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Kajal Odedra: no-platforming only ‘entrenches beliefs’

The Change.org UK director discusses how to deal with hate speech on the latest episode of Changed My Mind.

The Depolarization Project
13 July 2020
Change.org UK director Kajal Odedra.

On this episode of the Changed My Mind podcast, Kajal Odedra, the executive director of Change.org UK, talks about her past discomfort with her cultural background and her misgivings with no platforming.

Changed My Mind is produced by openDemocracy in conjunction with The Depolarization Project as part of our commitment to educate citizens, challenge power and encourage democratic debate. Hosted by Ali Goldsworthy, Laura Osborne and Alex Chesterfield. 

Further reading

The Steve Bannon New Yorker row explained

When miners and gay rights activists united

Black Lives Matter: Bristol's Colston protest police 'didn't lack courage'

Transcript

Kajal [00:00:00] I was embarrassed about my family, I was embarrassed about my cultural background. I used to hate it if I smelled of Indian foods. I worked in a shop, a retailer, when I was 16. And I remember working with other Asians and just kind of really turning my nose up if I could smell curry on them, because I had this real stigma about, you know, the fact that anything that washed out white was not okay. And it was actually dirty. 

Ali [00:00:29] Welcome to Changed My Mind. The podcast where we ask leaders what they change their mind on and why. I'm Ali Goldsworthy. Chief Executive of the Depolarization Project. You've just heard my guest today, Kajal Odedra, who'll be talking to us about how her relationship to her ethnicity has changed and why she now thinks no platforming is counterproductive. But before we get to that, I'd like to invite you to sign up for our e-mail newsletter at depolarizationproject.com. We promote the show with Open Democracy to the eight million regular monthly visitors. You can find the back catalogue to our shows and more information on this episode at opendemocracy.net/depolarizationproject. I'm joined for today's episode by my fabulous co-hosts, communicator and business thinker Laura Osborne. 

Laura [00:01:18] Hi, Ali. 

Ali [00:01:19] And our behavioural insight expert Alex Chesterfield. 

Alex [00:01:22] Hi Laura, hi Ali. 

Ali [00:01:23] So we read Kajal's book, Do Something: Activism for Everyone, before the interview. It encouraged people to think about the changes they could bring about through campaigning. Kajal knows a thing or two about this, as the UK Director of Change.org. What stood out to you from this interview, Laura? 

Laura [00:01:39] I thought Kajal's ability to talk really openly about the way her relationship to how she identified as an Asian woman had changed over time was really profound. Her position that people you agree and like can also be a little bit racist I think is also also something we can all identify slightly awkwardly with. And it certainly resonated for me. 

Ali [00:01:59] And what about you, Alex? What should listeners look out for? 

Alex [00:02:02] Well, the former Conservative councillor me was surprised and I mean really pleasantly surprised at how Kajal talked about being determined to hear voices from a broad perspective and how that was reflected in the shape of the user base. And there's a lot of people could learn there about cognitive diversity, when we talk about diversity and inclusion, which is pretty topical right now. 

Ali [00:02:24] And with all that in mind, let's get on to hearing from Kajal. 

Ali [00:02:36] Kajal, welcome to Changed My Mind. 

Kajal [00:02:38] Thank you for having me. 

Ali [00:02:39] We're delighted to have you here. Your book, Do Something: Activism for Everyone, is a real clarion call for people to get off the sidelines and get involved in calling for change. Do you think there's something ever that's just inherently polarising about campaigning? 

Kajal [00:02:55] Yeah, that's a good question. I think it can be. I mean, for me, campaigning has always been about community and solidarity. And I think that if you tell stories, you can really bring people together. So it should really be the opposite, right? It should be about bringing the opposite side along the journey with you and coming to some kind of agreement or the middle point. But I see lots of activism that is definitely polarising. Definitely in election campaigning, that's really polarising. But I just don't think it has to be that way. And my kind of activism has always been not to bash the decision maker and call them an evil person and think of them as a villain. It's about thinking of that decision maker as a real human being and thinking what's in it for them and how can I convince them, just like you do and lots of other parts of your life. I was thinking about why campaigning can sometimes get polarising, and I actually, I was at a Black Lives Matter protest a few weeks ago and I felt angry then. I felt frustrated. And when you're campaigning for so long and there's so much invested and we bring our personal experiences to the issue and there's years of oppression, it's hard not to release that. But I think that that can kind of come out in different times in the campaign. But I don't think the entire campaign has to be polarising. 

