The right wing aren’t unstoppable. Just look at Austria

The right wing aren’t unstoppable. Just look at Austria

VOTESBYWOMEN_V31The Tories are favourites to win in tomorrow’s election, but the political tide can be turned, one progressive campaigner tells Natalie Marchant

Don’t give up. The result of the upcoming general election may seem a foregone conclusion but change is possible. You just have to fight for it.

So says Talita Simek, an activist and Austrian Green party member who successfully campaigned for the liberal independent candidate Alexander van der Bellen to defeat far-right rival Norbert Hofer in the 2016 Austrian presidential election.

Van der Bellen, or VdB, made headlines around the world with a victory widely cast as a rejection of the populist tide sweeping across Europe.  The former leader of the Greens ran on a ticket of unity, equality and opportunity, rejecting the views of far-right, gun-toting Hofer, whose FPÖ party’s first leader was a former Nazi minister and SS officer.

There had to be three rounds of voting – and campaigning – in the Austrian election due after there was no clear winner from the first round, and the second was annulled because of voting irregularities.

As part of a progressive alliance working to defeat Hofer, Talita and her fellow campaigners worked incredibly long hours. They were speaking to people across the capital, Vienna, and promoting what they saw as a way forward in a country that was disillusioned with its coalition government, which has dominated Austrian politics since 1949.

Plenty of subjects came up on the campaign trail when speaking to voters – immigration, the EU, national politics, Van der Bellen’s age (he’s 73). In response, VdB campaigners would confront them with facts and hope they could at least change some people’s minds. At least some walked away, saying they’d think about it.

Finally, against what seemed like the global tide of rightwing voting, from Brexit to Trump, the progressives won in Austria. Van der Bellen secured 53.8% of the vote, significantly higher than 50.3% he secured during the annulled second round of voting.

“In the end we got our reward,” says Talita. “I met a lot of people who were dissatisfied with politics. “But you decide which direction your country is going in. You are responsible for building a better world for your children.”

What did she learn from the experience? “United we stand,” she says. “We were such a great movement. There was only one moment of fear, a few days just before the election. But we were all so positive, that we had no doubt. We have learned from it, that we can achieve a lot together.”

To everyone going to the polls in the UK on June 8, particularly those disheartened by the prospect of a stronger Tory majority in Brexit Britain, she says don’t give up. “The UK is a great country of diversity, of different influences. I have lived there myself and I have always felt the people to be very open and very warm. We live in a changing time; we have to get closer together, to go together. Above all, we must not allow ourselves to be pulled off course by anybody who is so angry.”

It’s a particularly timely and poignant reminder amid an often very negative election campaign and in the aftermath of two terror attacks.

Remember change is possible, but you have to fight for it. At the very least, make sure you cast your vote at the ballot box tomorrow.

Natalie Marchant is a freelance journalist and MA Diplomacy and International Relations student. You can follow her on Twitter @taliena


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