Taking a strategic approach to activism and advocacy through revolutionary love

Taking a strategic approach to activism and advocacy through revolutionary love.
Recently, after The Australian newspaper published a cartoon dismissing Kamala Harris as “a little brown girl” I emailed a few folks to see if we could take action. I joked and titled the email “angry little brown girl” referring to how unimpressed I was about this.

A concerned mentor of mine reached out and said “The world is not kind to women who push back on these things, they will look for anything to dismiss you by calling you angry. Don’t give them ideas.” I was baffled, it was a light-hearted joke on my end to reclaim the words, I realised the sad truth – we’re not there yet.
I feel uncomfortable calling myself an activist because of the negative connotation associated with it. Talented strong women across the world get dismissed for their efforts towards social justice. Their activism is seen as untamed. Wild. Angry. Misguided. Naïve.

It’s unfortunate since some of the people who made the biggest change were indeed activists. But in 2020? No, society at large tells you to “stay out of politics” and avoid the difficult conversations that transcend brunch, weather and small talk.

So for this reason, I use the word advocacy. I recently went to workshop by Luvvie who calls herself a Professional Troublemaker – that resonated deeply, but I don’t have the boldness yet to call myself that.

Though I have decided I will no longer be silent. Valarie Kaur’s, a renowned Sikh activist, filmmaker, and civil rights lawyer recently filled the cracks of my broken heart while simultaneously mending it – all over a zoom call. She reminds us in her latest book there is an alternative – it’s called revolutionary love. A nation that cannot acknowledge the suffering of minorities and the oppressed cannot forge a path forward.

A nation that cannot grieve with those who have been hurt, cannot see them. It cannot hear them. It leaves them behind. That grief and suffering unseen often turn into rage and anger. That anger begets more anger.

Valarie reminds us “When we leave people alone with their pain, their alienation becomes the precondition for radicalization.” But our voices matter, there is privilege in our education and awareness, and we must use it now to create a more compassionate and fair world.

I look at what is happening around the world, and like so many others I thought it would just pass. Now I know it will not just pass by itself. Now is the time to stand up for what we care about. But I’ve also learned that it’s critical to take care of yourself. For me, that’s meant reframing the way I look at my advocacy.

I used to see and hear about injustice, husbands who beat up their wives, international students whose passports are taken off them and they are forced to work in slave-like conditions in our “beautiful multicultural” city, people who make violent threats to young womxn online making them fear their safety. I used to get angry. How dare they. Overtime this anger would tire me, leave me feeling exhausted and drained from “fighting the good fight”

But nowadays I allow my anger to rise. I witness it. I then connect with the stronger feeling of love, love towards those who are suffering. The wives, the exploited, and the oppressed. I constantly remind myself to act out of love – that exists in both those who are oppressed and those who oppress them. Both have powerful stories.
I listen, I learn. I ask “why” and “tell me more” and what “happened to you as a child?” I’ve found this to be a powerful tool to reconcile the two, to appeal to the dignity they both deserve. It’s a process, it’s not always easy but it’s possible. It’s not soft and weak, it’s powerful and it’s strategic. If we want the best outcome for all involved, we need to envision that before it begins. We need to listen. We need to bear witness to their grief- whether it is masked with rage or with sadness.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a youth summit that featured our very own Prime Minister. It turned out the organisation leading this summit was not paying the young speakers, despite charging $300 per ticket and having several sponsors on board. Something about this bothered me.

I gathered more information, I reached out to the speakers who I knew asking if they had asked to be paid. I learned many are not affluent, nor wealthy. They cannot afford to give their time for free, but the power dynamic made it impossible for them to ask. I got my hands on their “speaker fee” policy which referred to award wages for speakers…that did not include speaking, only dancing. A policy designed to look adequate but failed to be effective.

I looked at the governance structure of the organisation leading this major event, predominately all white and all male over 40. It’s a youth organisation for disadvantaged young Australians and the summit was to “come together and create long-term solutions to support young people through education and into employment during and beyond COVID-19.”

I then decided to do something about this by sending an email, which would result in ~$2000-$3000 impact. The email below was drafted from a place of love, love for the brilliant young Australians who were speaking on the panels but did not have the agency to ask for what they deserve.

When you see injustice I urge you to ask yourself what can I do? Who is suffering here? How can I help them? Our activism must move beyond petitions and a “like” button. It must utilise our knowledge of how systems work. Our awareness of power structures. Our courage to act from a place of love for others and ourselves.

Email: Sunday 23 August 2020

Dear {name}
Well done on bringing together the … I understand it takes a lot of time and effort to organise such an events. I understand it is an initiative of ….[organisation] which “..is responsible for the financial management and administration of the …and its Inquiry into Youth Employment and Transitions”

I have a small request, it has come to my attention that many of the young people speaking are not being compensated for their valuable time. As someone who has spoken on a volunteer basis for 50+ organisations I know there is a time and place to donate time. However I refer to your policy of paying speakers where they cannot donate time, many of the young people you have asked to speak do not have the confidence nor agency to ask for their fee, some do – I understand you’ve opted to pay a small amount to the small number who asked to paid. I am first hand aware some of your speakers did not have the agency nor confidence to ask to be paid.

I refer to your policy on speaker fees – the policy makes reference to “determining a rate of pay for a speaker or artist/performer who is not in a position to donate their time reference should be made to the ‘Live Performance Award (MA000081)”  This particular Award does not include speakers only “performers and dancers. I would like to request respectfully for you to pay each of the young speakers a minimum of $300 each for their time given the event cost is $300 full price and formerly was $950 when it was to be held in person.

The youth that you have invited to speak bring considerable experience and deserve to me remunerated for their time. I have discussed the matter with Mariam who is a friend of mine and also one of your speakers.

Additional things I’d like to note

  • You have several sponsors for this event, whom I understand have made a financial commitment
  • I had difficulty finding any annual reports for ….– I would love to read this.
  • I would like to point out that the makeup of your board lacks diversity, particularly for a youth organisation. It is predominately male and lacking in any ethnic diversity too. It is not a representative of the community you seek to empower. Your management team on your website also consists of one person.

Again I ask this with all due respect and hope for a positive outcome here, as a young woman of colour myself I have become too familiar with the experiences of young people and the lack of agency when it comes to asking to be paid for their time.

I look forward to a response by 2.00 pm 24th August 2020.