Maddy Dhesi, a politics student at University of Glasgow, and one of the team behind #HandsOffOurVote – whose efforts to stop the UK Government bringing in voter ID saw over 100,000 sign their petition and raised the issue in national media. Maddy campaigned in Wales raising awareness of the impact of voter ID on Welsh youth. This week an all-party report on the changes has found voter ID in England led to racial and disability discrimination. The Breakthrough team sat down with Maddy to talk voter ID, youth participation, engaging Gen-Z, and which campaigns have inspired her the most.
Could you tell us a little about your campaign experience and the campaigns you’ve been involved in so far?
Most of the campaigns I’ve worked on have been all about voting and democracy. I’m so interested in accessing and building power, in Wales and amongst young people. Around the 2021 elections and last year’s Election Act going through parliament. I worked on the #OurHomeOurVote campaign and #HandsOffOurVote. For me, the impact that voter ID was going to have on turnout in Welsh elections and representation seemed disastrous in the face of already low democratic engagement.
Where did your interest in campaigning on youth participation and democracy come from?
I voted for the first time in the 2021 Senedd election. In Wales, most young people have very low levels of engagement in these elections. This seemed to drastically contrast with my experience of ‘youth politics’ where I have seen so many young people passionately engaging with politics through movements such as Black Lives Matter and climate organising. It’s clear that young people are engaged in politics – there are just barriers to this. But then the Elections Act was introduced and it made everything so much worse Especially for young people, especially in Wales.
What has your campaigning experience taught you about how to make change?
Listen and learn from others! It’s the only way you’re going to create the relationships that build up the endurance that you need to keep going.
What do you think needs to happen in order for young people to be more involved in politics?
So much! Political education in youth areas – from school to social media – is a big one. Scrapping voter ID is another….
What are some of the issues that matter most to Gen-Z?
I can’t speak for all of Gen-Z, of course, but climate, queer rights, housing are so important. Though, I’m really interested in building power. Whenever I think of an issue that’s important to Gen-Z, I am reminded of the power that we don’t have and the power needed to achieve change.
There are a lot of misconceptions around young people and Gen-Z, in particular. Which would you say are the biggest?
There’s this narrative that we’re not engaged in politics. That’s false. Young people care about politics, we just don’t have the tools to engage.
How do you think campaigning organisations and charities could better engage with Gen-Z?
Include and listen to them in your work. Meet young people in youth spaces. Make your messages appealing to young people.
There are a lot of great campaigns out there at the moment. Could you tell us about one you’ve seen that has really inspired you?
I’ve been really inspired by the work of young trans activists in Scotland who are organising against the blocking of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill and Back-Off Scotland, who are campaigning to implement buffer zones around abortion centres in Scotland. Also I have to shout out my friends at Migrant Democracy Project who are doing amazing work registering migrants to vote and campaigning for residence based voting rights.
What’s next for you, Maddy?
Graduating, resting, and waiting to see what comes next – though, I don’t know how much worse you can get than the Elections Act, so I’ll still be talking about that! You can find me on The Politics Project’s social media channels talking democratic engagement in the meantime.