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Advocacy and Activism: Sandra Dickson

Fri 9 Dec 2016 In: People View at Wayback View at NDHA

As we fight for a future free from oppression, activism and advocacy are the building blocks of our communities. We take a look at the work of a diverse range of people who fight for change. What does advocacy and/or activism mean to you? For me, advocacy is about representing the needs, interests and perspectives of marginalised groups to argue for rights, and activism is about changing people’s minds in the direction of justice. There’s loads of ways to do that – from protests which shock complacent dominant ideas (which I love) to difficult conversations in relationships with people you care about (which I also love, even if I need a break from them sometimes) to everything in between. How did you first become involved in advocacy and/or activism and what kind of work do you do? I went to university after growing up in the Hutt Valley, where girls get called “Hutt Sluts.” It was completely normal for other students at varsity to say things like “you get good marks for someone from the Hutt.” I had a kind of radicalisation there, which was strange because I hated it in all sorts of ways. I spent most of my first year stoned with friends who weren’t there, because they had left school earlier, to work, because their families needed the money. But meeting feminists, and queer folks, and people involved in socialist, anarchist and peace and human rights activism became the reason I went to varsity. Tangimoana and Waihopai peace camps, feminist demonstrations, joining the Wellington Bisexual Women’s Group and helping organize national bi+ conferences. The conversations I had with my friends outside of activism and varsity were always in my head too though, and to be honest, they still are. I’m not interested in activism which makes no sense for real people’s lives. I’ve not ever been able to separate out my activism from my life or into separate discrete strands. Because for me, you’re either working on and thinking about and trying to dismantle all the power overs, or you’re not listening to enough people. There’s been other super formative stuff for me too. I’ve spent decades working in Refuges and the sexual violence sector, and in Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Tiriti structures both. I have been very privileged to experience awhi by many older Māori women, who have shifted my perspectives in all the ways, particularly around dealing with conflict. The idea of “leaving everyone intact” or mana enhancing disagreements was a key learning for me, and it’s so foreign to white activist ideas of taking/calling people out, I’m not sure I would have learnt it in other activist spaces. Over the last year some of the work I’ve done has been with Ara Taiohi, the national peak body for the youth sector, to support youth places to be safer for sex, sexuality and gender diverse young people. Also Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence, starting conversations about partner and sexual violence in Rainbow communities, and trying to spark change in how we recognize, prevent and respond to violence. Plus bi+ advocacy and community organizing, making sure the PROUD conference had lots of stuff for people attracted to more than one gender and running workshops in all kinds of places. At the moment I’m also doing some stuff with OuterSpaces in Wellington, to support their volunteers running peer support groups with queer and trans young people. And I write at the feminist blog the Hand Mirror about all kinds of social justice issues. What issues are you most passionate about? My anti-racist activism has primarily been education work with other Pākehā about colonization and relationships with Māori. I’ve done lots of that inside the gendered violence world, in partnership with Māori. I am super passionate about having conversations with other white people which take responsibility for shifting racism and white supremacy. I’ve always felt that sexual violence is a tool of control, so that’s been a massive part of my activism. I’ve organized protests and given workshops or seminars all over the place, written and delivered violence prevention and healthy relationships programmes, answered crisis lines, developed new services around violence prevention, trained hundreds of people. One of my favourite ways to do this is through writing, particularly in feminist spaces; this year it was awesome to be part of the US based Queering Sexual Violence anthology. In terms of queer and trans stuff, I’m super interested in bi+ visibility and community, and making sure that people attracted to more than one gender have our voices heard in multiple ways, inside and outside our wider Rainbow communities. But I’m also interested in all the sex, sexuality and gender diversity justice issues, because I think they are all entwined. If we don’t stand up against transphobia for example, not only are we leaving our trans whanau isolated and alone, we’re supporting gender policing and rigid gender roles that are bad for everyone. If we don’t challenge the discrimination people with HIV face, that slippery slope of cis-heteronormative moral disgust at all the ways we fuck, play and love grows momentum. And if we don’t name the torture of unnecessary genital surgery on babies’ bodies that don’t fit bizarre ideas of “normal”, not only are we turning away from human rights violations, we also open the doors to other kinds of non-consensual experimentation on queer bodies. I guess I should also acknowledge that I get disclosures from people about non-monosexuality all the time. All The Time. It’s rare for an umbrella Rainbow event to not include someone telling me they are too scared to be out as bi+. This makes my heart break – we still don’t create safe enough places for all our ways of loving. I keep expecting this to change. It hasn’t yet. How do you see these issues being addressed - what needs to change? It’s no secret we’re in dangerous times. To make sure some of the terrifying things we see happening elsewhere don’t take root in the same way here I think we need stronger alliances between activists, real solidarity and the ability to tell stories about a different world. We need to keep having those hard conversations – whether that’s about trans healthcare or racism towards new migrants or colonization or violence towards queer folks or poverty and benefit bashing – with our families, our colleagues, our communities, inside our political groups. We need to organize for social change and that means creating relationships with people we don’t agree with, to open up new conversations. We need to have better ways to start those conversations, because too often at the moment activists are only really talking to ourselves. How do you think activism has changed over the years and what does it look like today? Activism is always changing, and that’s great. I think there was a massive reaction to the Te Urewera raids back in 2007 that set all kinds of activism back years in Aotearoa, and there’s no doubt neo-liberalism has taken its toll too. But we’re seeing a big swelling up again, of rage and impatience at all kinds of inequalities, and that feels wonderful. I also think the groundswell of decolonization and anti-racist activism internationally and here in Aotearoa will fundamentally change organizing here, as it did in the 1980s. The first time I received a Te Tiriti challenge inside bi+ organizing was from Hinemoana Baker in the early 1990s. Our Rainbow groups have much to do in this area I think – we’ve not kept up and that’s disappointing. I also think activism in the Rainbow world has the excitement of youth voices driving changes, and I love watching the leadership young people are taking and showing, especially around gender diversity, where they are, quite honestly, leaving us older folks in the dust. What is one thing that you have learned from your activism or advocacy work? I guess I’m super aware of activism as a process, rather than a destination. I know I’ve learnt heaps from listening to people who experience oppressions that I don’t, and that I change my behavior and thinking in response to that, often. I am drawn to other activists that know and live this, always, because I think it’s more honest than pretending we all know all the things, all the time. Who inspires you to keep going? I feel driven around equity issues – I always have. I want to be part of building communities where we share resources fairly, which have healthy conflict resolution processes, where people get to celebrate all kinds of bodies, gender expression, ways of fucking and loving. I want to know what decolonizing Aotearoa looks like, because this land will never have peace without justice, and we won’t move towards that until more Pākehā know and can acknowledge our history – we stole this land. And I want every one single person to KNOW their body will never be touched without their enthusiastic, playful and joyful consent. So yeah, dreams keep me going. That and watching and learning from the magic other people make happen in the world. What would you say to anyone who is wanting to make a difference in their community but doesn’t know where to start? I’d say go meet some people, in real life or virtually, that are doing activism. Lots of different people, on a few issues you’re interested in. I know that’s harder for some people than others – parents, people with health issues, introverts – but the joy of connecting with people who share your concerns is super important for activists, so we can have those hard conversations which spark change. Dream about the world you want. There’s millions of ways to be an activist, but it always starts with relationships based on equity, justice and respect I think.     - 9th December 2016


First published: Friday, 9th December 2016 - 11:28am

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