Youth Work, Social Justice and Political Activism – The Missing Relationship?

On Saturday I was returning from a stimulating Open Youth Work conference in freezing Lithuania. Underpinning the debate there about the relationship between youth work theory and practice, between academics and workers, was the assumption that youth work cares deeply about social justice. During a wait at Frankfurt a conversation with a fellow-travelling youth worker, Luke, confirmed my sense that an essential dimension was missing from the conference agenda, namely that to talk of social justice is to talk of struggle, is to talk of collective action. In this sense both the theory and practice of youth work needs to be rooted in the living struggles against injustice, against oppression and exploitation.

On Saturday, as I returned, over two million women [and men] marched against a revitalised Right populist and authoritarian politics, symbolised by Trumpism. The politics of this protest is inevitably diverse, even confused. How could it be otherwise – the radical visions of the past largely trodden underfoot over the past four decades. Yet at the heart of the upsurge is the fluttering beat of resistance, of struggle –  see below the transcript of the speech delivered by Angela Davis. All of which leaves me wondering, how many youth workers, how many young people, indeed how many youth workers, together with young people, were to be found in the throng of humanity out on the streets of the globe this past weekend – Building Bridges not Walls?


Ta to Irish



Snuff Mill bridge, Glasgow



Long-standing political activist and academic,  Angela Davis spoke at the Women’s March on Washington. The author of the classic 1983 text,  ‘Women, Race, and Class’, she made an impassioned call for resistance, urging the audience to become more militant in their demands for social justice over the next four years of Trump’s presidency.


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“At a challenging moment in our history, let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, transpeople, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism, heteropatriarchy from rising again.

We recognize that we are collective agents of history and that history cannot be deleted like web pages. We know that we gather this afternoon on indigenous land and we follow the lead of the first peoples who despite massive genocidal violence have never relinquished the struggle for land, water, culture, their people. We especially salute today the Standing Rock Sioux.

The freedom struggles of black people that have shaped the very nature of this country’s history cannot be deleted with the sweep of a hand. We cannot be made to forget that black lives do matter. This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement. Spreading xenophobia, hurling accusations of murder and rape and building walls will not erase history.

No human being is illegal.

The struggle to save the planet, to stop climate change, to guarantee the accessibility of water from the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, to Flint, Michigan, to the West Bank and Gaza. The struggle to save our flora and fauna, to save the air—this is ground zero of the struggle for social justice.

This is a women’s march and this women’s march represents the promise of feminism as against the pernicious powers of state violence. And inclusive and intersectional feminism that calls upon all of us to join the resistance to racism, to Islamophobia, to anti-Semitism, to misogyny, to capitalist exploitation.

Yes, we salute the fight for 15. We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance. Resistance to the billionaire mortgage profiteers and gentrifiers. Resistance to the health care privateers. Resistance to the attacks on Muslims and on immigrants. Resistance to attacks on disabled people. Resistance to state violence perpetrated by the police and through the prison industrial complex. Resistance to institutional and intimate gender violence, especially against trans women of color.

Women’s rights are human rights all over the planet and that is why we say freedom and justice for Palestine. We celebrate the impending release of Chelsea Manning. And Oscar López Rivera. But we also say free Leonard Peltier. Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Free Assata Shakur.

Over the next months and years, we will be called upon to intensify our demands for social justice to become more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations. Those who still defend the supremacy of white male hetero-patriarchy had better watch out.

The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance: Resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music.

This is just the beginning and in the words of the inimitable Ella Baker, ‘We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.’ Thank you.”



Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire


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