RebELLEs march

Our revolution is now! Over 350 young feminists from across Canada and Quebec assembled at the University of Winnipeg over the 2011 May long weekend for the second Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering. This four-day, grassroots and participatory event was packed with action, dialogue, anger, tears, discussion, networking and a lot of laughter and celebrating as we tackled core issues that are at the heart of feminism today.

Entitled Notre Révolution Féministe, Our Revolution is Now, this second gathering built upon the foundation laid at the first pan-Canadian gathering held in Montréal in 2008. This gathering marked the beginning of the RebELLEs movement — where young feminists gathered together to fight the rise of the right, defend women’s rights and continue to improve the lives of girls and women in our home communities and worldwide.

Using a collective process, participants created and adopted the RebELLEs Manifesto, the political basis of unity for our movement. Since the first gathering in Montréal, we have been mobilizing across Canada and Quebec, with RebELLEs groups holding creative actions in communities including Whitehorse, Ottawa, Saguenay, Montreal and many others. We have been marching, mobilizing, protesting and holding other political actions to make change in our communities.

The organizing process for the 2011 RebELLEs Gathering was decentralized, consensus-based and intentionally planned by and for young feminists. As the on-the-ground organizers, FemRev — a grassroots feminist collective in Winnipeg — worked to cultivate a non-hierarchical environment that would foster the learning and sharing of young feminists’ knowledge, skills, analysis and strategies for action to make change in our home and wider communities.

A decentralized, pan-Canadian consultation process was developed in order to ensure the inclusion of voices and priorities of young feminists from all corners of the country. Throughout these pan-Canadian consultation meetings, RebELLEs identified five action areas which we felt were most relevant to the current feminist movement and most urgent to address in our current political climate. These action areas are violence against women, peace and demilitarization, anti-racism and decolonization, environmental justice and poverty as well as anti-capitalism. Throughout the gathering, workshops were facilitated with the goal of creating a set of resistance actions, alternatives and demands for each of these action areas, which would then be taken to the larger group and collectively adopted as one document to guide the RebELLEs movement’s political actions.

The weekend held many formal and informal activities, workshops and events which gave space and voices to young feminists for developing and deepening our feminist analysis — these included creative and thematic workshops, discussions within the five action areas, a community march and feast, identity group caucusing, interactive and participatory plenary sessions, panel presentations, a game of feminist jeopardy and a cabaret and dance party to celebrate our movement.

No matter the love, care and analysis that goes into planning an event of this scale, oppressions can and are often reproduced within activist communities. Some participants of the RebELLEs Gathering reported experiences of racism, homophobia and ableism, among others, within the weekend’s activities. As disheartening as this is, it is also a reminder of how strong the oppressive patriarchal and racist ideologies are within our culture and even within our work. Though we have good intentions and values, our actions and interactions are still influenced by these negative forces and at times reproduce the same power imbalances that we are fighting against.

In a truly grassroots and participatory event, with feminists who hold a variety of backgrounds and experiences, these ingrained systems of oppression were revealed within our own movement. Upon discovering what was occurring within the smaller workshops, with an intense conversation and discussion, the organizing committee recognized the opportunity which was being introduced at this gathering for us to truly put our analysis and knowledge into action, and to bring light to the injustices which were occurring within our own community.

The organizing committee took the brave step of deciding to respond to the feedback they were given by the gathering’s participants. Monday morning, originally scheduled to adopting the resistance, actions, alternatives and demands document, was altered and rescheduled to provide a space for the voices of those experiencing oppression within our movement to be heard and shared. After hearing from a number of groups, participants were invited to organize autonomously to discuss and explore how we, as young feminists, are building our movement — what we should keep doing, and what needs to change.

Each group was invited after the consultations to share and speak their voices to all participants. It was difficult to hear how patterns of oppression were being modelled within our movement, but it was also a revolutionary step for RebELLEs to actively stop, respond and create space for all of our participants to listen and share with each other. Though we did not collectively edit and adopt our set of priorities for action, we did come out of the weekend with a much stronger sense of who we are, who we want to be and our commitment and priorities for how we will continue to work together as a pan-Canadian young feminist movement.

It has now been almost three weeks since the gathering took place. What now? Where do we go from here? Ending the gathering on a challenging note, after a weekend of little sleep and intense, important discussion, many of us are feeling frustrated, tired and not sure how to proceed. It is in these difficult moments that it is crucial to remember that we are constantly evolving; not only as individuals but also as a movement of young feminists.

We all hope for a movement where every woman feels safe and represented at all times, but as feminists we know that this is not always attainable. While we continue to strive for this, we also recognize the beauty inherent in this struggle; in the relationships and trust we form as young feminists trying to understand and unravel the complexities of oppression. We remember to proceed boldly but carefully, mindful of the limitations that exist in a non-funded, decentralized, volunteer-run grassroots movement.

While we remember that process is essential, we need to remember not to let process impede action. As imperfect as our movement may be, it is still important to take action on issues which we can all agree on. Action and process need to co-exist, and should happen simultaneously. RebELLEs will continue to speak out against the injustices we see, within ourselves and also within the oppressive structures around us. While we strive to live justly and struggle with our internal challenges, we will not lose our momentum for action. We will use these new fires, new friendships and new level of trust to propel us forward as agents of change. This growing process is a struggle, and it is also a joy, as we continue to fight against oppression of women everywhere.