Call to arms

A new course begins next week to train the political activists of the future

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A course that aims to turn working-class young people into political activists is to take place in Manchester.

Demand the Impossible is a five-day workshop that gives 16 to 25 year olds from diverse backgrounds the chance to become politically engaged, while learning more about social movements and radical politics.

Founded by two former politics teachers, the free programme aims to encourage more working-class and ethnic minority representation in grassroots campaigns. Over the five days, they will take a critical look at society, its core structures and capitalism, and discuss ways things could be different. They will also hear from campaigners on local issues – including Manchester’s homelessness crisis. And they will plan and carry out a campaign.

Co-founder Ed Lewis said: “Demand the Impossible started as an experiment really, to see if young people could be engaged in politics in a different way.

“We wanted to promote the idea that change is possible and that they could play a role in bringing this about. Past participants have found it quite transformative and many have launched their own groups or become involved in active campaigns.”

Born of frustration

When they devised the first course in 2012, both Lewis and co-founder Jacob Mukherjee were teaching politics in working-class, multi-ethnic areas of London. Both were also involved in the anti-austerity movement.

The summer school was born of their frustration with the limitations of mainstream teaching, which left little space for discussions about how pupils’ lives were affected by politics or how they could have a voice.

Lewis now works for campaign group Global Justice Now and Mukherjee is researching a PhD.

Lewis said: “At the time, we were seeing in activist circles that although the kind of young people we were working with could benefit from the anti-cuts movement and the anti-tuition fees movement, they weren’t playing the same role that middle-class people were. These were the two motivations for launching the programme.”

Past courses have looked at the housing crisis and gentrification, and education and mental health and their links with capitalism.

A number of Demand the Impossible graduates have become involved in Global Justice Now’s new youth network. The course is currently funded by the Network for Social Change and the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.

Participants are selected using criteria that ensure the group is drawn from under-represented groups. Those who have spent time in care or whose parents have not attended university or worked in professional or technical jobs are among those encouraged to apply.

Former participant Benedict Lombe, 25, said skills developed on the course had given her a way to engage with people outside her immediate circle.

Brexit shock

She said: “The Brexit vote was a huge shock for me. I realised I was living in an echo chamber and shouldn’t be so disconnected from the rest of the country.

“Ed and Jacob didn’t do things in the traditional way. It was open and low key and felt very much like a support group.

“My identity as a young person, a black woman and second-generation immigrant all give me valuable perspectives and I should make my voice heard. Young people can be very apathetic because they feel they are constantly ignored – but people need to realise they can create the change they want to see.”

Louis Mendee, 23, took part in a Demand the Impossible evening course and is now a volunteer for Momentum, a movement supporting the Labour Party.

He said: “I’m a lot more confident now. I would never have thought I could have chaired meetings where people were more experienced than me but I have. And I’m even about to apply for a parliamentary assistant scheme, which, if I get it, would result in me working for nine months with an MP.”

Demand the Impossible takes place in Manchester on 24-28 July 28. Apply via 

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Interact: Responses to Call to arms

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    21 Jul 2017 05:52
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