Youth Workers! Activists! Lets share, learn and collaborate!

Open Workshop at School of Ideas, Tuesday 21st February 2012, 2-4pm

Thinking about how your campaigns can develop sustained engagement of young people? Wondering how you can challenge the pressures on democratic emancipatory youth work? Surely there is a better way to invest in young people as powerful agents of change?

Youth Workers and Activists from all different backgrounds have so much to offer each other – from understanding of how change happens, educational methodologies and a shared vision of the future, to our fights against the neoliberal agenda and present rush to privatise everything!

Come together for an open space for enquiry and learning. Meet others engaged in similar work and questions. Explore how we can collaborate and work together in the future.

Please let Susanna know if you plan to come, or call 07415 687 108.

School of Ideas, Featherstone Road, Islington, London, EC1V 8RX

Organised with the In Defence of Youth Work campaign:


What does ‘radical’ mean?

The word ‘radical’ has a bad name. Young people who commit terrorist actions are said to have been ‘radicalised’. Some men in Germany were recently arrested for posting ‘radical’ videos online. The US fugitive George Wright, who was just arrested in Portugal, has been described as a seventies ‘radical.’ Malaysia just blocked 300 ‘radical’ websites.

We see things differently. Our name is a play on the chemistry term, but the word ‘radical’ originally comes from the Latin ‘radicalis’ which means coming from or belonging to the roots of something: still today, we might say ‘radically  different’ to mean fundamentally or completely different.

In politics, the word is used to describe a position that is fundamentally different – and usually unacceptable or extreme. Terrorists are often described as radicals.

But the word takes on a positive sense by those who set themselves against the established politics of a particular time and place, because they see it as corrupt, unrepresentative or immoral. Anti-Nazi resistance, anti-imperial  boycotts in India, civil rights struggles in the US, fighting for women’s right to vote – all of these were seen as highly radical actions in their day. In many ways, today’s world is radical compared to the world of one hundred years  ago. And, of course, many concepts which were once taken for granted — slavery and racism, for example — are now seen as radical and extreme.

There is no one fixed definition of what a ‘radical’ idea or person is. In the 1960s, those who fought for equality for African-Americans were called radicals. But now we see their struggle as mainstream, and call the white supremacists who opposed them radicals. While the word ‘radical’ today is often associated with violence, many of the organisations which use violence (like powerful states, armies and the police) are not considered radical.

Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British suffragette movement which fought for women’s right to vote, once reflected on the word ‘militant’, which is used in a similar way to the word ‘radical.’ She said: “It is about eight years  since the word militant was first used to describe what we were doing. It was not militant at all, except that it provoked militancy on the part of those who were opposed to it.”

For more thoughts on what ‘radical’ means:

Once more about the London Riots

In an essay for n+1 magazine, Musab Younis looks at the British government’s reaction to the riots, and asks whether uncoordinated acts of violence can be understood as political resistance

Youth-led political organising in the UK: lessons, challenges and prospects

This report draws upon the lessons from previous experiences of organising young people for social justice and democratic social change, reflecting upon their relevance for organising young people as active citizens today. The report was written by Dan Firth and colleagues at FreeRadicals.

Young people have the antidote to violent individualism

Young people have the antidote to violent individualism. If only politicians would listen, says Dan Firth.

Over the last seven years, I have been working with young people to empower them to have a voice about issues that affect them. Youth violence is never far from their minds. Primary school children have talked about feeling unsafe on their estates and feeling paranoid about groups of teenagers hanging around. And older teenagers have told me of seeing guns fired, of carrying knives for protection and of young people stitching up their own wounds to avoid police detection.

The truth is that the political establishment is lost on what do to about this.

When Boris Johnson came to Islington, in north London where I work, a young person asked him how to tackle the issue of knife crime. His reply was that he’d jolly well tell them not to carry a weapon. That’ll do it, Boris. Likewise,the government’s new “shock tactics” to deter offenders will not stem the flow of blood on our streets.

The problem is that politicians rarely seek people to listen and learn from young people about what they believe are the causes and potential solutions. If they did, they might find that the widening gap between rich and poor is not something that goes unnoticed by young people, particularly as super rich and increasingly poor live cheek by jowl – the haves and the have-nothings.

New Labour has not only deepened economic inequality but it has solidified a hyper-consumerism and rabid individualism first sanctioned by Thatcher. Young people have grown up in a society that fetishises consumer goods to an unprecedented level. Even more worryingly, it sells them a value system in which money, possessions, appearances and fame are king. And the reality of poverty and exclusion is raw next to the lavish lifestyles seducing them in the media and rubbed in their faces on their doorsteps.

It is within this context that violent individualism is born. Boys  and young men who feel vulnerable on the street – and who feel they need a “shank” in their pocket in case they run into someone from another “endz” – are boys who want some power, safety and respect.

These are not alien wants but for some young people, failed by the  education system and unable to get a credible job which would enable them to consume what they watch, a hyper-masculinity is born from powerlessness.

It is difficult to take anything positive from tragedy, yet young  people across the country are responding to the crisis. Appalled by the way in which politicians and the police are tackling the issue, and distressed by the continuing bloodshed among their peers, young people are leading campaigns to galvanise others to take action.

Demonstrations, vigils, community events and youth-led projects are  being set up by young people, particularly in areas where their  friends have been killed. Children and young people from poor communities are demonstrating their solidarity against violence and against the politicians who are failing to represent them. But, as long as the political response to the crisis is to view youth violence as only a criminal justice problem, the problem will not go away.

The author writes here in a personal capacity. This article first appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.