2017… What a year. It is perhaps fair to describe it as a turbulent year, with some incredible highs and devastating lows. However, throughout it all, a thread has been emerging, which highlights a hopeful pattern: young people in the UK are getting involved, speaking out, and effecting change.
In January 2017, the controversial inauguration of the 45th President of the United States was arguably overshadowed by the huge-scale international protests the following day. The Women’s March in London on 21st January had an approximate turn-out of 100,000 people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities. It was one of almost 700 marches across the world, with an estimated 4.5 million marchers worldwide. It was an international triumphant and empowered demand for women’s rights, was among the biggest human rights demonstrations in history, and involved not one incidence of violence.
In March 2017, it was announced that Relationships and Sex education will become compulsory for schools in the UK from September 2019, following a long struggle from various campaign groups. This marked a momentous achievement, not least for Girl Guiding UK, who played a significant role in gathering evidence through their Girls Attitudes survey, and lobbying government. As well as changing the law, this campaign, also led by End Violence Against Women and Everyday Sexism, brought the vitally important topics of healthy relationships, consent and harassment to the forefront of discussion.
June 2017 saw another monumental shift for the UK. The snap election called by Theresa May in April saw millions turning out to the polling stations. The result was unexpected to say the least, with Conservative losses, Labour gains and ending in a hung parliament. The most exciting part of this election was definitely the youth turnout. 64% of registered voters aged 18-24 are believed to have voted in the election, which marks the highest turnout for the age group in 25 years.
This significant change in voter demographics was referred to as the ‘Youthquake,’ and is suggested to have caused ripples of change throughout the country. It’s exciting, and hopeful, especially when we consider that youth engagement in politics also increased around the world, notably in France, Russia and Australia.
‘Youthquake’ is defined as ‘significant cultural, political or social change, arising from the actions or influence of young people,’ and was announced as Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2017, as its usage increased five-fold. The term was coined by Diana Vreeland in 1965, when she said “The year’s in its youth, the youth in its year… More dreamers. More doers. Here. Now. Youthquake 1965.”
That’s certainly a feeling I can relate to this year: more dreamers, more doers, more voices, more protests, more people taking a stand and demanding their rights. We’ve seen movements like #MeToo, originally started by Tarana Burke in 2006 and reinvigorated this year, gathering momentum, bringing people together and giving a voice to those who may not have been able to speak up before.
It seems fair to give a nod to some of the key figures acting as role models for the next generation. Stormzy’s involvement and support for Jeremy Corbyn (alongside #Grime4Corbyn) definitely inspired some young voters. Taylor Swift winning her symbolic $1 sexual assault case against David Mueller showed her millions of fans the importance of holding people to account, and not blaming the victim when she said “I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is anyway my fault because it isn’t. I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions. Not mine.” She was one of many named Time magazine’s 2017 ‘Person of the Year,’ along with other whistle-blowers highlighting the pervasive issue of sexual harassment. Another key player this year, but perhaps less well-known, is Shakira Martin, the newly elected President of the UK’s National Union of Students. As a black, working-class, single mother, Martin says she overcame adversity to be where she is today, and says “[T]here is so much you can draw from that, and that is what I draw from – taking those experiences and putting them into something positive. No matter where you come from we all have our own situations but if you put that energy into something positive you can change the world, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
While I could continue to list influential figures, whistle-blowers and inspiring leaders, the real heroes of our youthquake are the young people breaking away from the stereotypical labels attached to them of being lazy, uninterested and disengaged, as they step up, speak out and make ripples of positive change.
In EqualiTeach’s Second Thoughts workshops, we ask students what they can do to challenge negative stereotypes, and to make positive change happen. Quite often students start the session with a feeling of defeat “I don’t think we can do anything…” “People don’t listen to young people,” “We can’t really change things.” But after seeing some inspiring examples, like a student who created a school project to support refugees, or the young British Muslims’ open letter to newspaper editors, we see a shift in motivation, and positivity, and gather a wealth of brilliant ideas, with a real sense of hope.
So, for 2018, what do I want? I want more. I want to see more space given to young people from all walks of life to voice their opinions, concerns and ideas. I want leaders, organisations and movements to make room, and empower young people to have their voices heard. I want to hear from the next generation: for young people not to be spoken about, but to be the ones doing the talking. I want the microphone to be handed over to young people from the LGBTQ community, young Muslims, young Black people, young disabled people, young feminists and young people from all communities. All these voices are valid, and yet still so often go unheard.
Young people are the leaders, the movers and the shakers of the future. And they’re beginning to make that future now.
So, here’s to 2018; a year of change, of growth, of opportunity, of positivity, but most of all a year for young people.
What are EqualiTeach doing to empower young people to make positive change?
In September this year we ran our first Agents for Change event in Buckinghamshire. Across 3 days, students from 27 schools came together to learn about racism, homophobia and disability discrimination, and to action plan how to ensure their schools are safe and inclusive for everyone. We are looking forward to rolling this programme out to other areas in 2018.
In October this year we were awarded funding from the Hate Crime Communities project fund to run our Agents for Change: Islamophobia programme. This programme involves students from 8 schools in Tower Hamlets coming together, learning about Islamophobia, and working together to raise awareness, change their school policies and procedures and develop learning resources to ensure schools are equipped to tackle Islamophobia, educate their students and support victims effectively. Watch this space to see the results later this year!
If you’d like more information about our Agents for Change programmes, or any other work that we do with young people, please feel free to get in touch.