This blog comes a few weeks after the election results, weeks after Theresa May failed to secure a majority parliament, and a few days after the Conservative/DUP alliance had been finalised. Many blogs, articles and tweets have been written in the past weeks, asking these questions: What went wrong for May? Why did so many young people turn out to vote? What does this mean for Jeremy Corbyn? All valid, perfectly reasonable questions. All have been debated and talked about by other more proficient commentators than I, seemingly without seeking the input of young voters or activists, so I shall leave them to it. Instead of filling the internet with more analysis of what happened or number crunching of youth voters, I want to ask you a series of questions:
- What sort of country and world would you like to live in?
- How do you think we could get there?
- Is it important that everyone is able to make change and speak about what they’re passionate about?
- What do you believe, above all else, is the difference between the general election in 2015 and the general election in 2017?
So granted, the third question is a loaded question as I wholeheartedly believe it is extremely important that every person regardless of age, race, gender, disability, sexuality or background should be able to create the world they want to live in. But take two minutes to think about these questions, then come back to this blog.
For me personally, I want to live in a world where women are not at risk of FGM, forced marriage and gender-based violence. I want a world where one in three women are not at risk of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime, where LGBTQ young people are taught inclusive and comprehensive sex education, where police violence doesn’t exist and a world where public services are fully funded and accessible for BME and LGBTQ people. To get to this world, the political establishment needs to overwhelmingly change the way it views and utilises young people. This election was markedly different from previous ones because the opportunity for real change was offered to young people, by a man called Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party gave the country a socialist manifesto that promised to advocate for the rights and needs of young people, recognising that the life and welfare of a person cannot be compromised in exchange for ‘efficiency savings’, or that our lives are a series of ‘difficult choices’ for the government. If you have Jeremy Corbyn on Snapchat (I highly recommend that you do, it warms my soul daily), you will have seen the packed venues, scores of young people showing up and campaigning. At a rally close to me in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, the venue was so full that they physically had to turn people away. This is more than a cult personality, or a superficial attempt to woo the country. For me, this election and Jeremy Corbyn provided an opportunity for young people. Contrary to the lack of youth voices on panel discussions in the days and weeks after the election, we are the reason the Labour Party emerged with 30 extra seats. A Tinder chat bot created by a group of young women encouraging young people to vote Labour is just one example of how the activism of young people is innovative, unique and effective. Young people’s’ desire for change and interest in politics extends far further than ‘getting out of bed at 9pm on election day to vote for a party that gives us free stuff’.
18-25 year olds came out in force on election day, sending a clear message to the country. Don’t take us for granted, don’t patronise us with talk of ‘difficult choices’ and the absence of a magic money tree. Believe us, we know there is no magic money tree. Young people know the reality of difficult choices. We are denied the same ‘living wage’ that over 25s are, our housing benefits are stopped, and many of us will never get on the housing ladder because of Conservative austerity. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 20-34. The reality of being a young person in 2017 one of desperation, meaning that we need to change the political landscape that we live in. In order to do this, however, we need to keep the momentum gained during the election in the next few months. ‘How do I do this though, Raf?’ ‘I am one person who is already working a job, studying a degree, I have no time for grand missions such as saving the world’. Good news! I am going to write you a few easy suggestions on how we as young people can change this world below:
- Find an issue that is important to you. Search the news or Twitter for something that really gets your blood boiling or makes you think ‘wow, this needs to change’. Something that does this for me is the fact that there are 1,200 potential cases of child early and forced marriage (CEFM) reported every year in the UK.
- Who already works on this issue? If you are new to this problem or don’t know where to start, have a google of organisations or groups that work on the issue. A quick search would alert you to organisations that work on CEFM, such as Karma Nirvana, Youth for Change, Educate2Eradicate and IKWRO. Knowing what is already out there is a great first step to understanding how you can create change. If you would like to take an active role such as volunteering, many organisations need and welcome extra hands! At Accountability Advocates UK we are always looking for passionate young people to help us in our work, and would love to hear from potential volunteers!
- What are your strengths? What are you good at that would help fight this cause? Are you an artist, do you have ties with your community or peer group that you could use to champion this cause? Are you good at organising events? Knowing what your specific strengths are (we all have them, I promise) means you can offer your assistance to projects, start your own, or even begin conversations. If you don’t have the time to arrange an event or create art about forced marriage, educating yourself on the issue well enough that you can start conversations with those around you is amazing. Opening a dialogue around a problem and educating others is one of the simplest and most important forms of activism.
- Start being a pest to your MP. Every person in the UK has a right to hold their MP accountable for the actions they take in government. What is your MPs voting record on issues that matter to you? Do they, for example, support funding specialist VAWG (violence against women and girls) services? Do they even know about forced marriage in the UK? Identify who your MP is, then start tweeting, emailing, calling and writing to them. Have you recently heard about a service in your constituency that could use some support from your MP? Make sure that your MP knows about it. Get other people you know who are interested in the topic to do the same. Find out when your constituency surgery day is (when an MP meets with their constituents to discuss their concerns), go have have a chat with them. An MP should always be accountable to you, so don’t feel daunted about this. (https://www.writetothem.com/)
- Lift up the voices and actions of other youth activists. Often the easiest way of showing support is monetary support. Many action groups and nonprofits function without government funding and rely on donations, so show support in the form of money. Any donation is welcome, I promise. Support independent artists creating art for important causes. Educate2Eradicate for example has a shop where you can buy art and support their work in child safeguarding training Child & Forced Marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Honour Based Abuse. You can find their shop here.
- Create inclusive and accessible spaces for other young people. A big problem in the world of social action is that it is not inclusive for many people in society. Make sure that if you are in a place of privilege that you are actively creating discussions and spaces where others can participate fully. For example, if you held a panel discussion on forced marriage yet everyone on the panel was male or white, then you have a problem. People of colour, LGBTQ people and disabled people all deserve to have spaces where they feel comfortable and happy to contribute. Make sure that whatever you do or organise strives for that.
- Most importantly, whatever you do, know that it is valued. Whether you attend a march, mobilise a society or group you belong to to take action, start a social action blog, raise money for others, start a petition or single-handedly take down the government, what you are doing is important. Every action that we as young people take to make a difference is radical, defiant and makes my soul almost as happy as viewing Jeremy Corbyn’s Snapchat.
Thanks for reading, if you would like to get involved in the Accountability Advocates project or have any comments, please contact us!