People are preparing for a final showdown to stop coal extraction in the German Rhineland

writes International Relations lecturer Dr Andrea Brock

A small earth wall separates the tiny village of Lützerath from the enormous diggers operating in Garzweiler II, one of three opencast lignite coal mines operated by energy company RWE in the German Rhineland. 

The mine is 235 metres away, and coming closer every day. A number of houses in Lützerath have already been torn down, the area covered with gravel, grass, and some wildflowers. It’s hard to imagine that people lived here just a couple of years ago. Other houses are fenced off, with RWE security in front, twenty-four hours a day. Most people have resettled and have moved away.

Challenging eviction

But one farmer is holding out. Eckhard Heukamp is challenging the imminent eviction from his farm in the courts, arguing that the coal mining plans from the 90s should no longer allow for continued extraction in the light of climate change and coal phaseout. He was already displaced once, 15 years ago –when his farm in Borschemich was demolished, the land long dug up. Now he is fighting for his parents’ house and farm, which dates back to the 18th century.

He is not alone – citizens initiatives and groups are organising regular demonstrations, events, and a permanent vigil at the edge of the village facing the mine. Activists have set up a permanent occupation on Heukamp’s land – the ZAD Rhineland. The term ZAD comes from the French Zone à défendre – a militant occupation to stop big development projects. The most well-known ZAD is probably the ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes that stopped a new airport being built near Landes, France, and famously resisted militarised eviction by the French state.

The ZAD Rhineland was set up to defend Lützerath against RWE and the police, and to stop coal extraction in the Rhineland. People are ready to put their bodies in the way in what might be the final showdown, the decisive battle. “If Lützerath stays, they won’t be able to get to the next five villages”, someone tells me. “But it will be hard”. 

We spend all day building defence structures. Treehouses, barricades, lock-ons, and towers are popping up everywhere. People are giving climbing workshops and sharing blockading skills, discussing police repression and state violence, building up solidarity structures and a new kitchen, plotting and planning for day X – when RWE comes to cut trees or police show up to evict the camp. 

Police violence and repression

The last big eviction in the Rhineland – the eviction of Hambacher Forst, which was recently declared illegal – ended up lasting five weeks before it was stopped by the courts. Thousands of police officers were brought in, but many more people came to defend the forest. Police were heavily criticised for the brutality with which they treated activists and the little regard they showed for their safety. One journalist died during the police operation, many ended up in precarious and unsafe situations. 

This is happening all over Germany – only last year, during the eviction of the Dannenröder forest in central Germany, a protester was seriously injured when he fell four meters from a tripod after police officers cut the safety rope which held the tripod in place. The occupation was set up to stop another ecologically destructive infrastructure project – the new A49 motorway. Another protester, Ella, was sentenced to over 2 years in prison for allegedly injuring a police officer during the eviction – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The collaboration between police and private security services in the Rhinish coal mining area has been well documented; repression, criminalisation, and violence go hand in hand. Few companies are as powerful as RWE. It’s structurally entrenched in the local political economy, and protected by German police forces who frequently act as private security. Many villages and towns are themselves RWE shareholders, and numerous politicians are on RWE’s payroll. In 1979, the German news magazine Spiegel warned:

Unrivalled and barely manageable, RWE is ruling over one of the largest monopolies of the Western world. 

Today, Europe’s largest emitter continues to lobby for continued lignite coal mining – the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. If successful – the German government’s coal phase-out is set for 2038, much too late. Meanwhile, RWE is suing the Netherlands for 1.4 billion Euro compensation for phasing out coal by 2030. 

It’s up to all of us to stop climate catastrophe

As politicians are getting ready for the next round of COP negotiations in Glasgow in November – where they’ll talk and achieve little to nothing – people in the ZAD Rhineland know that it’s up to them – to all of us – to stop climate catastrophe. 

It might well be that this time, too, the courts will rule that the eviction of Luetzerath was illegal. But by then, the trees will have been cut, the land dug up, the village destroyed.

