Posts of the winners – Brussels visit: Madeleina Kay - How #eusupergirl became a hashtag and drew international attention to my stop Brexit campaign
by - Madeleina Kay
I have been campaigning against Brexit since the result of the EU referendum on 24th June 2016 when the UK made the catastrophic decision to leave the European Union. Akin to hitting an economic, social and political self-destruct button, leaving the EU will have devastating consequences and this disastrous decision must be stopped at all costs.
Childish or Considered Style?
The fundamental aim of my campaign is to prevent Brexit from occurring. But considering the referendum result was a supposedly “democratic” vote (albeit only an advisory decision), I believe it is essential to change public opinion in order to reverse the outcome of the referendum. In order to do this, I believe we must first try to understand the cause behind the UK’s decision to leave the EU. After 15 months of relentless campaigning, I have come to the conclusion there is a multitude of often conflicting reasons why people chose to vote leave, however, one of the most alarming causes is that they don’t actually understand what the EU is or what the EU does. One of the most googled search phrases after the referendum result was announced was “what is the EU”. This lack of political knowledge is an inherent problem that I try to address through my campaigning; creating easily accessible, engaging material that communicates information and ideas clearly and simply. Some people call it childish, which is perhaps true, but it is a considered and deliberate style.
My Blog about an EU Funded Project, the “Grey2Green” Scheme
When the opportunity arose to enter the #EUinMyRegion blogging competition and win a trip to Brussels to attend a mobile journalism course at the European Week of Regions and Cities, I leapt at the chance. I decided to write about a Regional Development project called the Grey2Green scheme in the business district of my home city, Sheffield. This project is particularly dear to my heart because it is a fantastic Landscape Architecture project that my university tutors introduced to me. It is an unprecedented example of an urban greening project in a city centre that has been funded primarily for the economic benefits it brings to the area. Nonethless, it also provides social, cultural and environmental benefits such as; crime reduction, improvement to health and well-being and enhanced aesthetics. Furthermore, the flood mitigation provided by the SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage System) is a crucial element in Sheffield’s flood prone City Centre. Discovering that the project was one-third complete and unlikely to be fully funded due to Brexit was one of the triggering factors in my decision to take a Leave of Absence from my studies and focus on political campaigning against the UK’s decision to Leave the EU.
Committed to Campaigning
In the last 15 months I have attended countless political events, demonstrations, rallies and marches across the country accompanied by my beautiful dog, AlbaWhiteWolf. I have written, illustrated and crowdfunded self-publishing 4 books with the support of a fantastic network of individuals I have developed on social media. I have created a Facebook page that has nearly reached 2000 likes and started a Twitter account that now has close to 6000 followers. I wrote my first protest song on 24th June 2016 and have been writing, singing and performing songs ever since, teaching myself to edit music videos with footage shot on my iPad. I now regularly perform at regional and national demonstrations across the country from Brighton and London to Sheffield and Newcastle. I am now working with a composer and music producer, Peter Cook, on an album of anti-Brexit songs called ‘Rage Against the Brexit Machine’, which are being released on NUB Records. I have also won 2 competitions through my campaign work; the “Young Talent Prize” in the “Great British Postcard Competition” which will take me to Germany for the first time, and also the European Commission’s blogging competition which took me to Brussels, again for my first ever visit.
Risk Creates Opportunity
Suspending my Landscape Architecture studies to campaign full time may have seemed a reckless and foolish act to some, but it has allowed me to take ownership of my own achievements and presented me with multiple opportunities, of which I have taken full advantage.
Preparing for Brussels
Whilst I was packing my case, ready for the trip to Brussels, limited space due to the absurd quantity of books I decided to bring, meant that I had to choose between fancy dress costumes. The Pirate “Brexit Saboteur” costume was a humorous twist on the insult often hurled at Remainers, and accompanied by my aptly named parrot puppet, “Theresa McSquarkface” and the Skull & Cross Bones placard, had featured on BBC News outside the Labour Party Conference alongside Chuka Umunna MP. The EUSupergirl outfit, on the other hand, had recently been snapped at the Manchester party conference along with Alba the EUSuperWolf and printed in the UK’s most popular free newspaper, the Metro. I decided on the EUSUperGirl outfit, as it seemed more important to send out a positive pro-European message than a negative anti-Brexit sentiment (although I wholeheartedly believe both are needed at this point).
