As part of Runnymede and CLASS think tank's #ReclaimTheAgenda campaign, 20 year-old Lisa Eigbadon, from RECLAIM, a leadership organisation supporting working class young people in Manchester, shares her thoughts on how to practically unite communities.
When you don’t grow up with much you cling on to the small things you’ve got, especially when they give you a bit of pride and respect. For many young people in my community in Manchester, that’s their postcode.
If you grew up someplace else you might not understand this, but your postcode can be the thing that unites a neighbourhood and gives people identity. It can be powerful and some young people cling on to it so tightly they’re prepared to defend their area from anyone who happens to stray into it.
If you’ve not felt it you might think that sounds insane but for me it perfectly sums up just how easily working people are divided, and crucially how we stop it.
Growing up I didn’t think of myself as working class. I had a vague sense, but I hadn’t really met anyone middle or upper class and so it wasn’t an identity I felt. I did, though, feel my postcode and neighbourhood identity. I think a big difference between young people who take that neighbourhood identity too far and those who don’t are youth projects.
I was lucky enough to get involved in things like RECLAIM and realise I have loads in common with people in Longsight, Levenshulme and much further away. And one of the important things that's not discussed about austerity is that it’s robbed us of many of these projects and community spaces that help us meet new people and see what issues we share.
Working class people are easily divided because we’re often too busy protecting the small things we’ve got and don’t get the chance to look up and see what unites our communities.
Shared Spaces, Shared Politics and Shared Identity
To challenge this I believe we’ve got to focus on creating three things: shared spaces, shared politics and shared identity.
1. Shared spaces: we need to create more spaces for working class people to meet, share experiences and build understanding. In Greater Manchester that needs to focus on housing because too often – whether by policy, the market or people’s prejudices - we are sorted in to neighbourhoods divided by race or class.
We also urgently need to invest in community spaces and youth services that bring people together. For young people I’d love to see more activities like the ones I’ve got involved in – a local music group and RECLAIM’s leadership programme - where the focus is on us finding our voice and coming together to make change happen locally.
2. Shared politics: uniting our communities nationally will only happen if we have more political leaders who properly understand what’s going on. We need more working class, young and racially diverse people drawn into politics and the progress on this is far too slow. Even when working class people do make it some of them are hidden because they’ve had to change how they look, speak or talk about their background to get on.
To change this I think all political parties should commit to collecting and publishing data on the race, class and age (among other things) of all their election candidates and staff. We also desperately need to give young people the political education in school we are crying out for. It’s ridiculous that you can leave education without a sense of how the country actually works and is run. Me and four other young people have just launched a campaign to change politics: #IfWeDidThis, please get involved if you can.
3. Shared identity: I think postcode fights show that people want a sense of identity and source of respect. We just need to channel that into something positive. To unite working class communities we’ve got to build that sense of shared identity that drowns out those trying to divide us.
A Diverse Working Class can make Serious Change Happen
I’m proudly from Gorton but I’m also proudly female, black and working class. I got the chance to explore how these identities can sit together and be a source of power to make change because of the space and support RECLAIM gave me. We need to find ways to give more young people that same chance to come together and be heard.
Tackling class and race inequality must go hand in hand and we’ve got to stop working people being too easily divided. It will be tough but I’m optimistic we can build a diverse working class movement and if we do will make some serious change happen.
Pic caption: RECLAIM members, including Lisa (white trainers), meet Speaker of the House, John Bercow in October 2019, as part of the #IfWeDidThis campaign
Pic Credit: RECLAIM