The Advocacy Academy – How a new scheme is training young activists

Founder of The Advocacy Academy, Amelia Viney and recent graduate Amal Warsame on the importance of training the next generation of activists

At the General Election, support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party shocked politicians and pundits alike. So what happened? In a series of interviews, we speak to the campaigners, mobilisers, concert organisers, educators and pundits changing the political landscape and energising a new generation of the left in Britain…

Founded by Amelia Viney on 20 February, 2014 – the United Nations World Day of Social Justice – The Advocacy Academy brings together the worlds of activism and youth leadership.

A training scheme for young activists, its eight-month scholarships are designed to prepare graduates for life on the frontline of introducing social change.

Young people were one of the key players in the recent general election. Here’s how some of them are learning the ropes and preparing to take over leadership. Some might say it can’t happen soon enough…

AMELIA VINEY
The founder and director of The Advocacy Academy explains how it works.

Why did you set up The Advocacy Academy?
I was an activist as a kid, very passionate about justice, I wanted social change. That came from my parents, very little from school. I worked as a lobbyist in Washington, and then was a researcher in Westminster. While I was working there, a stark revelation dawned on me.

Kids from my area in Stockwell would get on the 159 bus every morning, funny, loud, brilliant, so dynamic, very angry and aware – but they would get off before we got to the river and I would take the ghost bus to Parliament.

The lobbyists, spads, civil servants and MPs were a much narrower demographic but claimed to speak for the kids on bus. If they could speak for them, we wouldn’t have these levels of inequality and injustice. We would have done this shit by now.

My aim is that every citizen has power to make world more fair, just and equal, no matter what their background

So what did you do?
My aim is that every citizen has power to make world more fair, just and equal, no matter what their background. The Academy grew out of that. I thought, fuck it, I have all these contacts. I’m going to leverage all of them and get the kids in the room with power so eventually they can put them out of a job.

So are you training the next generation of politicians?
I look at it social change holistically – that is one of the lessons borne out of research. When you talk party politics, kids don’t give a shit.

So we teach eight-month scholarships, with four residentials that are really intense. We give them the whole social justice band: the establishment politics – lobbying, campaigning and how to become a councillor or a councillor. Then the radical stuff – grassroots organising and activism. They learn the theory and practice of all if it.

So you can come out of the academy and be a politician or you can work for Save The Children. You can join Black Lives Matter or you can occupy a building. The aim is you know the tactics available to you and the strategies available to you so you can use them and win.

Flyer for this year's Advocacy Academy scheme
Flyer for this year's Advocacy Academy scheme

Yet Jeremy Corbyn seemed to break through the party politics to something deeper…
We did an exercise on this at a school called Chestnut Grove in Wandsworth this week. We asked 75 kids their opinions on Corbyn vs May and also on Grenfell Tower and whose fault it was. It was fascinating.

Some kids had opinions and said they liked Corbyn because he seems to be a decent human with integrity. But they had about five minutes worth of chat on Corbyn and about 50 minutes on the injustices of Grenfell Tower. Kids care about social policy and justice.

So as much as kids like Corbyn and that he has values and stood for real things like stopping tuition fees, it is proven by how they talk about the tragedy in West London and more that they care much more about the impact on people.

Some kids said they liked Corbyn because he seems to be a decent human with integrity

So how did Corbyn cut through?
Corbyn is the best of that generation, like Bernie Sanders. In the venn diagram of the people the kids I work with would pick, he is the only person who overlaps into the person they would choose – actually, they would pick someone younger, someone of colour, somebody more like then – they are not on offer.

This is the first time someone came into their orbit and they see that maybe he has some of the stuff that they would choose. That is it. He understood you can get kids through the grime scene – and if you can win them over it gives you credibility. So it is about the person but I think it is more about the policies – kids like equality and justice and fairness. At 17, you vote for someone to sell you vision of a better world.

Amal Warsame - Advocacy Academy graduate
amal-warsame

AMAL WARSAME
A recent Advocacy Academy graduate reveals what she learnt on the groundbreaking training scheme

“From a young age, I was politically engaged, and the Advocacy Academy was an opportunity to get to grips with it all. Because I’m from London, a multicultural city, a lot of us are in our own bubble. I wanted to learn about things affecting people who are not same as me and understand their struggle. We’ve done intense sessions on issues around sexuality, gender, racism, homelessness, which have opened my eyes to what is happening around me.

“I’m a Muslim, and I turned 18 two weeks ago – so 9/11 happened when I was very young. My whole life I have felt my people tarnished in the news and on the television. That angers me because I know that is not what my religion is about. The Advocacy Academy helped me express that in a meaningful and purposeful way.

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.

“We each did a campaign. Mine was about the media and how they speak about Muslims. At first when the video went live, it got a couple of thousand views but didn’t reach the big people. But I met with Stop Funding Hate and when they were on board with campaign, it got lots more and even reached Tony Gallagher, Editor-in-Chief of The Sun.

“I met him a couple of months ago.

“We spoke about how his headlines had been very misleading. I gave him examples and we were being real and honest about how we feel and how he has power to change it. We spoke about how non-Muslim people aren’t called terrorists when they commit terrible acts, but are labelled lone wolves with a mental illness. We are asking for everyone to be judged same way, terrorism has no creed or colour or religion.

There wasn’t anything positive for young people in the Tory manifesto. It was pensions and Brexit

“I missed being able to vote by four days. I was gutted. But I got all my friends to vote. There wasn’t anything positive for young people in the Tory manifesto. It was pensions and Brexit. Labour understand young people. They talked housing, tuition fees, young people’s issues.

“In last 30 years, Jeremy Corbyn has been very open and honest and raw on everything he feels. People need to see a vulnerable leader who can connect on a personal level – he is still human even though he is a leader.

“In the future I would love to carry on with activism and campaigning. But being a politician? I’m not sure I would like that.”

Find out more about The Activism Academy and apply to join this year’s scheme here