Travelling to Brussels
My journey was made somewhat more complicated due to the fact that I was filming a Channel 4 News debate called BrexitReality in Bath 2 days before I was due to leave. After staying in Bath, I travelled to London where I picked up the copies of my new children’s book, hot off the press, to take with me on the Eurostar to Belgium. When I arrived in Brussels, I decided to walk to the hotel, not appreciating quite how heavy the suitcase full of books would be, but I wanted to see the full glory of Brussels en route before I began a hectic week of sessions at the European Parliament and Commission. I was especially delighted when, as I walked down the Rue de la Loi, heavy suitcase in tow, I saw the Arc du Cinquantenaire come into view (which is one of the illustrations in my new book, Alba White Wolf Goes to Europe).
Staying with Nigel the Gorilla
The hotel was very flash, a little corporate for my liking, but right in the beating heart of the European Parliament, just down the road from the Berlaymont where the fated press conference was to be held a few days later. I could tell I was in an important part of town from the number of sophisticated looking gentleman in grey suits and the life-sized blue gorilla that were loitering in the lobby, (I later decided to name the gorilla Nigel). I will admit I felt a little out of place in this environment. And I appreciate that one shouldn’t complain about having a jacuzzi bath tub in one’s hotel room, especially when one isn’t accustomed to having any kind of bath tub back at home (I am forced to hose down the muddy Alba in a tiny shower). However, I was slightly perturbed when said jacuzzi bath tub kept starting itself in the middle of the night, when it was empty of water, so it made a tremendous growling sound and shook the walls of the hotel room in such a terrifying manner that I wondered if Nigel had left the lobby to come and bid me goodnight?
MoJo Course and the EWRC
The Mobile Journalism course provided by the European Commission for the five winners of the #EuinMyRegion blog competition consisted of two 3 hour sessions at the beginning of the week. The training was very interesting, building on and cementing many of the video editing skills I was using already when editing my music videos. But it also opened my eyes to the further potential of mobile journalism to communicate news stories to an audience. I would probably have benefited more from the course if I had had a functional smart phone with the appropriate software installed. Nonetheless I was incredibly grateful to the blog competition organiser, Mathew Lowry, for sharing his android phone with me so I could still learn the skills for when I eventually get around to acquiring a more sophisticated device. One of the first techniques we tried was recording Facebook live videos. Although I had never been brave enough to attempt one myself, it is a technique I have witnessed multiple times, when the likes of Graham Hughes and Mike Galsworthy have broadcast live footage from the front of anti-Brexit marches. Mathew Lowry recorded a live video of me introducing myself and my new book from his phone, which he then published on his company’s redundant “tester” Facebook page and was amazed that once I had shared the video onto my page and profile, it had soon clocked up close to 2000 views and earned his previously unloved page its first 7 likes. In my mind, this just emphasised the point that strong distribution networks are equally as important as the quality of the content being shared. (For comparisson, the Facebook live interview I recorded of another competition winner, Dennis Nill, which was published on the same page but not shared had only 33 views).
Sightings of EUSuperGirl in Brussels
Of course, I have been building pro-EU campaign networks for well over a year, vociferously tweeting and posting on Facebook. And as it turned out, a number of people in the EU Commission already knew me before I arrived, having seen the semi-viral “All I Want For Xmas is EU” music video which I published in November 2016. After I had tweeted a few pictures of myself in the EUSuperGirl outfit charging around the Parc du Cinquantenaire using the relevant hashtags #EWRC #EURegionsWeek, more and more people were starting to recognise me. Even out of costume, the security staff were asking me why I wasn’t wearing it. And after the publicity explosion from the stunt that I pulled at the end of the week, it’s fairly safe to say that a significant portion of Europe now know that there are EU super heroes out there, helping to save the Europe and attempting to divert the UK from its spectacular course of self-destruction.
