interview: melanie poole, co-founder of vocal majority
Trying to access and understand current issues is difficult when you’re young. There are few forums that encourage discussion and expression of opinion, without political partisanship.
New feminist lobby group Vocal Majority was bred out of this need for stronger bodies through which young people can express their opinions about current issues.
Melanie Poole, one half of the brains behind the operation, said that existing opportunities for young people to get involved with issues of social justice ‘are fairly politically neutered ways to engage’.
Poole works at an NGO and does parliamentary advocacy, while her co-founder Courtney Sloane works for a politician. So they both have a wide range of contacts and other devices at their disposal.
They were motivated by the question, ‘How can we link these contacts and these worlds that we have access to, to some of those younger people who could actually think with really strong and powerful voices, if they had the opportunity?’
‘The plan in setting up the organisation was to originally just assemble a strong group of founding members and so we did that,’ Poole explained. ‘We spent a lot of time building up that group and building relationships with each other and having conversations about feminism for hours at a time, going through bottles of wine and pizzas and enjoying it.’
But then things got a bit more serious.
The girls felt they needed a large event to build on the existing foundations of the organisation. A conference seemed the perfect way to do it.
‘Let’s Get Loud!’ is Vocal Majority’s first conference. It will run for one day and feature NGO members, academics and students. The conference is aimed at kick-starting a global campaign against gendered injustice, especially issues of violence against women and reproductive rights.
The conference will also act as a how-to for campaigning and activism—the idea is to teach young people methods for campaigning for women’s rights that they can use long after they leave.
According to Poole, conferences such as ‘Let’s Get Loud!’ have two main functions. The first is to announce the organisation to the public and to establish its positions. In Vocal Majority’s case, the aim will be to explain their purpose of opening a forum in which young people can discuss current issues without political bias. The second function of the conference will be to encourage involvement and consideration of major issues. Vocal Majority’s aim is to encourage conference attendees to think about the issues raised during the conference, even if they discontinue their involvement after the event.
Poole believes the number of forums in which to participate and engage with the NGO and community sector is waning, especially for university students.
‘I know when I did uni, those issues and opportunities were basically always outside of the classroom,’ she said. ‘Very rarely did you ever sit in a classroom and really talk about global poverty or women’s rights or how to do something meaningful with your life.’
‘Universities have adopted a lot of very commercial thinking,’ she said, proceeding to list some examples. ‘ANU has just shut down their school of music because studying music doesn’t get you a career! And the funding for gender studies is being reduced all over the country. For example, if you look at law schools especially, basically subjects to do with gender or with human rights or with any of these things are being more and more hacked out of the curriculum because they’re considered to be less important than acquiring skills that will get you a job relating to profit banking in some way.’
She speculated ‘one of the reasons why those opportunities are so depoliticised is because they ignore the connection to the immediate. They sort of disregard the way in which what happens in our own communities has an echo effect around the world.’
By Michelle See-Tho
Melanie Poole sits on the board of Vocal Majority, the only youth-run reproductive rights organisation in Australia. ‘Let’s get Loud: Gender, Politics, ACTION!’ will take place on Monday April 22, and will feature Keynote speakers including Anne Summers AO and Professor Hilary Charlesworth. There will also be the opportunity to undertake workshops with journalist Clementine Ford and founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition Anna Rose (among others!).