Laura [00:04:15] You said, you know, you often try to find that sort of middle ground, but have you seen campaigning bring people together? 

Kajal [00:04:21] Absolutely. One great example of a campaign bringing together unlikely allies, you know, groups of people that you just never would see collaborating together was the campaign in 1984 for the miners when the miners were striking. It was kind of Thatcher against the miners. They were striking against coal mine closures and she'd stopped funds going to the miners whilst they were striking. So there were lots of groups across the UK who were fundraising and sending money to these villages. And this group of LGBT people in London saw this and they saw the way that the media was vilifying and villainising the miners in the same way that they had felt persecuted by the media themselves. And so they instantly just felt a kind of kinship to this group. They set up a fundraiser. They ended up raising more than any other group had for the miners and, you know, bussed down to this little village in Wales with this sign across their van saying 'lesbians and gays support the miners'. And that actually has become a lifelong collaboration. And I think it's just really beautiful. I think campaigning can be beautiful and it can be really community based and it can have the most incredible moments of solidarity. And then moments like this where you just don't expect someone to have your back and they do. And that just gives me goose bumps. They then continued for years to support one another. You have more power when you're side by side with a group that you're not necessarily always connected to. 

Ali [00:05:48] And there's a super powerful film about that which some of our listeners will be familiar with, Pride. As someone from South Wales, it has had a touch of the Richard Curtis treatment to it. But most of it is indeed true. I don't talk much about my private life, but my stepdad was a vicar in one of the mining villages. And what's really interesting is the ongoing relationship. He resigned from the church actually because he couldn't do gay marriage. And part of the things that had started to see that was actually this relationship and how it had come in. So you're right, it is entirely lifelong. And I think also when you have surprising partnerships, Kajal, and this is what I was going to say to you, is, do you think they're more likely to succeed those campaigns with unlikely allies working together? 

Kajal [00:06:35] I think are more powerful. And so they have a better chance. You're also then already speaking to a group that isn't necessarily, in inverted commas, supposed to agree with you. And so already you're exposed to different media, you're exposed to different decision makers or influential politicians. I think that they can be more effective. When we were working on a sex education campaign years ago, one of the key things that we did was try to get the teachers' unions on board. When I'm actually giving campaign trainings I often talk about I don't just think about, you know, shouting at the decision maker, think about who the people are that you could actually get on board, who could make your journey a lot easier. 

Ali [00:07:14] I totally get that. You mentioned earlier on about Black Lives Matter and that you've been really quite outspoken about it, you know, and I guess and we're friends and I've seen that coming through on, you know, nowadays what's a very well followed Instagram feed. But where do you think this moment and where this movement might be headed? 

Kajal [00:07:34] Yeah, I I've been thinking about this a lot because for some, you know, for people of colour and for the black people I know in my life, there's a bit of a kind of an exasperated feeling because it's kind of like, yeah, we've been talking about this for a long time. Finally, you're waking up. And in some ways it feels a little bit like the Me Too moment when those few days when Me Too was kind of kicking off where all of a sudden so many, you know, women in my life were sharing their experiences on social media. And you realise that actually you've all been experiencing this kind of thing on a daily basis, but you're no one talks about it. And it feels similar now where a) people of colour have agency to talk about what they're experiencing. And b) white people are listening and they're taking action. So when I went to that protest, usually when I go to a protest that's to do with racial justice or deportation issues, it's mostly people of colour. This was it was not. It was like those so many white people down. It was incredible. It felt really amazing and like something different was happening. On the back of all of this, lots has been happening to lots of organisations doing some reflecting. Lots of CEOs stepping down. And I feel like if we keep going and if we continue to be committed and when I saw we I mean, all of us, you know, everyone who's spoken up, posting on social media, they don't just stop when there's another news story. But actually, if everyone continues, we could really see a shift in the systems in our country. So in Minneapolis, they've already voted to defund the police. That incredible. In the UK, there are consultations happening now about the statues that we have across the country that are, you know, idolising colonialists and imperialists, something that I never thought in my lifetime I'd see the UK doing, reviewing and accepting that this is actually not something we should be celebrating. You know, those conversations about the curriculum and finally teaching colonial history in the curriculum in the U.K. So I think that this could be a massive wholesale change if we keep on pushing. But we just need to keep up the momentum. 

