critically engaging activism

I have temporarily relocated to Toronto and spent a good chunk of my Saturday at Manifesto. It was an enjoyable experience. I got to see many people who make Toronto what it is and heard many more expand on their thoughts of what it will take for them/us as a city/world to be more accountable to each other. There were whispers of revolution, and more heightened tones around movement building. This gathering among many other reasons reminded me of why Toronto excites me.

One of my major challenges is that it was so difficult to take things at face value. When I heard people talk earnestly about the unsustainability of the systems in which we live or the importance of taking care of ourselves I had a hard time thinking about what that means concretely. What does that mean for my life now.

As someone who is not an artist and is not particularly creative, these worlds in which people imagine seem so outside of my grasp. I’m a 9-5 person and for that I make no apologies. 9-5 suits me fine, and it suits many of the people I’ve served over the years. How do we imagine a world that does not see all 9-5 as oppressive?

A large talking point centred around whether we should be working outside or inside of these systems that are often so oppressive. Clearly, there are two camps main on this issue:

  1. Audre Lorde’s, you cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house
  2. Change comes from within

I see the value of both. I was reminded of a conversation at Catcahafyah where Andaiye, a woman who has tons of feminist/ women’s group organising experience in Guyana warned us (a fairly academic bunch) of their mistake of thinking and operating too much of national, regional and international levels of change and not enough about working and building with women on the ground. She says they made a lot of headway at the national, retional and international levels but not nearly enough on the ground, where it truly/also mattered.

Often when positions like this are expressed everyone starts on their “grassroots” is the only kind of activism that matters. I disagree. I think grassroots work is immensely important. Community organising can transform so much, the power is near infinite but I do think that national, regional and international level work has some great pull too.

As activists, as students, as critical thinkers I think we need to have respect for all people working for changes that are improvements for our communities. To truly have respect though we have to listen, not just wait until it’s our turn to talk but listen so that we can incorporate, discuss, challenge to enhance ourselves and each other and not tear down as academia and many of our own communities have taught us to do so well.

We must work in tandem with the parties both insides and outside to begin to imagine and create something wildly different. The moment we divorce ourselves from each others work is the moment our work becomes just a little bit less of what it could have been. We need that communion bell hooks speaks about, the communion that is one of solidarity recognising our differences and not a union of sameness.

I recommend not working alone, nor not at every level. It will exhaust you/us and the last thing we need is for our change to exhaust out of being meaningful. Find people with whom you connect and trust, they are out there… of that I’m certain.

Out of the Knowledge is Power (check the link to see the panelists) panel discussion came these steps for movement building. I’m not 100% on all of them but it was a good conversation and definitely all points we should think about as we work for change and respect the work of those who are working for change:

  1. tell the truth & listen
  2. engage in economies without money
  3. trust yourself and each other
  4. use multiple strategies
  5. be creative
  6. document
  7. share knowledge
  8. learn about each other
  9. check your folks e.g. straight people check other straight people on their heterosexism
  10. take time to talk
  11. share resources
  12. recognise imperialism
  13. thinking seven generations forward and backwards
  14. create our own ways of schooling


Comments on: "critically engaging activism" (1)

  1. Someone had a really good weekend 🙂
    Thanks for making me feel like I went to Manifest as well. That 15 point list is pretty awesome. I am particularly interested in engaging in economies without money and creating our own ways of schooling. I would have loved to be there.

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