Democracy in Action is an award-winning module on community organising, currently offered to students in their final year at the University of Essex. Students from the 2022/23 intake share their experience in a series of blogs.

Magdalena Bochnak, who recently graduated with a BA European Studies with Politics (including a year abroad), talks about her journey on Democracy in Action

Throughout the past year, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Democracy in Action module, where my group focused on the issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers. This experience was eye-opening and empowering, as it allowed me to work alongside passionate individuals who were determined to make a positive impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. In this blog post, I will share some of the moments, challenges, and lessons I gained from this experience.

The first step in community organising for refugees and asylum seekers was to listen and learn directly from their experiences. In our case, that was possible through collaboration with some local organisations who enabled us to meet some of the members of their communities. Through engaging talks, personal stories, and research, we gained a deeper understanding of the challenges they face, such as displacement, poor legal advice, and vulnerability to exploitation or abuse. This crucial phase taught me the importance of empathy and the significance of truly listening to their voices in order to advocate for their rights.

One important thing I took away from the module was that community organising is not a one-person activity. We developed a network of like-minded people to campaign for the rights and well-being of refugees and asylum seekers. We created proposals to raise awareness and deliver solutions for the challenges at hand with the help of local NGOs, Citizens UK, and our teaching staff. Witnessing the power of collective action had an enormous effect on me, strengthening my belief that when people work together, meaningful change is possible.

Our experience with Democracy in Action was not without challenges.  From overcoming scepticism to compromising differing end objectives among the partnering organisations, where each brought its own unique vision and strategy to the table, and aligning everyone's interests, took significant debate and compromise.  These difficulties, however, increased our commitment and taught us to not give up.  We learned that making change requires patience, resilience, and a desire to push limits.

Throughout our journey, we also celebrated small wins, recognizing that each step taken towards positive change was significant. Whether it was successfully advocating for our undocumented neighbours at PFCC meetings or presenting the “good law champion” programme alongside Citizens UK, these victories reinforced our commitment to the cause. As Democracy in Action concluded, we realised that our work was far from over. It served as a stepping-stone for a lifetime of advocating for refugees and asylum seekers, ensuring their rights and dignity are recognised and upheld.

Participating in Democracy in Action was a fundamental event that has left an unforgettable mark on me. It taught me the necessity of collective action, of listening to marginalised voices, and of speaking up against injustices in our society. As I continue on this journey of advocacy and leading change in my first postgraduate role, I am filled with hope, knowing that each small step we take can create a positive change in the lives of those who need it the most.