Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Shake! Research Collective is here!: Public Space, Young People and "Violence"

The Shake!  collective will work inside out – from personal transformation to structural change – and will consist of collaborative and flat power-sharing structures. No ‘experts’ telling us what is and isn’t valid knowledge. We will define our own research, create new narratives and stories, and re-work the ways in which knowledge and content are produced. We will cultivate young researchers and young consultants to set up our own projects, to work within the NGO  and culture sector with the tools, knowledge and passion for radical and positive social change. 

Shake! is excited to launch its youth-led research collective, which emerged from questions about power that come up time and again as we make and remake Shake! One of our first Shake! researchers is Adam Elliot Cooper. Below you can find an introduction to his lead research area.

Why are we young people always the objects of ‘research’ and 'policy'? And why young people of colour in particular?
We are not interested in being described, explained, being told what we are like, or what is important to us, or what is good for us in a society that is still riddled with racism and classism. The ‘knowledge’ that we young people are expected to respect and suck up comes out of people who usually have a major stake in maintaining the status quo, whatever they claim - especially dominantly white or Eurocentric academics, educators, policy-makers, social workers, campaigners, and other researchers. We will create knowledge that speaks from and to our communities in a way that is both democratising knowledge - spreading the knowledge - and at the same time decolonizes it. We also want to make knowledge that isn’t just about the written word which European thought has privileged over everything else. We state that knowledge includes art, and activism, and knowing things through stories, voices, our senses, our bodies, our skins. 

Public Space, Young People and “Violence”

By Adam Elliot Cooper


Public space, or what many of us consider to be public space, is a freedom often taken for granted. In the closely-governed cities of Britain, with their semi-public shopping centres, dispersal orders and CCTV, the places where people can meet, learn and live is becoming increasingly restricted. But what are the reasons given for the policing of public space, and are those reasons justified? Importantly, in what ways are communities, particularly young people, attempting to reclaim public spaces as sites of artistic and political expression? This article is the start of a wider research project with Shake! which will use research, art and activism to answer these urgent questions. By connecting the issues with possible solutions, and building links between different forms of community resistance, this research project will begin investigating why public space is so important, and how we can ensure it remains accessible to the people who need it.

Public Space

All too often, protecting the sanctity of our freedoms is invoked when we question why graffiti is criminalised but advertising billboards are protected, or why peaceful public protest “disturbs the peace” but police violence is a necessary tool in ensuring public safety. Policing the public, by way of private security in commercial districts, police stop-and-search or ASBOs are fast making spaces in the city in which criminalisation is both quick, and easy. One of the main ways in which this process has been justified is through the broken windows thesis. This theory argues that small, low-level crime creates an environment in which higher-level crimes become the norm. Therefore, the primary role of the police is to deal harshly with what they consider to be low-level crime, treating these lower-level criminals as if they had committed the high-level crimes that (according to the theory) will inevitably follow. 
These low-level crimes include homelessness, disturbing the peace, low-level vandalism, unlicensed street vendors, unlicensed buskers, begging and those suspected of carrying weapons or criminalised drugs. In practice, this involves police officers patrolling urban spaces on foot, approaching people who appear unfamiliar in the area who are “[n]ot violent people, nor, necessarily, criminals, but disreputable or obstreperous or unpredictable people: panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed” (Kelling & Wilson 1982: 1). The proponents of this theory admit that, even if the policies do not actually reduce crime, “residents of the foot patrolled neighborhoods seemed to feel more secure than persons in other areas” (ibid), which of course makes the policies politically desirable for those wishing to maintain power.

The Conservative-led coalition’s first policy document on policing and urban governance was called ‘Policing in the 21st Century’. One of the key proposals of this paper was to make it easier for police to stop, question and search individuals whom they suspect of breaking the law.