Ali [00:09:51] We'll put it in the show notes that for people who may not have seen it, but there's some quite shared footage about the police in Bristol where one of these statues was pulled down, deciding not to intervene and in a place where relationships have traditionally been been really quite hostile between the police and communities of colour in the UK. I'm intrigued. How did that response that they had, where they decided not to intervene and to let people protest, how did that make you feel? 

Kajal [00:10:21] It's amazing. It's incredible to see people who represent an institution that systemically has had issues of being institutionally racist. See those figures basically supporting the movement. You feel like a human being when a lot of the time you feel less than. So I think it's an amazing, amazing moment. I just hope it continues. 

Ali [00:10:44] Has it changed your mind about how you feel about the police at all? 

Kajal [00:10:47] Well, I've got mixed, I've always had mixed views about the police because I grew up in a village in the Midlands, white working class. My parents ran a shop there. As we were growing up, we were just the racism was relentless and it was verbal and it was physical and it was daily. My memories of my childhood are just like often having the police over at night time. When they closed the shop, when Mum and Dad had close the shop. Another thing had happened either. We lived across the road from the shop. They'll just always be a gang hanging around outside, shouting stuff, throwing things. And it was really it was traumatic. You know, often Mum would be in tears, but  my memories of the police are that, you know, they were just incredibly lovely and helpful. And so I kind of had this very filtered view of what was going on. And it wasn't until I got older that I realised from speaking to my Dad about it actually how hard it was for Dad to actually get anything to happen, anything to change. And it was years of him speaking to the MP, speaking to the chief executive of the council to get actual, real, proper support from the police because we were just basically being harassed all the time. So I don't have a black and white view of the police. I think that there are good people in the police. I think that there's a problem with the institution and there's a problem with institutions in Britain in terms of taking responsibility for the racism that they perpetuate. But I think there are there are good people everywhere. 

Laura [00:12:19] I was just going to say, if I could take you back for just a second to another thing you touched on in your original answer about the response of business. It's something we've been talking about quite a bit. How do you think that will play out? Because there's very different camps and very different viewpoints on that. How much do you think they will sort of take a bigger, broader stance and actually do something, not just say something? 

Kajal [00:12:45] Yeah. I honestly think that the time to just say something is over. And anyone who is just saying something looks really weak. I've been asked by a couple of businesses for advice when they've been prepping their own statements and what they're going to do. And my advice has been, don't talk about diversity training. If you're going to do something like maybe think about holding back from saying anything right now and actually do some work, make commitments when you actually say something. I think that that's really important. I'm seeing organisations change leadership, and I think that can be one of the most powerful things because you can do hours of diversity training in organisations. But if you're not actually recruiting and making space and if leadership on stepping down to make space for black people and people of colour generally, then you're not going to see anything change. And I'm seeing that happen quite a lot. So I've got I've got hope. I do feel like this is a turning point. 

Ali [00:13:45] And I'm sure if Alex was here and we'll discuss it afterwards and put some stuff in the show notes, she'd be talking about actually how often unconscious bias training backfires and that people are just like, oh, well, I've done my training now, so I'll carry on exactly as I was. 

Kajal [00:13:59] Yeah. 

Ali [00:13:59] And it doesn't really lead to any difference which must be which is exceptionally frustrating for somebody to watch from the outside hoping for things, let alone if you're the person who was meant to be helping and that it doesn't. 

Kajal [00:14:10] Yeah, I know. 

Ali [00:14:11] I well can sense the frustration. You talked a little bit about people not being all good or all bad. I'm always struck by the Avenue Q song from the musical, 'Everybody Can Be A Little Bit Racist, Really'. And I did warn you that I might ask, especially when you can ask it back to me as well. And I do wonder if you ever thought that you'd been racist. 

