At a time of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate chaos, global intensification of alt-right white supremacist terrorism, ongoing colonialism, war and occupation, pervasive gender-based violence, intersectional youth leadership is critically urgent for any kind of future at all. My aim with “Queer Feminist Futures: the 5 Cs of Intersectional Youth Leadership” is to present some valuable learnings from my experiences organising with young people. It is based on a speech I gave as part of a panel called “Mana Taiohi: Intersectional Youth Leadership in Aotearoa/New Zealand” at the Global LBQ Feminist Conference held this year in Cape Town, South Africa. The five Cs of intersectional leadership are aspirational and incomplete, they come from grassroots queer/migrant/feminist youth organising in Aotearoa (New Zealand). I created this zine as part of a graduate Environmental Studies course taught by Dr. Jin Haritaworn at York University who introduces us to the rich histories of QTBIPOC activism in Toronto (Haritaworn, Moussa and Ware 2018), and the importance of “pleasure activism” through the work of adrienne maree brown (2019).
As a framework of understanding power, intersectionality has roots in Black feminist movements in the US. The term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 in the context of Black feminist legal scholarship. While this term can be traced to Crenshaw’s (1989; 1990) work, the practices and understandings of oppressions as interconnected goes back much further in Black feminist and women of colour politics such as in the work of the Combahee River Collective (1977). Since then, the concept has travelled and been taken up transnationally. In the zine, I take up intersectionality to refer to the interconnections of oppressions and propose what it might mean as political practice for grassroots activist leadership, centring QTBIPOC feminist struggles. I hope this resource can serve as a preventative tool for young activists to avoid or be better equipped to deal with some hard lessons I have encountered in social movements: sexual violence, intimate partner violence, bullying and abuse, burnout, erasures, unequal divisions of labour, ageism, racism, saviour complexes, prioritising outcomes over process and relationships.
Zine-making as a form of communication in my experience has often been done communally. While I have not been able to design this resource with others, I have reached out to several people and groups I trust for feedback and consent to have their quotes and names included. They are in the acknowledgment section of the zine. I realised that the way we planned our panel, my speech was incomplete on its own and needed to circle back to Kassie Hartendorp’s talk which provided grounding and context. The visual symbolism of animals, plants, forests, oceans, skies, stars and fire are also reminders that we share the world with so much more than other humans. The artwork was traditionally painted/drawn using ink, brush pens and watercolour.
Transnational exchange can be super generative, spinning new webs of connection and expanding political and practical insights. A greater consciousness of the politics of space and time means I am more alert to temporal hierarchies, colonising chronologies/cartographies and spatialised violence. Intersectionality itself is a spatial metaphor, Crenshaw’s (1990) article is literally called, “Mapping the Margins,” which presents a cartography of power challenging single-issued mappings of power with strict borders between race, gender, sexuality and class. The zine, in a way, can operate as a map to guide intersectional activism, a map building on existing maps, a map that can be redrawn and recoded across temporal/generational and spatial/geographic differences.
It can be easy to spiral into existential despair at the state of the world from the daily circulation of news of rising infection and death rates from COVID-19, the ongoing violence of colonial capitalism, along with mass extinctions, melting ice caps, rising sea levels from climate change. At the same time, the responses of ‘caremongering’, mutual aid and collective care, the international uprisings, climate actions, and mass unrests are cracks in the concrete, creating openings for possibilities of better futures. As Arundhati Roy (2020) wrote, this pandemic is a “portal” to a new world:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.– Arundhati Roy
I hope this zine can also support those fighting for a new world to have a clearer map of intersectional practice: to look after and sustain each other through struggle, to build power together, to create meaningful relationships of solidarity, to prioritise forms of communication that are respectful and anti-oppressive, and to create alternatives, whether that is spaces, structures or cultures that nurture seeds for transformation, towards total liberation.
You can download it for free here.
brown, adrienne maree. (2019). Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. Chico, CA: AK Press.
Combahee River Collective (1977). The Combahee River Collective Statement. Available online: http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. u. Chi. Legal f., 139.
Crenshaw, K. (1990). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stan. L. Rev., 43, 1241.
Haritaworn, Jin, Moussa, G., & Ware, S. M. (2018). Marvellous Grounds: Queer of Colour Histories of Toronto. Toronto: Between the Lines.
Haritaworn, Jin, Moussa, G., Ware, S. M., & Rodrígeuz, R. (2018). Queering Urban Justice: Queer of Colour Formations in Toronto. University of Toronto Press.
Roy, Arundhati. (2020). Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’. Financial Times. URL: https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca