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Big Issue Changemakers 2021: Human rights and direct action

The power of protest was reawakened in 2020 – and these Changemakers were at the forefront
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The Black Lives Matter movement, spurred on by the death of George Floyd, reawakened the power of protest in 2020 – and these Changemakers have all stood up for human rights and against social injustice.

But the fight goes on, and in 2021 and beyond there are still many battles to be fought – and you can be sure that these people will still be on the frontline, acting selflessly on behalf of their fellow human beings and inspiring others with their activism.

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60. All Black Lives UK

Three young activists led the way in the fight for racial equality in 2020. Natasha Johnson, 21, Tyrek Morris, 21, and Aima, 18, founded All Black Lives UK, which campaigns to improve conditions for black people. Natasha and Aima organised the London protests over the killing of George Floyd in May.

All Black Lives UK protests every Sunday for justice for all British black people and have called on the government to end racial health disparities, racial discrimination in criminal justice and reform the education system.

61. We Belong

We Belong is an organisation that aims to end the hostile environment migrants face. Launched as a charitable organisation in September 2019, it has campaigned for shorter and more affordable routes to citizenship, and equal access to higher education.

Dami Makinde tells us more.


The Big Issue: What inspired We Belong?

Dami Makinde: It is the first UK-wide charity to be run entirely by and for young migrants. The spark for its creation came in 2013, when a change in legislation blocked many young migrants from receiving student loans, leaving our dreams of university and career ambitions in tatters. Discovering we are treated differently from our peers because we are migrants transformed us into campaigners.

Can you tell me a bit about the work We Belong did in 2020?

It was a turbulent and significant year. We have worked to build relationships with politicians from all parties so they can hear first-hand how punitive Home Office policies are damaging the lives of young people who have grown up in the UK. In October, we gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee and, in November, had a meeting with the immigration minister Kevin Foster MP.

We also launched our groundbreaking Mental Health Check report, where young migrants talk in heartbreaking detail about the damage done to their mental and physical wellbeing by the immigration system. We asked them this question: ‘If the Home Office were an animal, what would it be?’. Their answers were telling. Responses included a hyena (‘predatory creatures. You can’t trust them’); an alligator (‘it keeps dragging you back with its powerful jaws’); and a sloth (‘everything they do is incredibly slow’).

What needs to be done to ensure young migrants living in the UK feel safe and welcome, and how can the public support We Belong and its mission?

The immigration system and Home Office processes are in urgent need of reform. We are calling for a fairer and humane immigration system which allows young migrants like us to reach our full potential and contribute to the country we call home. We’re fighting to end the Home Office’s hostile environment and to remove the barriers that leave many migrants stigmatised and stopped from being fully accepted and integrated. People can support us by raising awareness and talking to friends, family  and neighbours, who may not realise the barriers that many migrants face.

62. Black Activists Rising Against Cuts

Black Activists Rising Against Cuts is a coalition of black public and voluntary sector workers, trade unionists, community organisations and service users with the shared goal of stopping cuts to frontline services in the public sector, which disproportionally affect African, Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic communities. In June, the campaign marked its 10th anniversary with the release of Is Britain Racist?, a film about the people impacted by the Windrush scandal and those fighting for justice.

63. Sisters Uncut

The group has played an important role in 2020 by campaigning for better services for people affected by domestic and sexual violence. When huge surges in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline were detected during the first lockdown, the feminist group laid out a list of demands. It urged councils and the government to ensure survivors had access to specialist support and safe housing.

64. Detention Action

The human rights organisation provides support for people held in immigration detention centres, and campaigns for reform. In 2020, the group urged airlines to halt deportation flights and also campaigns for the introduction of a 28-day time limit on the detention of migrants and community-based alternatives to detention.

65. Sophie Kabangu – BLM Colchester and Amnesty UK’s Rise Up Programme

Kabangu is a young activist who founded Black Lives Matter Colchester. The University of Essex student is also part of Amnesty UK’s Rise Up Programme, which brings together young human rights defenders. In 2020, she has been working on a campaign with human rights charity Amnesty International to support homeless people in Colchester.

66. Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants

The queer activist group has been a vital part of the campaign urging airlines to stop facilitating deportations. The campaigners called for the December 2 charter flight to Jamaica to be cancelled.

The Home Office deported 13 Jamaican nationals, despite 60 MPs and peers signing a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel urging the flight to be cancelled. Thirty-seven people who were due to be removed from the UK were granted a reprieve, as the ministry acknowledged that they may have been victims of modern slavery.

Lesbians and gays migrants

67. Christina Adane – Bite Back 2030 and Tribe Named Athari

The 17-year-old activist achieved a lot in 2020. She is the youth board co-chair of Bite Back 2030, a campaign fighting injustice in the food industry and providing all young people with the opportunity to eat healthily.

Christina started the UK petition for free school meals over the summer holidays, which was supported by footballer Marcus Rashford and she is also a member of Tribe Named Athari, a London-based youth-led movement calling for black liberation and racial justice.

68. Seyi Akiwowo – Glitch

When lockdown forced the entire country to stay at home, our lives moved online. But spending more time on the internet has meant an increased risk of being abused online. Glitch is a not-for-profit organisation founded by Seyi Akiwowo with the goal of ending online abuse through workshops and advocacy, with a particular focus on the experiences of black and minority ethnic women and non-binary people.

In 2020, Glitch offered training to Black Lives Matter activists to protect them from online abuse and campaigned for social media sites to introduce content warnings on photographs and videos of police brutality.