Written by Smita, Illustrated by Upasana Agarwal
The second session of the #SkillsforChange: Public Campaigning for Advocacy and Social Change online workshop series, Crafting Call-for-Action for Public Campaigning was anchored by Rafiul Alom Rahman, founder of the Queer Muslim Project, and had two guest speakers, Alok Vaid-Menon and Phylesha Brown-Acton.
This session, held on 7 August 2020, focused on how to design a clear and concise messaging for our advocacy campaigns, and the role of stories and storytelling in public advocacy. Rafiul shared his own story on how his identities as a Muslim man and a gay man were incongruous to many people, and this was because of lack of representation and visibility of certain identities in the public. The Queer Muslim Project was founded to highlight these identities, and one of its biggest strengths are the first person stories shared by people.
One of the storytelling approaches highlighted by Rafiul was the Authentic Voice Framework which looks at how we tell our stories in the age of community building. This includes the story of self which is about a choice made by us as individuals, the story of us on the choice made by us as a community and impact of the same, and finally the story of now on why this moment is crucial and our call for action.
“Without being mindful of this, our stories may weigh us down instead of lifting us up together,” said Rafiul.
Phylesha Brown-Acton said that as a descendent of the Polynesian people, she is a navigator of people and also a navigator of the seas. Navigation then moves beyond this, to find a way through, or a path, to staying true to your core strategies and cause, and finally achieving the goal of moving from one end to another.
She also highlighted the key role of storytelling as a means of passing on knowledge through stories, poetry, songs, dance and more. Storytelling can also be a very vulnerable thing, she added, and this is why it is powerful.
Sharing her story in human rights spaces and international bodies, and also using her privilege to responsibly share the stories of others who are fighting against oppressive regimes becomes a very important part of advocacy, advocacy through stories and shifting the narratives in these spaces.
Alok Vaid-Menon, a gender nonconforming writer and performance artist, and a professional storyteller, began by emphasising that the process of community organising is a process of challenging stories. There are the stories that are being told about us, and then there are our stories, and the role of social justice has to be about making space for multivocality.
They spoke about one story of trans persons, the story of assimilation became the story of the trans community, the “we are just like you” story. And this means that today those trans persons and gender nonconforming persons who are visibly gender nonconforming face increased scrutiny and violence, and can also face distancing within the trans community as they are seen as too extreme, or too visible, or too flamboyant. Alok challenged the said/unsaid pressure to be palatable, and their attempts to tell stories that are unruly, difficult, and hard to digest to push back against conditional acceptance of only the easy.
The overall session pushed us to think more and more about storytelling as a multiverse, and not a unilateral endeavour in our public advocacy, a tool and practice to advocate for actual change and not just symbolic change. As Alok said, “We shouldn’t just be tolerated. We should be fundamentally liberated.”
This workshop was the second in a series of four workshops about Public Campaigning for Advocacy and Social Change. Click here to find out more about the series, resource persons, and read the other blogs from the series.