Democracy in Action is an award-winning module on community organizing, offered to students in their final year at University.
Students from the 2021/22 intake share their experiences in this series of blogs.
Anna Bigham, who joined the module as part of her studies in Essex Business School, talks about her experience
I took part in the Democracy in Action module in 2021/22 at the University of Essex. My group focussed on reducing violence against women, which then led to us working on the Citizens Essex campaign to make misogyny a hate crime. This resulted in us holding a Safety Summit where we presented our work to the lead Superintendent in Essex Police and provided a list of wants and asks to achieve our campaign goals.
The module teaching was inspiring and exciting throughout as it was very interactive. We had several guests come to speak to us about their community organising work as well as open conversations about their life experiences that have shaped who they are and why they do the work they do. The module provided the tools we needed for community organising as well as the chance to put what we learned into practice.
From taking this module my confidence has grown massively. The course made me feel as though what I thought and had to say mattered. It showed me that I can enact societal change and that there are always people who care about the same issues you do. I grew an immense admiration for people who do community organising work as I saw the level of effort it takes. I also learned the skill of successfully managing power-holders and decision-makers which was something I hadn't realised would be so complex before taking the module. I hope the module will be the start of campaign-work for me as I now feel ready and able to make change. I feel very grateful for the opportunity as it has provided me with really useful life/work skills and has definitely helped me grow as a person.
One of my key takeaways from the module and community work was the importance of listening and value in storytelling as a way to strengthen and build relationships in the community and with power-holders. Throughout the year I took part in listening campaigns including one on campus where I asked people questions about misogyny, which led to numerous conversations and interviews that really illuminated the issue. As well as providing an overview and trends around the issue, the listening campaign also led to some of the stories gathered being used in the summit which we organised to bring key people together. The summit taught us about the power of testimonies as a tool for engagement and the stories used as testimonies helped immeasurably to captivate the audience and highlight the issue.
Listening and story exchange also played an important role in how we approached the police superintendent and other powerholders that attended the summit. We were able to build a relationship with the superintendent before the summit commenced as she shared stories about how misogyny and violence against women had impacted her life. This exchange was emotional for all involved and set a good foundation for the rest of the night.
We also made use of 121s in our summit which was another technique learnt and used in Citizens campaigning as it helps to engage people and gets them to reflect on an issue in a way that is personal to them. This enhanced the powerholders’ engagement with our presentation and also allowed them to hear first-hand from members of the community.
The superintendent also spoke at the summit and she agreed to all our campaign's wants and asks as well as saying there is more she wished to do for the issue. She also enthusiastically agreed to continue working with us and provided us with roles we could undertake in the future of the campaign. The atmosphere at the summit was better than we could have anticipated and it felt like we were really making a difference in furthering the campaign and cementing the relationship with the police. It was a very promising start for the campaign in Essex and will hopefully result in Essex and the rest of the UK becoming a much safer and fairer place for women!