Community visions for liberation: strategy, creativity, and joy

Last week, we held our very first in person community event “Community visions for liberation: towards racial, social, and economic justice in Europe”, and it was a truly inspiring and energising experience.

The first evening brought together 80 people in the Miriam Makeba Hall at the Berlin Global Village, with people from across Europe joining us on the livestream. The evening was a celebration for the launch of our report “Revisiting systemic (in)justices: Community reflections”, which centres the experiences, perspectives, and pathways to justice shared by organisations, movements, and collectives campaigning for racial, social, and economic justice in Europe. These groups, often fire-fighting and working with few resources against huge odds, shared the challenges and harms they face when it comes to climate justice, access to justice, policing, social protection, anti-racism, and free movement, and where they see opportunities for action for a better world.  

The event explored some of the key findings from the report, including during a panel conversation with Patrick Williams, Systemic Justice’s Head of Research who led the research for the report, Lamies Nassri, project manager at the Centre for Muslim’s Rights in Denmark, and Rose Wanjiku from International Women* Space. They spoke to the persistence of systemic injustices in Europe, the deliberate and intentional shift towards the criminalisation of care and solidarity, and the worsening of tech harms experienced by racially, socially, and economically marginalised people.

The report itself follows up and further builds on the consultation process we held in 2022, in which findings were drawn from a series of roundtables. Even though these roundtables were held online, there was such great energy in the “room” and a number of participants shared their hope that someday they could come together in person to plan, strategise, and build community. A “get together” to celebrate this year’s report seemed a great opportunity to make this happen.

This is why, although our celebration event was open to anyone who wanted to attend either in person or online, the second day of our community event was limited to communities campaigning for racial, social, and economic justice. Nearly 50 participants joined us from across Europe. They represented communities working across a range of intersections in racial, social, and economic justice activism, including disability justice, climate justice, digital rights, labour rights, LGBTQI+ rights, tenant rights, sex worker rights, and tackling racism such as Islamophobia, anti-gypsyism, Afrophobia, and anti-Black racism. There was no livestream and there were no funders present. We also did not plan to share detailed report outs of the conversations from the event. We wanted to resist the urge to open up the space, and we wanted to avoid prioritising performative productivity over connectivity at the event. Instead, we wanted to foster an environment where those attending could show up, share, and plan freely and authentically. We were encouraged by the positive feedback following the event, acknowledging this intentionality. As one participant shared with us: “thank you for setting a clear and intentional tone and framework for the event. It is crucial for organisations to take a stand, and your approach exemplified this commitment.”

We also wanted the space to be one that could be community-designed and we had rich self-organised sessions on topics ranging from challenging racist narratives and tactics in policing, using art to show environmental justice is for us and by us, navigating solidarity and difference, and deep dives on issues such as systemic anti-gypsyism and ableism in Europe. The Systemic Justice team also got involved, holding a session on strategic litigation and hosting drop-in stations on community-driven litigation and fundraising.

Our time together was an important moment to share back the community-focused research with the very communities that contributed to it, so that it could also be used in community and for future actions. The event was also an important moment to acknowledge and reflect on the current state of the world and the systems of oppression that we are all seeking liberation from, particularly whilst being in a country where repression of solidarity movements is on the rise as in other parts of Europe.

However, we were also inspired by what was shared by one participant at our roundtables in 2022: “struggle is not our destiny”. It is important to acknowledge that the frustration, anger, and heaviness of this work and these experiences should not preclude celebration. Communities campaigning for liberation should not be denied an opportunity to celebrate the work and the solidarity that they are driving. They should not be deprived the opportunities for action and the nourishment that can come from centring care and joy, and exercising hope as a discipline.

With this in mind, we wanted to ensure that art, creativity, poetry, music, and good food were core to this event. We would like to thank Raymond Antrobus, for sharing his exquisite poetry and a reading from his children’s book “Terrible Horses” (which spoke to our inner child), Love Ssega for performing his urgent piece “Our World (Fight for Air)”, and Ayomide Sotubo for the two pieces of spoken word poetry she wrote especially for the event entitled “Safety” and “Hope”. We would also like to thank DJ Femdelic and Deodato Siquir for providing a vibrant and inspiring musical soundtrack to the event. Finally, our souls and tummies were very-well fed by the amazing team at Alin Catering and Bantabaa who spoilt us with delicious food during the two days.

Judging from the conversations that took place during the community event, there will be lots of follow-up. As one participant shared “I’m inspired to continue my work upon having been part of the [event]. The attention to detail and care for your participants makes me want to put the same out in the world.” We also started some exciting plans ourselves during our workshop and drop-ins at the event, and we left the event excited, motivated, and energised to take them forward. We look forward to seeing what comes next with all the plans and intentions set during our time together!

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