Skills for the Job: How to get young people involved in campaigning

Young people should play an active part in campaigns but youth workers need to be aware of safeguarding issues, writes Aaron Porter.

What are the major challenges in getting young people involved in campaigning?

The major challenge is often convincing young people that they can make a difference and they can have a voice.

If they are under 18, and therefore unable to vote, they often presume their opinions are worthless to politicians. This can be difficult to overcome, but the debate over recent government policy has proven that young people are not apathetic. They care about issues and want to engage in positive ways.

On a more practical level, young people in compulsory full-time education can face serious consequences if they miss school to take part in protests. Thousands of college learners who wanted to attend the recent education maintenance allowance (EMA) protests risked losing their EMA payments if they missed lessons to attend. Young people also might not have the time or cash to contribute to campaigns, so fundraising and recruiting volunteers can be a challenge.

There are also the safeguarding issues that come with organising actions that involve those under 18. There is little you can do to stop someone joining a march, but you have to ensure you provide plenty of information, so their parents can make informed decisions about allowing them to attend.

Why is it important to involve young people?

Young people are quickly realising that they are being asked to bear the brunt of the government's austerity measures. The generations that preceded them took full advantage of cheap credit, a housing boom and unprecedented government spending, but the younger generation are left feeling the consequences. They'll have to fight harder to get an education, receive less state support and wait longer to own their own home.

For campaigning organisations such as the National Union of Students, it is vital that young people are directly engaged with our work and tell us their thoughts. Young people too have ideas that can invigorate campaigns and take them to the next level. The creative uses of social networking and video in our Fund Our Future campaigns have been amazing and the strategies of peaceful direct action coming from UK Uncut have really caught the imagination.

What advice should you give young people who want to attend a demonstration?

Demonstrations are an important democratic tool and can take on many forms such as marches and parades. However, demonstrations are often unpredictable, which is why it is better to plan for all possibilities. Make sure they are familiar with the logistics of a particular event, as well as the risk assessment and safeguarding procedures. Responsible organisers will make this information publicly available.

Demonstrations are provocative in nature and young people can get caught up in the excitement and occasionally a herd mentality might provoke them into doing something they would not normally do. Irresponsible actions only detract from the messages and lose the support of those we need to influence. Ensure that young people know the risks to taking part in direct action.

Should I try to deter young people from getting involved in demonstrations?

No. It is essential that young people are a big part of campaigns. While marches tend to have the biggest news impact on week days, it is worth considering weekend demonstrations as an alternative if lots of young people want to get involved. The TUC-led March for the Alternative demo is on 26 March and is an opportunity for young people to attend without missing school or college.

It is vital to provide young people with the chance to get involved. Petitions, letter writing or other creative ways of getting messages to politicians and the public are equally important. Even one letter to an MP can provoke a rethink from that MP or push them to ask a question in parliament which can start to change the direction of a campaign.

Aaron Porter is president of the NUS


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