On this Black Friday, students, activists, and politicians alike braved the cold to gather in Belfast’s Cornmarket for the Global Youth Strike for Climate.
Every Friday, students in Belfast and around the world gather together to protest for stronger environmental policies to minimise the impact of the climate crisis.
However, the last Global Strike took place at the end of September 2019.
This strike occurs weeks before the General Election on 12th December. Pupils have declared this election a “climate election”, as opposed to the framing of it as a Brexit election.
Students chanted and held banners, while individual students also gave well articulated speeches to the growing crowd about the importance of acting now. As well as this, they discussed the Channel 4 leaders Climate Debate that happened last night, and expressed disappointment that our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, did not show up but was instead replaced by a melting block of ice.
Another speaker today was Naomi Long of the Alliance Party, one of Northern Ireland’s 3 MEPs. She spoke to the crowd about steps the EU were currently taking in announcing a climate emergency. I also spoke to Naomi about the importance of political protests in general, and the real change that citizens can make and are making.
You can find out about the Global Climate Strikes here, and stay up to date with the latest protests and developments in your area.
At the start of the year, I had family and friends sending me a link to the British Council website, telling me to apply for a journalism program they had going on, telling me I would be “perfect for it.” Fast forward a couple of months prior to this – I had just graduated, and was applying for graduate opportunities all over the place. Journalism is a hard sector to break in to, and it seemed each opportunity advertised needed an insane amount of experience. I had faced months of rejection, so when I went on to the British Council website and applied for their Future News Worldwide conference, I didn’t have high hopes.
In April, I received an email accepting me onto the FNW19 conference. Obviously, I was shocked, believing I would never have got onto the program – but I became doubly shocked when I realised I was 1 out of 100 young journalists picked from around the world, selected from a pool of 3,000 applications. On the 16th and 17th July 2019, we were based in the Thomson Reuter’s headquarters in London, listening to and learning from some of the world’s best journalists.
Activities started the day before, on the evening of 15th July. We knew we had reception dinner and drinks lined up, but didn’t know the venue. When the bus pulled up outside the Reuters HQ in Canary Wharf, you could feel the excitement in the air. This was a fantastic way to begin the week. We were able to network with all the speakers lined up for the coming days, as well as staff from Reuters, previous FNW delegates, British Council staff, UK Foreign Office staff, and media makers from around the country.
The conference began with an early start on the 16th July (surprisingly my night-owl self didn’t feel too bad waking up at 6am), and our first speaker was Nick Tattersall, the Managing Editor News for EMEA at Reuters. Nick has reported from all around the world for Reuters, including from war-zones at the beginning of his career, so his insight into the changing world of reporting in a post-truth era was enlightening. In particular, his statement that “the future of news, and trust of news, relies on boots on the ground” stands out to me. In a world where social media means everyone is a journalist, we still need those expert reporters on the ground to ensure truth prevails.
Next up was Sreenivasan Jain, managing editor of New Delhi Television. Not knowing much about the media and the political landscape in India, this talk was really interesting for me. Focus was given towards the press freedom (or lack of such) for journalists in India due to the influence of corrupt politicians. Following this came words from Christina Lamb, the Sunday Times Chief Foreign Correspondent and a true journalistic hero of mine. She spoke candidly of her career as a foreign reporter, and her time spent living and working in Afghanistan.
On the first day of the conference, I took part in a tour of the Reuters newsroom, which provided a great insight into the daily running of one of the world’s biggest news organisations. Joanna Webster, the Managing Editor for Strategy and Operations for EMEA at Reuters conducted the tours and shed light on how each branch of Reuters works together. After this, we launched into workshops with Google News Initiative, Facebook and Instagram to learn how to optimise these platforms for journalism.
The first day was wrapped up with dinner and drinks on a boat on the River Thames, where speakers included Channel 4’s Jon Snow. Definitely one of the maddest experiences I’ve ever had, it is sure to be a night to remember. Jon Snow gave us advice on how to continue doing important journalistic work, while looking back at his own career with his characteristic wit and humour.
The second day of the conference began with sore heads and an interesting talk from Taylor Nelson of the Solutions Journalism Network. This branch of journalism focuses on the importance of reporting on responses to social issues, and not just in explaining events as they happen. Up next was one of my favourite speakers of the conference, Nadine White of the Huffington Post. She spoke candidly of her experiences in journalism, and how she broke into the industry – highlighting to us the importance of using Twitter and social media to give yourself a voice.
Following this, we broke off into groups to ‘Meet the Experts’. A favourite discussion of mine from this time was with Suyin Haynes, a Senior Reporter at TIME Magazine. She helped us with how to pitch articles to media platforms, and shared how she got into the industry. We then went on to listen to discussion from Aliaume Leroy and Benjamin Strick of BBC Africa Eye on how they use open source techniques to fuel investigative journalism.
The conference finished up with the inspiring words of Sonny Swe, cofounder of the Myammar Times who spent 8 years in prison for his work in providing a journalistic platform. He spoke of surviving his time in prison, and continuing his fight for press freedom on his release.
Future News Worldwide 2019 gave me a fantastic opportunity to learn how to become a great journalist from the best in the business. It also gave me the opportunity to learn from 99 other delegates from around the world, most of whom I would have never met otherwise. The atmosphere of the trip, both during the conference and in our spare time, was the stand out feeling of the experience for me.
Often as young journalists we work in a cycle of competitiveness, however this program had a feeling of community attached to it. Even now, weeks on from the end of FNW19, we are all still in contact and supporting and aiding each other’s work.
After taking part in FNW19, I can safely say the future of news is in safe hands.
‘New year, new me’ – It’s the mantra everyone knows. A new year is supposed to propel you into new thinking, adopting new habits, or building upon past ones. It’s a bunch of pressure, sure, but it helps you to promise yourself that you will do better, that this year will be better than the last.
January feels like it lasts for about a year, and for this reason I felt as though I got a lot done this January. I got myself my first car, I read three books (a big deal for me, I’ve always been a super slow reader), I went to the gym three times a week, I started planning a bunch of article ideas I want to pump out in the next few months, and I applied to a bunch of jobs and internships. The ‘new year, new me’ vibe was very much in place, and very much working.
February comes around like a hammer though. The determination of January starts to dwindle; February always goes too fast and always feels a bit rushed. Whereas last month I was reading pretty much a book a week, I’m not even a third of the way through a book a week into the month. I’ve started going to the gym less, telling myself I feel too tired from work instead of just pushing through it. But I still feel determined, I still feel as though I can change things for the better.
The point is, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. Sure, it’s good to be motivated and get stuff done; but it’s similarly okay and perfectly normal to feel like you need to take the backseat on things for a while. I still want to achieve all the goals I’ve set in place, I still have a spiralling and growing list of things I want to do, but the difference is I’m not forcing myself to do all these things by a set time and date.
It’s all about upholding and keeping new habits, not just doing them to do them, but doing them for fulfilment. I’m trying to keep up with it and enjoy it instead of focusing on rushing through it all.
On Friday evening (30th November), Joshua Burnside brought his UK tour in support of latest EP ‘All Round the Light Said’ to the impressive surroundings of the Duncairn Arts Centre in North Belfast. The former church has been renovated to keep the beautiful interiors much the same, with large, arched windows and stained glass prominent. Playing an acoustic set in such surroundings, Burnside provided a set that felt almost spiritual.
Tearing through a setlist of songs spanning his debut full length album, 2017’s NI Music Prize Album of the Year ‘EPHRATA’, his newest EP and songs pre-dating both, the audience was captivated throughout the hour-long set. Of course, breaks in the immersed silence while Burnside was playing occurred from time-to-time. In particular, during songs such as ‘Blood Drive’, ‘Holllllogram’ and ‘Tunnels, Pt.2’. This trio of tracks from ‘EPHRATA’ not only had the crowd’s toes tapping, but had the majority singing along. A warm atmosphere endured throughout the night, with the crowd bursting with nothing but pride and adoration for a local musician proving his salt.
The political undertones of playing in the North were noted by Burnside just before performing ‘Red and White Blues’, a song condemning the UVF that he said is always popular when he plays in the ‘glorious East’, but wasn’t sure of how it would go down in North Belfast. “I was too young to care what flag was flown above me…Don’t paint my pavement red, white and blue, I’ll paint it grey it’s my street too” he croons to a silent audience, all focused upon the lyrics that resonate with a large proportion of those of us from Northern Ireland. Burnside describes perfectly the frustration of growing up on one side of the divide, but not supporting the extremes of that side.
Although noting that his “witty banter” isn’t great – especially when tuning his guitar on stage – I’d say Burnside isn’t as bad as he thinks. “So I have one song left alone, one with the band, then we’ll walk off and sit down and you guys will say ‘one more tune, one more tune!’ and we’ll all feel great and play another tune’, he joked to the crowd before doing so. Sitting amongst the crowd at the back of the room, to a room full of unending applause, Burnside laughed and took the stage for one final tune. The chosen ‘last tune’ was ‘Northern Winds‘, a stand-out track from the newest EP. It’s a song that builds as it grows, and elicits goosebumps and silence from the crowd until the refrain kicks in and everyone sings along: “oh where is my little swallow / I have no golden armour to share / you may clock out my blue eyes / tear out my tongue, tear out my tongue / well I’ve seen this iron sky before / and I’ve sang this sorry song one too many times”.
As the drums build and the song becomes textured with a canon of vocals, the crowd evidently doesn’t want the gig to end. With Joshua Burnside’s final bow of the evening and as a lengtly applause from the audience endures, it’s clear to see that the shared space of The Duncairn has achieved the focus on shared experiences and culture that it was established to achieve. A wonderful night of local live music, and one the crowd surely won’t forget.
Florida has always been a political troublemaker. The most prominent example of such was the 2000 Presidential Election, wherein Al Gore lost to George W. Bush by 537 votes in Florida. A prominent Purple State (also known as a Swing State – a state where the vote is often split between Republican and Democrat), Florida has long been one of the most exciting arenas for politics and political debate in America.
So from October to November 2018, I had the opportunity to fly a few thousand miles from Ireland to experience the Mid-Term Elections from Miami, Florida. I travelled alone, but met up with a group organised by Politrip – a political travel group currently in its first year. We had a training day a month or two prior in Belfast – various other training days were held across the UK – but this was the first time we were all meeting.
For the month we worked on Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s Congressional campaign in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, and we also worked on Andrew Gillum’s Gubernational campaign. Experiencing campaigns at two different levels of government was an incredible experience. Seeing the differences and similarities between how each campaign was run, how volunteers and paid canvassers acted, was inspiring. Each campaign office we worked with was so committed to change, so hopeful that America could lift itself from the trudges of Trump, that it inspired hope that anything is possible.
Whilst in Miami, we had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences to meet some astounding politicians. Although we weren’t lucky enough to meet him, we went to see President Barack Obama speak at a Florida Democratic Party GOTV rally a few days before the election. We also got to meet House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, at a rally for democratic candidates in Miami. This whole event was potentially overshadowed by a raging Republican protest outside the building, an event that made national news and even received condemnation from Republicans.
Most inspiring of all, however, was the opportunity we had to meet Senator Kamala Harris (pictured above), a politican hotly tipped to announce a 2020 Presidential candidacy. We met Senator Harris during a GOTV rally at Andrew Gillum’s Miami Gardens office, where office organiser Darnell introduced us as “the Irish kids.”
Experiencing American politics through acting and interacting within it and with those involved in it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It provided not only an amazing opportunity to live in a beautiful part of the country for a month, but showed grassroots political determination in action. Seeing politics work from the ground up showed how it should function in any democratic society; a series of debates, with organised action and continuous campaigning towards one common goal: instating change.
For a citizen of Northern Ireland, experiencing such political work in action was inspiring. It showed how things can be done, and led to questions of why does this not happen at home? Why is political action not widespread, and ultimately motivated to be better than we have been before?
Such widespread grassroots action in Northern Ireland is what we need for this country to progress, so it was incredible to see it working in action; and led to hopes of such change happening for us as well.
A cold, windy night on Tuesday 11th September. A night where you couldn’t be blamed for wanting to sit in with a cuppa, but that’s not how things work in Belfast. The sesh was calling, and Fox Colony were dropping their new EP ‘Fragile’ in Voodoo – how could you ever pass it up?! An impressive crowd thought just the same, and braced the elements to witness an evening of live bliss and musical energy.
A jaw-dropping line-up featuring some of the ‘best-bits’ of the local Northern Irish music scene helped make this launch one to remember. Derry’s finest punk-rockers Cherym and our electronic queen Roe were joined on the support slots by the newcomers from the North Coast, sweater cult. The latter opened the evening with a rapturous set of rocking anthems; an impressive set for a band who only released their first tracks at the end of June. Cherym then came on all-guns blazing, ripping through punking tune after tune as if it’s easy – a flawless set once again, but you really can’t expect anything less from the band who have been nominated for multiple Northern Ireland Music Prize awards. Another nominee for multiple NI music prize awards and another flawless perfromance came from Roe. The former QR Underground perfromer impressed once again, with a set perfecting the art of electronic pop.
