The APC Women’s Rights Programme organised several activities during the 13th AWID International Forum (#AWIDForum), where more than a thousand activists, researchers and feminist techies got together between 8 and 11 September to discuss feminist futures and build collective power for rights and justice. This is the full text written and presented by Jac sm Kee, Women’s Rights Programme, during the third AWID Forum plenary on 10 September 2016.
This is a story about the present, told as the past, from the gaze of the future.
Imagine you have in your hands a knot, and the knot carries one story, about a person named Zaitun, who is trying to understand her world, and who wants to change it into something that is a little less ugly, a little less distorted, a little less painful.
Zaitun believes she lives in an incredible age. An age where it has never been more possible to tear down the calcified and heaving structures of power that monopolise what is “knowledge” and what is “truth”. Like how the invention of the printing press prised apart the grip of the church on what constitutes morality or right and wrong. Where you could not lock, obscure or burn the ability of people with everyday power to make meaning; because the technology – the mechanism – to speak, narrate and broadcast their own truths is so dispersed and so much more accessible than ever before.
And she finds them, these truths. She spends her time looking for pages missing in history textbooks in the form of voices recorded across distances and time. She tears down her own assumptions by finding the music and rhythms from other cultures and tongues. She fixes her heart from the lessons learnt by others who somehow, share that particular experience of need with her. And the soul of her hands, and the palms of her feet are fuelled by the vision of possibilities.
Because what she holds is not just a piece of technology, inert and humming with innocent objectivity. It’s an idea of how to re-imagine the world. Where instead of one heavy core that jealously guards power and greedily consumes more, there are nodes. A thousand plateaus. Where power emanates from a network so resilient that it is near impossible to destroy. And Zaitun sees the metaphorical, allegorical, and material significance of this idea turned to flesh. How it can change the way we imagine capital, sites of governance, of identity and belonging, of relating through shared weaves of curiosity, or outrage, or trauma, or beauty, or hope.
Now take a moment. In your other hand is another knot, and in this knot is another story. In this story, Zaitun has fear in her stomach. The fear of knowledge that is detached from the human, because it is transmitted through a cold interface. Whose roots in the centuries that it takes for the earth to hold energy in precious minerals – are severed. Where the warm hands of people whose lands are robbed to satiate the hunger for newer, faster and sleeker equipment – are unfelt. Where more and more toll gates are constructed for poor people to simply have access to a narrow slice of this expansive space. And the mutating evolution of capitalism to create new monopolies sold as “free services”, “shared economies” and “doing no harm” obscures the act and cost of our surrender. And corporations and governments collude to deaden knowledge through secret handshakes behind closed doors.
Where every radical voice is shoved into silence through intolerant violence. And where the collective voice of political demands shrinks into the shrill voice of individual branding through hash-tagged identity markers.
Now put that knot on your lap. Because now you have a third. And in this new knot, there is another story. And in this story, Zaitun is not alone. She is sitting in a room together with a beautiful chaos of bodies, desires and histories. They may not be many in numbers, but they are weaving a revolution. They practice the politics of skepticism and play with technology. And disarm fear through curiosity. With the persistence of ants, they dismantle the excluding tower of jargon, brick by brick, through the loving language of experience and the creative force of feminism.
They celebrate the dissonant, the queer, and the obscene because like a spider’s web, connected fragility is stronger than steel. And everyone has days where they are fragile, and need the shelter from an army of spiders.
They trust their gut to choose when to know, when to be still, because unknowing is also a lesson. They dethrone the author, the teacher, the mufti, the expert. And understand knowledge as living in skin, and the skin is stained by song and seed, place and myths, and rituals both fantastic and mundane.
And the skin is flesh and the skin is data.
You now have three knots in your hands. And each knot is a story paused in time. They exist simultaneously, and all are true. And now, they are unravelling as threads of reality, right at this moment.
We are at the precipice, and we must look at the present, from the future, as something that we will participate in weaving. We are in the same world as Zaitun.
So take hold of the hope, of the fear, of the revolution. And seriously consider, what will we weave, together?
Picture by AWID.