People and Planet: Empowering students to rightly facilitate the shift in power

People and Planet

“The more we understand what is happening in the world, the more frustrated we often become, for our knowledge leads to feelings of powerlessness. We feel that we are living in a world in which the citizen has become a mere spectator or a forced actor and that our personal experience is politically useless and our political will a minor illusion.”

Perhaps this quote by eminent sociologist C.Wright Mills sums up everything we might be feeling today. Mills who wrote the book, ‘The Power Elite’ analysed the ‘interconnected interests of the military, corporate and political leaders in manipulating the ordinary citizen’ for whom, being in power, even in a democracy is merely an illusion.

These hard realisations are being witnessed more strongly in the current times with the COVID pandemic exposing the stark inequalities in our society. The inequalities go much beyond just access to health care to bare the systematic and structural disparities in race, class, caste, gender, sexuality and their intersections⁠—brought about by years of colonial exploitation and fuelled by capitalism. As borders become tighter, resources become scarce and climate change becomes a more hard-hitting reality; its the most vulnerable that suffer the doings of the elite whose wealth and power is built off them. 

So where do we go from here? How do we bring about a bottom-up systemic change to make the world a better place for everyone? The answers for these are what our philosophers, academics, and journalists have been trying to navigate for a long time. A change in ideology is a priority and for that, we need to mobilise. In following with Dr B.R Ambedkar’s commandments, it’s time to ‘Educate, Agitate and Organise’ to truly bring about a shift in power.

Resonating this thought is ‘People and Planet’⁠—one of UK’s largest student organisation ‘campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment.’ Launched in 1969 as ‘Third World First’ by a group of students involved in OXFAM, the movement has created a significant impact: from ‘getting the G8 to pledge 100% access to HIV/AIDS treatment’ to ‘helping 1,200 Honduran workers get their jobs back following the world’s largest-ever garment boycott’ to ‘pressuring almost half of all UK universities to divest from fossil fuel companies’. Changing to its current name in 1998, People and Planet’s mission is to “build an empowered generation of change-makers who are equipped with life-long skills and motivation to be a force for change in achieving a more equitable and sustainable world.” 

Forming international coalitions that include members of affected communities, the movement trains, supports and mentors students to bring about a systemic change and ‘challenging the holders of power at the transnational level.’ Their latest programme, Power Shift 2020’  starting July 8 is a two-week training programme open to all young people who ‘want to shift power from big business and elites to people who believe that another world is possible.’

Poster for Power Shift

With an aim to re-group and strategise amidst the pandemic, the programme comprises of several digital workshops, events, chatrooms to call for action, create and facilitate campaigns and build a wide radical student network to fight and collectively struggle for ‘workers’, migrant and climate justice’. 

The programme is uniquely designed to comprise of four different threads each which caters to different levels with organising and campaigning. These are ‘Building or Rebuilding a Strong Group’; ‘Core Toolkit’; ‘Lobbying Stalemate’ and ‘Introduce More Strategy’ respectively. One may choose any thread of the four based on their experiences and needs. Each thread has events that are unique to it, alongside a set of common workshops. Some of these include ‘Mapping Injustices’, ‘Power and Privilege in Organising Spaces’ etc. The workshops will be delivered by individuals and panels, an expert in their respective fields. Each thread also has five socials to further facilitate friendships and collaborations.

Schedule for Power Shift

Apart from these two-week long programme, Power Shift 2020 also has other workshops on each of their ongoing campaigns: Sweatshop Free, Undoing Borders and Fossil Free which will be delivered on July 10, July 14 and July 17 respectively. These workshops are open to everyone and will be followed by ‘chats’ to further brainstorm and strategise topically on the campaigns. Both the workshops and the two-week programme are free of cost, but donations are encouraged. 

As the world emerges from the lock-down to repair crumbling economies, capitalist aspirations resulting in exploitations are imminent. Some workers have lost their jobs, while some return to work in risky conditions; borders have opened, but job markets remain precarious for migrants. As unions agitate for the safety of their workers, protests erupt against racial discrimination and the abolishment of police is demanded⁠—the right fights have begun to fully manifest that the shift in power is required now more than ever. Equipping students with the right kind of resources and networks to dismantle our toxic systems; the Power Shift 2020 programme is a giant leap forward. 

For more details on Power Shift 2020 threads and registration, click here.

For more information on the ‘People and Planet’ movement, click here.

Devyani Nighoskar is a 24-year-old SOAS Digital Ambassador from India. A former journalist, she is currently pursuing her MA in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. You may check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo