Written by: Eve
Edited by: Lucas
Visual by: Zoe
In case I needed another reason to love Marcus Rashford, which I definitely don’t, this young British football sensation has spent quarantine advocating for the continuation of school feeding programs, gracing the cover of Vogue Magazine, and making headlines spearheading efforts to reform parliamentary legislation that has impacted hundreds of thousands of impoverished schoolchildren. My quarantine experience pales in comparison. However, rather than retell in a concerning amount of detail every episode of The Politician that I rewatched, allow me to explain the importance and impact of Rashford’s advocacy.
Like almost every nation, the pandemic hit Britain hard, but the extent of its effects was seen beyond health; embedded in every aspect of daily life, particularly in the lives of children. Due to sudden mass unemployment, and growing poverty rates exacerbated by an economic recession, food insecurity quadrupled in the UK by April 14, Food Foundation research estimates. During the lockdown in March, upon being informed of plans to halt the distribution of school meals, meals that 200,000 British schoolchildren were forced to skip because of lack of a sufficient alternative, Rashford vowed to take action. Teaming up with NGO FareShare, the UK’s largest hunger and waste charity, he helped to raise a whopping £20 million in donations.
Realising that donations were only a short term solution, Rashford composed a letter to “all members of parliament” describing his own experience with food insecurity. Rashford grew up in Wythenshawe, South Manchester, in one of the UK’s largest council estates, raised by a single mother working a full time job on minimum wage. He revealed that his family often relied on school meals, breakfast clubs and the generosity of neighbors for most meals. “The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked,” he wrote. His moving reflection of his own childhood went viral, and within 24 hours, the government announced a U-turn in its decision, reopening nationwide school feeding programs. This significant achievement transformed the lives of schoolchildren who were already deprived of education during the lockdown.
Historically, athletes, especially footballers tend to remain quiet on political issues, fearing the rejection of a widespread fanbase, however, we see this trend declining as athletes stand in solidarity and boycott matches to protest against police brutality. In his interview with Vogue Magazine for their September issue on Modern Activism, Rashford shares that his determination in improving and fixing the system that had failed him, is not new. “ I always swore to my mum that if one day I was in a position to help, then I would,” he says. Rashford stresses that he is not attempting to politicize issues as basic as hunger and malnourishment, but merely trying to expose the issues that disproportionately impact black and immigrant communities in the UK. He tells Vogue, “I’m a Black man from a Black family and I will eventually have Black children. I want my children to grow up in a world where regardless of the colour of your skin you have the same opportunities to succeed in life. No one person is more important than the other. The beauty of the government U-turn was that we all came together as one – regardless of race, sex, religion, background. We all agreed that our children should be looked after – all of our children. We were together in that feeling. That was a powerful moment. I don’t think I’ve felt pride like that before.” These remarks on the uniting nature of activism and love are truly stirring, in a time when, above all else, politics seem to divide.
In this era of performance activism, it can be difficult to recognize authentic passion and intentions. However Rashford demonstrates the importance of using one’s platform to enact positive change and provide a voice to the marginalized and impoverished—a position which he knows all too well. It might be easy to focus on our current difficulties, the limitations brought on us all during this time, the stress of school and the grind of online learning. However, we also need to heed this example and think about how we can use our positions of relative privilege to advocate for those whose lives are really at risk at this exceptional time.
Hattersley, Giles. “‘No Child In This Country Should Be Going Hungry’: Why Marcus Rashford Is Just Getting Started.” British Vogue, British Vogue, 4 Aug. 2020, http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/article/marcus-rashford.
“NEW FOOD FOUNDATION SURVEY: THREE MILLION BRITONS ARE GOING HUNGRY JUST THREE WEEKS INTO LOCKDOWN.” NEW FOOD FOUNDATION SURVEY: THREE MILLION BRITONS ARE GOING HUNGRY JUST THREE WEEKS INTO LOCKDOWN – Food Foundation, 1 Apr. 2020, foodfoundation.org.uk/new-food-foundation-survey-three-million-britons-are-going-hungry-just-three-weeks-into-lockdown/.
“UK: Children in England Going Hungry with Schools Shut.” Human Rights Watch, 27 Sept. 2020, http://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/27/uk-children-england-going-hungry-schools-shut.