Shake! is a series of workshops that work to empower young people to challenge oppressive structures through art, and grassroots creative campaigns for change. We quickly discover that no one theory can explain away or effectively tackle the violent structures pervading our lives. As such, Shake!’s theory of change is pluralistic and dynamic, and a variety of methods are employed to find methods of resistance and change. Participants follow a poetry or film-making pathway, and utilize these art-forms to tackle power and privilege through the lenses of race, class, gender, sexuality and environment, amongst others; the power inherent in art is made manifest.

The last series of workshops, in February, had the theme “States of Violence”. During the workshops, as expected, we tackled state violence – police brutality, the surveillance state, symbolic violence within the urban space, the prison-industrial complex and detention centres – but the theme was far more comprehensive, covering violence in the domestic space, gender-based violence, environmental violence, colonialism, capitalism and violent mental spaces, amongst others. One of the most pertinent questions discussed was whether, under an inherently violent neoliberal system that has also insidiously invaded our minds, reconstruction and resistance must necessarily include aspects of violence. This was followed by a focus on moralizing violence, using Fanon as a touchstone – the general consensus here was that violence, for the oppressed, can sometimes be a necessary course of action, but that this can have dangerous – violent – implications on the psyche of the oppressed.

These implications on the psyche of the oppressed lead to one of the most inspiring aspects of the Shake! workshops: the focus on self-care as a radical act. Audre Lorde’s quote “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” informed our focus on self-care, and this was achieved through activities such as sharing emotions and thoughts at the end of each day, free-writing, sharing our inspirations, and a focus on being playful. One of the most wonderful experiences was the capoeira class we took part in at the end of one of our sessions. Getting in touch with our bodies, we also learnt the inspiring histories behind capoeira as a mode of self-preservation. As activists, we were reminded that we have to be in touch with our bodies, not only our minds. This love and care, not only of the self but of the group and community, enables us to “outwit and outlast our oppressors”.

Working in tandem with this was the group’s commitment to cultivating a safe space. While many activist groups attempt to enforce this, taking part in Shake! was the first time I’d really seen it in action – the first time it seemed to work. The topic was challenging, and led to heightened emotions; Shake! was the first space I’ve been in where discussions were deep and personal enough to make me leave the room crying, and loving enough to make me feel comfortable walking in again. Strangers moments before, we were sharing our most personal experiences.

As mentioned before, the group “split” between the poetry and film-making pathways (although we still managed to sustain ourselves as one connected group). The amount of raw talent and energy within the groups flourished, I think, due to the self-care and safe space, as well as the work put in by the amazing facilitators. The poets were outstanding – words like that seem ridiculous in describing the emotions they stirred, but maybe one of the Shake! poets can pick a better one! – and I am so excited for a video of the showcase to become available so I can show off to all of my friends on their behalf. I chose the film pathway, facilitated by Onysha and Usayd, and our group focused on film-making as a violent act, inspired somewhat by Susan Sontag’s quote from Regarding the Pain of Others: “to frame is to exclude”. Individually, and as a group, we spent the first day of film-making fluctuating between the pages of potential topics. I can’t identify the moment in which it started coming together, but it did, and the result was a beautifully experimental film incorporating the whole Shake! group (special shout out to Wangu!) that I can’t wait to go into further post-production on.

Shake! has shown me a realization of “the personal is political”, and it was Shake! that truly introduced me to a politics committed to engaging the imagination, heart and body as well as the mind. Farzana, Usayd, Onysha, Zena, Sai, Paula, Mika, Adam, Marcina, Goia, Maia, Holly – as well as the rest of you, of course! – thank you for an incredible experience. And thank you to The Real Junk Food Project for keeping our brains and bodies moving throughout the week.

Jinan Petra Golley