It’s windy at the edge of the mine where I’m sitting. I’m told this has been the case ever since RWE cut down the trees that once protected the village. And yet, the windmills next to the mine are not moving – the powergrid is overloaded – there’s too much wind, and coal power stations take too long to switch on and off. 

The digger keeps moving towards us, ruthlessly. The power stations in the background keep burning coal, generating electricity for a system that requires abundant cheap energy to power endless growth, to generate profit for those in power at enormous ecological and social costs. 

Another world is possible

The ZAD Rhineland shows that a different system is possible – a system that operates on the basis of solidarity, not competition; of degrowth, not growth; on climate justice, not green capitalism or ecological modernisation. True sustainability needs not just an end of coal, but the abolishing of those who protect coal interests – police, security, prisons – and of the economic and political system they are part of.

Joining the ZAD Rhineland is a good place to start this fight. From 29 October, the ZAD invites all of us to come to the anti-eviction skill share and protest camp, and to stop RWE. Whether you want to sit in a treehouse, build barricades, or cut veggies – please join, if you can. Every body counts. 

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Living with the Naranjal Community in the Peruvian Amazon

by Anthropology of Development student Anna Stephens

The Naranjal Community (comunidad de la Naranjal) are a community of indigenous Ashaninka people who live on the banks of the Yamiria river, a tributary of the Ucayali, in the Huánuco region of the Peruvian Amazon.

I lived with them for ten days during dry season. The plan was to establish a connection and prepare the place for future English lessons to be taught by volunteers, as well as to conduct interviews and participant observations for my master’s thesis on traditional ecological knowledge and the impact of globalization.

My experience

Arriving at the community alone, I was initially quite afraid, knowing that no one spoke any English and that the lifestyle was so radically different to mine. Once you cross the river, there is no internet connection, very little electricity, no running water, and barely any shops! It truly feels like entering another world; however, after my first few days there, I was able to experience the magic of the place: my trip turned out to be life changing.

El Apu

The community have a chief whom they call “el jefe” (the boss) or “el apu” (the leader) and he organises everything alongside the vice president, Veronica. I found him to be a very kind, intelligent man on a mission to improve relations between the community and outside world. Although they have not encountered many foreigners in their lifetimes, the whole community are keen to learn English and engage with tourists. As of yet there is no tourism in the area, and very little in Huánuco in general, but it is an important part of their vision for the future.

An important part of the Ashaninka lifestyle is crafting artisanal products from natural materials collected in the rainforest such as jewellery, bags and pots. They sell these at markets in Lima or across Peru. Veronica is the main organiser of this, and she was pleased to show me the traditional handmake costumes she makes.

From being treated like the stranger that I was, I ended up being told that I would be missed. It’s been a blessing to experience such a radically different perspective of the world!

After spending my first night there, sleeping on the floor of a disused school (next to a cemetery), I serendipitously met a local family who invited me to live with them. As a result, I spent most of those ten days living in their open, hand-crafted, wooden bungalow home, sharing meals with them and many interesting conversations about our respective cultures. I taught them yoga and English and they took me on trips along the river, all the time sharing their world with me.


The family who took me in and shared their life with me

Life in the community

Life in the community is simple and pleasant, although they do not have the luxuries which most of us have in the West. Apart from having the river provide them with water, they sleep on blankets placed on the floor. Sleeping on the ground was initially very challenging for me, but SemillasLife are in the process of organising materials to make things more comfortable for volunteers. It only took a few days to adjust to this aspect of life, which proved to me just how incredible the adaptable nature of human beings is.

I couldn’t help but notice that people laugh a lot and live in the moment. This is not by choice but is rather a necessity, as most of the community do not own clocks or electronic devices (there are only a few TVs dotted around). The river plays a crucial role in their lives, being the place where they bathe, wash their clothes, congregate and keep their boats. The river also provides the community with the small fish which form the main staple of their diet, and would be eaten with rice, yucca or potatoes grown in the local ‘chagras’ (farms). At sunset the community would routinely gather at the grassy area around which their community is organised to play games, and the boys would play football whilst the girls played volleyball.

