On Saturday 22nd March, Unite the Youth held their launch event, called Uprise. Uprise gave young people a platform to voice their opinions on the issues affecting them, and aimed to empower and inspire people to make a change. Over 120 people attended the event in London, which involved speakers, workshops, performances and discussions.
An opening speech was given by a member of Unite the Youth, which acted as a starting point for the first discussion of the day. In groups, people talked about the issues they felt most strongly about. Education was one of the most frequently mentioned topics – specifically the rise in tuition fees. Another contentious topic was the media’s representation of young people, which people feel is inaccurate, prejudiced and based on negative assumptions which only apply to a minority of young people. As such misconceptions are so ingrained in society, many felt they are unfairly treated based purely on the fact that they are a young person.
Two statements, chosen to spark debate, were then projected on the screen. The first statement questioned whether education really is about freedom and opportunity; or if it is restrictive and divisive. Majority of attendees agreed with the latter, who felt their experiences in school placed too much emphasis on competition and achieving the highest grades. “If you don’t get high grades, you’re considered a failure. If you can’t get into university, then you’re considered a failure,” said one person, whose comments were met with applause. The second statement (‘Instead of burning down Footlocker, today’s young people need to burn down Parliament’) was more divisive. Those who agreed with the statement did so because they felt disillusioned with the government; institutional racism and a lack of representation of minorities within parliament were cited as reasons for this. However, one group was adamant that such a radical method in the name of political change would do little to give young people a voice and would only reinforce the negative media portrayal of the youth. They argued that dialogue and peaceful protest would be the most realistic way to achieve change.
Later on in the day, three separate workshops were held – about gender and feminism; mental health; and policing. The workshops enabled people to explore an issue in a smaller and more interactive session than the previous whole-group discussions. The mental health workshop was led by activists from Young Minds, a charity which supports young people with mental health problems. The workshop began with an activity which involved defining mental health and exploring the reasons why young people in particular develop mental health issues. The activists also shared their own experiences of mental health and why they decided to become activists. It was clear that many participants felt the stigma attached to mental health not only made it more difficult for young people with mental health issues to seek help, but also hindered their own understanding of mental health. A member of Unite the Youth felt that talking about mental health is arguably the best way to reduce the stigma of mental health. “But that’s difficult to do because some people find it really hard to talk about their experiences. It’s great that workshops like these give people an opportunity to learn about mental health. It’s one thing reading about it in a book, but another thing to hear about a person’s own experience.”
After the workshops, there were two dance performances, followed by what was arguably the most important part of the day: discussing and planning ideas for political action. One group suggested campaigning against youth unemployment by protesting outside the flagship stores of several large retail companies which use zero-hour contracts. More unconventional ways of taking action were also suggested. One group, whose priority issue was education, was keen on forming a new student union where pupils are able to express their views on the current education system. They even proposed the creation of a new system which focuses more on developing student well-being and an inclusive learning environment – rather than a school system which emphasises achieving high grades for the purpose of a higher ranking on league tables or punishing pupils who do not follow rules.
Uprise finished with a performance by hip hop artist Akala, who rapped and then gave a talk. This was followed by a Q&A session, in which Akala expanded on some of the political influences behind his songs. The audience were particularly keen on hearing about Akala’s opinion on social class inequality, a prominent theme in his music and heavily debated issue during the day.
At the end of Uprise, some participants led the way to Angel Station. For some, this was their first taste of political action, with chanting and waving banners and posters. Uprise ended with a group of young people united, inspired, and taking a stand against the issues in society which matter to them; and that’s exactly what Unite the Youth wants to do.
Unite the Youth would like to thank everyone who attended and took part in the event, including speakers, workshop leaders, photographers, facilitators, organisers and performers.
Photos by Daniaal Khalid, at Dan K Photography.