Resistance, rebellion, revolution!

In today’s post, Sue Atkins shares the text of her inspiring talk at our recent Youth Work Week seminar on resistance:

I’ve been drifting in personal doldrums recently, it started to hold me as I approached my 83rd birthday  – everything around me in this Covid world told me I am old and vulnerable now and must do what I am told. Then the breeze of resistance whispered in, and in response I spat on my fingers held them high to catch every breath of it  ~ and remembered.

Resistance with her sister Rebellion have always been in my life. Being the youngest in a busy and full household, the words ‘Shan’t – Won’t – Make Me!’, even if I didn’t always dare say them, I’d think them. At an early age I was quite adept at working out strategies to make it so. Of course I grew out of it  – or maybe not  . . . . .

I recognised quite early on in my youth work, that Resistance too was a common trait in many young people, and that was core to my empathy with and support of a youth work practice that is NOT about the “Oughts and Shoulds” but starts with where young people are  – what we now call their lived experience and their reactions to that. At that point I also acknowledged that I had to be very clear in my head and in my responses to young people, that my battles, my struggles, had to be held apart, if I was going to respond to and respect theirs.

So I interact with listening, entering into a dialogue of maybe “that’s interesting  – can you say a bit more. . . ? and possibly / probably challenge to clarify, going through the ‘what, so what, now what?’  What happens next  – is this just a story you like to tell? Or, are you looking for Actions, Change, Finding Positives? Where are your paths forward?  What options do you have? Point out the doors, some open, some to be kicked down!

Resistance ~ Rebellion ~ Revolution the third sister ……… 

The culture of resistance in England feels to me, like it’s often been subsumed into a kind of  MayDay,Tolpuddle Glastonburyesque ritual, a People’s Disneyland when we gather together and ride the roundabouts of resistance, the rollercoaster of rebellion, sing the songs of revolution of solidarity,  and celebrate that spirit of Hope that  sighs out of our 21st century Pandora’s box; And then what?

The Big THEY knows too all about those three sisters  – Resistance, Rebellion Revolution, and the dangers they can herald; they have labelled them The Enemy Within; now defined & proscribed as Terrorism.  So actions like Resistance to Climate Change; to HS2, to Capitalism; to Imperialism and organisations  like Occupy Movement , Black Lives Matter, Hunt Saboteurs, Frack Off  – all those that are continuing in the British radical tradition of Protest  are seen and labelled in these increasingly authoritarian  days as Domestic terrorism  – and will be or are proscribed.

 Back to our Role as Youth Workers and our practice  – are we Radical? I remember back in those days in the 80s when we argued the toss before out the Youth Work Curriculum, we Social education was it about Social Action, Social Rescue, Social Control or Social Change?  A question that has never really gone away  – but is once again very relevant today.

My challenge to myself – is it time to climb down from that fence of whatever it was I’m sitting on, and stop calling myself a Youth Worker? I ask that question if to claim that role is to increasingly join the ranks of ‘you ought and you should’  – and ‘if you don’t I will have to report you?’  The ‘don’t let yourself down’ and worse ‘don’t let me down’ stuff! 

Time again to step up to the challenge of youth worker as educator in the mode of Friere who considered ‘education to be a political process. Schools become tools that are used by parents, business and the community to impose their values and beliefs’. and encourage a broader exploration of how  to challenge and change  the injustices and oppressions  young people  feel. To challenge them too and draw them out of the sometimes apathy that seeps  down upon them and steals them off to the virtual world of gaming and  avatars . One time Games were a way of rehearsing our futures, if that is so now  – then who is determining the rules of the games? 

I want us to reject being seen as being the eternal first aid post/field hospital patching up the casualties and parking them in the limbo of universal credit until ‘The Economy’ requires them once more to stoke its coals. Working with young people to prepare them for the sterner encounters with other agencies  – they eternal front office reception worker.  Isn’t it time we reclaimed collectivity, solidarity, resistance, rebellion, revolution and make THAT our curriculum for young people? 

SO back to those Doldrums; and feeling that first breeze stirring me when I was locked in by regret, fear, despair, inadequacy and a sense of my world falling in on me.  I almost allowed myself to drift off and sleep my way to oblivion. Now feeling a breeze stirring again in my sails, determined to catch every whisper of Shan’t Won’t Make Me ~ I hear again the Call of Resistance  – Rebellion  – Revolution. I have learnt that it’s when I stop responding to the calls of Resistance that I really DO start feeling very old – I believe, rather I KNOW I’m back on course together with good comrades and shipmates.

Post by Sue Atkins, 6th November 2020


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