Helen Cox celebrates the art and skill of activist celebration, including three inspiring examples. 

Celebration is an often under-rated tactic of social change and community building, and no wonder, modern Western cultures often view leisure and celebration as a sin against productivity. ‘Tall Poppy’ Syndrome (a social phenomenon found in many cultures, such as the Danish Law of Jante) may also be holding us back from congratulating ourselves on a job well done, but far from being an indulgent, celebration is an activist skill!

Celebration can take any number of forms for social change groups and movements. Examples might include groups of campaigners celebrating the achievement of early milestones in a campaign to national days of celebration for significant historical events in broad based social change movements, for example, International Workers Day and Martin Luther King Day (USA).

Celebration helps us process and recognise the significance of the change we have created and reinforces the powerful experience of people united together for a purpose. We build relationships and community, including wider communities of solidarity, when we pull together and collectively pat ourselves on the back.

When we purposefully recognise and reflect that change has happened because of us, we also affirm the power of participation and give rise to hope. This is a powerful burnout prevention strategy. This year in Australia, despite a hostile and neo-conservative political climate, we still have plenty to celebrate!

Here’s some awesome examples to inspire you!

Commonground Festival (Melbourne)

cog festCommonground Festival is a social change festival currently in its third year, held at Commonground Co-operative, an intentional community and training venue located near Seymour (Victoria). Commonground is a community enterprise that has plenty to celebrate- this year it also marks its 30th year of supporting local groups and social change movements through the use of the venue and services provided by the Groupwork Institute of Australia.

Carl Scrase, resident at Commonground Co-operative and Co-director of the Commonground Festival feels celebrations and festivals are a great way for participants to get to know the culture of an organisation, build capacity and provide a ‘pathway into knowing the community and organisation in a deeper way’. He says the physical, emotional and cultural space of a festival or celebratory environment is one in which people ‘sit in different selves’; this gives us a chance to see each-other in a different roles and let our guard down more than we would in perhaps a work or task-oriented environment. For festival volunteers though, this is a chance to step up and take responsibility as part of a team working on a large project that is deeply connected with the social change community.

If you would like to know more about the ins and outs of organising festivals please contact the team through the festival website.

Riff Raff Radical Marching Band (Sydney)

riff raffRiff Raff Radical Marching Band is a well known and vibrant feature of protests and rallies in Sydney (New South Wales). They started out four years ago as a group of climate change activists keen to combat boring rallies and create an exciting visual and aural spectacle that people could connect with. Wenny Theresia, a player with the band, notes that their unabashed style and bad pop songs add an useful and energetic presence to rallies to make them more family friendly, bigger and more powerful.

The band, a version of which has also recently started in Melbourne, is influenced by the Brass Liberation Orchestra (Oakland, USA) who aim to ‘inspire, instigate, agitate, mourn, celebrate, and communicate’ social change and Rude Mechanical Orchestra (New York, USA) who formed in the dark days of 2004 and were ‘reminded of the incredible power of music – even if the people playing it are a little out of practice and their horns a little out of tune – to change hearts, change the weather, change the world.’ Recently, Riff Raff Radical Marching Band has taken part in the Sydney Mardi Gras and National Folk Festival. They will have a Civil Discobedience (no coal and gas) float at the 2015 Mardi Gras and have recently participated in actions relating to climate action, refugees and Palestine.

riff raff 2

Riff Raff Radical Marching Band at Sydney Mardi Gras.

Plan B: Celebrating Resistance

plan b flyPlan B is a decentralised week long festival held in solidarity with groups protesting the G20 summit in Brisbane in November, such as the Brisbane Blacks. The focus is on coming together not only to demonstrate and celebrate the achievements of community and activist groups in local areas, but to encourage people to join projects and affinity groups and act in defiance against the capture of democracy by political elites and multi-national corporations. Anyone and everyone is encouraged to touch base with groups and celebrate ourselves, as well as learn about histories of resistance.

To find out more about planned events in Melbourne, see the Facebook page.

plan b

Need more ideas about the whys and hows of activist celebration? Check out Holly’s article ‘Celebration is an Activist Skill‘, featuring wisdom collected from a group at Melbourne Campaigners Network.

Do you have any recent examples of celebrating social change? Tell us about them!