Youth Activism Workshop: How to Engage, Mobilize & Lobby
AUTHOR: Erin Bird
FEATURING: Darren Lund, University of Calgary
When I walked into Darren Lund’s session, I expected to hear a professor who had all the answers. I expected someone who was going to outline, step by step, in logical fashion, the strategy and process he implemented in order to mobilize youth on campus towards social justice causes. What I got instead was a story.
It was the story of Darren as a young professor, just starting out, feeling a bit overwhelmed, having been given a challenging class of “problem kids” to teach in Red Deer. It felt like the opening scene to Lean on Me or Dangerous Minds.
But what was refreshing was Darren’s frank honesty in telling the story. He downplays his role in the students’ deciding to take on social justice causes. He had merely allowed them to talk about issues that were current events at the time, without judgement, and supported individual students when they brought forth ideas about how to handle these injustices. When students decided to form their own coalition to try and combat hatred and prejudice, he merely supports them rather than directs. And I think this is the secret he is trying to get across. It’s not up to teachers or adults to try to motivate youth to act in a certain direction, it is rather our duty to empower them to go in whatever direction is passionate for them and support them through it.
We talked a bit about different opinions. How a student who identifies as a neonazi skinhead is still a person who has parents and siblings and is loved. Having conversations with students who may exhibit extreme viewpoints can be done, if the true purpose of the conversation is to seek to understand, not shut them down, not impose a new viewpoint.
Darren also talked about his own personal motives for calling out hate speech being published in a local newspaper. The repercussions that taking a stand can have, especially in a small rural community where people may be afraid to speak up and instead will look the other way. The very serious threats he has had on his life because he would not back down from a position he felt was true to his values. We don’t often get that type of pushback in advocating for fair trade, but we have to ask ourselves, how far are we willing to take a stand to stay true to our values?