Facilitating what they call “common-sense policing” allows police officers to use their intuition. In addition, being more visible on the beat will be expanded by repealing “bureaucratic barriers” such as recording instances in which they have stopped and questioned innocent people in public spaces. This reflects the approach of the aforementioned Broken Windows thesis, which asserts that “disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence”, making police powers to stop, search and arrest individuals who may not be breaking the law, the norm. Prime Minister David Cameron has, for a long time, sought to recruit advocates of the Broken Windows Theory from police forces operating in urban spaces in the US to those in Britain.

Bill Bratton, who is famous for using Broken Windows Theory in his policing of New York and Los Angeles, was defended by Cameron when he was pushing for the recently reformed legislation which now allows foreign nationals to become a police commissioner. Whether Bratton makes it to Britain or not, the state has made it clear the direction it intends to take criminalisation.

A Place To Be

More than anything, public spaces are places for us to be. They are spaces in which we learn about the world and each other, places for us to rest or unwind, or escape the difficulties of home life. They have historically been places of learning, such as Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, where socialists, black nationalists, feminists and other dissident voices spoke truth, to both power and the people. But these spaces are increasingly privatised, monitored and policed.

Places of worship, particularly mosques, are being heavily policed. Regarded by many in the community as a place of sanctuary for those in need, and a space where debate and community discussion can flourish, they are branded as the new ‘enemies within’. Rather than such places of discussion being the bedrock of a free society, they are presented to us as a threat to it. While the British Parliament discusses the bombing of Libya, and the arming of factions in the Syrian conflict, it is never branded a threat to democratic freedom. Yet, the multitude of opinions and voices which speak in mosques up-and-down the country are being closely monitored by the British state, with those suspected receiving harsh penalties, regardless of the lack of concrete evidence or their right to due process.

In other parts of our communities, community centres, youth clubs and libraries, long-standing meeting places for social, political, intellectual and artistic exchange, are being under-resourced, or closed. While over £70 billion is owed to the British treasury in unpaid corporation tax, and billions more have bailed out powerful banks, the infrastructure which holds together the political freedoms of Britain’s most deprived communities is paying the ultimate price. Yet the outside is also a public space under threat. CCTV, stop and account, stop and search, ASBOs and dispersal orders are just some of the ways the state is making the outside a public space which is only accessible to those it permits worthy –the homeless, the young, the poor, migrants and ethnically minoritised communities are at best suspects, and at worst, criminalised on the spot.

Artistic and Political Expression

Free society is now defined by free enterprise – the freedom for corporations to advertise on every blank space in the city – our public transport systems, roads, and now even schools are encouraged to attract sponsorship. Artistic expression in equivalent spaces is not considered part of the freedom that corporations enjoy, but a criminalised form of vandalism. It is not widely known that the British police direct substantial resources towards stakeouts, monitoring and delivering harsh custodial sentences to the young people engaged in this art-form. While graffiti is one of the foundations of hip-hop culture, now a global phenomenon, and a form of political expression recognised the world over, it is used by the state to criminalise disproportionately poor, young people, continuing to fill Britain’s prisons with non-violent offenders.

The myriad of policies, practices, laws and powers being made available to the police and other security personnel makes resistance to the erosion of our freedoms increasingly difficult. Attempts to peaceful occupy Westfield Shopping Centre in December 2013 led to 76 arrests, where even visibly marked legal observers were arrested for alleged violent disorder. The banning of protest in Parliament Square has been widely condemned by civil liberties groups, and the ‘kettling’ of protest by police, in order to make protest an uncomfortable, violent and sometimes traumatic experience, now appears routine. Public events have historically been important sites of protest, and this has not gone unnoticed by the British state. During the Olympics, dispersal orders, and the banning of what were perceived to be t-shirts displaying political slogans, were banned in a sinister and totalitarian fashion. Even verbal challenges to unlawful Stop and Searches can be interpreted by officers as “common assault” or a “civil disturbance”.

