Unknown Artist. Seen in the Bathroom of Nieuwe Land, Amsterdam. 2018
How do you connect people of color living in multicultural cities together? Where and how can you start creating communities, support systems, and inclusive environment for intersectional activism, especially in spaces dominated by white supremacy, and patriarchal “norms”?
I personally never thought of calling myself an activist. I didn't know where my activism started, the dimensions it could take or even the shape or the streams through which it could navigate itself through. Did it even exist in me? How did it translate into my day-to-day livelihood? I am not vegan, but I marched last week at the Rotterdam Pride March with my friend, Carolina. I thrive to be involved in decolonial spaces, and initiate conversations about social constructs and question the legitimacy of western ideologies in our ways of being and thinking. I love my curly hair, but I straighten my hair from time to time. Oh, and I also organized a march when I was 13 years old to which no one came to, and I remember sitting on a bench in front of the Moroccan parliament, holding a Palestinian flag, thinking about how I have failed in organizing a protest. Does this all make me "activist enough"?
I thought about it then. About how movements and protests can’t start with one person. That they are only given legitimacy when more people join and believe in the same convictions(-ish?). I mean I did meet people who cared about the same matters as me later on, but I never tried to initiate a protest ever since that day. Although, this past Sunday, I attended a speed dating event for activists in Amsterdam. How did I land there? Well, that’s when the power of transnational networks comes in! I had met one of the organizers, Stephanie, during her sabbatical journey across Africa, and she had happened to stop by our decoloniality reading group on the rooftop of one the residential buildings at my university campus in Mauritius. At the time, I never thought that I would meet Stephanie a year later, in Amsterdam.
I think I spent more than two weeks before the event thinking about ways to validate my activism and what I believed in through what other people around me and before me have done. And I realized that I was nowhere close to the periphery of the periphery of what I thought was the core of activism.
But anyways, the purpose of the speed dating event was to find allies, and build solid grounds for intersectional activism, and to connect individuals who are deeply interested in issues and struggles that either speak to them or their communities and allow them to know one another, beyond labels and beyond imagined alterities. It was easy to connect with the people who joined the event. Not because of English, the common language we all used to communicate, but because of the construction of our realities, and even the ways we expressed ourselves.
My fellow Speeddaters, waiting for our vegan dinner!
It was incredible meeting Mexican activist lobbying for the rights of indigenous people in Latin America, a Venezuelan wanting to create supportive spaces for people who feel lonely, and who were denied by their families due to their sexual orientation or political choices. Brazilians who would like to see angry yet peaceful protests against the rising right-wing extremist, Bolsonaro. A Dutch interested in restructuring justice through arts, an Egyptian interested in digital decoloniality, and another person focusing on deconstructing the notions of hegemonic masculinity with himself and in his community through discussion circles.
Being in that space for about five hours and a half allowed me to feel accepted without having to seek validation on where I stood on the Likert scale of activism. I was able to express what I was interested in, and most importantly understand the loopholes that I needed to fill.
I also felt part of a unique tribe where every person was from another kin, with different rituals, and associated with various other groups and tribes. I found myself suddenly being introduced to more amazing individuals, to the initiator of an interfaith community that aims to create an inclusive anti-racist, women-centered Muslim community in Amsterdam, to another person who started a race-based discussion group, and many more!
On the train back to Rotterdam that night, I thought to myself that perhaps our nationalities in that space didn’t mean much. It gave us a territorial ground to work on, it labeled us and connected us to the pain of the land where we grew up, but transnational activism meant that every inch of the world was a ground worth fighting for, and being far away from our ancestral territories didn’t mean stopping the fight for equality, for justice and freedom.
And I guess the questions that I was left with was: Should there be elitism in activism? Should a “super active” activist dismiss others for not being as quick to respond or react? And what are the dimensions, limitations to activism? And most importantly how is the status quo shaping our activism?
It would be great to hear about your own experience with activism. Please feel free to write me: Aasoulimani@gmail.com. Let's talk!