Building A Movement: Chrisann Jarrett
*By Chrisann Jarrett, Founder of Let Us Learn *
My name is Chrisann Jarrett and I am 24 years old. In 2014, at the age of 19, I founded Let Us Learn; an equal access to higher education campaign calling for the removal of government policy that prevented young migrants from accessing a student loan. This campaign was meant to be a short-term project but within four years the campaign has submitted evidence to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, influenced government policy, and lobbied over 16 universities to provide scholarships to young migrants. Most importantly, we have engaged and mobilised over 1,000 young leaders to speak out against social injustice.
My Migration Story
I was born in Jamaica and at the age of eight, I migrated to the UK to live with my mum. Since then, I have completed all my formal education in the UK. In primary school, it was relatively easy to make friends, my noticeable accent provided a conversation starter. I integrated quickly, this country was now my home, I belonged here. I excelled academically, and at the age of thirteen, I started to get involved in debating society; finding my voice and becoming more confident that when I grew up ‘I would be a lawyer!’. I worked hard and secured a place at London School of Economics (LSE) to study Law. That is when my migration story (a thing of the past) became important because, according to the government, I was still a migrant and not a citizen of the UK.
This differentiation meant that though I have been in this country for more than half my life, I was being treated differently to my peers. After securing my place at LSE and being one step closer to my dreams of becoming a lawyer, I couldn’t take up my place at university, as my immigration status meant that I was being charged international fees of £17,000 instead of the home student rate of £9,000. Coming from a single parent household there was no way to finance my degree and I had to take a forced gap year.
This was the first time in my life that I was held back from progressing, everything came to a standstill.
__Shared Purpose __
In my forced gap year, I thought I was the only one being prevented from going to university because of my status in the UK. Feeling ashamed, I kept it secret, I was silent. As the months passed by, I grew desperate, I wanted to go to university, so I took a leap of faith by writing to my local newspaper sharing my story in the hopes of getting help. Social justice became something personal to me, and following this publicity, I was able to convince LSE to offer me a full scholarship. This could have been the end, but I got the results I wanted, and I was going to university.
However, this leap of faith reaped more benefits than expected, it was the beginning of a national youth-led movement. This interaction with the media raised awareness of the issue that managed to silently affect so many ambitious young lives. After reading my story, others also developed the courage to speak out. We all shared a common migration story and we all were prevented from accessing student finance after being charged the international rate in a country we all call our home. I was one of 2,000 young migrants every year who couldn’t proceed onto higher education because of government policy that barred us from getting student loans, forcing us to pay international tuition fees. I was one of many, recognising that this issue was systemic, I started Let Us Learn to call for a change in government policy that could benefit us all.
After a year of strategically interacting with the media, raising awareness, and engaging hundreds of young migrants, our breakthrough came via the Supreme Court. In the day time, I would go to my lectures and study the law, and in the evenings, I would liaise with lawyers on how to change the law. Let Us Learn submitted evidence in an intervention to the Supreme Court, my witness statement was supplemented by the personal stories of twenty-eight young people showing the court the real-life impact of the law, which if not changed, would lead to our academic potential being left untapped, limiting our contribution to society.
__Building a Movement: 4 Key Tips __
We managed to influence a change in the law, the outcome was great, but the process needs to be recognised. I want to share some top tips on creating a successful movement:
1. Identify the problem and who has the power to change it: there are many problems in society and injustices are faced on a daily basis. The first step to building any social justice movement is to identify and understand the issue in which you are campaigning. By doing this you will be able to develop a power analysis of WHO is able to change this very issue which you have identified. You may find that it is a person, a group or even a government body who you need to influence, this will then dictate the methods you employ when campaigning.
2. Setting things into motion and raising awareness: it is crucial that you raise awareness. It is of no use being frustrated yet not speaking out. Before starting Let Us Learn, I spent months being angry about the situation I found myself in through no fault of my own. From my personal experience, silence allows the injustice to continue. If you are personally affected by the injustice you’re campaigning against, do not underestimate the power of your story, your personal experience when shared allows others to connect with you.
3. People: surround yourself with others who have the share the same vision as you. Self-interest is key in every social justice movement, the people joining the movement will benefit when the social change is achieved. This can be if they are personally affected by the injustice or indirectly affected. Shared purpose will unite you all, but this is not enough, you must also build relationships. This is essential as social change does not occur overnight, you will face difficult days, but it is the shared purpose and relationships that will keep you going. You can build relationships through group gatherings and 1-2-1 sessions; this is a way to get to know one another as peers.
4. Recognising that others should lead: the opportunity to lead must be presented to everyone, it must not be limited to the privileged few within the campaign. You must employ different mechanisms within the structure of your movement where members lead and shape the activities. This will fundamentally change the retention rate of activists, when people feel their opinion matters and their involvement is not tokenistic, then they are more likely to invest their time and energy.
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