‘It’s all very well encouraging young people to stand up and campaign for what they believe in and change what they don’t like about their community. Of course we’d all like to see more of it. But unless you also give them the knowledge, confidence and experience about how to set about this potentially intimidating task then you may be setting them up to fail. Act by Right complements The NYA and Local Government Association publication Hear by Right, standards for the active involvement of children and young people, which seeks to embed good participation practice in local democratic organisations. Act by Right takes this story one stage further, helping to equip young people with the skills to work with those far-sighted organisations who wish to involve them. It recognises that children and young people need the chance to develop the knowledge and skills to work together to get things done and make the changes they need where they live. Act by Right will provide these skills in a safe and supported environment, ensuring that when the young people are ready to “go live” and take action in their communities they have the tools to make their intervention a successful one.’
To make changes you need experience and education. You need to be knowledgable and in a position of power. To make a real change you need to be part of the government, to have worked for years, to become one of those select few who hold the power. Ask anyone, and they’ll probably tell you this is true.
I have one piece of advice for all young people – and those working with us – which I’ve learnt through the last few years as I have got more and more involved with youth organisations, campaigns and protest groups. That piece of advice is: everyone is wrong. When adults dismiss young campaigners as naïve or ignorant, they are wrong. When you are taught that you will only be able to make a difference with a degree and a high-powered job, it is wrong. When the media focus on politicians and present us as ‘yobs’ and ‘louts’, journalists and editors know that what they say is wrong.
Young people are, in reality, often the best at ‘making change happen’. We are good at it because we think of ideal solutions and fit them to reality – rather than thinking first of budgets and paperwork. We are good because our power and status don’t rely on everything remaining as it is. We are good because we can create local, grassroots changes that will make a difference to our lives in a way that new Government initiatives often fail to.
The first change I hoped to make was in 2003. Like many other young people, I protested against the possibility of war in Iraq. The thousands of young people who marched, walked out, sat in and got their voices heard were seen by many as blindly following their parents or popular opinion. We were described as truants who demonstrated purely to take a day off school and as ignorant idealists who could not understand the real situation. As they predicted, we failed – the war went ahead. Nothing changed. Or did it? The world watched the conflict in Iraq far more closely than we watched any other war in the last decade. Our Government was deeply challenged and the effects of the war have been seen in election results around the country. Young people have set up peace networks, joined human rights movements, become more interested in politics, fundraised for aid and moved on to try and make new changes. The point is that young people can make changes in many different ways, large and small, local and international. We might not achieve everything we hope to achieve – and many people will continue to tell us that we’re failing even after we’ve succeeded, but we will always be able to make a difference.
To make changes you need enthusiasm and excitement. You need to be interested in the world around you and to want to make an impact on it. To make a real change you need support from others, to think carefully about problems and have the confidence to build creative solutions, to become involved in society and try to get your voice heard. Does this sound more like you? Just remember, when it comes to creating change, you can be anyone, anywhere, and you can make a difference.