Kajal [00:14:33] Yeah, I really think this is a great question and I think it's an important question. So I'm really glad you're asking it. I truly believe that we all have it in us and it depends on where you're from and where you're born. But, you know, I was born in England and I've been brainwashed with ideals of whiteness. And so I'd say a lot of my childhood to my teens, to my early 20s, I'd say I had some serious, internalised racism. I was embarrassed about my family. I was embarrassed about my cultural background. I used to just, like, hate it if I smelled of Indian food. I worked in a shop, a retailer when I was 16. And I remember working with other Asians and just kind of really turning my nose up if I could smell curry on them, because I had this real stigma about, you know, the fact that anything that washed out white was not okay and it was actually dirty. And I think it's important that we talk about that, because I think that we all have it. Now I think I really try to think about my assessments and, you know, second guess whether I'm making a judgement because somebody is speaking a certain way. I think we just all need to be aware of the implicit biases that we have because they are there. 

Ali [00:15:52] I had a experience when I first moved to the States, actually, where I used the phrase 'it's all a bit Chinese whispers'. And, you know, that to me had never been anything that I'd really thought about. But a Chinese friend happened to be in the room and she asked me to explain what that meant. And I just suddenly it dawned on me, you know, how incredibly racist that was as an expression. And I apologised profusely and said I'll never use it again. But I think, you know, I don't like to think of myself as someone who racially discriminates or hold those biases, but it's about how I say partly how unconscious it is, but also how things are living and breathing. And you do need to reflect and be mindful. So exactly what I said about being really thoughtful of it and I try and I talk about that example because hopefully it makes it permissible for other people to be like, actually, maybe I was a little bit racist and I need to work on this. 

Kajal [00:16:45] Yeah. And I think we need to give people room to make those mistakes. And because of the work I've been in so many conversations in so many rooms where people treads on eggshells around me because I don't want to say the word black or they don't want to say, like, you know, the Indian person. And it's like the more that we stifle that we're never gonna learn from each other and we're never gonna get better. We're never gonna get to a better place. I think it's so important that we are having this conversation, because I think you saw Ali I was on Twitter the other day and somebody like, you know, quite an established person in civil society tweeted saying they'd never met a happy racist. And it got like 200 retweets and everyone was loving it. And everyone's patting themselves on the back because they were like. Ha ha. We all hate racists. And I tweeted back to her and I said, this is so dangerous, especially now we shouldn't be othering racism. We all need to accept that it's completely in us and it's in civil society. It's in the charity sector. And the more we say it's over there, we'll never, ever fix the problems that we've got right now. 

Kajal [00:17:57] Yeah, I completely get you know, it's like I'm mortified about what I said, and I should say for our U.S. listeners to translate from British English, which clearly has some fairly racist roots. Chinese whispers is known as the telephone game out here. When I explain it to my American friends, they get slack jawed. They're like, oh, my word. British institutions really is racist. It's not just America. You know, I've tried to hold onto that mortification. 

Laura [00:18:22] And there are so many sayings on aid that you think all the time that blatantly discriminate against different groups in society. And you use and one by one you do accidentally use them at some point and then realise how awful it is. 

Ali [00:18:37] I really appreciate Kajal that you're comfortable going there as well because it isn't an easy conversation to have. 

Kajal [00:18:42] Yeah, it's important. We all acknowledge we're capable of it because I'm most frustrated about being in you know, I've come from the charity sector in the UK and that really thinks it's angelic and, you know, doesn't have any problems. And that's more dangerous. And so the more than we talk about this stuff, the more they're able to critique themselves. 

Ali [00:19:07] I was going to pass over to Laura, we've already covered some pretty meaty topics. 

Laura [00:19:13] We have. But if I may ask you the question that we ask everyone who comes on the podcast, which is about a time that you've changed your mind on a substantive issue and you told us you changed your mind a lot. And you're really proud. Which is really nice. So I just want to ask you, you know, what have you changed your mind on? Even if it's lots of things and why. 

