By Lily Gordon Brown
The Friday just gone marked International Women’s Day 2019. This year I was afforded the privilege of celebrating it through attending WOW Festival (Women of the World) in London. Into its ninth year, the WOW foundation holds an annual event to commemorate all self-identifying women and girls, as well as detecting and confronting issues faced universally. Founded in the UK by former Southbank artist director Jude Kelly, WOW is now a worldwide phenomenon, showcasing events in more than 50 countries across the globe, cherishing optimism and hope for the future.
I had the opportunity to attend three talks, honoured to be in the presence of Angela Davis, Naomi Klein and Sandi Toksvig in the space of 24 hours. Each conversation was comprised of distinctive topics, Angela Davis described her experience of 1960s activism in the Civil Rights Movement (which led to her 18-month long imprisonment) yet also used her aptitude as both an author and professor to touch upon the persistent issues surrounding race relations, mass incarceration and how to start a movement. Naomi Klein took a slightly different approach, with the dialogue mostly centred around fast-approaching climate change and the proposals of the Green New Deal in the U.S., something to be incredibly excited about. The ‘WOW: What Next’ debate focused on the future for all self-defining women, as well as the unsung events of 2018 (both hopeful and ominous).
Despite dissimilarities, I thought it would be worthwhile to draw on the harmonic themes that emerged throughout the weekend, as a way of identifying the best ways to move forward and progress. There were three ideas that resonated with me throughout: collectivism; activism; and the decline of neoliberalism, and each are inherently linked.
Regarding activism, the idea that we need to act now was persistent. As an innately indolent society, we continue to observe activism from our sofas, yet perhaps do not feel we have the capacity or ability to act or make a change. This is most certainly not the case. It is without doubt that even the smallest steps can contribute to progressive societal change. Naomi Klein gave the example of Greta Thunberg who, inspired by the Parkland strikes, started the first school strikes for climate by taking every Friday off school to sit outside Swedish parliament, hoping to transform national policies on climate change. This small act turned into a global sensation, with students across the globe following in suit and embarking on walkouts during school time. Angela Davis interjected encouragement through her discussion of youth activism both in and out of Palestine, pressing for collective change.
Nowadays, activism seems to be likened to extremism. The out of touch gerontocracy discourage this championing for change, fearing what it might do to their political and personal future. The desire to make change to matters infiltrating our daily lives is mandatory. Next time there is a march near you, attend. Next time you have the opportunity to influence your peers (through whatever means) do. Perhaps, in this debilitating political and environmental climate, the need for said ‘extremism’ is imperative. We are nearing global breakdown, with predictions that we must reduce our emissions by 45% in the next 11.5 years if human survival is to be sustained.
Collectivism was also a consistently raised matter, and this equates directly to the rise in individualism. The advance of global neoliberalism has produced this individualistic attitude. It is undermining the feminist movement and challenging concepts of intersectionality amongst other things. People seem to only confront or discuss matters that directly affect them as we are continually encouraged to fend and care for ourselves only.
This notion needs to be challenged, we are in fact responsible for all those around us, and for humanity. By recognising this and championing solidarity and unity, we have more hope of protecting humanity. As Angela Davis summed up so perfectly, we must appreciate and ‘encourage a collective self.’
After almost a century of triumph, neoliberalism is being questioned. In the past decade, more and more people have come to challenge the marketisation of society that this system of deregulation and ‘economic liberalisation’ has produced. Alongside conservatism, neoliberalism is endemic, with those nurturing its survival losing touch and control. As Klein described, in her remarks on the commodification of human beings, ‘the spell of neoliberalism has been broken.’ We must value this opportunity through cumulative collective action and a revival of the public sector.
What we must recognise is change is gradual, and even sometimes temporary. We may become impatient and frustrated, but we must not give up. Working intersectionally, intergenerationally and collaboratively, we have a chance to produce change. A sense of urgency was unquestionably present, it is time to act.
Each talk was also successful in relating these topics to global feminist issues and how as women we can work in unity to combat wider oppressive implications. I encourage anyone to take the time to visit the WOW website, learn more about what they do and watch clips from the festival.
Image Credits: Her own