This chapter sets out the grassroots activism of a group of four young people aged 24–29 who were seeking asylum in the UK’s ‘hostile environment’. Moving away from normative definitions of political participation as the formal activities of citizens, the analysis draws upon second wave feminist and Classical Marxist understandings of collective action. The chapter argues that by ‘speaking bitterness’ and creating ‘language from below’ in order to craft a play to depict dramaturgically their lived realities, the young people formed collective action and did politics ‘differently’. They engaged in biographically meaningful, ‘personal-political’ and ‘political-personal’ activism that focused on the particular needs of their wider group. They also made ‘democracy anew’ by practising democracy informally and in alternative, co-equal, meaningful and purposeful ways, within a hostile environment that ‘others’ them and alienates them from political and social participation.
Alienated from formal political processes, and isolated by an increasingly populist and right-leaning democracy, the young activists aspired to form a collective to do politics ‘differently’.
Using methods of co-production embedded within the organisation, the young activists engaged in biographically meaningful, ‘personal-political’ and ‘political-personal’ collective action that resonated deeply with feminist and Classical Marxist politics, focusing on the particular needs of their wider group.
In making ‘democracy anew’, the young activists utilised many tools of collective action, and found voice and collectivism despite, and perhaps because of, the hostile environment. Their grassroots activism was practising democracy differently.
RAPAR applies our participatory action research methods to amplify the living experience of families seeking asylum in the UK who are in ‘contingency accommodation’, aka ‘hotels’, and claiming human rights abuses on these sites. From all over the world, these people are without status in the UK and are therefore without recourse to the public funds that are, theoretically, available to everyone living in the UK with status. Their complete legal dependence on the Home Office and its subcontractors to ‘look after’ them and deal with any complaints leads to the question: why would anyone choose to challenge any organisation about human rights violations when that same organisation exercises such profound control over their day to day living reality? The data comprises contemporaneously collected evidence from individual correspondence, questionnaires, semi-structured conversations and case studies with hotel residents. Our preliminary analysis demonstrates considerable failures of statutory bodies in implementing their statutory duties. No evidence of meaningful investigation by any implicated statutory authority, or their privatised sub-contractors, into the human rights violation allegations asserted by hotel residents has been produced. The Local Authorities and the NHS insist that the Home Office is responsible for hotel residents within their boundaries. In turn, the Home Office, including Greater Manchester Police and sub-contractors Serco and Migrant Help, have failed to address the allegations in any transparent way.
We call for immediate action that enables hotel residents to safely protect themselves and stimulates inclusive solution-making, with them, to end these human rights violations.