Once in a while communication breaks between two parties. Sometimes you would privately use a letter and get another letter not honoring your demands. Sometimes you never even receive a response at all. Other times, you would make a call or actually meet in person and still not have your case resolved. When such a thing happens, when you feel unnoticed and realize there is no willpower from other parties involved to sort your issue out, you may need other people to join you in getting your solution. This roping in of others for your problem to be dealt with or for a common goal to be achieved is a perfect bed to sprout activism.
Activism may be defined differently depending on who is defining it and for what purpose they are doing so. Activism to me means making aware of your grievance to have it resolved. It is a form of communication that involves actively representing an issue to authorities or powers that be and often with the involvement of sympathizers’ help in making a louder noise for something right to be done. Activism involves different kinds of demonstrations from marches to advertisements, from riots to campaigns, from public lectures to festivities, and so on.
The main purpose is to make sure that a grievance is properly and completely fixed. Among other things, activism also gets people to know and pay attention to issues that they may otherwise have not paid attention to. It also creates a community of people who are being affected by a particular disservice that individually looks too big for one to pursue and demand corrected. An example of an issue that called for activism to be resolved was the police brutality perpetrated on Nigerian youth. It resulted in the widely participated #EndSars campaign. It was all over social media, involved physical marches, and also had music made about it, all demanding a better police service that protected and not harmed people.
Other than building communities of sympathizers or of the affected, activisms tell stories of what happens when we allow our societies to rot from greed, corruption, injustice, and lawlessness. These stories stand to remind us of what to never recede to as a people, teach us to be resilient in fighting for what’s right, and importantly show that eventually light wins. Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of teaching and learning, storing and recording information and knowledge, and it has for the longest time been the basis on which decisions were made and civilizations built. Stories at the core of activism are what moves people to connect and associate with others’ struggles enough to come out to support.
It seemed normal, once upon a time, in South Africa for students without financial support to be kicked out of schools. Until the #FeesMustFall campaign, many such students suffered their education being cut short for not paying their school fees. The campaign managed to cast light on the evilness lurking in the decision to send students away for lack of school fees. Above all, it showed what the whole country stood to gain if only they revisited that decision. No one today can ignore what that campaign achieved in the South African education sphere. It has ascended to the height of being a reference on how to run a successful campaign.
Activism shows the importance of speaking out and acting towards what one is speaking upon. If you are quiet about what is bothering you, what is wrong will continue happening to you and gaining ground because perpetrators think it is normal or that they can get away with it. It is only when you speak out or point out the malady that any remedy can be identified and applied. Take Gender-Based Violence, many women who are victimized and remain quiet about such behavior end up dead or fatally injured by the time the authorities or support gets wind of the ordeal. Activism gives action and energy to words: sometimes people ignore words when spoken but it is not easy to ignore actions.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” is a Zambian proverb that emphasizes working together. The collective voice and action in Activism are what make the message loud and far-reaching. When people come together to achieve something, oftentimes they succeed because many efforts are being directed at one thing. In the recent past, we have been witnesses and participants to the global #BlackLivesMatter and local #KeepLusakaClean campaigns. The major lesson from this is that a community is always bigger than the problem it faces, and when united and determined nothing can stop such a group of people. Whether we felt affected or just obliged to participate because it was the right thing to do, these two campaigns are trying to remedy some serious ills our societies are being faced with the world over.
Here are excerpts of protest poems by the featured poets: Chindo Na Matthew, Musonda NdiBlackSaphire and King TMC:
‘This Disease’ by Chindo Na Matthew
This disease is dust
When Zambia is smartly dressed
Zambia doesn’t need him
For he is a poisonous gas
Who takes up calls of any container
Contagious Covid, Cholera, Cancer, Confusion
Combined can’t kill this disease
For he cunningly commands and contains
All of them at once, hence this disease
Is acid in the eyes of the Judiciary
Right? From their made impaired vision
It is the innocent who can’t see
Justice is just ice under the sun
Not solid enough
If you are poor for sure…
This disease is not a star
It must not shine…
This disease is corruption.
‘I Was Just A Girl Walking Down The Street’ by Musonda NdiBlackSaphire
I felt my heart beat
One, two, three: like it was all a dream
But when I opened my eyes
He was still inside my legs
My soul, like a thief in the night
He stole my future
That went deeper than he could
This man that preyed on little girls
Piercing their souls like voodoo dolls
Sending them in a trance
The only way they felt safer was to dream
An imaginary place they built in their cerebral cortex
I said no!
I really said no
At least that’s the story I told…
I picked myself up
My dignity still on the floor
Hoped no one in sight will pass me by
Looking at me with spite in their eyes.
‘I Just Need Answers’ by King TMC
Honestly, honesty should be upheld
I melt, each time I contemplate about this nation’s Debt
I wonder, are we inept?
I mean, how can we even be independent?
When we are still bound by the Euro and other bonds
In form of aid, I drowned in my fears
With tears when I thought about my daughter
And wondered if there will still be a Zambia to call home…
In all, poetry is a form of activism and also a tool for advocacy in itself. Every poet is trying to share light, to show darkness, to speak up or act against some discomfort. Creative Activism what Word Smash Poetry Movement specializes in is one tenet of activism that admits poetry to its stage. Obviously, you have heard of terms such as protest poetry, activism poetry, and so on, this type of poetry points a stern finger on wrongs in society and with another gestures to the remedy. Poetry can advocate for better governance, human rights, climate action, and for youth participation in shaping societies of today. Poetry is never comfortable with the status quo, as they say, “familiarity (sameness) breeds contempt (deformity),” so poetry inspires change. Poetry demands change, poetry is change.
Gerry Sikazwe is the Communication Lead at Word Smash Poetry Movement, a seasoned literary voice and enthusiast of youth development. He lives and writes from Lusaka, Zambia.