Joy is at the heart of resistance: 2016 AWID Forum Closing Plenary
| By OluTimehin Adegbeye
You might not guess it when you see us marching, protesting, drafting letters, giving speeches, organising and making our presence felt in whatever ways we must, but feminists laugh a lot.
The closing plenary of the 13th AWID international Forum was full of cheers and quiet pauses, deep silence that bred introspection and reflection, hand holding and music, and frequent laughter. Not just any laughter either, but the belly-shaking, tears-inducing, leaning on one another for support kind of laughter. In the closing hours of this rejuvenating event, a truth that we often run the risk of forgetting in the midst of our activism was reiterated to us: joy is at the heart of resistance.
When in September, roughly 2000 feminists from around the globe converged in Bahia, Brazil to look back on as well as map the next steps in our collective and separate journeys towards justice, we knew we were coming to drink from a deep well of shared wisdoms. Our realities, dreams and goals overlapped and intertwined as we looked past the differences created by geography, context, identity or ability in order to co-create and together, envision our feminist futures.
We conceptualised borderless territories, analysed the missteps that had been taken in our journeys towards liberation, exchanged strategies of cooperation and collectivity, and even acknowledged the places in our imaginations where obstacles reared their heads higher than our concepts of possibility.
At the heart of the feminist struggle is our right to exist as we are, to take up space in the fullness of our humanity.
Like feminist disability rights advocate Aissatou Cisse said, neither the world we live in nor the right to power is the preserve of a select few. We all have rights to our own selves and our full potential, just as we have a responsibility to remind ourselves and others of the victories won and the lessons learned in the fights that have gone before. In acknowledging our forebears in ideology and struggle, we deliberately carry their legacy into the futures we work towards.
The Forum was simply another point on the long arc of the universe that continues to bend towards justice; a point of connection, strength and solidarity.
Beyond reminding us that we are not alone, the Forum also provided means of translating collectivity into our movements.
Whether across ideologies, identities or borders, our strength is in our vision and our support of one another.
For instance, in shouting out their solidarity with the anti-colonial struggle in Palestine, the black feminists in the audience demonstrated their commonality with and the validity of the Palestinian battle for land, rights and liberty. It was a timely reminder that our experiences of isolation in our struggles are not inevitable, and that solidarity can cross all borders.
The forum illustrated to attendees that actively seeking solidarity with others, especially those whose lived experiences and contexts differ from ours, allows us to grow not just ourselves but also our visions, dreams and movements.
To quote moderator Mallika Dutt, it is in the discomfort of expansion that we claim more space.
By enabling feminists of all stripes and leanings to share space with one another, the forum put into practice the concept of radical hospitality.
We were encouraged to commune with the unfamiliar and experience the growing pains that can lead us towards true inclusivity. The Forum allowed us to learn not just new ways of doing, but also new ways of being within the struggle.
Just like Black, Brazilian activist Jurema Werneck said, as part of our activism we must also confront our own power and how we wield it, as well as our instinct to resist loss of privilege. We must always be committed to finding the ways in which choosing to unpack discomfort can be crucial to progress.
It is not enough to just push ourselves beyond the known boundaries of our struggles, but also to protect our victories and histories from hegemonic power structures that seek to silence or commodify our movements. Sharing wisdom gained from the anti-apartheid movement in Palestine, panelist Lina Miyari reminded us that whether by violent backlash or insidious co-optation, history has shown us the ways in which our revolutionary actions can be diluted or dismantled if we do not press together and press on towards an alternative world.
Tonya Haynes of Red For Gender also highlighted how the differences in our experiences can force us to slow down and spur change within us.
At the Forum, the language ‘barrier’ was described as creating ‘productive pauses’; those necessary moments of stillness that can enable us to dwell in our differences and transform our struggles, reminding us that besides struggling against, we are also struggling for. We are walking away from and also working towards, and to find the joy in our resistance we must be present not only in the experiences of our victimisation but also in the sources of our strength.
And where is that strength to be found, if not in deliberate processes of inclusion, openness and radical solidarity across every line that divides?
During these final moments of sharing strategy and envisioning solidarity, the manifesta.net platform was introduced to participants. Serving as a digital campaigning and organising tool, manifesta.net is part of the vision of a feminist internet; one that works for just futures instead of only replicating the oppressive power structures that exist in the offline world.
In organising for the rights of people to life — and in the case of many Indigenous women and environmental activists, to land — we were reminded that we are fighting for the Earth as well. There are no people without planet, and we must also link hands around the sources of life that sustain us which are being exploited and contaminated by corporate capitalism.
It goes without saying that these battles are not without risk, and it is this risk that must inform the structures and vehicles of our collectives.
Our power is tangible and to be feared, which is why individuals like Homa Hoodfar and Mozn Hassan are incarcerated in attempts to intimidate them into silence. But when we are fully aware that our survival resides in the collective, then we carefully create channels to preserve and transmit the strategies necessary to keep our fights alive.
Co-creating feminist futures means designing our own knowledge systems, histories and methodologies of struggle and propagation, and circumventing constructed delineations that separate us in order to replicate victories won in the past and in different contexts across the planet. Taking for instance the successes of the Kurdish Women’s Movement who fight under the banner of “Women, Life and Freedom”, we now know that it is possible to envision and enact an anti-capitalist stateless democracy that is founded on feminist principles. It is therefore up to us to adopt, adapt and advance these ideas across our different modes of struggle.
Having brought together people working across a broad spectrum of struggles, including those of women working in mines, domestic workers, sex workers, dis- and differently abled people, rural people, Indigenous women, Black feminists, academics, researchers, liberation fighters, environmental activists and so many other contexts, the Forum's construction of a feminist collective of reciprocity, love and respect in and of itself served as a blueprint of the futures we envision.
By establishing channels of dialogue, exchange, connection and mutuality, the foundations of the solidarity we require for collective progress were laid.
Upon this ground, we can continue to build the soul-nourishing, life-affirming world that we all envision for ourselves and generations to come.
About the author
OluTimehin is a young feminist mother and writer working out of Lagos, Nigeria. Find her online @OhTimehin