The Power of Creative Youth-led Social Action

Group photo of all of the participants and facilitators at the 2015 social action camp, Top Left

Photo: Youth participants and facilitators at this year’s Project Respect Top Left Social Action Camp

Editor’s note: this blog post was written in March 2015 by Elicia, Prevention Manager, before starting a one-year parental leave.

Respect Me Like You Do

I arrive a bit late to our Project Respect Rhizome Youth Social Action Team’s media production session. I step quietly into a large basement space we are renting in a local chapel in Fernwood so as not to interrupt. Today’s action session is a recording session for a youth-produced music video. I walk toward the far side of the room where I see a group of 8 youth and two of our staff huddled around a microphone and a table of recording equipment. Kingsley (one of our Project Respect coordinators) counts out a cue and the 6 youth huddled around the microphone break into song, emoting the lyrics:

I don’t fear, when your here,
‘Cause you respect my space
I would love if you asked
“Can I kiss your face”
We’ll watch our love spring to life, to life.

As they sing, our youth videographer Jessica captures the singers on video. The audio recording stops momentarily. “Awesome you sound great!” Kingsley says, then counts in another cue. The youth sing:

Let’s both set the pace
cause we’re on the same page
I’m feeling affectionate and so are you.
Consent’s what I’m waiting for.

The backing track is Ellie Goulding’s, Love Me Like You Do from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, but the lyrics are entirely different. They were re-written, and re-titled Respect Me Like You Do, by a group of youth (ages 12-21) a couple of weeks ago at our Project Respect Top Left Youth Social Action Camp. At camp, the group explored the root causes of gender-based violence (including sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism, fatphobia and many other normalized forms of violence) and how these appear in media. They explored how one of these root causes is also the lack of consent in popular media, especially when it comes to how sexuality and relationships are depicted.

For instance, Ellie Gouldings original lyrics in the bridge of the song go like this:

Yeah, I’ll let you set the pace
‘Cause I’m not thinking straight
My head spinning around I can’t see clear no more
What are you waiting for?

The youth team’s analysis of what is problematic about the original lyrics (and the lyrics of so many songs) is so awesomely clear when you compare their new lyrics with the original lyrics. This is how creative social action grabs people’s attention and provokes them to see how normalized these messages are and how little we really learn about how to communicate about and negotiate consent in our relationships.

Community Collaboration

This particular social action grabbed the attention of folks from The Choir, a local community choir that several staff at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre belong to, who were asked to help out.

The Facebook event invite read:

We’re getting ready to record the re-write of the Ellie Goulding song Love Me Like You Do (from Fifty Shades of Grey) into Respect Me Like You Do (from Fifty Shades of Yay!).

Folks from The Choir were stoked to take part. About half an hour after I arrive, several members of The Choir start to trickle into the space to help the youth record the chorus. This is part of the magic. Transformation is activated through this kind of intergenerational community building that subverts the constant barrage of violent messages, subtle and overt, that we are inundated with every day.

This is how many of our youth-led social action projects work – they are spaces where young people take the lead and create actions to respond to their different realities of gender-based violence. To do this, the youth team reaches out to inter-generational communities, inviting people of all ages to engage in creating a cultural shift through music, art, bystander intervention trainings, community dialogues, and more.

National Top Left Showcase

For this particular project, in addition to exploring what is problematic about media, like the lack of consent, the youth also wanted to create their own media that included the kinds of images they want to see: different kinds of bodies (sizes, skin colours, gender identities), different kinds of relationships (not just straight ones), and interactions that are grounded in consent. So along with re-writing the lyrics to the song, they filmed scenes at camp that show the kind of world they want to see – one based in self-determination and consent culture. These are the visual back-drop to Respect Me Like You Do. The youth team launched the music video last month at the national Top Left showcase in Toronto hosted by our partner organization the Students Commission.

Energy, Love and Hope

As I write this, I am in my final week of work before going on parental leave. My partner and I are expecting our first child. It’s a hard thing sometimes to have such an intimate view, through my work, of the prevalence of the attitudes and beliefs in dominant Euro-western culture that enable gender-based violence to happen every day. And now, it makes the reality of becoming a parent feel that much more daunting in some moments. Yet, more powerful than these feelings is the energy, love, and hope I feel working alongside the team of youth leaders in Project Respect who are engaging people of all ages in their communities to find new paradigms of thinking about gender, power, identity, relationships, and sexuality that are all grounded in consent and self-determination. This is brave and creative resistance in action. I feel incredibly grateful to have been involved in this movement alongside these truly incredible youth and our amazing Project Respect staff team. And I am so excited for our child to be brought up in this consent culture we are creating together.

Be a part of our work. Help make a difference.


Your generous donations help prevent sexualized violence in our community.

Also, The Choir, a local community choir that sings contemporary rock and pop music (so fun!), is performing at Alix Goolden Hall on Saturday, May 23rd. This concert is a also a fundraiser for Victoria Sexual Assault Centre. Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. Please visit the Facebook event page or Larsen Music website for more information. We hope to see you there!

Thank you.



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