By Cassius Smith-Frazer
CLICK HERE to donate to The RYSE’s Winter Fundraiser and help them grow.
On a chilly evening about a month ago, I sat down at my desk and prepared to hop on a zoom call. A wee bit excited and more than a tad curious, I was about to take part in a workshop delivered by some folks who’ve been on Amplify’s radar for a while now. Over the next hour and a bit the wonderful trio of Meg, Martha and Robin (later joined by comrade Nils) took us on a tour through their first year working together as The Radical Space for Youth Educations, aka The RYSE.
A Space to Grow People and Communities
The founding members of The RYSE hail from former roles in Extinction Rebellion’s Youth Wing. But as a gaggle of feisty anti-racists, anti-capitalists and anti-imperialists, The RYSE embody a decisive break from XR’s model of big-tent liberal reformism. During their workshop, they articulated their vision in terms of radical popular education, drawing on the lineage of grassroots leftist institutions like the Highlander Research and Education Centre (formerly Highlander Folk School). We hear names like that of Pedagogy of the Oppressed author Paulo Freire, and at one point a Zapatista doll comes on camera.
Furthermore, this project isn’t about a single issue mission. Rather, the team are in the institution building game. They want to create a space to nurture an interlinked ecology of radical, organised movements in the UK and beyond that lasts over the long term. And they quite literally want to create, or rather acquire, a physical space. They currently operate out of community projects such as the Trinity Rooms. But a big ticket item on their winter crowdfunder is about getting a spot they can call their own to grow people and communities.
The State of Organising
Let’s not beat about the bush, things are crap at the moment and look set to get worse. Thanks to historian Adam Tooze, ‘polycrisis’ has become a popular term for this multi-dimensional collapse of just about everything. (I personally prefer either ‘omnishambles’ or ‘inevitable result of the inherent contradictions of capitalism’ but I’m a weird nerd.) Any way you cut it up, unless someone does something we’re entering a phase of history that could make Ragnarok look like a quiet night in watching Netflix.
Thankfully, the past decade has seen political struggle and organised movements come screeching back into centre stage. Outside of Amplify, I’ve spent the past four years active in a range of political organisations from the labour to the climate movement, Palestinian solidarity campaigning and tenants unions. There’s a lot of hope here; it’s been massively inspiring.
However, I can tell you from experience that the folks involved, particularly the young, are tired, burnt out, lacking capacity and therein often struggling to organise effectively. To live in interesting times often means feeling like Bilbo Baggins, “…thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” They need organisations and communities to support, nurture, network and inspire them.
The past 40 years we have been subjected to a political project, called neoliberalism. It was a counter-revolution against institutions and communities which offered resistance and represented a threat to unfettered capitalism. It consisted in attacks on the public realm through expansion of privatised property relations, intensification of work and destruction of welfare. Amongst other things this has robbed us of the most precious resources for resistance, i.e. space and time outside of capitalism’s diktat. The success of these efforts has stymied the vital intergenerational work of transmitting radical political practice and knowledge.
Based in Place
Given this context, the legends at The RYSE are building something important. Their workshops for youth organisers have been providing sorely needed nourishment for young people in the UK’s ecology of political organisations. They’re also rooting their work firmly in the communities and locality of Stroud.
They host monthly community dinners, and you’ll see them at local protests. I was really impressed by the strong stance they took against the locally distributed antisemitic and climate denying ‘The Light’ newspaper in their Spring Zine. The Light’s local presence is an issue on which Amplify led the initial push-back in collaboration with the folks at Community Solidarity Stroud District.
A coalition of place-based community organisations will be needed to combat the turbo-charging of local inequality and gentrification. Around this time last year, we published a piece by journalist Andrew Fraser on his experience of homelessness and finding community in Stroud. In his piece Andy warned that he saw the very same gentrification processes that forced him onto the streets kicking off in our town.
Questions of our access to spaces for shelter, leisure, and community are becoming ever more urgent to communities in Stroud. Figuring out a way to answer these questions and preserve culture and character of Stroud in the interests of it’s locals will require radical community making. And conversely, for any project of radical community making to succeed it’ll be necessary to tackle these problems head on. I didn’t discuss this with the folks at The RYSE, but it’d be a point I’d bring up in persuading local residents to back them and get involved.
What the RYSE are building represents something of deep value to the people who are doing something. It’s a metaphorical, and hopefully soon a literal, house where youth activists and community can come together to stoke the flames of revolutionary fire. In less flowery terms, it’s precisely the kind of institution needed to sustain and network those who are dedicating themselves to fighting the many-headed hydra of our present omnishambles. For Stroud, it represents a new anchor for community building.
The RYSE are currently running a crowd funder to help launch them into their second year. They want to run more workshops, get their own spot, expand their team and increase their media output (check out their gorgeous Zines). These are tough times, with a cost of living crisis hitting hard during a freezing winter. Everyone’s got a bit less to go around. If you can spare some I would highly encourage you to donate (here) to The RYSE and spread the word.