Kajal [00:19:34] Oh, so much. Yeah, I really value people who change their minds. I think it's something to be really highly rated. The one I was going to talk about is that I've changed my mind about no platforming. I used to be quite strongly pro no platforming. I remember in 2009 I must have been in my early 20s then. I remember when the BNP were invited to Question Time. So Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP at the time, was invited to be on this. And, you know, it's very kind of a real institution of a show. I remember it feeling like a real affliction, like a personal affliction. The BBC is so highly regarded and it's almost stately. And for them to invite this man with racist views onto a BBC stage felt so wrong. Then, as the years kind of went on, no platforming started taking, really catching on, especially across universities and I think maybe for a few years, it just kind of had mixed views on it. But now I really feel that when you suppress views, you actually don't hear them and people don't hear the ideas and you're not able to have a conversation. And the more that you keep apart, the more that you keep those conversations apart, the further entrenched those beliefs become. And the kind of world I want to live in, the kind of society I want to live in is a world where we're able to talk to each other. Going back to kind of like what we were talking about earlier, about, you know, people being a bit scared to say things because they might sound racist or they might get it wrong. As an ally, you might get things wrong, but that's OK. We need to allow people to make mistakes. And I think no platforming is always like the opposite of that. 

Laura [00:21:19] Did anything particular happen or did you see a particular example of it where you thought, no, that's wrong, actually. 

Kajal [00:21:27] I thnk a few things. So one thing is that so I'm the director of Change.org in UK and I've been here for about seven years. And Change.org is an open platform, it's a petition platform where anyone can start a campaign. And previously for a few years, it wasn't it was just for progressives after a few years. This was before my time. We became an open platform. And when I look at the campaigning landscape, the activism landscape, I see lots of progressives and lefties creating platforms for themselves and kind of speaking to each other. But there's nothing else out there that actually gives anybody a voice and able to speak up. And I really believe in the idea of debate and diversity of opinion, I guess. I believe in people having a voice more than anything, I think is one of the reasons why we got to the kind of toxic mess of Brexit, because a big portion of society just didn't feel heard for such a long time. I just feel like we need to create more vehicles for people to be able to speak up and say their views and for us to be able to actually debate them. Now, that doesn't mean that, you know, I think that there are exceptions. So I don't agree with people who incite violence or hatred. I think that is not okay. 

Laura [00:22:42] That there's an extreme end? 

Kajal [00:22:44] Yes, exactly. And that shouldn't be tolerated. So, for example, you know, Katie Hopkins being taken off Twitter. I think that's a good thing. And I think that actually is effective when people like that are no platformed, because their access to these kinds of hateful networks are cut off. For example, someone like Katie Hopkins can easily start a hate campaign towards somebody and then that person will start getting hate mail threats in the post, death threats, that kind of thing can be limited if somebody takes away that platform. But generally, I really believe that we shouldn't be suppressing people's views and we should actually be creating more spaces to discuss them. I remember I think a few years ago The New York Times was running their festival of ideas and they were going to have David Remnick interview Steve Bannon. And then there was a lot of outrage over that. And so they dropped him. And David Remnick at the time had said when it was going to happen that he had every intention of asking him the difficult and serious questions. But as soon as they drop him, then we can ask him the difficult and serious questions. And so then who's holding him accountable? That's problematic. I even feel a bit controversial saying this because I feel like in the kind of progressive sphere it'ss very on trend to be pro no platform. Yeah. So that's the one that I thought was the most kind of interesting. 

Laura [00:24:08] And accountability is an important counterpoint there, isn't it? One of the other things that you touched on there was creating that space for a more fulsome conversation that is, you know, less boxed off one way or the other. From your perspective and your experience at Change, what do you think is some of the ways we can do that? 

Kajal [00:24:29] Yeah, I think there's not enough out there right now for us to be able to have those conversations. I think that even our petitions model is still very much kind of you know, we have so many petitions that are on either side of an issue. What I'd love is to create forums where people were able to engage with each other and do that online lockdown, I think, has created a whole world of possibilities for us to engage with one another online. I think that, you know, there were lots of barriers to doing stuff like this. If you want diversity of opinion, I think, you know, doing it online is really effective, doing stuff on, you know, creating manifestos on Google Docs. There's lots of countries that have kind of tested things like that out so that I think can be more effective. I don't think that the way that we ever get there yet with the tech, I think that social media hasn't actually quite provided us with the tools to really have these conversations. And so at the moment, I just see a lot of people shouting at each other. 

Ali [00:25:28] I'm interested in terms of people who because is it 17 million people that change.org has in the UK? 

Kajal [00:25:34] In the UK it is 18m now. 

