This year, we spotlight the inspiring individuals and activist groups who have been on the frontlines of the fight for a better future.
This year, we spotlight the inspiring individuals and activist groups who have been on the frontlines of the fight for a better future.
Unprecedented, seismic, historic – these are the words that have become embedded in our everyday lexicon. This year, we’ve faced a deadly pandemic, watched wildfires ravage Australia, witnessed one of America’s most divisive presidential elections, all while Black Lives Matter protests have irrevocably altered race relations across the world.
It’s been a year of immense loss. Countless memories evaporated into thin air, families separated, a rapidly climbing death toll. But amid the strife, movements around the globe have risen up and served as an urgent reminder that a better future is possible.
As we approach the end of a year defined by grassroots action, we are proud to present to you the Huck List: a round-up of the 20 activist groups and individuals building a better future in 2020. Across the UK, these people have been at the forefront of the battle for social justice, marching in the streets, rallying their communities and stepping in to help those in need when the government has failed to. They have provided hope in a year plagued by darkness.
Whatever the fight, these are the people that have been demanding change, innovating, inspiring, and fighting for the world we all deserve to live in.
In May this year, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis city police sparked global protests. Building on the Black Lives Matter movement of previous years, which grew in reaction to other horrendous killings of Black citizens across the world, the UK saw weeks of demonstrations with hundreds of thousands pouring out onto the streets.
In London alone, a whole raft of groups – including All Black Lives, Tribe Named Athari and Black Lives Matter UK – jumped into action, organising weeks of sustained resistance, shining a light on the despicable record of our own police forces and their treatment of Black people in this country. The felling of statues prompted a nationwide debate around the UK’s colonial history, while the government set up yet another inquiry into racism, led by controversial adviser Munira Mirza. The fight for racial justice continues.
25-year-old Melz Owusu is the founder of Free Black University – a radical learning hub that aims to decolonise education, centring Black students and their experiences. As an academic themselves – studying at Leeds University and now completing their PhD at Cambridge – Owusu recognises that Uni can be a site of trauma for many Black students, which is why Free Black Uni is focused on bringing wellbeing and healing to the fore.
Since launching a Go Fund Me page in June, Owusu has raised an impressive £140,000 for the project. On plans for 2021, they say: “I will be focussing on capacity building for the Free Black University to ensure we as an organisation are funded and equipped to deliver all of the life-transforming education we intend to.”
Sex workers across the world have been devastated by coronavirus. Virtually overnight, they’ve seen their incomes decimated, many losing entire client bases. A pivot to online work isn’t always an option for sex workers without private space, or a phone or laptop.
For sex worker-led organisation SWARM (Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement), it has raised new challenges in adapting as individuals and supporting their community where the government has failed to. To combat these urgent threats, earlier this year SWARM announced their Hardship Fund – an initiative to supporting UK sex workers most impacted by the pandemic.
In 2021, “We will continue to build on the mutual aid work we did in 2020,” SWARM says, “as well as pushing back against the government’s latest plans to bring in a Nordic model style approach in the UK.”
Roller skating has been everywhere this year. You’ll likely have seen people rolling down streets, dancing on wheels in parks, or practising moves from the comfort of their bedroom, broadcast via social media. What’s most heartening, though, is the number of community groups that have formed – particularly those providing space for marginalised skaters. FatBratsRoll, a London group that launched this summer, do just that.
Since their formation, they’ve fostered an inclusive community. “While 2020 has presented us all with loads of difficulties, we’ve tried to turn adversity into something optimistic and welcoming with FatBratsRoll,” say the group. “We’re so proud of what we’ve achieved, both personally and collectively, and we’re so pleased to be welcoming people from all walks of life to our little roller skate gang. Here’s to bigger and better things in 2021!”
Locked down in small rooms, without adequate food packages and mental health support – this has been the reality for many University students amid COVID-19. At the University of Manchester – where at one point students were literally caged into their accommodation – protests erupted in November, and a group of ten students occupied a University building demanding a rent reduction, documenting their occupation via a viral TikTok account.
After successfully winning 30 per cent off their rents, the Manchester protests triggered a flurry of other students to demand rent cuts from their Universities. And the UoM rent strikers are nowhere near finished with their protests, telling Huck: “We’re planning to continue our strike into January with even more students signed up and we’re also helping build what’s hopefully a national explosion of rent strike movements everywhere.”
Independent music venues have long been fighting an uphill battle, but the impact of COVID-19 has meant that the UK risks losing some of its most important grassroots spaces forever. While the campaigning of the Music Venues Trust (MVT) has already helped secure the future of many spaces, there are 30 that remain in imminent danger, due to them not receiving enough, or any, funding from Arts Council grants.
In response, the MVT’s #Savethe30 campaign is working to spotlight and protect the venues most at risk, earning support from some of music’s biggest names in the process. After all, these spaces aren’t just buildings where gigs take place: they’re thriving community hubs, key launchpads for small acts. If they die, a part of the city or town they’re situated in dies with them. The people behind #SaveThe30 refuse to stand by and let that happen.
