March 23rd 2018
The Old Future
Collective, naughty voices
Angry, determined and honest
Sing with one voice
Towards another future
(From The Generations of Activism poem)
Over the last year a number of volunteers, including Ali Ronan, Lizzie Gent, Sylvia Koelling, Jo Boon and other women, have listed the material from the Feminist Webs paper archive and sorted it into 25+ boxes so it could be transferred to the archives at Peoples’ History Museum.
The archive is an integral part of Feminist Webs; it has been built up over the last 12 years with gifts from youth workers, Greenham Common protestors, feminist activists and academics. It has inspired projects, residentials, posters and books. Now it has also inspired the Generations of Activism event on 23rd March 2018.
As part of Wonder Women 2018, Generations of Activism was largely inspired by the Feminist Webs paper archive. The entire run of the 1980s influential Working with Girls newsletter, the ground breaking Our Bodies, Ourselves, early campaigning material about Violence Against Women, the Abasindi Collective and other campaigning ephemera were available to read and ‘handle‘ and this material inspired and informed both the workshops and the whole creative day.
The day was also partly a celebration about moving the 25 boxes of the archive to the People’s History Museum, where it will be more accessible and where it will be professionally catalogued, making it easier for activists, academics, young people and youth workers to use. We would like to give a big thank you to Julie Parry, one of the archivists at PHM, for her support, advice, help and her unwavering sense of humour.
This day emerged in the middle of conversations and movements as the archive of papers and objects from the Girls Work movement, that the Feminist Webs collective has been gradually assembling over the last ten years, moved from its home with the Youth and Community Work team at ManMet to The People’s History Museum. So, yes, we are officially part of the People’s History now!
No-one much wants to live in a museum as if it was a mausoleum, a place for dead objects. We wanted to recognise, once again, how ‘You can’t kill the spirit….’ Gabrielle Ivinson suggested we create ‘memory boxes’ with things from the archive to touch, respond and add to. We did, and the boxes travelled around Greater Manchester and will travel some more. Kate Pahl suggested we incorporate a creative writing workshop. We made a collective poem. Extracts from it appear throughout this blog.
The Cause … which the women suffragists embodied, when ‘Votes for Women!’ moved from being a ludicrous and nonsensical demand to an idea whose time was overdue … which (for 1970s activists against violence against women) led to the formation of Women’s Refuges and Rape Crisis Centres as well as to Girls Work in Youth Work … this same Cause is still being fought for in a new wave of activism in which young women, including school students, are showing the way. So we look to the past, not only to honour those who struggled for what we now take for granted, but to learn from methods of organising and protest that may yet make a difference. The hunger strikers who claimed the vote are the forebears of the women on hunger strike today at the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, as Dr Kate Cook (of the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender and Diversity Research Centre at ManMet, who so generously supported the day) reminded us.
And so we gathered and joined in important inter-generational conversations on some 1970s feminist themes: Violence against Women; Black Women’s Activism with feedback from the Women of the Soil project and the Louise DaCacodia Trust ; Our Bodies Ourselves; Girls Work in Youth Work and Equal Opportunities. The day was interwoven with poetry … reading poems out loud, and writing together by sharing our words and worlds with one another … and with laughter. The youngest were still at college ; the oldest were Trade Unionists in their eighties. We were of different ‘race’ and religions and sexualities and backgrounds and the day ended with a call by Steph Green to those of us who might be fooled by the stories of division between the ‘pro-feminist’ West and the barbaric patriarchal Other world of Islam not to allow these powerful narratives to divide us, but to keep on seeing the common ground we share with other women.
Dr Kate Cook (1990) in the middle of a demonstration to have the funding of Manchester Rape Crisis restored … they were successful (photo by Julie Fletcher).