A Year In Review!

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This was the embodiment of love, solidarity and support. Never defeated.

“Keep it alive - Keep campaigning. Protect the archive. Look after each other. Stay critical”

 

I found these words hand-written on the front page of a book that a previous Women’s Officer had gifted to the SU liberation library. I found them in my first weeks of the job and I returned to them often because they embodied everything I envisioned when I wrote me manifesto in Angela Block, March 2022.

 

“Keep it alive - Keep campaigning. Protect the archive. Look after each other. Stay critical.

 

 

Keep it alive!

Keep what alive? Over the year ‘it’ would look different, but always ‘it’ would be the Women’s Campaign. When I started in this post the Women’s Campaign (WomCam) was coming out of a post-pandemic slump, of the 18 positions that made up WomCam’s committee only 2 were filled. Re-igniting the Women’s Campaign became a top priority and I spent the first few weeks speaking to previous Women’s Officers - getting a better understanding of what exactly an ‘alive’ Women’s Campaign looked like and how to get it to that point. 

First and foremost, keeping it alive meant believing in the space the Campaign holds in the student body and believing that students would fill it again, even in the face of low turn-out at events or forums. It meant studying pictures of WomCam forums from past years - when events had packed out the SU lounge, college auditoriums or any space they could get their hands on - and trying hard to not feel discouraged. 

Keeping it alive meant filling term cards with events that would signify the radical political direction of the Campaign: events on Black Feminism, Organizing against Gendered Islamophobia, and Trans-national solidarity with Jin Jiyan Azadi (the Women Life Freedom movement in Iran). 

It entailed a recognition of the Women’s Campaign as a community of students learning and caring for each other which prompted community events that would bring us together to chat; informally at Stitch and Bitch which was a favorite, and more structurally over tea, coffee and biscuits at Book Clubs where we listened to each other and the readings that had gathered us. 

As per the demands of a Cambridge academic year keeping WomCam alive. At times it felt like chasing a ghost but very suddenly the Campaign grew, the Committee expanded to 10 members and together we organized the Anti-cisheteronormativity party, Reclaim the Night and published a Zine! Flexing the political consciousness we had developed in book clubs and the aforementioned speaker events, the Campaign raised money for the Kite Trust, Strike Support Fund and The Jin Jiyan Azadi Movement; all before launching a campaign against the Gender Awarding Gap in Easter Term. Despite this growth the Campaign still doesn’t look like ‘it’ did before the pandemic, indeed ‘it’ looks different in July than ‘it’ looked in April than ‘it’ will look in October. ‘It’ has taken on many faces but ‘it’ will always be the Women’s Campaign and ‘it’ is alive!   




 

Keep Campaigning!

quickly realized that the operative word here was ‘keep’. The Women’s Officer and the Women’s Campaign have been around and campaigning for years. When I first wrote my manifesto I was a masters student who had been in Cambridge for less than 6 months and I hadn’t yet interacted with the Women’s Campaign. When I began in this post, addressing Street Lighting and Drink Spiking were my top priorities and, because there had not been a Women’s Officer for most of the previous academic year, I was falsely inclined to believe that these were ‘new’ campaigns. They aren’t - they existed before me and they will exist after me. Although in January I launched a street lighting survey which generated contemporary data about the badly lit areas in Cambridge, I would learn in March - when exhibiting the WomCam archives - that in the 80s the Campaign had produced and circulated a map highlighting the problem areas at the time. Keep campaigning let me connect, draw and give energy to a history of campaigning. I could acknowledge the lighting on Parkers Piece as a win from this campaign whilst isolating and working on the lighting situations at Eddington and Burrells Walk as future wins - all of which I am a part of. To keep campaigning is to be active with history, to continue animating the work.


 

Protect the archive

I was meant to write about this months ago. 

At some point during my handover period is a memory of sitting with Ben (Welfare and Communities Officer 2021/22) in the SU lounge as they presented the WomCam archive to me which they had scavenged from various rooms, attics and kitchens. I remember thinking about how to keep the archive, where to store the archive, when to display the archive. I can’t remember if this was before or after I came across the words ‘protect the archive’. I am sure it doesn’t matter. 

 

Notice: This event displaying the WomCam archive has been rescheduled. WomCam will be animating the work and supporting the protest against Helen Joyce outside Gonville and Caius at 6PM. 

This bought me a month, I needed it. I had never entered an archive in this way. Somewhere between that first archive event and preparing for the rescheduled one I wrote on a purple slip of paper that I wouldn’t see again for months, an explanation, a question, an archiving taboo, a desire:

"I left post-it notes between files as bookmarks to return to. I thought about the fold-up table I was working on. I thought about the intimacy of this work ‘alone’. A bright pink post-it declaring ‘I Eseosa Kikachukwu Akojie, was here — right here —---- and ‘I’ plan to return (because ‘I’ have been here before and so ‘I’ will be here again)”




Our Story: The WomCam Archives

In this interactive exhibition we are overjoyed to be presenting ourselves back to ourselves - tracing our roots, histories and legacies as we continue to look towards that liberated, abolitionist, feminist horizon.

Thematically displaying The Women Campaigns’ archive, this event will be a loose open space. You are encouraged to interact with the archive - touch it, feel it, remember and relive it. We want you to pay attention to how the archive makes you feel about WomCam, feminism, community, the future and yourself; paper, pens and art supplies will be dotted around the space for you to write, draw and share these reflections. Whatever you create and leave behind will become part of the archive. 


Reflections left at the WomCam Archive Event now in the Archive

"Make the Campaign bigger. We need a louder voice!”

"I feel happy and less alone”

Feeling very enriched and enamored with the familiar, ??, beautiful, radical intimacies that manage to persist in a space that can feel so hostile to our joy. In love with the archive and so many of those held within it! (exacerbated by free womcam wine) <3 <3 <3”

 

“Important Stuff <3 - can’t wait to see the legacy continue xx”

...feel the potential of truly radical spaces in this cursed institution”

So frustrating to so little change on sexual harassment over 30+ years”

 

Womcam is beautiful <3”
“More Gender Agenda”
“Love being part of the process and watching womcam members come together! One of my favorite events”

 

“ ‘The most beautiful part of your body is wherever your mother’s shadow falls - Ocean Voung’ Mother as those who have come before us in social movements.”


 

“Progress is not linear”



Look after each other! 

I have never thought more about how we look after each other than I did on/around the Reclaim the Night March. In the lead-up it was logistical, what route was most accessible, how many stewards would we need etc?  Then, on the night itself about a quarter of the way through the planned path we were accosted by an unhoused man who took issue with our chants and the march. A tall, physically dominating man, he followed us the rest of the march, shouting at us, getting into the middle of the crowd and shouting at individuals. I thought about how we are meant to look after each other without the police. What does de-escalation look like here when the individual is angry and inebriated but the volunteers stewarding the march are students younger than me. When we abandoned the march because people no longer felt safe I cried and thought about how difficult it is to look after each other and hold a space as safe. 

 

The following is excerpted from the speech I gave after the march at the pre-planned, follow-up Vigil. The full speech can be found in the Gender Agenda Zine. 

“…Given everything that we’ve experienced tonight and in the past 12 months, I think we owe it to ourselves to take a pause, to catch our breath, to shed a tear, to be angry. I want to stare the violence we’re facing everyday right in the face and I want to cry without strategy, without action plans, without organization. So I’m going to ask us to take a minute and it doesn’t have to be silent…

…I want to say now that no one is coming to save us - no government, no political party - we have to save each other, we have to save ourselves. No one is going to mourn us - no government, no political party - we have to mourn each other, we have to mourn ourselves…”

I had written the speech beforehand but the night's events made it feel even more urgent. In the vigil I looked around and thought again about how we look after each other; how we do so in saving ourselves and, when that isn’t possible, how we must do so in mourning ourselves.  

The day after, when I learnt that one of the marchers ended up walking the unhoused man home after he was randomly assaulted by another unhoused individual, I thought again about how all we can do is look after each other. How central care is to the work we do because that man also deserves our solidarity. Living as an unhoused individual in a city like Cambridge, sleeping rough in a landscape dominated by a University with billions of pounds in collective endowments is more than enough to make you angry. When students from that university then march around declaring “Whose Streets? Our Streets” on a cold night in a month that shouldn’t be this cold, anger is understandable. If care couldn’t be demonstrated through a successful de-escalation I’m glad he felt it on his walk home.   


 

Stay critical!

Refuse institutionalization. Stay sharp, stay radical, stay imaginative. In other words, sink in community and let community sink in you! In the original words:

“Keep it alive - Keep campaigning. Protect the archive. Look after each other. Stay critical”

I’d like to thank everyone who pushed me to stay critical. The students who came to events, asked insightful questions and pushed the campaign. I’d like to thank the 2022/23 WomCam committee, with special thanks to the first two committee members who gave me early hope and stayed engaged, even in rain at Freshers fair. Finally I’d like to thank the 2022/23 sabbatical officer team and the staff at Cambridge SU for all the work you have done unrecognized, behind the scenes. 

 

With Eternal Love and Solidarity,

Eseosa

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