Lockdown has deprived us of many joys, but one that has hit hardest for sesh lovers everywhere has been the absence of the club. Queer people, in particular, have felt this loss acutely, with LGBTQ+ clubs long-serving as vital spaces for self-expression and community-building.
Thankfully, at the start of lockdown, Londoner Harry Gay and his fellow DJs (who also happen to be his housemates) decided to set up a weekly LGBTQ+, DIY Zoom rave from their New Cross residency, and Queer House Party was born. Going virtual has meant they can bring together queer people from all across the world – including countries where it’s illegal to be gay. Beyond keeping people dancing through an often bleak year, they’ve helped strengthen connections among queer people everywhere.
This year, our relationship with outdoor spaces has taken on an even greater significance. Flock Together, a birdwatching group made up entirely of people of colour, understands this as well as anyone. Founded by Nadeem Perera and Ollie Olanipekun at the beginning of summer, they’ve been working to challenge archaic perceptions of who nature is for, and who can access it.
Since their first meet-up in June, things have snowballed into a bird-watching frontier, with plans to open chapters across Europe and North America. “We want to make it normal for everyone to see us in parks, woodlands and outdoor spaces,” says Perera. “On the flip-side, we also want people of colour to know that they belong in those spaces. That in nature, there is room for everyone.”
Housing precarity and dire protections for renters in the UK have triggered an upshoot of renters unions in the last few years. This year, though (legal) evictions were paused for a period of time, the lack of other support or protection for renters has made the need for these unions all the acute. One such organisation is Acorn, who have seen their membership increase by 150 per cent across the year. After launching their Coronavirus Community Support in March, they mobilised thousands of members and supporters in over 50 towns and cities in England and Wales to deliver food, essentials and prescriptions.
They then converted these networks into eviction resistance teams, who are ready to, as they describe, “stand up for members and our communities when the bailiffs came knocking”. As the year ends, and the crisis seems to show no signs of abating, the need for community organising is more important than ever. “2020 has really shown the importance of community and the need for us to be organised to defend what we have and fight for what we need.”
When Ramla Ali entered the ring to take on Eva Hubmayer this October, she became the first female Somali boxer to compete professionally. While she’s been blazing a trail for years now, it was the culmination of a long and impressive journey to the pinnacle of her sport. Ali and her family fled Somalia when she was just a child, eventually settling in East London by way of Kenya and Dubai where she would take up boxing as a teenager.
Now with numerous titles under her belt, she’s flying the flag for Somalia with pride. And her career outside the ring though is just as inspiring. Ali holds a First in Law from SOAS, founded the Sisters Club to provide women with self-defence classes, and has committed to giving 25 per cent of her takings as a pro to charities supporting Black Lives Matter causes. All this while managing to work as a model and UNICEF ambassador.
This month, official statistics report that Scotland has seen a record number of drug-related deaths for the sixth year in a row, with no signs of the crisis abating. 1,264 deaths were recorded in 2019, the highest in Europe. The deepening crisis prompted former outreach worker Peter Krykant to take matters into his own hands and act where governments in Hollyrood and Westminster have not.
Earlier this year, Krykant established a mobile safe consumption facility in his van providing drug users a clean and supervised space for drug use. Krykant and volunteers working alongside him have also advocated the use of naloxone to reverse opiate overdoses and have already saved lives as a result of their work. Despite opposition and police cautions, Krykant is set to meet Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to discuss how the Scottish Government can effectively deal with the country’s drug death epidemic in a constructive and compassionate way.
“Poetry is not just something to be analysed. It has a bigger life than that and should be treated as such,” said 28-year-old Caleb Femi in a Huck interview earlier this year. The poet – who is also a filmmaker, photographer, and former English teacher – has long been a champion of the medium, becoming the first young people’s laureate in 2016.
This year, Femi released Poor (Penguin Books) – a collection of poems and photographs which has garnered widespread acclaim from the likes of Michela Cole and Terrance Hayes for its blistering portrayal of the trials and tribulation of young Black men in 21st century Peckham. The poems very much reflect Femi’s own coming of age in a North Peckham estate in the ’90s, paying tribute to the people he grew up with and the rappers and artists who spoke to their lives. He continues to make poetry exciting and accessible for a new generation.
This year, perhaps more than ever, food poverty has been firmly on the political agenda, thanks in big part to footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign around free school meals. Behind the headlines and the government u-turns, groups like Cooperation Town (founded in 2019) have been organising communities on the issue.
“The idea behind Cooperation Town is to demystify the practice of organising, without going into too much theory and starting from the most basic need – feeding ourselves,” says Shiri Shalmy of the group. “We developed a structure that is self-replicating, which means that instead of just starting more co-ops, we hope to support a new generation of community organisers and build a movement”. In the last year, the group –making use of the huge amount of surplus food circulating in the system – have distributed over 38,000 free meals.