The main event, the headline slot from Fox Colony, did not disappoint. The band who describe themselves as ‘fuzzy indie-pop’ came to the stage in a now-packed-out Voodoo, amidst an ecstatic applause from fans and friends alike. Playing old fan favourites such as ‘Baseball Bat’ alongside the tracks from the new EP, Fox Colony proved why so many had came along to witness their euphoric launch. ‘Fragile’ reads like an ode to modern love and life, with the title track finishing the album on a note that shows no matter how we feel, there is fragility to be found in each of us. The leading single and first track from the EP, ‘Supermarkets’, is a sweet pop-rock delight with a powerful guitar riff and catchy chorus that rings out with a refrain of “I’ve been stuck in my mind / you keep taking my time / how can it be worked out / when you keep taking my time.” It’s a song that screams of modern perills, such as overuse of the internet, climate change, businesses valuing profit over employees, and toxicity in relationships, but still comes across as a fun-filled track that will get you jumping along at a gig. You can check out the new music video for the track below:
Continuing into the EP, the synth intro on ‘Don’t Keep Me Here’ provides a shake-up, but doesn’t throw off the tempo of the previous tracks. Another song that will get you headbanging along at a show, and follows on well to the slower ‘Fractured’, a song fanning out from the light guitar riff that pushes it along. This is a tune that already seems to be a fan favourite, with a lot of the crowd already singing along.
The newest addition to Fox Colony’s discography is a delight and a happy welcome to the ever-growing category of ‘local bangers.’
When you think of meditation, what comes to your mind? Is it an image similar to the one pictured above, a serene image featuring a figure sitting cross-legged, with eyes closed?
For me, this is exactly how I pictured meditation. And I ultimately thought it wasn’t for me – until I turned it into a habit.
In my last post, I talked about how I’ve recently started reading a bunch, and about how that’s changed how I feel about myself and others. Meditation has influenced me in a similar way, and can be carried out just as regularly.
I stumbled upon meditation a few years ago, thanks to the Headspace app. It was during my first year of university, I was feeling anxious and restless, and online research suggested meditation was a simple way to deal with this. I really struggled with it. Sitting in one space for 5-10 minutes a day – when it was all too easy to reach for my phone and and distract my mind by scrolling through Twitter – felt impossible.
But simply distracting my mind from difficult feelings wasn’t sustainable. Fast-forward two years, and meditation has become a part of my daily routine. Every morning I sit for 10 minutes and do nothing. Think about nothing. I just let myself, and my mind, rest and grow. As a person who has always been a worrier, someone whos mind is always going 100 miles per hour, the discipline and clarity meditation has provided me is priceless.
At the time of writing, I am on day 17 of my meditation streak. After stopping and restarting countless times, incorporating this important tool into my daily life took a lot of work, but it has undeinably been worth it. Forcing myself to overcome classic hurdles, such as finding a quiet space and time daily to focus on the here and now, has started a rhythm that is hard to break. As noted in an article written by Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian – you need to make yourself sit down and do the damn thing, even if it seems like the hardest thing in the world.
Burkeman continues to note that most people get distracted when they start meditating, but this is not a problem. Instead, noticing when you are distracted is the whole point of meditation. Regulating your attitude and behaviour, noting when your mind has strayed from the present moment – away from focusing on the breath, the body, or a current thought – is when the habit is formed:
“Getting back on the wagon, over and over, is the practice. And good luck doing that if you haven’t fallen off first.”
And what a habit it is to form. Daily basic meditations on Headspace, led by the calm voice of Andy Puddicombe, constantly urge you to keep in mind your motivation to meditate. It constantly keeps what you focused on what you want to achieve, the change you want to see in yourself. Personally, the reason I love to meditate is that it calms my mind; although I’m not even three weeks into regular meditation, already I’m seeing changes in my concentration levels. Similarly, I’m a lot calmer than I normally am – both mentally and physically, which has helped me feel a lot closer to the people I talk to regularly.
There’s also a whole bunch of long term changes meditation can bring around. I won’t go into detail on them here, but they include: reducing stress, improving sleep, reducing anxiety and depression, and it can even change your brain. Pretty impressive for sitting with your eyes closed for 10 minutes a day.
TL;DR: I recently started meditating regularly, and am seeing a bunch of positive changes already. So, if you’re thinking of taking the plunge into mindfulness – just do it!