History of the community

The community is officially 34 years old, however its true history stretches far beyond this. I was told stories of families (initially three) settling in the area and attracting more and more people overtime. Comunidad de la Naranjal has developed impressively over a short period of time, and now consists of several hundred people. They now have three schools, several small shops, two churches, and a multitude of farms as well as hand-built homes. Interestingly, other visitors to the area understood my Spanish significantly better, which is perhaps due to the strong accent and dialect of the Ashaninka people. Learning some words in the local dialect helped to facilitate communication between us, which became increasingly easier as the time passed.

The Ashaninka language

I began to learn some words in Ashaninka with the help of members of the community who are keen to preserve their language. I believe that it is an important sign of respect as a visitor. For example: Titere (“tay-te-ree”) – good day; Shaytere (“shi-ta-re”) – good afternoon; Sinididi – good night; Hakana – thank you


The river

Essentials to bring to the Amazon

The water of the river is drinkable, but water filters are recommended. I’d advise anyone planning a trip to bring mosquito repellent, a towel, sunscreen, long clothes, a waterproof jacket, shoes for walking in the jungle, a knife, first-aid products, a water bottle, a backpack, a pillow, and a warm blanket.

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Not floating, drowning: the fatal consequences of migration for families left behind

by third-year student Bethany Adams

In Southern Vietnam, climate breakdown and structural issues are driving migration as well as heightening gender inequalities, and children are drowning in the midst of it all.

Every year in rainy season, after weeks of raining, the streets of Hoi An get flooded. Giving boat operators new opportunities. Photo by Toomas Tartes on Unsplash

A Google search of Southern Vietnam will tell of the vibrant floating markets tourists like you and I can visit for an unparalleled cultural encounter. But these nescient and romanticised illustrations of the Mekong delta are far from the ongoing realities of the Vietnamese people living there. These people are not floating; they’re drowning. 

What we are witnessing in Vietnam are the opening scenes of a global tragedy. There are few places in the world that are as vulnerable to climate breakdown as the low-lying delta in Southern Vietnam. Emerging through the Cambodia-Vietnam border, the verdant Mekong river is very important for the livelihoods of people who live on and around it, and it produces over 50% of the country’s staple food[1]. Flooding is usually welcome in the fertile rice paddies of the delta, but steadily rising sea levels have polluted freshwater.

With climate breakdown increasingly actualising across the world, scenes like this will only become more prevalent. The threat to people’s[2] livelihood has triggered displacement and internal migration – though people’s reasons for moving are not only due to rising seas and volatile weather.

It has become more widely appreciated[3] that people’s mobility or immobility due to environmental changes cannot be separated from their social, political and economic contexts. In other words, we cannot allow the climate-migration nexus to be politicised, as this allows institutions and corporations to get off scot-free. By ignoring the complexities surrounding people’s migration and solely blaming climate change, structural issues are ignored and thus, the root of the issue is left unresolved. In the Mekong delta, the reduction of soil fertility can be traced to the construction of an upstream dam[4] which has impacted the movement of sediment, ultimately leading to lower yields for farmers[5]. Clearly, decisions are being made from the top down which are inadvertently triggering economic migration of people in the delta, but because corporates pin the blame on the ominous ‘climate change’, they get away with destructive activities. With this in mind, we can say that climatic changes are not the root cause, but are exacerbating existing trends[6] of internal economic migration. So, who wins and who loses? In what ways are farmers forced to migrate?

Repeated flooding, varying rain patterns and continued crop loss are adding pressure to already economically constrained families thus causing people to migrate from the Mekong delta[7]. There are around 5000 seasonal migrants[8] from the delta who most commonly go to the nearest city of Ho Chi Minh. Money is remitted to allow families at home to secure food in flood season[9]. While migration is viewed as preferable, moving to the city requires a certain economic and social prowess, so it isn’t accessible for all. 

