RAISE YUH VOICE: Women in Solidarity for a Violence Free Jamaica was held in Kingston, Jamaica on February 18, 2017. The focus of the event was to centralizing culturally generated healing practices and solidarity to strengthen the anti-violence movement in Jamaica.
As the first event of it’s kind the Raise Yuh Voice event connected activists from across Jamaica who are doing local anti-violence work. Through these connections activists in the movement experienced decreased isolation in their work and are given the space and opportunity to work more collaboratively. This contributed to supporting the success of the Survivors March, which had over 2000 people in attendance on March 11, 2017. In addition, Afia Walking Tree’s consultation with local organizers is helping them develop better safety and healing strategies in the face of hostile government backlash.
The major challenge faced this year was having an event to pull together activists and communities across Jamaica. Rarely done, anti-violence movement work tends to be fairly localized due to the significant transportation barriers that exist within the country. In addition, individual activists struggle to share space because of fear of being overshadowed or movements being co-opted by government or foreign interests.
To address the transportation issues, the organizing team decided to work with various organizations and institutions throughout the island. These institutions were provided with transportation stipends for coordinating and bringing people from their communities. This supported the event having people from Kingston, Portland, St. Catherine and Montego Bay. To cultivate trust in the group Afia Walking Tree led several healing meetings that allowed for people to share their stories and use the drum. These sessions nurtured more trust amongst the team and allowed for productive communication about concerns as they came up.
The following strategies were implemented for the campaign:
Political strategy: Raise YUH Voice used local activist voices to help call-out the silence surrounding the violence against women and children in Jamaica. These women called for the community to stand up with survivors to push policies in the legislature.
Artistic strategy: As a healing justice event Raise Yuh Voice was anchored by drum healing, storytelling and poetry. These forms are reflective of Jamaicans traditions of building resilience.
Social strategy: Raise YUH Voice provided opportunities for participants to gather before and after the event to forge connections and relationships.
We also asked for keynote presentations to be interactive or performance lectures. We felt this supported the community in staying engaged and integrating the information. The Drums were used to call open, close and release energy within the space.
The entire event was filled with grassroots organizers and/or community members. Although we did not collect data on LGBTQ status, we estimate roughly 10% of the participants identified under this umbrella due to our outreach to Jamaica’s LGBTQ organizations – JFLAG WEChange, and Transwave.
Some feedback on the Rising:
“I enjoyed all aspects, the sharing was very powerful, the exercise with Afia was excellent, drumming sell off, Mamma G was great, it was a much enjoyed event, with Cherry Natural sharing her very useful self defence techniques, Mrs Blackwood _Meeks with her storytelling great positive energy from everyone sharing.” Participant
“This event started something special and filled an important gap in the healing process for survivors of violence and the people who serve them. The event deserves repeating in multiple spaces in Kingston and in rural centres.” Participant
Jamaica’s rising events have progressed from small local events focused on youth and children to larger events with more cross sectional representation. Risings have included local leaders and provided opportunities for survivors to take the center. Over last 2 years risings have also included and focused on uplifting positive male allies and deconstructing patriarchy. In addition, risings have become spaces to centralize cultural practices familiar to the community and support healing.
Jamaica continues to Rise because the following issues remain the biggest issues facing women and girls in the country:
• The community silence around domestic violence and sexual assault
• The lack of a survivor driven policies
• Government backlash against organizers
• Survivor silence
The prominent integration of the drum into rising space helped to hold the intensity of the movement and left people feeling more resilient. In addition, having interactive presentations seem like great ways to support participants in experiencing a break in isolation.
For next year, we would love to highlight the theme of having “Courage in the Face of Fear”. Many people in Jamaica and the Caribbean experience real consequences for speaking out against violence in their communities. Acknowledging this reality but supporting people with the tools of courage (healing, community building, media skills training, etc.) would be useful. Jamaica will continue to Rise as this annual event begins a season of activist activities for the anti-violence movement.