There was a fantastic turnout for Choose Youth; not the 10,000 which Unite over-optimistically called for but perhaps a thousand young people and youth workers filling the lovely Westminster Methodist hall. As with the earlier February rally in Solihull the speeches from young people were fantastic, and I don’t mean that in a tokenistic / condescending manner – I heard none of the simplistic ‘youth clubs keep us off the streets’ but instead speeches that were inspiring, thoughtful, original and rabble rousing. The crowd responded with great enthusiasm, giving a good energy to the event. The two young women from one of our Hackney groups were unable to come at the last minute (that’s youth work!!) and my colleague and I felt a bit sad about that, but it made us all the more impressed at how many young people had made it from all around the country. There was a fantastic rap from four young men from Bradford (who promised they’d send us their lyrics), a great speech from a young man from Wolverhampton, a young woman from Devon intelligently critiquing the National Citizen Service, and Dami Benbow, who spoke at the SWAN conference in Birmingham was brilliant – he just gets better and better at public speaking.
These Choose Youth events have challenged my view of youth democracy projects, which I thought rather elitist. Many of the young people speaking at the two national Choose Youth events are associated with youth councils, youth parliaments or young mayor projects; these young people mostly talk about how they became involved after a youth worker saw strength and determination where others had seen troublemaking and disruption, and they are mostly working class, and very often from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds.
The adults wisely kept their speeches a lot shorter than they had in Solihull, although the union reps did go on a bit. I don’t think I’m just being biased by saying that Kalbir Shukra (speaking for IDYW) was the best adult speaker, making the links between our struggle and struggles around the country and around the world, calling for solidarity rather than divisiveness She argued,
We cannot accept the wholesale destruction of our public services as a solution to the problems facing the rich – problems created by the corporate greed and bankers gambles that politicians supported. As we’ve already heard from speakers, our public services are being destroyed and its part of a massive assault on all working and middle class people – young and old, employed and unemployed, male and female.
But today is part of the spirit of resistance that we see spreading across the world. We are part of a rising world wide activist movement constantly inspiring and supporting each other – fighting for our rights, for our jobs, for services, for homes for freedoms. To strengthen our movements we have to keep connecting them. We have to refuse to be divided on the basis of one cut being kinder than another or some protestors being seen as criminals whilst others are respectable.
My colleague and I couldn’t stay for the whole day (with no young people having turned up we had to get back to Hackney to do some detached work instead!] but despite our occasional cynicism over these big ‘lobbying’ events we came away inspired. Whether anyone managed to change the mind of their MP is a reasonable question given the emphasis of the publicity (our own MP, Diane Abbott, didn’t even respond to our email), but whatever. Meeting up in numbers, talking and gaining strength, was life enhancing. Good on the unions for coordinating this (along with BYC and others). I can’t think of a better way for my subs to be spent.