It did not take long to realize that the Social Movements, Resistance and Social Change conference “Activating Collectivity: Aroha and Power” held in Wellington, Aotearoa on November 11th-14th, 2020 was unlike any other conference I had been to. Immediately upon my arrival the attention to detail of the décor, through active engagement with beauty, wellness and kindness was present everywhere. From the small details in the teddy bear displays in the corner to the long table of “kai-dness” as the central focus, this was going to be something different.
And of course I was right. These small attention to details that gave me the comforts of kindness and welcome that is often missing from these conference spaces. During the opening session the conference organizers stood at the front with no shoes and a bright and open smile. Standing on warm tapestries with a couple of couches covered in colourful cloths in the background, the lecture hall at the Victoria University of Wellington was transformed to a place where community organizers, activist scholars and engaged people could think about how to transform the world. “It is no coincidence we are here at this time in this place together” the organizers shared in the opening. We were here to think through global change in a time of tremendous unrest in the world. And that is exactly what we did. Sessions on racism, climate change, whānau and aroha transformed typical conference sessions into moments of self reflection, self love and community engagement. Organizers and academics from across the country-in person and online-looked to share transformational ideas of change. And it was here, for the first time in a long time, I felt hope, witnessed resilience and waited suspended by the potential of aroha.
Over four days of compelling and thoughtful sessions that targeted a range of topics speakers gathered from across the country to stimulate conversation. Some of my favourite sessions included Dr. Adele Norris, Senior lecturer at the University of Waikato, on a panel called “Confronting Racism and Violence.” She discussed racism and pandemic in the time of COVID 19. Using statistics and stories she showed how Black and Indigenous people think about pandemic differently since they have been perpetually living in a state of pandemic. Her presentation was a powerful reminder of how different bodies internalize and experience pandemic because of the historical intergenerational trauma within their bodies and the ongoing effects of structural and institutional racism.
On the keynote Whānau panel MahMah Timoteo, Makanaka Tuwe and Dr. Elizabeth Kerekere explored how whānau shape identity and social movements. Most notably Mahmah shared her experiences doing academic research at “home” in the Cook Islands and how that has shaped her understanding of her body. She discussed how reclaiming ones body is a process and the extended relationship with oneself and ones whānau is crucial in making that happen. Newly elected member of parliament Dr. Elizabeth Kerekere discussed the powerful shift in participating in social justice movements from activist spaces to the government. This was an important reminder for the young people in the room that just because the venue changes doesn’t mean the work does. Finally, Makana Tuwe shared experiences of burnout and how important it is that we all give ourselves a break. A powerful panel that captured the essence of how taking care of yourself is a powerful expression of caring for our whānau.
Finally, Pania Newton and Pua Case, on video chat from Hawai’i, spoke about caring for Whenua. They provided passionate and crucial reminders that understanding and joining global Indigenous movements is key in protecting land rights and taking care of whenua. They stressed how relationships are everything and part of our work at the conference and always is in developing and respecting these relationships. This conference was a powerful four days. I send my deepest respect and admiration to a dedicated team of organizers. They paid attention to every detail and successfully created thinking communities surrounded by the collectivity they wish to inspire!