generation revolution are fighting racism in london and beyond
A new documentary follows a generation of young British activists challenging the racist social and political landscape we live in.
Generation Revolution, Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis's documentary about recent young black and Asian activism in London, begins with two types of direct action. In June 2014, Tesco inserted metal spikes on the ground outside its Regent Street store to quell 'anti social behaviour'. The members of London Black Revolutionaries saw it differently, a direct attack on homeless people. So they took direct action, pouring concrete on the spikes.
The direct action spurs others to join LBR, known as the Black Revs for short. Tesco, meanwhile, removes the spikes. It is a stirring moment for the young, grassroots activists and Generation Revolution captures them as they seek to define their movement and its cause(s). The film also hones in on another fledgling black and brown youth movement which emerges in the period, called R Movement, a group who bills themselves as an "intersectional revolutionary organisation". One of its first campaigns also focussed on homelessness, raising funds to provide and distribute aid packages to those living on the streets of London.
The filmmakers witness a moment where youth activism takes flight, ignited in part by each member's own experience of oppression. Members of the R Movement re-enact police stop and search scenarios to expose the structural racism at play, then take to the streets of Brixton in a bid to find and educate young black men about their rights when they find themselves a target of this specific police power. For both grassroots movements, members' experience drive the brief but the concern is not with one single issue. As one member of LBR, Tej, reports: "There's no way you can be black in London and not be politicised or understand what it means to be oppressed." Another, speaking of the organisation's aims says: "we will not just fight racism. We will fight everything." Speaking at the film's premiere in Sheffield Doc/Fest last week, co-director Cassie said of the activists' intersectional agenda: "They are groups that believe we should fight along the lines of class and race and gender, for example, simultaneously, because no one lives one part of these lives in isolation."
Events elsewhere, however, focus the groups' agenda. In the summer of 2014, police brutality against black people in the U.S. reaches new lows when Eric Garner dies at the hands of a New York police officer in July; the following month Michael Brown is shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri. The latter prompts a march on the American Embassy in London; Eric Garner's death is marked by the LBR by a 'die in' at the Westfield shopping centre in White City. It is a pivotal moment for the organisation, where the strength of feeling and success of the action (it makes the C4 news) suggests the activism is in its ascendancy.
But Generation Revolution stays with the action, even as it becomes less clear what direction it will take. After a Black Brunch march, a challenge to the gentrification of Brixton, the group dynamic in LBR falls apart over concerns about who and what it stands for, and what kind of actions it should take. In the R Movement, struggles are depicted as more practical, if no less vital to the strength of the group. One member simply can't meet on Saturdays because they work that day.
The makers of Generation Revolution are activists supportive of the grassroots movements but they wanted to portray the fledgling youth movements in an honest light. "It would be easy to cut it [the film] in a way that's about this thing you're definitely backing," Usayd told the audience at Doc/Fest. "We want to see positive groups but the reality is that there is in fighting. You bring one or two people together and you have politics. That's the reality. We wanted to show the nuance. It isn't always easy."
While the groups in Generation Revolution splinter and split, the filmmakers remain optimistic about youth politics in Britain. "Wherever there are people, there are opportunities for change," said Cassie after the film's premiere at Doc/Fest. "In the process of making the film, despite all the things we seen and experience, I was inspired by the fact that when people come together there are opportunities to make important change."
And though the film is London focused the filmmakers have plans to take the documentary out to other communities in the UK. "One of the main intentions of the film is for us to contribute to some of the radical change we want to see happen," said Usayd. "We want to take this film to young people, to young black and brown people in particular. For them to see that there are people like them doing this stuff and that it doesn't rest with them. Hopefully they will see that and think well, I can do that."
Generation Revolution premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest and will screen as part of East End Film Festival, London 25th June eastendfilmfestival.com
Text Colin Crummy
Stills courtesy of Generation Revolution