Getting out there, and finding out why and how young people are creating social, political and artistic expression – reclaiming public space today – is vital. The erosion of the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression has been shifted from the political public sphere to the profit-making private sphere. Rebuilding the community institutions which keep the most marginalised afloat in post-crisis Britain is broadly supported among progressive groups. But those that have been criminalised through newly invented powers also deserve our solidarity. While criminalisation is reserved for the poor, undocumented and racially minoritised, a radical critique of state power is both necessary and urgent. Making public spaces public and pushing state violence and corporate interests away from democratic spaces must encompass the most marginalised among us. The research which will follow this brief outline intends to express both problems in more detail, while vividly expressing the possible solutions in a clear, creative and participatory manner.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Shake! States of Violence: Reflections

Shake! is a series of workshops that work to empower young people to challenge oppressive structures through art, and grassroots creative campaigns for change. We quickly discover that no one theory can explain away or effectively tackle the violent structures pervading our lives. As such, Shake!’s theory of change is pluralistic and dynamic, and a variety of methods are employed to find methods of resistance and change. Participants follow a poetry or film-making pathway, and utilize these art-forms to tackle power and privilege through the lenses of race, class, gender, sexuality and environment, amongst others; the power inherent in art is made manifest.

The last series of workshops, in February, had the theme “States of Violence”. During the workshops, as expected, we tackled state violence – police brutality, the surveillance state, symbolic violence within the urban space, the prison-industrial complex and detention centres – but the theme was far more comprehensive, covering violence in the domestic space, gender-based violence, environmental violence, colonialism, capitalism and violent mental spaces, amongst others. One of the most pertinent questions discussed was whether, under an inherently violent neoliberal system that has also insidiously invaded our minds, reconstruction and resistance must necessarily include aspects of violence. This was followed by a focus on moralizing violence, using Fanon as a touchstone – the general consensus here was that violence, for the oppressed, can sometimes be a necessary course of action, but that this can have dangerous – violent – implications on the psyche of the oppressed.

These implications on the psyche of the oppressed lead to one of the most inspiring aspects of the Shake! workshops: the focus on self-care as a radical act. Audre Lorde’s quote “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” informed our focus on self-care, and this was achieved through activities such as sharing emotions and thoughts at the end of each day, free-writing, sharing our inspirations, and a focus on being playful. One of the most wonderful experiences was the capoeira class we took part in at the end of one of our sessions. Getting in touch with our bodies, we also learnt the inspiring histories behind capoeira as a mode of self-preservation. As activists, we were reminded that we have to be in touch with our bodies, not only our minds. This love and care, not only of the self but of the group and community, enables us to “outwit and outlast our oppressors”.

Working in tandem with this was the group’s commitment to cultivating a safe space. While many activist groups attempt to enforce this, taking part in Shake! was the first time I’d really seen it in action – the first time it seemed to work. The topic was challenging, and led to heightened emotions; Shake! was the first space I’ve been in where discussions were deep and personal enough to make me leave the room crying, and loving enough to make me feel comfortable walking in again. Strangers moments before, we were sharing our most personal experiences.

As mentioned before, the group “split” between the poetry and film-making pathways (although we still managed to sustain ourselves as one connected group). The amount of raw talent and energy within the groups flourished, I think, due to the self-care and safe space, as well as the work put in by the amazing facilitators. The poets were outstanding – words like that seem ridiculous in describing the emotions they stirred, but maybe one of the Shake! poets can pick a better one! – and I am so excited for a video of the showcase to become available so I can show off to all of my friends on their behalf. I chose the film pathway, facilitated by Onysha and Usayd, and our group focused on film-making as a violent act, inspired somewhat by Susan Sontag’s quote from Regarding the Pain of Others: “to frame is to exclude”. Individually, and as a group, we spent the first day of film-making fluctuating between the pages of potential topics. I can’t identify the moment in which it started coming together, but it did, and the result was a beautifully experimental film incorporating the whole Shake! group (special shout out to Wangu!) that I can’t wait to go into further post-production on.

