Rebel with a cause - campaigning with integrity

Syria vigil Glasgow
Solidarity with refugees

I was asked by the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations to speak at their conference in Glasgow last week. This was a real privilege and an important milestone for me to share my journey of going through the asylum system and fighting for the rights of people seeking sanctuary in the UK.  

The theme for the conference was ‘Rebel with a Cause’ and I decided to focus on how we rebel with integrity.

But first of all, what do we mean by the word “rebel”? Well, put simply, a rebel is a person who wants to see a change. But change does not come around by rebelling just for the sake of it. It's easy to have a rant and raise an issue’s profile but that's unlikely in itself to lead to change or to build links, momentum and movement, key ingredients of successful campaigns.

Other questions to consider are, what makes a cause important? Is it one that's pragmatic, realistic and engaging? Is it about feeling good about ourselves or is it about other people? How do we make our cause attractive to supporters and funders? How do we choose our battles and where should we focus our energies?

During the recent accommodation crisis in Glasgow where the Home Office and their housing provider Serco wanted to evict over 300 people living in asylum accommodation, collaboration and solidarity played a key role in building a united front to oppose this horrendous policy. The goodwill of local people, the determination of the voluntary sector and activists along with public and private sector organisations all pulled together to end the proposed policy. What was important in this crisis was the collective focus on a common purpose. This led to the development of a third sector forum, free legal advice clinics for people affected and the establishment of Glasgow City Council’s asylum accommodation task force. Through this collaborative approach we put halt, at least temporarily, to any unlawful evictions.

We took part in these actions with integrity and the understanding that accommodation providers work under pressure, have targets and profits to meet. But what was important for us and the sense of common purpose that led to the movement, was keeping in mind the important human considerations of justice and human rights.

I believe it is possible to create positive change, and time and again over generations campaigners have succeeded in securing fundamental changes in the law, in social policy and in the practices that impact on the day-to-day lives of the people or causes we are here to serve.

At the conference we acknowledged that society needs rebels but only if they can work with others for a common purpose. If you are looking for a real change, it is not only enough to be a rebel – you need to be able to find the entry points, make compromises and not rely on time tested methods and approaches.

I'm proud to be a rebel but I only rebel when I see innocent people suffering, when I am defending human rights and when people are denied basic Scottish values of justice and fairness. What empowers me is my lived experience of going through the asylum system myself. 

Of course there will be challenges but the final questions to keep in mind are, how do we work together, how do we share those problems, and work together for a fair and just society? 

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