Organiser Anecdotes & Advice

1. What does solidarity mean to you?

– Solidarity means real allyship and being an ally is more than just passively fighting discrimination in all its forms. If you claim to stand in solidarity with someone, you have to be ready to unlearn and re-learn; you have to listen to the group that you stand in solidarity with instead of trying to usurp a movement; you mustn’t invalidate their lived experiences because you’ve never experienced it.

2. What does your activist work entail?

– The first action for anyone who claims to be an activist is to educate yourself. I’ve spent a lot of my time during lockdown reading and exploring subjects like race, gender and feminism from books like Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and Akala’s Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire, just to name a few.

Most recently, I was elected POCRE officer for my college, Wadham, and have been working alongside senior members of College and my fellow POCRE officer to make some much needed changes in Wadham (I don’t know how much I can disclose, but just know I’m relieved at how receptive College has been to these changes).

Lastly, I and two of my friends from university have started our own tutoring agency aimed at Black and POC students, hoping to bridge the attainment gap between BAME and white students and provide mentorship to those who want to apply to university.

3. How have you tried to drum up solidarity among fellow students?

– In Wadham, my fellow POCRE officer and I saw a lack of cohesiveness among the POC community in college, especially inter-year group. We wanted to combat this by creating a POC Buddy System, wherein any upper-year POC student can sign up to be a college parent figure to a POC fresher. I felt that this was important because being a non-white person at Oxford can be a difficult space to navigate so we need support systems in place.

4. Are there any challenges you have faced?

– Definitely. I think the biggest challenge is getting people to actually engage and not be passive with their activism; we live in an era where people have become very detached from the world around them and because of how constantly we see traumatic images/news, we become desensitised to it.

For example, a few months back, someone in my college released a manifesto with some very inappropriate statements but only I and a handful of other POC students spoke out against it. This was distressing to me as I knew most people also disagreed with the sentiments of the manifesto but chose not to speak up because they were detached from it – because it didn’t affect them.

5. Do you have any fun/captivating/motivating anecdotes from your work?

– I think a motivating anecdote for me is, as aforementioned, the current work I’m doing with my college. Seeing how receptive my college has been to all our ideas; working with us to improve College for Black and POC students; involving us in the decision-making progress.

It’s so easy at times to forget the work you do makes a difference (especially when the biggest obstacle to the change you want is bureaucracy), so witnessing the changes you want come into fruition is heartwarming.

Laila, French and Arabic undergrad

Oluwakemi Agunbiade, 20, Wadham College, Oxford

What does solidarity mean to you?

A united commitment to change. It means recognising how far we have come but knowing it is our job to be better, individually and also as communities, countries, families. Being able to critique our peers while understanding this is coming from a desire to help others improve and actualise our goals now we have a clearer understanding of what we can do better. Solidarity is standing with people who might have less than you and using the resources you have and making the sacrifices you must to close that gap.

What does your activist work entail? 

I think it depends which movement you are talking about but I try to bring as much intersectionality into everything I do – even if how it affects marginalised groups isn’t always obvious initially. My activism is really centred on how I can improve my college and my university so it is a lot of writing articles, signposting information but when I can it really entails events I help organise. Right now I am the Co-Chair of It Happens Here Oxford and I am lucky to have such a productive team who works towards spreading awareness, changing policy and holding the university accountable for how it handles the epidemic of sexual violence and the process of so many survivors. 

Are there any challenges that you have faced? 

A challenge that I wish I’d addressed more was how we tend to forget there is hierarchy in marginalised groups. As a black woman, it is surprising how I am expected to be there for both white women and black men in their struggles but both movements never fully grasp that our fight is wholly different because our identities of race and gender, inter alia, are inextricably linked. Then that creates a lot of disillusionment which even I have experienced but I have also perpetuated this by not being more present for other groups like trans women or people with disabilities. No movement is perfect but when you are not reaching those who have to accept the leftovers of our victories, it’s not really winning at all.

Do you have any anecdotes from your work?

Besides working with IHH before I became Co-Chair on the vigil for survivors we held last February, my favourite anecdote might be when we were all in a meeting and I brought up how I think we should do more for PoC survivors and think more carefully about how race shapes trauma. Oxford is still such a white-dominated space that it can feel uncomfortable bringing up race with people who haven’t experienced racism but it facilitated such a necessary conversation. Clara, my Co-Chair suggested we have our next edition of Letters from Survivors be centred around the how sexual violence is impacted by race. It was such a positive moment of just affirming that our activism isn’t exclusive and the learning process for everyone on the team is fluid.

Advice for ‘new’ activists

I read recently in a book called ‘Pleasure Activism’ that we should try to find joy in our activism, which is not always possible because sometimes the things that need to be said are not easy, but if you can perform activism in a way you enjoy whether that’s art, debate, acting, music, changing policies or laws – that will make more sense to you than you trying to be the next MLK, not everyone is a speaker or a politician but getting your message across in a way that makes you feel fulfilled and satisfied with how its put out in the world is more significant than anything. This is what inspired me to be a part of Onyx Magazine, which is a magazine which centers black and Afro-Caribbean creatives and their work, last year as Poetry and Fiction Editor and now as Business Director because I enjoy contributing to a platform that celebrates the type of work that made me feel seen. Secondly, rest because like I said you can sometimes be fighting ugly battles and it can be emotionally exhausting – it’s a test of stamina not speed so if you can create long term change but it takes a longer period of time then that’s better than you only caring a second because you burnt yourself out. Finally, keep learning  – movements exist in waves because although we must know what the people before us were fighting for, we must also adapt to the issues of today. Be humble in your activism because it is internal change as well as external; we need to consistently be working on ourselves and that might require listening to people we don’t understand with ideas that are alien to us but we cannot become stagnant.