Ben Cowles hears Natasha Josette of Momentum Kids talk passionately about activating political grassroots networks through inspiring creativity
NATASHA JOSETTE, pictured, is a daughter of Malaysian communists and migrants to London, a Labour Party and Momentum activist, a 30-something single mother of two and co-founder of Momentum Kids.
“I was very much brought up with political demonstrations,” she tells me when we met at the Morning Star’s office. “My mum campaigned quite heavily here during the arrests in Malaysia. I remember being very little and being around people like Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn at demos.”
She didn’t really appreciate hanging out with such left-wing heavyweights at the time. It wasn’t until she’d amassed a massive student loan that she thought:
“Hang on a minute. Maybe my mum and dad had something to say after all.”
“I’d never been that keen on party politics to be honest but Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party changed everything. I ended up becoming a member of Momentum and ended up saying yes to various jobs and campaigns like The World Transformed festival.”
And it was while she and other Momentum activists were sitting around discussing what they were going to do for that festival that she came up with an intriguing and practical idea.
“We were all sitting around in the London office. We’re all volunteers, you know. And probably me and [Momentum Kids co-founder] Jessie were the only single mums there. We have to travel into London to be a part of it, which is quite difficult for us.
“I remember jokingly saying: ‘We should have Momentum Kids.’ And everyone said: ‘That’s a good idea. Let’s do that.’ It’s a bit like that in the Momentum office. If you have a good idea, everyone’s like: ‘Yeah, you should do that’.”
“We started drawing on ideas from our experiences as single parents and understanding there are hundreds and thousands of other people in our position who want to be politically active and just don’t have the time or the resources. And it grew from there.”
Probably because of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s anti-democratic and egregiously short-sighted rebellion against Corbyn, the press picked up on the Momentum Kids idea and went straight into full slander mode.
“The papers said we were indoctrinating children. We were called ‘Tiny Trots’ and ‘Mini Maos’. I even had a Daily Mail reporter turn up at my house, trying to get hold of my family, trying to dig up dirt, which he didn’t find. Either he isn’t very good at his job,” she says through laughter, “or there really isn’t anything on me.”
Far from brainwashing kids into cult-worshiping the Labour leader, Josette explains the purpose of Momentum Kids, which is still open to development, is about creating interesting childcare models for political activities and events.
“And also about political literacy for children. Kids don’t have access to a lot of party politics and they don’t have the space to find it. It’s just about creating a space for compassionate, questioning, curious children.”
Recently, Josette was involved in grassroots campaigning during the snap general election in Stroud, where she and her children moved after getting fed up with London.
If you look up Stroud on a constituency map of Britain, you’ll see that the old market town in central Gloucestershire is a small blob of Labour red surrounded by vast swathes of Tory blue.
The constituency flirted with New Labour back in the Blair-Brown years, but before that and since 2010 Stroud had been a Tory stronghold for a couple generations.
No-one expected a Labour Party with a renewed verve for socialism to win it back. But it did, with a majority of 681 votes and gaining a 9.3 per cent swing. One reason for that is due to the very active and creative efforts of grassroots campaigners like Josette.
“In the run up to last year’s Labour leadership campaign there was a lot of talk about politics not just being in Westminster, that it was for everybody. I thought, yeah, that is true. But in practicality, how does that manifest?
“And honestly, I think I saw that in Stroud. There was a lot of people involved that were not in the Labour Party or Momentum; they just got together and did stuff.”
“There was a woman who made an effigy of Theresa May as the Grim Reaper. Because she did that someone else started Stroud Labour Art Squad. Loads of local artists got together and just took over the high street. I took the kids along who were shouting: ‘For the many, not the few’.
“On election day someone put out a message on social media that we’re all meeting at the Ecotricitiy roundabout in Stroud at about 7 o’clock. There was a whole group of people there already with music playing, banging drums, with banners.
“It was just really grassroots. Maybe it wasn’t co-ordinated, and party politics likes things to be co-ordinated and structured. But if you’re really talking about activating grassroots networks through creativity there’s so much soul in that.
“The creativity around that kind of campaigning, you can literally find a way of expressing your politics that best suits you. If that then joins a group and a national campaign, that’s fantastic. This grassroots style of campaign was just a fantastic way of getting out to normal, ordinary people who wouldn’t necessarily come out.
“And subsequently, even on the day of the election, I had text messages and phone calls from the kids who signed up for the register to vote campaign in Stroud saying: ‘What are you going to do now? Is there going to be another event?’”
And so what of the future, I ask Josette. What happens now?
“Some local artists talked to me about Jeremy saying that the campaign isn’t over yet. They’re still in campaign mode. They’re still doing stuff. People are still really energised by it.
“I was brought up in a political family. I would say the struggle continues, it always will. It doesn’t end at an election and we shouldn’t been seen as activists only during an election. It’s constant. And now that we’ve got to this stage, we’ve really got to start reaching out.
“I don’t know how to say this without saying something really fucking trite but, basically, politics going back to the working-class roots, you know, building on the working-class movements, getting it back out there. It continues until our dying day,” she laughs. “No, don’t write that.”
Ben Cowles is the Morning Star’s deputy features editor.