Walk Together – The Elders and the British Council
by Julia Margetts, Future News Worldwide 2017 alumna
Anthony Anaxagorou is not a poet, and he is not reading a poem. Instead, as he stands in front of the 500 people assembled in Church Hall, Westminster on a Monday evening, he is issuing a battle cry. Eloquent words have failed him, he says; he ‘cannot capture the struggle of the poor through the metaphysics of language’, and so instead he lays bare the injustices felt by the people politics leaves behind. ‘This Is Not A Poem’ was penned in 2013, he tells the room at large, so some references – such as those to David Cameron and the British National Party – are slightly dated. Yet the overarching themes remain intact; Anaxagorou talks of domestic violence, of institutionalized racism and of an increasingly divided society, painting a clear picture of ‘us’ and ‘them’, of rich pitted against poor.
It is this sense of division the world over – and, more importantly, the desire to heal it – which drives the Walk Together campaign. For this is no ordinary Monday, and this no ordinary audience; Anaxagorou is performing at the inaugural event of the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect, in partnership with The Elders. The two groups have been brought together to discuss peace, policy-making and the world ahead; 50 young leaders from around the globe are joined by a selection of Elders including Kofi Annan and Ban Ki Moon. The purpose of the Elders, David Nussbaum tells the room in his introductory speech, is to offer hope where there is despair, and to amplify the voices of the voiceless; Nussbaum is Chief Executive at the Elders Secretariat. The group was founded ten years ago by Nelson Mandela, and Walk Together aims to continue his long walk to freedom and his march for peace.
The aim to empower the voiceless is shared by the 50 Future Leaders, who offer a new perspective on the political and social challenges facing the world at large. Drawn from over 10 different countries, the Leaders each outline their vision for a fairer society; they are concerned by climate change, by increasing globalization and by a lack of communication between countries and political leaders. Over a series of panel discussions, it becomes clear that, despite the generational gap, the Elders and Leaders share largely similar values. They value conversation, and prioritize debate and discussion. When asked how we build peace in a time of deepening faultlines and increasingly divided political views, Nigerian delegate Blessing Omakwu is quite clear. When you have conversation, she says, you bridge the gap between divisions. When you have conversations – as is made clear by the intergenerational discussions of the evening – you increasingly find similarity over difference, and it is on this foundation that stronger societies can be built.
It is comforting, too, to know that both Elders and Leaders see the emancipation of women as crucial to advancing such conversations. There is significant focus by both groups on the role women must play in active political discussion and debate. 60% of the Future Leaders are women, and a high proportion have a focus on women’s rights and gender equality. For, as Anthony Anaxagorou states, it is only ‘when women are given more options than be someone’s girl, be someone’s mother, be someone’s silence’, that meaningful change across society can take place. This, it seems, is the overarching message of the evening. It is only by walking together and valuing all that we can hope to empower the voiceless – and the collaboration between Elders and Leaders is a hopeful place to start.