Joe Levy—Exeter Young Greens Publicity Officer—discusses Natalie Bennett’s recent visit to Exeter, which attracted over 650 students and trended nationally on Twitter. Article originally published in the South West Young Greens blog here.

Wednesday 14th January 2015 will be a date which, I have no doubt, will acquire legendary status in Green Party history, thanks to an enormous surge in membership. However in Exeter this day has even greater significance. Some months ago we had planned a visit by Natalie Bennett to give a talk at the university. We had no idea that this would escalate into a day of incredible proportions, with an estimated 650+ people attending the talk.

We’re a very new society, founded in September and we started organising everything in November, leaving plenty of time to publicise and build momentum. Admittedly we should have planned the overflow rooms and technical support earlier, but we had no idea of the scale of the event!

On arriving at the university, Natalie met with the Sabbatical Officers for a well-earned cup of tea, before heading off to her interview with XpressionFM. At this point I rushed off to see how our team of stewards was faring and to observe XTV’s highly professional setup in the auditorium. It was only when I left the auditorium again that the scale of the event really hit me – hundreds of students were queueing outside the door, filling the entire building and making for some dramatic photos that went all over Twitter.

Social media was instrumental for the success of this event, with our hashtag #NatExe trending at second place nationally on Twitter, including countless photos, quotes and posts informing the outside world what was going on. Thanks to the live streaming coverage, many people were able to watch the talk from the 6 overflow rooms that were filled once the auditorium reached capacity, as well as those watching from home all over the country!

You can watch the full talk online HERE, however here are some key quotes:

  • There was a lot of applause throughout, but perhaps the biggest was for this, on immigration: “Failed schools, hospitals and housing is not due to immigration but due to failed government policies”.
  • Natalie kept her speech short in order to allow for more questions, saying “dialogue is more interesting than monologue”.
  • On Russell Brand and not voting, Natalie said: “not voting is counted as not bothered”. For this she got a lot of laughs as she pointed out that while ideally she’d like everyone to vote Green, spoiling your ballot paper was better than not voting as at least it gets counted.

The impact of the talk has been monumental – I’ve been sending out quotes and writing articles (including this one) almost non-stop since the event, and the Exeter Green Party has seen a very pronounced surge in members, passing the 250 mark today. There is a general mood on campus that something has changed, demonstrated by the fact that we ran out of membership forms on the night and enhanced by the endless positive comments we have received since, including those relating to my unusual and buoyant style of chairing the Q&A session… Perhaps the best quote to finish on is from Rachael Gillies, the Guild President on Twitter: “students certainly cannot argue that they have no place in politics”.