Voices That Shake! Notes From the Front



The children of violence never just carry their own pain and trauma. Often we are not equipped to name violence we experience so we accept it as a part of our lives. The young people living in Britain today have grown up witnessing and experiencing violence all around them, both near and far. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya. The murders of Stephen Lawrence, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg, Rashan Charles, and hundreds of other Black boys demonized by the police, media and public in their deaths. Racist and islamophobic rhetoric being used to pathologies and turn away refugees. The death of Sarah Reed. The creation of the hostile environment policy. The Grenfell fire. The cuts. I have spent over half my life living through Austerity as introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne. At the age of eight years old, I was too young to understand what austerity was but now I know austerity is about the shrinking and disappearance of resources, space and people.

Austerity says “nothing belongs to you, so you do not belong here.” The state takes everything it can and expects people to give up more. The state says “only some people deserve to be safe.” The state defines safe, and creates prevent, targets working class Muslims and threatens to deport those who do not assimilate. The state deports and detains thousands of people. The state destroys the records of Windrush Citizens. The State cuts funding to specialist domestic violence services. The state closes refuge after refuge and turns women feeling violence away. The state displaces people from their homes to “regenerate” estates. The state introduces new tests to see who’s really sick and disabled. The state rolls out universal credit. The state turns schools into academies and closes youth services and says “we have done too much for too long you must take care of yourselves. If you can not take care of yourselves you are not working hard enough.” Against our own wills our bodies become vessels expected not to bend or break under the weight of state violence. Expected not to flinch as cut after cut is administered to the services and communities that should keep us alive and safe. The State makes Black and Brown bodies, Working Class bodies, Muslim bodies, Disbaled bodies, Undoumented bodies, Women’s bodies, Queer bodies and Trans bodies dispensable. To live in a body that holds one or more of these identities is to grow up in a world that makes you feel like a disappearance waiting to happen.

How do the children who came of age in these violent times heal? Who is giving them the tools and creating the spaces that will allow them to be the best versions of themselves? These spaces are few and far between each one of them indispensable, underfunded and treasured by many. One of these organizations is Voices that Shake!, which brings together young people, activists, educators and artists to challenge social and climate injustice, with a focus on addressing racial inequality. With a model of personal transformation and structural change, to challenge established imbalanced power-bases and re-imagine new infrastructures in opposition to capitalism and colonialism. They build holistic decolonial educational programmes and creative campaigns to foster a catalytic and self-determined community of creative organisers/leaders embedded in and led by the grassroots. Working together towards and cultivate transformative justice, systemic change and community accountability. They work collectively to centre the leadership and solutions of the vulnerable and marginalized, to uplift and politicize the role that young people of color have to prefigure the world we would like to live in: diverse, just, sustainable, community-led and resilient. (Description from the Theory of Change, Voices that Shake website, written as a collective effort with the core team, long-term collaborators and Shake! participants.)

Voices that Shake! was piloted by Platform London in 2010 with Arts Council funding holding their first five day summer course at the Stephen Lawrence Center. The course was set up with the intent to disrupt and redistribute power, knowledge and rescues guided and shaped by Sai Murray, Zena Edwards, and Ben Amunwa. In 2012 Shake! was relaunched, under the creative & strategic direction of Farzana Khan with the co facilitation of Sai Murry. Farzana has continued to lead and develop the work of Shake! for the last eight years. Running regular courses and showcases supporting young people to heal and learn through the creative arts with wisdom that emerges from marginalised groups — both inherent to the fabric of these communities and that have been built as a means of survival.

The work that Shake! does is undeniably urgent and important. The communities they build are indispensable networks of care, opportunities, radical politics and family. I attended the Healing the Cuts course in 2017 facilitated by Farzana Khan, Sai Murry, Dhelia Snoussi and Patrice Etienne. This course has changed my life and I am eternally grateful and in ore of the work that Shake! does. I want to be explicit that I am writing from my own my experience of Shake! Namely the experience of the person who goes through the world with whiteness and financial privilege on their side.

Embodiment is where the work of Shake! begins because when you learn properly your entire body is present and learning. At the week long summer course, Healing the Cuts 2017 where I first encountered Shake! every day began with with yoga, affirmations, fruit and chai. Every workshop would be started by a meditative grounding ritual and every lunch time we would sit in the sun and eat beautiful food provided for us by the course. In this time, through these actions we were being educated on what it means to inhabit a body with love. Teaching us how to rise without rushing, teaching us touch without fear, and breath, feel and breathe again. These acts of care fill spaces you never knew were empty, because though we have bodies many of us rarely in them, to be “in” I suppose is to be “at one” and for the body/mind to be its own entity as supposed to separate or fragment ones.

For many of us who live with trauma, the connection between the mind and the body is numbed. To reawaken that connection is so challenging because it means feeling pain that’s been carried unacknowledged and alone so long. When we neglect our own needs we blame ourselves and punish ourselves with our own pain — we mirror the way the state harms us with in our own bodies. Shake! creates spaces where we are able to feel our pain, anger, hurt, sadness, grief and trauma, to name it and begin processing it. When we open up these emotional spaces we have more room in our lives for love, joy, reclamation, and truth. We are empowered to imagine a world free of violence and fear. What Shake! taught me is that most of the time, pain just wants to be felt, to be seen by others. At Shake! there are people who see us, and in turn teach us to see each other; in our fullness in the ways desperately want to be seen. This is how shake stops children disappearing. This is how we are revived.■