This is Activism: Athian Akec on the importance of coalition among young people
Athian Akec may still be studying history at university, but that's not stopping him from speaking out about the changes he wants to see for the future of the UK. Here, he speaks to HUNGER about the importance of hope, and how a young person's insight into politics is essential for change.
“The impact of knife crime on individuals is undeniable, and while politicians wish to police their way out of the knife-crime epidemic, it is simply not possible,” said Athian Akec, speaking in the House of Commons in 2018 while Youth MP for Camden.
Now 20, Akec is still riding the waves of his shoulder-shaking speech that introduced him to UK politics as a force to be reckoned with. He says he’s got used to the weekly visits he has to make to London from Bristol, where he’s studying history at university. It’s roughly a four-hour round trip, which has got to add up when you’re juggling your degree with work in the capital that spans podcasts, community outreach projects, contributions to essay collections and more.
In his writing, Akec posits necessary stances on voting, pens insights into Black history and calls for social activity among young people. There isn’t much more right now that he could be doing alongside his studies.
“Last week I did a talk at City Hall,” he tells HUNGER. “Sadiq Khan was launching this Black culture initiative. The evening was about the future of Black creativity and thinking about not only how we can open doors for representation but also how we can make this art actually beneficial, materially, for the communities that are producing it.
“I also did an event at the Roundhouse in north London that weekend, for an exhibition called Assata’s Chant and Other Histories. It’s [an installation based on the] podcast series that speaks to people who knew [the exiled US political activist Assata Shakur] and traces the story of people who weren’t the most famous faces of the Black Power movement or Black Liberation [Army].”
It would be presumptuous to say that Akec is doing all of this just to become an MP and work for the government. In fact, he is biding his time in these early days of his career, garnering as much information and knowledge about a plethora of subjects, histories and issues as he can before he feels equipped enough to make positive change within the walls of parliament.
“One thing that Stormzy told me is that he really benefited from studying the people who have done what he was trying to do before him. When you look at progressive politics, people of- ten become politicians too young. There is an element that it’s really important to go into it when you’re young, but when you make a mistake or if you miscalculate something politically you are not going to have another chance. It’s about doing it at the right moment. I probably will become a politician relatively young, but I want to learn a bit more about how the world works and how you bring about change.”
Soaking up the world around him and learning as much as he can has given Akec crucial insight into which social mechanisms we need to nurture in order to implement positive change. One of the main ways we can do that is by looking at the past.
“The biggest thing that we’re always missing out on is notions of coalition. I think sometimes we can have an emphasis on how a singular group of people will transform things, but the way we have to think about it is that there are all these groups operating in society, so how do we all figure out where our areas of overlap are? It’s what Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old chairman of the Chicago Black Panthers, did. He was forming something called the Rainbow Coalition with other working-class communities – white, Latin American [when he died after being shot by police]. These other communities were saying together, ‘We exist in a society in which there’s racial prejudice. Your children need to eat, our children need to eat, let’s figure out how to create social programmes.’ I think young people will always be at the forefront of social change, but how do we have young people working in a coalition?”
Akec’s knowledge of the world is far-reaching, to say the least. His every sentence is tied with references to politicians past and present, as well as musicians including Kendrick Lamar and Alfa Mist, books, essays and pretty much any source of inspiration that he can pull from. He may not be, as he says, “the most hopeful about what the future may look like”, but for him, it’s all about “confronting that hopefulness with the best we have”.
Taken from HUNGER Issue 27: Call to Action. Available to buy here.