Ali [00:25:37] Well, congratulations. Well, what is it? Is it 300 million worldwide? 

Kajal [00:25:41] Is 400 million now? It basically, since Covid happened, our user growth has gone crazy. 

Ali [00:25:49] Wow. Yeah. And I suppose what I was going to ask is, you know, you've talked quite a bit about being progressive or progressive ish. But what do you know about the background of the people who sign your campaigns? Like, is it broader as a consequence for you taking a fairly broad platform on policy? 

Kajal [00:26:06] Hundred percent, yeah. So we don't know much about all users because we don't collect anything beyond email address, post code. But a few years ago I did some work with YouGov in the U.K. where they matched. They basically polled our users and then they were able to give us a good kind of idea of what our user demographic was. This is maybe five years ago now, maybe four years ago. And it was the demographic matched almost perfectly matched the portions of the population. And we also asked them at the time their voting intention. So many of them said that they were either gonna vote UKIP or Green Party. It was really interesting. It was actually during the 2016 election. We didn't know which way it was going go. People were expecting a Labour landslide. But we saw from this data that people were saying that they were just done with major parties and that they wanted to vote for the marginals. And also, when, you know, during the whole of the last few years with Brexit, it has almost been 50/50. The campaign started on the platform, either pro or against. So we know that there's a real split. And I think it's because petitions people start like the most the majority of the petitions are local issues and they're about local schools or, you know, the hospital being closed down or trying to save the local pub. And on those issues, on about, you know, left or right, they're just about your community. And that's why I think we have this incredible breadth of opinion on our platform, because they don't come in because of politics. But our job, I guess, is to try and engage them in more, more issues and try and get them engaged more in the issues that they are signing on the platform. 

Ali [00:28:01] And probably surprising to quite a few people that you have that broader base and there's a whole trade-off on the amount of information you collect from people and how active they get and uncomfort with data sharing as well, which is. 

Kajal [00:28:11] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. 

Ali [00:28:13] Now, Kajal, I want to ask you another question that we put to almost all of our guests, which is who would you like to hear from about a time that they had changed their mind? 

Kajal [00:28:26] Yeah. So I would like to hear someone who is, you know, comes across as bloody minded. You know, I want to hear what would change, what has changed their mind. And so I had two answers to this. Do you want me to just pick one? 

Ali [00:28:41] Now, you could go with two. But not Barack Obama. 

[00:28:47] Because I think he's, Barack Obama's cool. I think he would change his mind. There's something about Dominic Cummings that makes me feel like he's very bloody minded and he really, you know, has. He doesn't really want to listen to the politicians and he doesn't want to really listen to the government. And he just wants to do his own thing. And he's got his ideals. He's got his vision. And he just it seems impossible to kind of, you know, get into his head. And so I'd really like to know when has he changed his mind? And likewise, Margaret Thatcher. 

Ali [00:29:23] So I have an answer for you on Thatcher, actually. I just think it. Yeah. She's really, really reading this book by this guy Archie Brown about the role of leadership in politics. And she initially did not think Mikhail Gorbachev was a good thing and came round after listening to a bunch of experts and having them come to visit. She was like, actually, I think Gorbachev could be a way to peace and to really ending the Cold War. And she ran a long way ahead of Reagan, who loved her on that. And without Thatcher, there is no way that Gorbachev, that there would have been the end of the Cold War in the way it was. And she's really credited. And I was really surprised. I was very pleasantly surprised. I didn't chime with with my views of Thatcher at all. 

Kajal [00:30:06] Yeah. 

Ali [00:30:08] And it shows a bit how she moved as a leader when she was in office. But like I say, very pleasantly surprised. 

Kajal [00:30:13] Yeah, that's interesting, isn't it? You can she gave this real facade of being very kind of determined and a real strength of kind of her own opinion. But because I think I come across very certain in my views, but also at the same time, the other person doesn't realise I'm actually ticking along, going, oh, actually, maybe there's something in that. And that doesn't always come across to the other person. 

Ali [00:30:33] No, you're right. I mean, she was called the Iron Lady for a reason and she cultivated the whole this lady's not for turning thing. What did strike me in that story is that she had not yet taken a position and therefore it was easier for her to change her mind a bit by not having being really super wedded to a prior viewpoint. And I think that's you know, we took we talked about this in other contexts, like as a leader, the importance of being able to say, I don't know or waiting to take a position to give experts the time to to brief you is incredibly important because it's so much harder to do a complete volte face once you've said something publicly. 

Kajal [00:31:11] Yeah. But it's also smarter, right? Because if you don't know then you don't know, maybe you shouldn't pretend. 

Ali [00:31:17] Yeah, exactly. And I think there's a lot that politicians could learn from that. Thank you so much. You've been fab. 

Kajal [00:31:23] Thank you guys. That was fun. 

Laura [00:31:25] You really have. Thank you. 

Ali [00:31:34] Before we discuss, let's have a quick word from our sponsors. 

[00:31:40] Hello, I'm Mary Fitzgerald, editor in chief at Open Democracy. We exist to bring you the latest reporting and analysis on social and political issues around the world. We're here to educate citizens, challenge power and encourage democratic debate, just as this podcast does. To find out more about us and to make a contribution to our work, visit opendemocracy.net. 

Ali [00:32:03] So now we've heard the full interview. Was there anything you wanted to reflect on? 

Laura [00:32:09] Kajal's enthusiasm and dynamism is infectious. It was really lovely talking to such a natural born campaigner. And you can tell how much she enjoys empowering people. But she's also so much more than that. It was obvious that she brought a really critical lens to her own and others' behaviours. Constantly reflecting and being open to changing her own mind. 

Ali [00:32:27] Yeah. And it's interesting, when I contacted Kajal about coming on the show, she was thrilled. But also just said there's loads of things that I changed my mind on. And that being open minded was one of things she was most proud of. And that's a real contrast to a lot of people that we talk to who hugely struggled to answer that question or think about things. And I sort of can't help but feel that engaging in that deep thought is a muscle and that once you start doing it one area, it really does become easier to do so in another. 

Alex [00:32:57] Yeah, it could be something that comes from, you know, from experience and from practice and also not seeing the negative outcomes or consequences of changing your mind, but also because this type of thinking is really effortful for most people. So neurologically it is more effortful. I just want to also pull out an element of Kajal's discussion about racism. She was absolutely right that we very quickly and very automatically put people into different groups and this had evolutionary benefits. Historically, it meant that we could recognise people who were familiar to us. And familiarity at least in caveman days was more like to mean safety and finding a partner and having food and resources and power. So by suggesting that only people who are the side are the only people capable of it means you really are denying, I think, quite fundamentally how our brains have evolved. And I found that and how she approached and engaged with it just really refreshing. I think it'll lead to a much more honest conversation about race. 

Ali [00:33:56] Has Kajal inspired you to think of a time you changed your mind and why? At the end of this series, we'll be doing a special listeners' edition of the show. Email [email protected] and tell us about something you've changed your mind on. The best response will get a copy of Kajal's book, Do Something: Activism For Everybody and we'll whizz it out in the post to them. That's all from us today. Thank you very much for listening to this episode of Changed My Mind. If you liked what you heard, don't forget we've a full back catalogue of fascinating interviews with leaders. You can find them all by searching Changed My Mind in your podcast app. We'll be back next week with a new episode featuring Helen Lewis, a journalist at The Atlantic. Thank you to Open Democracy for their support of the show, to Caroline Crampton for editing. And to Kevin McCloud, whose dreams become real is our theme music. 

Will COVID break up the UK?

Support for Scottish independence is at record levels. Support for a united Ireland is at record levels. Support for Welsh independence is at record levels.

The British state's management of the COVID crisis has widely been seen as disastrous. Will the pandemic accelerate the break-up of the United Kingdom?

Join us on Thursday 6 August at 5pm UK time/6pm CET for a live discussion.

Hear from:

Anthony Barnett Founder of openDemocracy, he has often written about the need for a progressive England to emerge from the shadow of Britain.

Allison Morris Security correspondent and columnist with the Irish News, and an analyst of politics in Northern Ireland.

Harriet Protheroe-Soltani Trade union organiser for Wales and the south-west, vice chair of the campaign group Momentum, and has written about rising support for Welsh independence on the Left.

Chair: Adam Ramsay Editor at openDemocracy and frequent writer about Scottish independence, most recently in The Guardian.

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