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Traditional women workers in Vietnam. Photo by Ives Ives on Unsplash

Poor communities in the Northern villages have the least resources to migrate so are often described as the trapped population3. Women can also be considered a trapped population for whom migration makes their situation worse. As men are viewed as breadwinners[10] in this region, they are chosen to migrate with the aim of remitting capital to their family left behind. The de facto head of the house are then women who are left to manage the farm on top of their household responsibilities10

Some believe10 that the absence of men makes gender roles more fluid as women are able to take on managerial roles in the agriculture sector from which they would be otherwise excluded. However, while these women are empowered to make more decisions, structural issues persist which limit them. Because of their gender, women are unable to access resources like seeds or fertiliser from the government10. Also, because unequal gender relations are structurally embedded, women don’t have the same access[11] to education as men and boys. Consequently, when they are dumped with the additional responsibilities of farm management, they are ill-equipped to take on managerial roles[12].

The other disregarded impact of male out-migration is the psychological and emotional toll on women left behind. In a series of interviews, women said they felt abandoned and found it difficult to discipline their children10. In fact:

“During interviews, female respondents broke into tears when revealing their personal problems”10

Therefore, it can hardly be said male out-migration is improving women’s lives in the delta. In these mothers’ daily struggles for survival, children are also affected. As women have to fish and work the paddy fields often, they have to leave their children unsupervised10. This is by no fault of their own. It is clear that interlocking structural issues force mothers to make this decision in order to provide for their family. But the impact on these children is fatal, they are drowning[13]. Three months ago, five children drowned in a pond in the delta[14].

Drowning isn’t uncommon, the World Health Organisation estimates[15]between 7,000 and 11,000 children drown in Vietnam every year. This is the fatal impact of intersecting climate, migration and gendered issues.

Ms. Bông who lives in Ngo Hien district of the Mekong Delta, seen collecting her fishing net from the mangrove swamp along the road. Photo from eco-business.com

Overall, male seasonal migration doesn’t empower women because many structural gender inequalities are still unaddressed and their lives are made more difficult. Ultimately, migration has fatal consequences for children, which will only increase as climate change intensifies other factors and causes more men to migrate.

Hence – not floating, drowning. With climatic changes multiplying a range of structural inequalities, women are struggling to stay afloat, juggling their many responsibilities, and children are literally drowning. We must choose to tackle structural issues at every level to stop this fatal cycle.


References

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1468-2435.2010.00646.x?saml_rFfloaeferrer

[2] https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-triggering-a-migrant-crisis-in-vietnam-88791

[3] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0309132518781011

[4] https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-triggering-a-migrant-crisis-in-vietnam-88791

[5] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-016-1684-3

[6] https://academic.oup.com/rsq/article/30/3/1/1566102

[7] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1468-2435.2010.00646.x?saml_rFfloaeferrer

[8] https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/26269346.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fbasic_SYC-5187_SYC5188%252Ftest&refreqid=excelsior%3Afc3d63c62a01bbe6e284e2dae5e5d948

[9] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21632324.2015.1022973

[10] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1177/097185241001300201

[11] http://www.thanhniennews.com/education-youth/in-the-mekong-delta-poorest-homes-education-takes-a-back-seat-54242.html

[12] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1758-5899.12400 

[13] https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/26269346.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fbasic_SYC-5187_SYC5188%252Ftest&refreqid=excelsior%3Afc3d63c62a01bbe6e284e2dae5e5d948

[14] https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/five-children-drown-in-mekong-delta-pond-4161190.html

[15] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-22/perth-swimming-teachers-tackle-vietnamese-drowning/7422714

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Who are the ‘most marginalised’ and do the Sustainable Development Goals serve them?

by Communications Manager Sunit Bagree

Our Inclusive Urban Infrastructure action research project is concerned with how the provision of water, sanitation, energy, transport and communications infrastructure impacts upon security of tenure in cities in the Global South. Infrastructure development can not only benefit or bypass people in terms of access to public services, it can reduce or increase their vulnerability to forced eviction, harassment and other threats.

Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The official title of this project is ‘Towards Trajectories of Inclusion: Making infrastructure work for the most marginalised’. But who are the ‘most marginalised’? In this context, many would point to people living in informal settlements, as they often lack access to public services and security of tenure. Yet it is important to recognise that informal settlements are diverse and complex.

Marginalisation has been conceptualised in many different ways. A useful starting point is to think of marginalisation as both a process and a condition that causes individuals and groups to be excluded from the benefits of economic, social and political life in ways that can vary across time and place. Examining these spheres of exclusion in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlights some of the deficiencies of the Global Goals.

In the economic sphere, SDG Target 1.1 relates to income poverty, with the international line set by the World Bank at US$1.90 per person per day (at purchasing power parity). The US$1.90 line may help us to understand who are the most marginalised in terms of income poverty. Yet this should not obscure the reality that US$1.90 a day is a ridiculously low threshold. The World Bank partly acknowledged this in 2018 when it began to report on US$3.20 and US$5.50 per day income poverty lines. But many economists have called for an even higher international income poverty line, with studies in recent years demonstrating that U$10-11 per day is associated with access to basic healthcare and a permanent escape from income poverty.

Inhabitants of Plachimada protest outside the Coca-Cola factory in their village. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NL

As Jason Hickel has argued, using a more ethical income poverty line disrupts the (pre-Covid) narrative that humanity is winning the battle against income poverty, and should refocus our attention on how the overwhelming majority of new income since 1980 has been captured by those already on high incomes – something the SDGs also fail to do. Furthermore, the SDGs ignore the (ir)regularity of income, as well as other crucial economic concepts such as wealth, which are essential for a comprehensive understanding of economic marginalisation. 

In the social sphere, the SDGs adopt a haphazard approach to exclusion on the basis of identity. People with disabilities, for example, are explicitly referred to in just seven of the 169 targets and 11 of the 231 unique indicators. Although the United Nations (UN) aspires to do far more to disaggregate data by disability, it is unclear when this will actually happen. Moreover, sexual and gender minorities are one of the most prominent groups that are completely excluded from the SDGs. The UN has a campaign for equal rights and fair treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, but this is separate from the SDGs.

Of course, members of groups who endure identity-based exclusion have diverse experiences. As a whole, however, these groups face disproportionate levels of marginalisation. Engaging with intersectionality, i.e. how people experience discrimination differently depending on their overlapping identities, provides a powerful approach to understanding who are the most socially marginalised, including in relation to urban infrastructure. Unfortunately, the SDGs’ highly uneven approach to identity-based exclusion is not conducive to a comprehensive intersectional analysis and response.

Recognising that both economic and social exclusion derive from unequal power relationships gives rise to deeper insights into the nature of marginalisation. For example, economic marginalisation does not mean ‘uninvolved’. As Janice Perlman highlighted in the 1970s, and adverse incorporation theorists have subsequently developed, the issue is that some people are engaged in economic activity on unfair terms. Similarly, as our previous research demonstrated, and as other recent research discusses, some social groups may actively avoid being counted. This is because they fear persecution if they are identified.

Thus marginalisation is fundamentally political, with the most economically and socially marginalised possessing the least influence over decision-making. Unfortunately, the SDGs are also weak when it comes to tackling political exclusion.

SDG 16 is concerned with institutions and decision-making (among other issues) yet it does not refer to democratic political processes. Critics argue that ‘since the SDGs do not require political reform, they are a big hit with wannabe life presidents, despots and one-party states’. There are also more technical problems with SDG 16. The targets and indicators that do exist suffer from ambiguity and there is a lack of innovation to address the challenge of unavailable data.

The SDGs are not worthless. But the ‘leave no one behind’ promise underpinning the Global Goals can represent empty words for the most economically, socially and politically marginalised.  An approach based on human rights (including the right to adequate housing, which incorporates security of tenure and access to infrastructure), radical equality and participatory democracy offers a better route to understanding and responding to marginalisation. This includes how different forms of exclusion overlap and reinforce one another, creating the most severe forms of marginalisation.  

In regard to urban areas, the idea of a ‘right to the city’ can be said to incorporate the principles underpinning such an approach. In my view, the ‘right to the city’ is most useful as a rallying call for organised and networked solidarity against oppression and for empowerment. Through this, a more holistic understanding of marginalisation, including cultural and subjective dimensions of exclusion, may be generated. That sounds a lot like action research to me!

Sunit Bagree is Communications Manager for Inclusive Urban Infrastructure, a project funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund under the title ‘Towards Trajectories of Inclusion: Making infrastructure work for the most marginalised’ (grant reference number ES/T008067/1). For more information visit www.inclusiveinfrastructure.org.

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The Youth Vote UK: Empowering our voices

by Politics and International Relations student Alette Moller

We don’t need to look far to see that youth voices in the political process need strengthening. In the 2016 EU referendum, a ‘majority of 18-34 year olds’ voted to remain, while a ‘majority of those ages 55+’ voted to leave. Young people turned out in the lowest numbers, something not uncommon in the UK, and the verdict to leave the EU will have significant consequences for the future. We need a louder collective voice in decisions that affect us.

I joined The Youth Vote UK with the conviction that we, young people, are the future of politics, and our involvement in the political process is key to democracy. The Youth Vote UK, as an organisation committed to empowering the voices of young people, believes that the first step to getting young people more involved in politics is ‘getting them into polling stations’.

Youth Vote UK campaign in Edinburgh to encourage young people to vote

Background

The Youth Vote UK was originally founded in 2017 by Alex Cairns, and was rebooted in 2020. Recognising that 18-24 year olds typically turnout to vote in lower numbers than those in higher age categories, the organisation aims to encourage greater youth involvement in the democratic process. Their approach involves organising campaigns and events prior to local and regional elections, as well as posting blogs on election candidates and outcomes. The blog also includes opinion pieces, such as on the health of our democracy and the future of financial services.

Leadership and structure

The CEO and founder of the organisation is Alex Cairns, and the core team is comprised of 10 people, including the Deputy CEO Fareez Faiz as well as Heads of Functions and Associates. There are 26 Campus Ambassadors connecting the organisation to universities across the UK. I joined The Youth Vote UK as a Campus Ambassador for the University of Sussex. As part of the Policy and News Analysis team, I have been able to write about issues that I care about, such as the influence of fake news on democracy and have also written about election candidates and political parties hoping to help inform young people.

Encouraging young people to vote in the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary elections

Influence

The Youth Vote UK has been able to connect with political figures such as Members of Parliament to get the voices of young people heard. For example, in April of 2021 The Youth Vote UK organised a ‘Question Time’, which allowed young people to raise questions and issues important to them with MPs and MSPs, as well as with academics. For example, matters relevant to tuition fees and future employment prospects of under-25s were discussed in the session. The organisation is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, and has over 1,800 followers across its social media platforms. Their goal is to advertise their voluntary projects and inspire greater engagement in the political process.

As Marian Wright Edelman said, ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport’. So, the more politically active young people are, the bigger of a difference we can make.

Keeping up with the political scene

Keeping informed on political matters means that we can participate effectively, from signing petitions to voting in elections. There are many ways to accomplish this, however, it is good to know what to avoid and what to look for. According to research done in 2020, over a third of Americans use Facebook as a ‘regular source of news’. Yet, Facebook uses your ‘profile and previous behaviours’ to personalise your feed. This means that the platform is unlikely to deliver content that is balanced, or challenges your views. Therefore, social media can be a starting point for finding political information, but using it as a sole source should be avoided. Instead, reading across a range of news outlets allows you to access a wider variety of information. News apps such as BBC News and the Guardian send notifications to your phone, so you can compare headlines and keep up to date. Additionally, politically neutral blogs such as those posted by The Youth Vote UK provide summaries of manifestos in the run up to local and national elections. Yuval Noah Harari asserts that ‘clarity is power’. Remaining accurately informed brings us closer to democracy.


You can follow The Youth Vote UK on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or TikTok to get information on election candidates, results and more. You can find out more about The Youth Vote UK by visiting https://www.theyouthvoteuk.com.

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