The Bent Bars Project is a letter-writing project for LGBTQ+ prisoners in Britain, responsible for organising pen-pal matches, sharing resources, providing mutual support and drawing public attention to the struggles of queer and trans people behind bars. While active since 2009, this year has meant an even more urgent need for the project: “Lockdown measures have seen some prisoners spending 23-hours a day in their cells, family visits were cancelled for a long time, restrictions were placed on exercise and showering,” they say. “Prisons are violent, lonely spaces at the best of times, but these measures exacerbated this significantly, especially for LGBTQ+ people who are often targetted within prisons by staff and other prisoners.”
The group have helped to produce ‘know your rights’ resources for LGBTQ+ prisoners, and have also created a range of ‘factsheets’ around trans prisoners to try and dispel some of the myths and provide some context to better explain their experiences.
As “east London’s queer Bollywood hip hop night”, Hungama hasn’t been able to function in the traditional sense for much of this year. During the first lockdown, it dawned on founder Ryan Lanji that people would be missing much more than just a party. So in response, he transformed Hungama from an IRL meet-up into a digital channel, using its platform and network to provide safe online spaces and resources to members of the QPOC community during a time when many were feeling isolated and alone.
Each week, a new person will take control of their Instagram page, where they’re free to share and curate as they please. In this sense, Hungama has been busier than ever. “In 2020 we had some amazing plans that were all thwarted due to the pandemic,” says Lanji. “Unfortunately you can’t mourn the loss of things that haven’t happened – so we kept our chins up and kept putting one step forward.”
A crucial undercurrent to this year’s Black Lives Matters protest has been the message that Black Trans Lives Matter. It’s been an urgent reminder for many that discrimination based on gender and sexuality often compounds with that based on ethnicity, race, and class.
To combat these urgent issues, activist Azekel Axelle founded the Black Trans Foundation (BTF) – a non-profit organisation that is working to provide Black trans and gender non-conforming people with access to the sometimes life-saving specialised healthcare that they are often shut out of. Currently, the BTF is looking to raise £10,000 through fundraising for their first initiative which aims to provide at least 10 trans of gender-nonconforming individuals free therapy for four months.
In her 18 years, British-Bangladeshi birder and environmentalist Mya-Rose Craig, AKA Birdgirl, has achieved a staggering amount. She is the youngest person to have seen half the world birds, the youngest to become a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds advisory committee, and the youngest to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol, which she was awarded this year. A champion of diversity in the environmental movement, Craig’s transformative project, Black2Nature, was set-up in 2016 as a way of connecting inner-city young people with nature through wildlife camps and conferences.
Her proudest moment from 2020 was, she says: “Sitting on an ice floe in the Arctic, just 600 miles from the North Pole, watching the slush disappear around me was both heartbreaking and incredible… I felt enormously proud that I had managed to bring climate change onto peoples’ minds when the pandemic was dominating the news.”
When the country went into lockdown, asylum seekers and refugees in supported housing in Glasgow were moved, en masse, to be housed in hotels and B and Bs across the city. In May, alarm bells were raised when an asylum seeker who’d been placed in a hotel was found dead. Within the hotels, residents raised concerns around the conditions, alleging lack of proper access to food, medical support and the impossibility of social distancing.
The No Evictions network Glasgow helped provide support to those within the hotels, documenting various failures of those in charge as well as vocally advocating for the residents and challenging Government narratives around it. The group helped organise a demonstration against conditions and helped support residents in the aftermath of a tragic knife attack that happened in one of the hotels last June.
As the pandemic gripped the country, concerns over the provision of PPE for those fighting COVID-19 on the front lines were continually raised. Deaths within NHS staff rose, reaching into the hundreds with BAME people disproportionately affected. Seeing all of this, Dr Meenal Viz decided to take action. She demonstrated outside no. 10 Downing Street, whilst six months pregnant, garnering huge publicity for the cause.
Along with her husband, she took the Government to court, winning significant concessions through a judicial review. In a joint statement with her husband Dr Viz said: “Our judicial review shows that healthcare workers have a voice. Doctors, nurses and carers have been the backbone of our pandemic response – we deserve to know that we are safe when we are going into work, and our families deserve to be safe when we come back home. We have lost far too many of our colleagues, and we continue to seek accountability for this national tragedy.”
Kadeena Cox has defied many odds in her lifetime. She made her first foray into competitive sport as a sprinter, age 15. At 23, she suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Undeterred, Cox entered the para-athletics in 2015 and a year later, became Britain’s first Black cyclist to win an Olympic or Paralympic medal.
Since then, she has been a fierce advocate for greater diversity in cycling, making it her mission to encourage more women and people of colour to enter the sport. Training for Tokyo 2021 this year, Cox, who is 29, has battled through not only multiple sclerosis, but also an eating disorder which she went public with last year. Her determination through what has been a difficult year for pro-athletes everywhere – owed to restrictions on travel, physical activity, and mass gatherings – has made her a source of inspiration for many.