We Rise - equipping young people to face the political challenges ahead

11 April 2017

Last Saturday, over 140 young people got together for a day of discussion, debate, activism and live performance. We Rise was the Global Justice Now youth network’s first national gathering since forming only a few months ago. Young people from across the country gathered at Goldsmiths University in London, united by the shared belief that something must be done about the current state of things – that is, the rise of the far right and the wave of right-wing populism engulfing much of the world. A range of workshops were on offer for those eager to fight for a future that increasingly seems to be slipping away from them. By the end of the day, all of us who went felt more equipped to face the challenges ahead, and came away feeling ready and re-energised to tackle injustice.

To fight Trump, we have to fight May

One key theme that arose from all of the speakers at the event was that, for all that we rightly deplore the politics of Donald Trump, the similarities between the US and the UK governments cannot be ignored. NUS president Malia Bouattia and Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now pointed out that Theresa May’s immigration policies are just as bad, if not worse, than Trump’s. Our Conservative government is actively pursuing an agenda to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants. This includes deporting hundreds of people on mass charter flights in the middle of the night in the hope that no one will notice, and locking up migrants in detention centres with no time limit. Just last week, new measures were introduced that mean NHS providers have to check patients’ eligibility for care upfront, and refuse it if they fail to possess the ‘correct’ documents.

In the Stop Trump organising assembly, Owen Jones and Samir Dathi made it clear that the Stop Trump Coalition is as much about fighting the hateful and discriminatory policies of this Tory government as it is about fighting the presidency of Donald Trump. The truth is, the politics of Trump and May go hand in hand (literally!) And if we are opposed to one, we cannot be silent in the face of the other just because it is closer to home. In fact, that commands even more reason to stand up to it. Whatever they say, this government must be accountable to its citizens.

Reaching out – and getting active

In one discussion, a participant made an important contribution - those of us on the left cannot simply continue to talk to ourselves. It’s all well and good to discuss these important issues with each other, but how do we reach out beyond our networks and truly instigate change? We believe wholeheartedly that we need to reach out to those people who have not necessarily been exposed to the idea that we can actually make a difference.

This is why outreach is a vital component of our mission statement for the Global Justice Now youth network, which will be published soon. Indeed, I spoke to young people at the event who had never been involved in any kind of activism before. So, the event was successful in attracting new people but, of course, there’s always more work to be done to engage those who are traditionally hardest to reach. We will continue to do this in our activism going forward.

Not only was the national gathering a space to discuss and debate, but also it gave young people the opportunity to actually plan future actions together. One workshop focused on where to start with setting up your own youth network group, whilst another explored the growing practice of ‘brandalism’. On a daily basis we are bombarded with a multitude of messages, some of which can be incredibly powerful in shaping social norms. Matt Bonner, a designer, campaigner and graphic artist, shared some great tips for disrupting this process. ‘Subvertising’ is increasingly gaining traction as a method to challenge the status quo, to make people think about ‘how advertising shits in your head’ and to create space for alternatives.

Fighting for a better future

Indeed, if we are to succeed in defeating the rising tide of right-wing populism, we need to collectively come up with a credible alternative. Nick Srnicek, co-author of Inventing the Future and Dorothy Grace Guerrero, climate campaigner and head of policy at Global Justice Now, led a session on this very topic. Engaging with such ideas is a crucial step towards creating a society that is run for the benefit of the majority rather than the few at the top. The final session of the day - the Stop Trump organising assembly - allowed space for attendees to get creative and start planning how they’re going to engage with the issues that had come up during the day, and what the best tactics are for confronting them.

Despite being amongst the hardest hit by the current social and political system, there is no shortage of optimism amongst young people. We Rise showed that there is an enormous appetite for building a youth-led movement; the event has already spurred people to set up new youth network groups in different parts of the country. We will continue to rise, because it is necessary to survive – and to build a better future for us all.

To get involved in the Global Justice Now youth network, check out our webpage where you can find more information and sign up to our mailing list.

Photo credit: Rohan Ayinde


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