Young people rising – creating a new youth activist network

Young people rising – creating a new youth activist network


By: Ed Lewis
Date: 16 March 2017

31296809456_de09639d60_hIn just two weeks’ time, Global Justice Now’s youth network will be hosting its first national gathering at Goldsmiths University in London. We Rise is a day of discussion, debate, live performance and action planning. It is an opportunity for young people from across the UK to come together and build the wider movement against the tide of racist, reactionary and pro-corporate politics that is rising throughout much of the world. With speakers including NUS president Malia Bouattia, journalist Owen Jones and Aaron Bastani of Novara, live performance poetry and workshops ranging from alternatives to capitalism to ‘brandalism’, and over 100 young people from across the country, We Rise is the perfect opportunity to find hope and energy in dark times.

But We Rise isn’t just a one-off event. It’s the first major milestone of the Global Justice Now youth network – a new network of young activists who want to take action against corporate power, the demonisation and repression of migrants, and build a more equal world.  Active groups have formed across the country, from Cornwall to London to Leeds, organising events and actions locally as well as working together to shape the network as a whole.

Why is a youth network needed?

Of course, Global Justice Now already has a thriving network of local activist groups, which formed the backbone of the organisation when it was established in the 1970s. Our youth network is part of this wider structure – while having spaces and opportunities to organise in its own way. So why set up a youth network at all?

Most obviously, in recent years the social context has changed significantly, with young people in the UK and beyond now at the sharp end of our economic and social system. In the UK, rising education costs, an increasingly precarious labour market and the housing crisis mean that millions of young people are shackled by debt, trapped in insecure work and struggling to live independently. This is reflected in worrying trends in young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing, which research suggests have been markedly deteriorating in the UK, especially among young women.

Meanwhile, there is also a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement among the young. Young people voted overwhelmingly against Brexit and Trump, and amidst increases in xenophobia and racism, research suggests that the sentiments of young Britons have been moving in the opposite direction, as they are increasingly likely to embrace racial diversity and multiculturalism.

These social and political trends are of course not confined to the UK or the US – the sense that young people face a precarious, insecure future that is not of their making, with a political system dominated by the interests of the middle-aged and the rich, reverberates across the globe.

Under such circumstances, the desire of young people to want to organise and take action together has grown stronger. So it’s no surprise that the movements that have rocked the world in recent years have been overwhelmingly led by young people. Young activists have been at the heart of the Arab uprisings, the Occupy movement, resurgent student movements in the UK and Canada. More recently, the women’s march and the protests against Trump have brought thousands of young people onto the street in powerful displays of anger against misogyny, racism and authoritarianism. Meanwhile, through increasing our own work with young activists, it became clear to us that there was a growing appetite for the development of a new youth-led activist network that would challenge corporate power and the rule of the 1%.

For all these reasons, we wanted to provide a space for young people to come together to share ideas and experiences, organise actions and events and build a community of people committed to social change.

What’s happening in the youth network?

Since October, an energetic network of groups and activists has started to emerge. Just last weekend, the newly-formed York group organised a public protest against Marks and Spencer for advertising in the Daily Mail, entering the store to spread the word about how M&S are funding hate and division by doing so, and marking their presence outside.

Global Justice Falmouth has been organising a variety of actions around migration – hosting a public meeting on migrant rights, followed by a training session on how to use empathy and listening techniques to challenge prejudice around migration, and are now building up to a series of public actions in solidarity with migrants. Meanwhile, in the run-up to the European parliament vote on CETA, the toxic EU-Canada deal, the London group organised some creative stunts against the deal – read the press report on one of their actions. Other groups have organised film screenings, discussion events, banner drops, campus-based campaigns and more.

Members of the youth network are now working on building the identity and aims of the network and thinking about the longer term and how to build a dynamic, inclusive movement. And the youth network is also looking to engage in the global movement, which has long been a hallmark of Global Justice Now, and so a delegation of young activists will be going to the Attac European Summer University in Toulouse this summer.

How can I get involved?

At this early stage in the life of the youth network, now is the perfect time to get involved. Here are three things you can do: