped me grow in confidence by being a great role model in how you speak to people and your determination. Also thank you to Phil, who always made sure I was never on my own when going to a door and being a great photographer!
Michael – For taking a potentially poisoned chip from a Tory with me and noting down the number plate in case we all died. On a more serious note, I think you are a truly amazing socialist and member of the party – thank you for being one of the people who always drive me around everywhere!
Hardeep – SUPER CAMPAIGNER. What a legend you are and thank you for helping me on my first ever canvassing session. You are one of the reasons why I am still canvassing today.
Pat – Another woman who I am simply in awe of. You taught me how to fearlessly convert a kipper to labour and gave me the gentle push I needed to start canvassing myself. Also many thanks for cooking us so much food at the labour hall the other week!
Debs – One of my many Labour mums, who always looks out for me and helps me all the time. Thank you for being such a selfless woman Debs and for being someone I can always trust.
Livs – Literally the most amazing woman, who will be our MP very soon. She is a perfect example of a strong role model for me to look up to – she takes no nonsense from anyone being stupid or rude and is someone who has made me feel so welcome in our family.