With 2020 heralding a new decade - one which the UN intends to be ‘a decade of action’ - we look back on what we achieved and learned in 2019 to create new year's resolutions to build stronger activism and unity, and deliver change for the most marginalised.
Never forget the power of standing against injustice, and standing together
The 100 Million campaign's belief in collective power, and that when we act together we can create transformational and sustainable change, led us to organise a global youth meeting in June 2019, in partnership with the All-Africa Students' Union. The meeting included regional student entities representing tens of millions of students, strong national students’ unions effectively challenging policy in their country, and powerful grassroots activists achieving change in their communities.
Despite participants coming from a wide variety of organisations and movements, with different focuses, mandates and contexts, they all agreed on the necessity and urgency of working together to defend the rights of their most exploited peers. These activists decided that on the 17th October 2019, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, they would begin mobilising locally to demand an answer from decision-makers across the world to the critical question ‘When Will Every Child Have Justice?’
The tactic chosen was the iconic protest rally, with bold banners and placards, and included marches to or from places of political power. Rallies for Every Child took place in over 20 countries, across five continents, all led by young people. In many places, the rallies brought together more privileged groups to stand with the children and young people most excluded from justice in their communities, united in a single voice demanding change.
The impact and results of these actions, both on decision-makers and for the activists who led and took part in the actions, reminded us of the power of more traditional forms of resistance.
- In Chad, Liberia, and Kenya Rallies for Every Child took place in refugee camps, schools, informal ‘slum’ settlements, and outside parliamentary buildings. After a set of formal demands were drawn up by young people with the support of lawyers, politicians in Kenya have already committed to discussing new laws for the most marginalised young people in Parliament. In Liberia, children from informal settlements followed up on their rally by marching to Parliament on 10 December, and handing in their petition for the right to education to decision-makers.
- 100 Million in India, supported by the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation India and Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), saw school and college students hold Rallies for Every Child, demanding the right to 12 years of quality education for every child in India. Tens of thousands of young people took part in the Rallies and marches across the country.
- In Pakistan one of the country’s biggest stars, Ali Zafar, participated in a Rally for Every Child in Lahore, organised by a 100 Million campaign youth activist in partnership with local authorities. Activists followed up on this by demonstrating in front of the government building on 10 December.
- The European Students' Union (ESU) and the Organising Bureau of School Student Unions (OBESSU) jointly hosted a Rally for Every Child in front of the European Parliament in Brussels.
- In Latin America, 100 Million in Brazil launched its 'When Will Every Child Have Justice' campaign with a full day of action, including a screening of The Price of Free with a live Q&A with Kailash Satyarthi.
- In the United States, the youth-led National Planning Group is focusing on ending child labour in the US tobacco industry - where at present the law allows this. The first Rally for Every Child was held at American University in Washington DC, and hundreds of young people from 22 states have started a letter-writing campaign to demand change from their government representatives.
- In New Zealand, the Speaker of the House of Representatives was joined by young people aged 14 to 24 from around the country and MPs from across the political spectrum for a youth roundtable, as part of the 100 Million campaign’s outreach work with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. Participants expressed their concern to decision-makers on climate change, justice, inequality, and poverty, and stated that they would like to see civics and democracy education taught in schools and activism encouraged in extra-curricular activities.
- In Germany, students demanded “When Will Every Child Have Justice?” during a march across Berlin, culminating in a rally outside the Bundestag. After a year of campaigning by youth activists from 100 Million Germany, targeting high-profile politicians including the Development Minister Gerhard Müller and Vice-President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth, a motion to end child labour in German supply chains was passed in parliament. This has since resulted in the passing of a new law, representing a huge win for 100 Million youth activists.
Technology and social media have made it easier than ever to mobilise against injustice, and these new tools are vital for a global movement to sustain connection across borders. The Rallies for Every Child and their impact reminded us that even as online campaigning methods evolve, they are still no match for the momentum, unity and impact a physical demonstration of demand can bring: read more about the examples in Kenya, Liberia and India to feel this for yourself.
Remember that knowledge is power, and young people hold the cards
As well as mobilising on the streets, many 100 Million activists across the world engaged with their decision-makers in different ways during 2019, urging them to act to ensure every child in every community is free, safe, and educated. Meetings took place nationally, for example in the UK, Sweden, India and Germany, and during international meetings, such as in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s General Assembly, or during the United Nations General Assembly.
What was evident in almost all of these interactions was the critical role of young activists in reminding their representatives of their power and responsibility to protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society. The most exploited and marginalised children and young people are unlikely, by their very definition, to be included in decision-making spaces and processes - leaving their views and needs unrepresented in lobbying or advocacy spaces. It’s down to all of us to change that.
We were also reminded that young people don’t just bring ‘energy’ to policy discussions, but invaluable knowledge, skills and experience. Our new report, Every Child, Every Community: youth activism to end child exclusion and marginalisation launched during UNGA with Kailash Satyarthi and representatives of powerful student and youth movements, is packed with evidence of this. As well as outlining our new Community Charter, developed with activists from across the world, it showcases many examples of how youth and community-led projects have been instrumental in protecting the rights and dignity of their most marginalised peers, despite the lack of political will and action taken by global and national leaders.
When overwhelmed by the scale of injustice, focus on those defending the light
If you watched the news at any point in the last few years, it could be easy to believe that there is little to be hopeful for. We continue to see a rise in extreme nationalism, political landscapes becoming even more dominated by fear, division and isolation, and increased climate chaos and violent conflict across the world. But in the face of it all, we’re reminded of the quote: "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping”.
Letting the bad news overshadow the positive stories of people power and change only hands power to those working against justice. It lets them shape the narrative into one that tells us that fighting for a better world is an impossible, unachievable task. They are wrong. In 2019 the 100 Million network rallied time and time again, day after day, working tirelessly to build a better world. Whether it was by starting letter writing campaigns in India, helping children understand their rights in Colombia, ensuring refugee children in Gaoui refugee site in Chad have access to public education or or supporting the rights of children and young people living in informal settlements in Liberia, young campaigners tackled the challenges they face in their countries head on and refused to accept that injustice is an inevitability.
To create systemic change we must invest in strengthening grassroots activism
We’re going to continue focusing on building grassroots, local power. From strengthening and expanding our network of community groups in schools, universities and villages across the world, to investing in and piloting a new activist training programme that ensures everyone in our movement is equipped with the skills and confidence needed to affect as much positive change as possible. Seeing the strength, solidarity and support that comes from connecting young activists living around the world, we will continue to provide opportunities to bring together young campaigners in any way we can to share experience, creativity and energy.
The next 10 years are going to see some of the greatest challenges of our lifetimes, and with those will come some of the greatest strides in the fight for human rights. Today, when just 26 people own as much wealth as the world's poorest 50%, it is unacceptable that there are still 258 million children out of school, 152 million children forced to work, and at least 1 billion children suffering different forms of violence. If 2020 is going to launch a decade of action, we know that young people will be leading this and the 100 Million campaign is ready to stand behind their fight for justice, and amplify and uplift it every step of the way.