Lex Rigby from Viva! looks at how activism cuts across divides
At 15 years old I was your average baggy jean-wearing, skate-influenced punk, listening to the Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph back-catalogues on repeat through my Sony Walkman. Propagandhi were my favourite band – still are in fact – and How to Clean Everything was the soundtrack to my GCSEs.
Most Saturdays I’d take a trip to my local HMV. I’d flick through the two rows of CDs labelled ‘punk’, just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, and usually score some obscure purchase of a band I’d seen thanked in the liner notes of another record.
At this point, Less Talk, More Rock – Propagandhi’s second full-length album – was a couple of years old. It makes me sound ancient to say “the internet wasn’t a thing back then”, but it’s true. There was no Last.fm, no Spotify, no Apple Music. To discover new music, you had to go to the shop, trawl the shelves and take a chance on something you didn’t know.
After handing over £14.99 of well-earned pocket money, I arrived home with 12 brand new songs to begin learning everything about. I ripped off the security tape, opened the case and then boom, I was hit square-faced with what would become my mantra into adulthood.
The words animal-friendly, anti-fascist, gay-positive, pro-feminist were printed in bold black letters around a block ‘A’ for anarchy on the CD surface.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this would likely have been my first encounter with the basic idea of collective liberation – a framework for conceptualising the interconnectedness of human, earth and animal liberation struggles.
It’s similar to understanding how intersectionality recognises a person or group of people being affected by a combination of advantages or disadvantages because of their social or political identities.
And, like intersectionality, what collective liberation takes into account is the complexity of those interconnecting identities and experiences. Social categorisations such as race, class, gender, sexuality, religion and philosophical beliefs often overlap and shape experiences.
For example, a white woman may be discriminated against because she’s a woman, but a black woman may be discriminated against because she’s a woman and because she’s black, or for either of those identifiers, independent of the other. Her experiences are interconnected and, as a result, complicated.
Released in 2014, the film Pride depicts a group of LGBTQ+ activists who raised money to help working-class families affected by the 1984 British miners’ strike. It would become known as the ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ (LGSM) campaign and was started by London-based gay rights activist Mark Ashton.
Ashton was motivated to begin the campaign after he realised, when watching the news, that instead of harassing the gay community, the police had turned their attention to the miners. “I want to do more than just chant my animal-friendly, anti-fascist, gay-positive, profeminist mantra”.
Unsurprisingly, given the time, the group found opposition of their support among the mining community, who were concerned about being associated with gay people.
But they also faced criticism from some people within the LGBTQ+ community that didn’t want to support miners who they felt had mistreated them in the past. Despite the trials and tribulations between the two groups, there are instances in the film that demonstrate how sharing knowledge and experiences between movements creates a greater force for change.
For example, when LGSM activist Johnathan informed one of the Women’s Support group members, Sian, about harassment laws and abuse of police power she stormed the police station and secured the release of illegally detained miners.
The South Wales Striking Miners Choir also teamed up with the London-based industrial band Test Department for a series of benefit gigs, an unlikely collaboration bringing punks and miners together!
Of course, not everyone was grateful for the support. At first, the National Union of Mineworkers felt humiliated by the backing from LGSM activists and voted to refuse further support.
But later, when Ashton led LGSM members in the 1985 Gay Pride Parade, they were joined by hundreds of miners in a show of solidarity.
Also, it was ultimately thanks to pressure from the National Union of Mineworkers, that the Labour Party incorporated rights for gays and lesbians in their party program that year!
More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained tremendous exposure and, as a white woman, I’ve been questioning how instead of just being non-racist, I can become more actively anti-racist; how my experience of animal rights activism can inform my actions as an ally on other social justice issues; and what the best support strategies are that I can offer.
I want to do more than just chant my animal-friendly, anti-fascist, gay-positive, pro-feminist mantra.
So, here’s what I’m trying to do, to do better:
- Recognise difference – learning to better identify unique experiences of identity, particularly ones involving multiple overlapped oppressions, such as black, gay women.
- Avoid oversimplified language – address my use of terminology that assumes a baseline, such as not all women have vaginas.
- Analyse the spaces I occupy – recognise when differences aren’t represented in the spaces I inhabit, such as LGBTQ+ community members in my animal rights community.
- Seek other points of view – actively look for and take the time to listen and learn from people choosing to share experiences that are different to mine, such as expanding my reading lists and podcast subscriptions.
- Show up – rally support for others by turning up to demonstrations outside my network, such as the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Most importantly, I’m not asking others to do this work for me. I’m doing it myself. I’m proactively searching for the answers to my questions, listening to what others are saying and not taking the lead on issues I have limited connection to.
When we show support and solidarity across social justice issues and learn to work together, we show greater strength and create greater impact.
Ultimately, it is something the Australian Aboriginal activist and artist, Lilla Watson, said best, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”.
Viva! helps people reduce their meat, fish, dairy and egg intake and move towards a compassionate diet. It believes that every step towards being vegan is a positive one. www.viva.org.uk