Shake! has shown me a realization of “the personal is political”, and it was Shake! that truly introduced me to a politics committed to engaging the imagination, heart and body as well as the mind. Farzana, Usayd, Onysha, Zena, Sai, Paula, Mika, Adam, Marcina, Goia, Maia, Holly – as well as the rest of you, of course! – thank you for an incredible experience. And thank you to The Real Junk Food Project for keeping our brains and bodies moving throughout the week.

Jinan Petra Golley

Friday, 16 January 2015

Exploring the State of Violence - by Zena Edwards

The new Shake! Course is nearly here! Monday 16th February, we begin unpacking one of the most contentious subjects our species confronts: Violence. We will be exploring what makes violence, physical and ideological, a seemingly imherent part of modern day life.

As a poet I think about the word violence as  anything that is excessively detrimental  and its with this thought that the Shake! team will create a safe space where participants can interrogate the States of Violence that seem to plague the planet. We will question if physical violence is our natural disposition or if it is a nurtured trait. Many are calling for alternatives to fatally destructive and violent deconstruction of current imperialist governments, minimising bloodshed. We will ask is that possible.

We will question the role of violence and the State. What ways are the government and its machinery violent towards its citizens    the implementation of  long working hours with minimal pay, rampant gentrification of culturally diverse and poorer areas with unaffordable housing  breaking up communities, the privatisation of the British National Health Service, cuts to education and benefits with biased and convoluted conditions placed upon them, further leaving the less well off in even more dire predicaments.

We live in a time where the global economy forces a climate of uncertainty and fear upon the majority of the earths population, mainstream media thrusts distorted journalism upon poly-cultural societies, encouraging and perpetuate attitudes of xenophobia and sexism, discrimination and judgement. The female body is hyper-sexualised, the male body is hyper-masculinized, black and brown bodies are stereotyped, demonized and attacked, while religion is a manipulated tool to promote homophobia and child objectification. Nobody and nothing feels sacred leaving us all feeling vulnerable to seemingly unexplainable and inexcusable acts  abuse and violence. We are forced at unexpected moments to question which parts of our human psyche are activated, provoked to violate the bodies of those who are considered "other",  different to "the norm", and framed to be viewed as inferior and are stigmatized. This brings about a mainstream thinking that this  "other" is a threat and must be suppressed

In the last 20 years, in activist circles, there have been many urgent discussions about institutionalized racism and a sinister growth of the prison industrial complex and millions watched and condemned the deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Mike Brown, unarmed black males, who are among the one killed every 28 hours by the hand of US police. Theirs and many other tragic stories of unarmed black deaths sparked the global #BlackLivesMatter campaign echoing the oppression in many western ex-colonial countries with history of migrants, immigrants and home-grown "others". The conversation exploded on social media and there were many who deemed US police action as blatantly excessive, while by others thought it justifiable, because of a pervading fear within the police force of violence being done unto those in service to preserve and protect. We just want to get home to our families. 'The law' upheld these justified deaths throwing in to deep question the integrity of a justice system seen to be the central principles of a brand democracy which provokes conflict in other richly mineral resourced countries across the planet.
This is a recurring story across the face of Western civilisation and each country's power state has devices to ensure that its status quo is preserved with a multitude of means of attack on ordinary people coming from many directions, creating an atmosphere of '#ICantBreathe. But what about those who are perpetuating state violence? They are just people after all.

"C├ęsaire demonstrates how colonialism works to “decivilize” the colonizer: torture, violence, race hatred, and immorality constitute a dead weight on the so-called civilized, pulling the master class deeper and deeper into the abyss of barbarism. The instruments of colonial power rely on barbaric, brutal violence and intimidation, and the end result is the degradation of Europe itself.” - Robin D.G Kelly, from the article, "The Poetics of Anticolonialism."

This is an idea of some of the subjects we will cover in Shake!s States of Violence intensive course in February.
But what do us, as individuals feel we can do about the world we live in where violence seems to be everywhere - on our TV screens, in the news, online.  Participants will also unpack notions of change through non-violence  when the systems we live under are founded on ruthless colonial and capitalist violence in the name of progress. So does this mean that  progress and change can only happen with  forms of archaic and technologically enhanced violence? Is the process of deconstructing society to reconstruct and alternative one only a violent  process? How do we break cycles of violence and how do we navigate through a seemingly terrifying world while maintaining a sense of self and well being?

