For Young Greens, engaging rural members is a necessity
While the Young Greens are a fantastic group of activists, we have allowed ourselves to fall into the same trap that the rest of the Left has fallen into – focusing too much attention on what effects our policies can have on those that live in cities. While this is important, it should not mean that rural citizens’ needs are side-lined.
The Young Greens currently have guidelines for people who wish to create Young Green groups at their university. The same should be done for those wanting to form groups in small towns and villages. We should be engaging rural members in campaigns by setting up a “rural activist buddy system” that would essentially put rural members without a local active Young Greens group in contact with each other so they can have the sense of community which the rest of us take for granted. Being able to have someone you know at events makes them immediately more welcoming.
Rural exclusionism is a problem that exists in all forms of activism. For instance, there is a reason that many young LGBTQIA+ people move out of the countryside and into cities at the first chance they get. That reason, along with increased job opportunity, is that the city that has the supportive hub that a small village simply cannot grow, due to its population size. However, not everyone can afford to make that move. Not everyone wants to give up their home to move to a place that is alien to them.
As a Green Party, at our very core we have the basic principle of environmentalism – a principle which exists to protect the natural world from the destructiveness of capitalism. So why is it that in rural areas it is not us but the Tories and the Right who hold power and influence? Well, there is a shadow hanging over the Green Party and that shadow is the stereotype that members are part of a middle-class urban elite. This is sadly an easy assumption to make due to the focus by the party on campaigns in places like London and Bristol. London is not going to be fracked, Bristol does not have open cast coal mines built on it. These are things which, as a Green party, we oppose and are directly affecting rural communities but, due to the focus on local parties from big cities, when it comes to support and activism those rural people are finding themselves in a situation where the only people to turn to are the well-established parties which are getting rich off the very things which are destroying the communities of their constituents. If these communities had a Young Green presence then there would be a vocal alternative.
One of the biggest difficulties the Young Greens faces is membership retention. If rural members continue to be ignored while the successes of urban and university groups are flaunted in front of them then they will not feel welcome in the party and will fail to renew their membership, potentially having the flame of political involvement within them extinguished forever.
The Young Greens could learn well from the main party, which is pretty good at engaging rural members in activism. It is not perfect but the party has shown its face at anti-fracking marches, protests against HS2 and even led a campaign against grouse shooting in the Yorkshire Moors. This makes the rural membership feel part of something compared to when the focus is on city and university groups, which makes it difficult for rural greens to get involved and in some cases intimidates members out of standing for national positions as they feel that they would be ignored in favour of someone known in one of the big cities.
It is important that we start putting confidence in our policies, support all our candidates and stop putting individuals on pedestals. If we build up the youth movement in rural areas like we have in urban ones then we shall see more people involved, more people put themselves forward as a candidate, the more candidates we have the higher the chance of success. Rural communities are untouched potential that will get us seats if we just paid their members attention instead of ignoring them.
In response to this article, Young Greens co-chairs Hannah Ellen Clare and Sam Murray replied: