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Led By Donkeys "There’s an appetite for us": activists' creative challenge to power

Led by Donkeys' Festival of Debate appearance inspired the audience, covering encouraging participation, reclaiming patriotism, elevating progressive stories and distributing power. 

White cliffs of Dover - Led By Donkeys

Led By Donkeys visited Sheffield for the Festival of Debate and they did not disappoint! They covered topics including encouraging participation, reclaiming patriotism, elevating progressive stories and distributing power. Find upcoming Festival of Debate 2022 events here.

On April 25, Led By Donkeys spoke about their experiences of growth through their online platforms and the inspiration behind what they do. Led By Donkeys is made up of four men: Ben Stewart, James Sadri, Oliver Knowles and Will Rose, who were at the pub one day, angry about Brexit and decided to take action.

They were introduced to the stage by Joe Kriss, Festival of Debate’s coordinator, who described the team as "the most important, exciting, innovative activists out there".

When asked about the group's initial start up, Ollie said: “There has been no master plan. We’re just four guys who started off angry at Brexit in the pub and decided to do a guerrilla campaign. After that time period, we felt there was more for LBD than Brexit. There’s an appetite for us. We aim to elevate voices which haven't been heard, putting people and their experiences at the front and centre.”

Ben, another member of Led By Donkeys added: “Politicians are shameless. They have no price to pay for their wrongdoing. There should be a price- there has to be. We find great pleasure in rinsing them and disempowering those in charge. By laughing at them we reduce their power.”

Only ten weeks into their project, the group lowered a huge banner in Parliament Square to show why we should have a people's vote on the Brexit deal. The banner had a Twitter post from David Davis saying: ‘If democracy cannot change its mind it ceases to be a democracy.’ Ollie said: “This is something I look back on as my favourite moment." He spoke of how heavy the banner was and how many people had to help to lift it: "It was funny looking up in the sky seeing a BBC helicopter, a Sky helicopter and then a Led By Donkeys helicopter.”

The group describe themselves as information activists and want people to have empathetic eyes. They were done with doom scrolling on social media and feel a release from their projects. It’s all about reclaiming patriotism. According to Ben, “We want to say to the people of power, ‘you don’t own the story of Britain, we have a say too’.”

Due to the pandemic, a lot of visible protests were suppressed and there is a lot of energy and anger now from the mistakes that have been made by leaders. Ben went on to say: “People are angry and we are seeing a lot of newly politicised people as a result of Johnson’s car crash of a leadership and recent investigations. We bring alive the passion and engagement. I think in the next election he will be gone because of his behaviour.”

From projecting videos onto the House of Parliament and White Cliffs of Dover to ploughing quotes into fields using tractors, the group are innovative and passionate about bringing political issues to the forefront of people's minds. They have had millions of views and shares on social media and assert facts in creative ways. Ollie said: “Whether it is with your difficult uncle at Christmas or the friend you can’t convince, we want our videos and our messages to speak to these people and be heard.”

When speaking about elections and British policies, Ollie said, “We should be demanding a recall on the political rulebook of the country, we have a progressive majority. People should be allowed to vote from 16. If people participate from this age they will continue to. Power is so centralised in London and so much media is based in London too. Systems are built to suppress participation. It needs to be opened up and power needs to be distributed. If people see things in their neighbourhoods then they will get involved.

Ollie spoke about his passion for electoral reform instead of advocating for a party and continued to talk about how power should be distributed. He said: “The second chamber should be comprised of people from different regions- it should have mothers in it, people who have been unemployed, and not in London.”

The group has had some backlash when it comes to their activism. Ben said: “Police are on us within two minutes now if we were to do a projection, whereas before it wasn’t like that.” Lots of activists will also be affected by the new Police and Crime Bill - if activists can be heard in offices, things can be immediately shut down as they are deemed ‘disruptive’.

Ollie added, when speaking about online haters and people trying to suppress voices: “We are doing our job right if we have these grim people coming at us.”

The group continues to grow their network and create campaigns in response to the people in power’s actions and vocalise the right voices. This is just the beginning for Led By Donkeys and we are so excited to see what they do next.

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