We will ask all these questions and more, and in their own language, through discussion, film and spoken word poetry, participants will respond to these question to explore and reflect on the current human inclination for violence, while seeking  to create new paths to living more peacefully and compassionately. Beyond violence.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Reflections on Shake! by Orla Price

2014 was a great year for Shake!. We had two of the largest intensive course groups so far, and got to meet some pretty amazing people, including the talented artist, writer, and editor Orla Price.

Orla was no stranger to the idea of art as a powerful tool for social change, and in fact when we met her she was half way through her master’s course in art and politics. She decided to include Shake! as a case study for her dissertation, and has shared with us some of her insights about Shake!, art practice, and radical pedagogy.

“In observing group participation at the August 2014 SHAKE!, one girl trying to express the relationship between mental health and systemic power and […] her own reasons for being there quoted Bell Hooks saying, “I came to theory because I was hurting”. In examining Bell Hooks’ views on critical pedagogy she goes onto to state “Theory is not inherently, healing, liberatory or revolutionary, it fulfils this function, only when we ask that it do so and direct our theorising towards this end”. In many ways Hooks makes a criticism of the University as a place where the digestion of theory is encouraged but the influence of personal experience and motive not so. Taking into consideration this mix of telling personal stories, motive and theorising, we can see how [this kind of] space is essential, and especially when it comes to the matter of personal stories, art can then become the medium to represent the mix.”


“The personal experiences of the facilitators were treated on an equal level to those of the participants. Commenting on her role Paula said ‘We focus on exploring everyone's opinions on certain topics instead of feeding them with facts and content’. In observing the facilitation of ‘SHAKE’ the participants would first discuss the themes of injustice before they creatively responded to them. Talking about this process and its facilitation Grainne said “They made the space feel like somewhere you could feel safe to express yourself and your ideas without judgement.” Comparing this to her experience in University she said there it was like “There was this hierarchy that was very present and you also felt like you where being judged on everything you said, and you had to try and impress.””


“[I]t is integral that for a critical pedagogy to function, its participants must feel whatever their background that their experience can be voiced. If we take SHAKE! as an example of critical pedagogies on this relational level, we can see how well the project incorporated these ideas.”

Thanks so much to Orla for sharing her reflections with us!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

#Shake2015: #StatesOfViolence - Applications open MONDAY 9th JANUARY

Our next shake! up >> 16th-20th February << at the Stephen Lawrence Centre.
Applications now open for our FREE! 5 day course on Art/ Race/ Media/ Power for 16-25's.
See below for more info & how to apply


Angry about the injustice you see around you?
Come shake tings up with performance poets, film-makers, musicians & activists on a free 5 day course to creatively express frustrations & concerns about the world you live in.


** LIMITED PLACES AVAILABLE (for 16-25 year olds) **

Places will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

To receive a short application & for more info, email: farzana@platformlondon.org

Art can be a powerful non-violent force for change.

Each day Shake! creative workshops will provide space to imagine what justice looks like, experiment with new ideas, learn new tools and fire up your imagination.

States of Violence is exploring:
-State violence and police brutality
-The construction of violence and its impact on our states (physical, mental, spiritual/values)
-Gender based violence, patriarchy & transphobia
-Gentrification as violence
-Resistance: violent & non-violent strategies
-Militarization of everyday life
-Prisons & detention centres
·-Violence through the construction of the Other and violence through continued Other-ing

Join us, where else you gonna be?


Over the five days, the course will include:

>> interactive workshops, stimulating dialogue & skill-shares to creatively campaign for change with practising artists/activists/educators:

(+ more to be announced!)

>> practical hands-on techniques in spoken word, online media, film/video and music technology to develop your ideas around injustice and power.

>> access to a/v equipment, workshop spaces, rehearsal room, and refreshments at the landmark Stephen Lawrence Centre.