UK Advisors Mysterious were Mysteriously Absent from the EWRC
However, I wasn’t just attending the EWRC to gallavant around in a super hero costume, (although that was primarily what I did whilst I was there). I also attended some really interesting sessions about regional funding across the EU. I particularly enjoyed a session where, ironically, the UK advisor on regional funding failed to show up. So myself, and a Welsh and a Northern Irish journalist went and nuzzled in on Ireland’s meeting and had lengthy discussions about the damage Brexit is likely to do to Ireland’s economy, as well as the UK’s, and the concerning, unresolved issue of the Irish border. I also attended a session where the speaker made a rather humbling point that the UK’s self-centered Brexit negotiations are having repercussions on the whole of the EU, by disrupting their ability to plan for the future. I made a point of apologising in a question where I asked the speaker whether the UK would be welcomed back into the EU if I succeed in my life’s aim to stop Brexit. He reassured me it would, nonetheless, I was disturbed to discover that maps are already being used internally that look somewhat like the cover of my new book, with a blanked-out UK, no longer part of the great European project.
EUSuperGirl Determined to Fight On
Having spent the week learning more about the EU and the fantastic work it achieves and seeing for the first time how the EP and EC operate, I am more determined than ever to fight against the absurd nonsense that is currently engulfing the UK. I think the majority of the EU sees Brexit for what it is – an utter farce – Nonetheless, I think the EU has a significant amount of work to do in order to stem the rising tide of populism that threatens the stability of the union.
Can A Silly SuperHero Costume Really Save Europe?
In nearly every session I attended whilst at the EWRC, there was some expression of a desire to engage young people in the work of the European Union; A need to reach out and inspire the next generation to support the work of the EC and the EP and promote its values and achievements. However, nearly every single person attending these meetings were middle aged (or above) and wearing a grey suit. I was one of very few people who could be lumped in the “youth” category and I was certainly the only person wearing ripped jeans and a selection of brightly coloured EU button badges. I was very conscious of the looks of astonishment I provoked when I wore my EU SuperGirl costume in the parliament building. Thankfully nobody threw me out, but I could tell some of the older people in grey suits thought it inappropriate attire. But the truth is, if you want to inspire young people and you want to engage people who find politics tedious and boring, you have got to be a bit daring and unconventional and find alternative ways of connecting with and communicating the message. And if the EU is serious about growing support for its work and reaching out to these people, they need people like me and the delightful @Captain_Europe (my Brussels based counterpart) to bang the drum for the EU and capture their attention in a fun and colourful manner.
Publicity is Key
It was rather disappointing then, when I turned up to the post-Brexit negotiations Press Conference with an accredited press pass and visitor badge, and I was thrown out of the Berlaymont building essentially for what I was wearing. I appreciate that my striking costume had captured the attention of the press in the room and was therefore a huge distraction from the main event, delaying the start of the press conference. However, the main reason for removing me from the room seemed to be that the commissioner was afraid I would pull a stunt like the man with the P.45 form at the Tory party conference in Manchester. I had sat quietly in the front row of the press conference waiting expectantly for Davis and Barnier to arrive, when the press rushed over and caused a fuss. I had essentially committed no crime, it appears that the EU Commission were terrified of a girl in a super hero outfit. And rightly so. I am fighting their side, but I am also adamant that the EU needs reform, in terms of attitude and policy. But fundamentally, I am a firm believer that we are infinitely stronger when we work together – “United we stand, divided we fall”. And Britain should be warned, to walk away from the European Union, is a catastrophic mistake for all concerned. Right now the UK needs more than one super hero to save us from Brexit, they don’t all have to wear costumes, but I am happy to be the publicity grabbing cape bearer for now!
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News Coverage of the #EUSuperGirl Stunt