26 Feb EU Supergirl fighting Brexit. Interview with Madeleina Kay
Madeleina Kay, 24, was chosen as the Young European of Year 2018 by the Schwarzkopf Foundation. She is an artist, singer, and political activist who became known as “EU Supergirl” while campaigning against her country’s efforts to leave the EU.
Madeleina, you define yourself first and foremost as European, and not as British. Why is that?
It was Brexit that made me think this way. Before the referendum happened, I used to do a lot of social activism with arts and worked with homeless people and young carers, so I always had a strong social and ethical conscience. When Brexit happened, I was sure it was going to impact all aspects of British society and be detrimental to those people who already suffer the most in the UK. We are not educated very well about politics in general and EU politics especially. The Brexit vote motivated me to start researching what exactly we were going to lose. The more I listened to political campaigners and to the news, the more I became absolutely determined to stop it, as a European, and not just as a Brit.
What have you learned through your activism?
People have the capacity to bring such joy to each other, or conversely, such harm and suffering. It’s important to bring communities together in a positive way, and to deal with differences and disputes through constructive dialogue and civility. This is why the first children’s book wrote after the Brexit vote was about refugees. There was a spike in hate crime against migrants and refugees at the time. I wanted to convey this idea that refugees are people, too, and that we should be supporting them, instead of seeing them as foreigners only.
Many young people find it hard to take an interest in current affairs. What would you like to tell them?
I created the character of EU Supergirl because it’s iconic and people recognise the superhero costume. It allows me to start conversations with people who normally are not interested in politics. I try to use creativity and humour, since parodying and satirising the politicians makes people take them less seriously. When people enjoy something they are seeing that is funny and visual, they are more likely to share it and want to find out more about the subject.
What are, for you, the first steps to getting engaged?
The best is to start going to events about the subject you are interested in to get informed. Social media is so important for connections. It is also about building networks and finding people who care about the same things you do. It’s impossible to achieve anything on your own. As EU Supergirl, I also speak on behalf of a huge movement behind me.
What does the award of Young European of the Year mean to you?
I was really grateful to receive it. In the UK, we have a problem with the ‘Remain’ campaigns. They are trying to stop Brexit by putting out all those facts about why Brexit will be bad, but they also avoid mentioning the EU. My brand is EU Supergirl and I use a narrative about why the EU is great. To get acknowledgment from outside the UK is really motivating me to carry on. The award also makes what I do bigger than just Brexit. In the long term, the EU needs to change its approaches to communication and how it talks with its citizens. People don’t know how the EU benefits their lives and why it is essential that we support it. That is something I would like to get involved with in the future.
What comes for you next?
My campaigning is always about reacting to whatever is happening in politics. I think the relationship between the UK and the EU27 has been fundamentally damaged, and we need to do work to repair it. We should link people and create bridges when we have been burning them for the last two years. A lot of people think that politicians are the most important actors, but the politicians are our representatives. Without our support, they have nothing. It is all about the people and how many individuals we can bring together behind our cause.
The interview by Anna Saraste