Giuseppe Lipari is a Steering Committee member at the Global Student Forum, the global umbrella of student organisations including 199 members from 119 countries. Giuseppe started his activism in middle school joining Legambiente (the Environmental League) and Arci (Italian Cultural Association) mainly focusing on pro-environmental actions and anti-mafia campaigns. In High School he joined the re-foundation of the local branch of RSM (School Student Network) in Palermo, founded the school branch of his institute and served as Provincial Board member and Regional Board member in Sicily. He started his international activism as international officer of RSM in 2016, guided the entrance of the union in OBESSU, the European regional platform of school student unions, and served as its board member for the term 2018-2020. He supported the creation of the first independent global umbrella of student unions in recent history, the Global Student Forum, and now is one of the seven members of its Steering Committee.
Giuseppe has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Sciences from the University of Palermo, and he is currently a student of International Relations at the University of Bologna.
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You can contact Giuseppe via [email protected]
What is something adults do not understand about youth? What is a common misconception they have about young people?
Something very spread, but that luckily doesn’t really come from all adults, is the idea of young people as people that should primarily learn and follow processes decided by others. In reality extremely young people, even in high schools, do already have instruments to understand politics and to formulate complex requests to the political system. What’s needed is training, as for adults, and many organisations do that. What’s often missing, and here is the main generational difference, is space for real active participation. Young people should be fairly included in decision-making processes respecting the pluralism of the youth constituency, avoiding any form of tokenism, and understanding that age is not enough to be a youth representative, neither to represent all young people. A school student representative will say different things if compared to a university student representative, a young trade unionist, or a party youth leader.
What was the first moment of enlightenment that encouraged you to take action for the society you live in?
I grew up in a family which is highly involved in politics, despite coming from a working-class background. They taught me how injustice can impact the life of unprivileged people, and, on the contrary, how good welfare can grant a better life to all people, without discrimination. I started working against pollution because of the conditions of my city, Palermo, which suffers its effects a lot. In the same way, I found it natural to get involved in anti-mafia activism, because of the suffering imposed on the Sicilian people from organised crime, affecting our living conditions, our democracy, and our effective rights. In high school, I started being a class representative to ease the cooperation with teachers, but then I understood that the values learnt in my previous experiences could have enriched my fight for school student rights, so I joined the RSM union.
What are the projects you are currently working on? What are the challenges you and your organisation are facing today?
Since 2018 my work is focused on the international level, because there was a need in my union to get better connections at the European level, and then after serving in OBESSU we saw a similar need towards the global level. Coming from grassroot, the first challenge could seem getting a common understanding with people coming from completely different backgrounds, but in reality, having the privilege of working at the international level, I can say that student unionists and activists have everything needed to understand each other. What is harder to do in reality is to provide financial and organisational needs while staying committed to totally independent student activism, but both ESU (university students) and OBESSU (schools students) in Europe proved it possible, and the Global Student Forum is on its way to get sustainable financially.
How do you think we can involve young people who want to make an impact but do not have easy access to opportunities of getting involved (because of language, lack of network, difficulties to access and use technology tools…)?
While working at the local level I experienced some of these challenges, especially trying to include learners from less privileged schools, lacking even more basic services, and students with a migrant background. I think that effects can arrive only if organisations and movements decide to structurally invest in these communities. The first thing to be removed is the stigma, sometimes present among well-educated and wealthy activists, because it should be made clear that everyone deserves opportunities and that it’s also civil society’s job to provide them to all potentially interested individuals and groups. Participation in mixed contexts can become slower but its outcomes are definitely richer and better to understand society as it really is.
What is your advice for young people who want to make a positive impact? How should they begin?
My advice would be really simple: unite because you will be stronger than staying alone. It’s not the easiest thing to do, and we are all different while approaching new people and new groups, but for sure being part of a bigger team with people sharing your conditions, concerns and hopes would allow you to better defend your rights, and also to meet amazing people. Organisations and collectives are not always perfect, so don’t expect that you will like every single aspect of the ones present in your school /campus / area, but becoming active can also allow your voice to have an impact on the things to be changed, making these structures more representative. And in case the existing ones can’t fit your aspirations and ideas, why not consider creating new spaces? I did both, I joined the existing school student union in my city, and with a great team I created a new space in my school, different from the existing ones, that still works today, and it was incredible.
(Photo courtesy: Giuseppe Lipari; copyright: Giuseppe Lipari)