>> opportunity to showcase your work and continued involvement in the Shake! network.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Shake! Artist/Activist Training Day #2

2014 is coming to an end, and we've got one final exciting Shake! event for you all before we welcome the new year: our youth-led training day!

Our second Youth-Led Continued Professional Development (CPD) training day, taking place on December 14th, will be an opportunity for the young participants from Shake! to offer training workshops to activists, artists and change-makers on issues they have identified as relevant and worth discussing based on their own expertise and experience. At Shake! we see this as an integral part of challenging power and privilege dynamics in the cultural, environmental and NGO sphere as well as an opportunity to promote real intergenerational dialogue. During this particular training, Shake! participants will offer the following workshops:

1.  Police Brutality and State Violence

2.  Re-evaluating Your 'Self'

3.  Youth, Technology and Social Media

Facilitators for the day include: Annie Rockson, Christianah Babajide and Maaike Boumans.

Workshops will be followed by an afternoon session in which we will discuss how to implement new ideas discussed in previous workshops into our work and daily practices in a strategic and mindful way.

Venue: Platform, 7 Horselydown Lane. Tower Bridge, London SE1 2LN
Time: 10:30 am- 4:00 pm.
We will be sharing breakfast from 10:30 onwards, and have a prompt 11:00am start.
Entrance is free and lunch will be provided.
Since our office is small in capacity please RSVP your space by writing to us at platformshake@gmail.com

We really hope that you can join us and contribute to what is looking to be a day full of engaging workshops and conversations!

Facebook event here.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Climate change: who should we trust?

By Orla Price

On 30 September this year the Free Word Centre held a discussion on the topic ‘Trust and the environment’. The discussion centred on what sources of information we could trust in the face of climate change, and how education, the media, politics and the public perceived threats to the environment. What I found most innovative and indeed engaging about the nature of the discussions was the choice of speakers and the input from the audience. Chairing the discussion was comedian Tiernan Doueib, and the panel included seventeen year old student and activist Claudia Delpero as well as Tony Birch, an Australian novelist. Also, they happened to have me doing a poem.

Often when trying to access debates and discussions on political subjects we are confronted with ‘experts’, academics and politicians who distance us from subjects that affect us constantly. Speaking in languages of their own, these arenas become intimidating, we are made to feel opinions on these matters are ‘left to the experts’ fostering a culture of helplessness at best and complete detachment at worst. By the end of the discussion an audience member pointed out that if the opinions of front line communities that are experiencing the worst of climate change were taken more into account in the media, as well as having their opinions heard by politicians, the public would find it easier to trust the information about climate change and our future, and would then become more engaged with these issues.

Tommy Clark, "Harnessing Nature"
Taking part in this event and also participating in SHAKE! has shown me there are alternative ways to communicate, and that experiential knowledge and telling our stories can have as much –indeed, probably more- impact than passively listening to expert opinions purposely convoluted to distance us from engaging properly with important issues, just in case we pose a threat. 

We're told Change and flux are a part of nature

So nothing or no one can be sure

No magic calculator

Calculating the sums of the future

No equations to justify pure

So we go round in circles with no end

Inaction, the only theory to defend

Can't see the destination, this road has too many bends

People are showing us the answers

Others tell us to step back

Say we can't understand

Palms up, overturned hands

Cash is passed on

They're passing the blame on

Thinking how long this will go on

And I'm doing my bit

But truth is, I'm getting scared of the news

And truth is, I don't know what more I can do

Cause I'm following the advice

But the TV's shouting crisis

Worrying how much time there is

In a society with no off switch

So I'm doing my recycling

But they're making more packaging

Taking the bus to work

Elsewhere they're selling mercs

Checking the labels on my food, trying not to import

Climate refugees moving country, trying not to get hurt

Somewhere in the back of my mind,

I'm thinking it wasn't us that overstepped the line

We're coming to a point where doing our bits not enough,

There's got to be someone out there we can trust