Tigers in kitten suits... or ten things you need to know about survivor activists
This weekend I did something that is all in a day's activism for a survivor activist - with a fellow collective member I ran a workshop on 'speaking out' about childhood sexual abuse. We didn't really know who would be there and what they would want to talk about. However in those 90 minutes I renewed my enthusiasm for, and faith in, activism. We spoke to a group of medical and nursing students - some were survivors, some not, and some were supporters of other survivors. We got straight down to work discussing the boundaries between professionalism and lived experience, how to consider the whole person in any encounter and agreed a list of immediate, achievable actions. There are now ten smart students out in the world with perhaps a better insight into what it means to be a survivor and some things they want to change. Now that's activism!
Here at the Survivors' Collective we live, breathe, think and eat activism. When we eat activism we call it 'snacktivism'. Not a day goes by when one of us isn't contemplating our next step, planning a forum, chatting on the whatsapp group, writing a blog, sharing a story, filming a vlog, writing a poem, meeting other projects, reaching out to a fellow survivor, speaking at conferences, making connections, running a workshop or simply talking to another person about abuse.
Let me give you the lowdown on us survivor activists with the ten things you need to know:
All survivor activists are passionate creatures. Our activism comes from our hearts. We've experienced some terrible things that have changed our lives. We can't turn back the clock but we can use the strength of our feelings to do what we can to improve understanding of and support for survivors and strive to prevent abuse happening in future.
We share. Not quite everything but as much as possible, and in particular our skills, knowledge, experience and expertise to support one another in our activism.
Our knowledge is second to none. We have what is called "lived experience"; in simple terms it happened to us, so we know what it means to have been abused. Ask us a question, we'll give you an authentic answer.
We are hopeful to our core. You can't be an activist without holding on to the possibility that history does not always repeat itself, that we can make a difference, that the future could be different. This isn't a blind optimism, more a sense that small steps, small actions, mean we move further along the road to change.
We have empathy in spades. We know what it means to feel alone and lonely, exhausted, angry, defeated, lost, frightened, disassociated, anxious, a bit mad, unable to get up, unable to sleep, sometimes unable to just be. We get it. And we'll always let you know we get it.
We know how to be fierce. Because sometimes that's how it's got to be. An inappropriate Jimmy Savile joke, disrespectful reporting, poor judgement - our claws will be out and our paws swiping. We may look like soft kittens on the outside, but we're as fierce as tigers on the inside.
Our determination will not be shaken. Full stop. We know we have to change how society thinks, how it reacts and continue the struggle to prevent abuse.
Creativity is our middle name. That doesn't just mean drama, writing, film making, art (but there is a lot of that) it also means coming up with ingenious solutions to taxing things like how to do big things on a small budget, how to do small things that have a big impact, or how to approach a thorny issue in an inclusive and sensitive way.
Humour - have you heard the one about Childhood Sexual Abuse - The Musical? ...Yes this is our joke. Survivor humour. Laughing, gags, quips, satire they all get us through. Humour brings a lightness to what we're doing that keeps it fresh, and keeps us sane.
The change gene - written into the DNA of each and every survivor activist is the need to bring about change. The need to do something; the need to act. It is our response to what has been done to us and we believe that it is the healthiest of all responses. It can be exposing, traumatic, tiring, even frightening to be an activist, but it is also rewarding, life affirming, purposeful and necessary. Very very necessary.
So that's our ten point guide to survivor activism. There is an eleventh point - the survivor superpower - but I'll save that for another day.