The voices of 'And Still We Rise' festival

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 | News and analysis
Photo of speakers standing in a row, looking upwards. Some have their fists raised in the air. Behind them we can see crowds of people sitting in an auditorium.
‘And Still We Rise: The War on Want festival of Solidarity and Resistance’ brought together UK social justice activists and movement leaders from around the world for a day of global solidarity, inspiring collective action, and a dynamic space to build solutions together to turn crisis into justice.

Close to a thousand people gathered to listen to 90 speakers from across the Global North and South – youth activists, climate experts, economists, human rights and environmental defenders, politicians, artists – among many others. 

With a range of voices in the room, and drawing on the perspectives of our partners and social movements from the Global South, our festival explored the connections between the climate crisis and deeply unequal poverty and injustice, as well as the colonial and imperialist roots of our global economic and political systems.  

Together, we grew our knowledge, skills, and solidarity, and shared strategies to bring about change, and a world in which everyone can live with dignity, and in harmony with the planet. 

From debates on fixing the global economy and food sovereignty, to calls for justice for Palestine, we look back at the themes that connected the day through the voices of those who joined us at ‘And Still We Rise’. 

Crowds of people gathered in the auditorium at the opening ceremony of 'And Still We Rise' festival
Audience listening to War on Want Executive Director, Asad Rehman.
Quote mark The opening ceremony ....was really moving, people engaged in the singing and dancing and clapping.
Festival attendee
A close up of a man and a woman in the middle of a performance. Both have microphones in front of them which they appear to be singing into. The man is also holding a guitar.
Bullerengue Circle group in the middle of a performance at the opening ceremony of 'And Still We Rise' festival.

No justice without justice for Palestine  

Opening the day with a powerful and emotional rendition of her poem ‘We Teach Life, Sir,’ Palestinian poet and human rights activist Rafeef Ziadah’s poignant and defiant words, though written nearly 15 years ago, brought home the understanding that struggles for justice are interconnected, and cannot be achieved without justice for Palestine: 

Quote mark I look inside of me for strength to be patient, but patience is not at the tip of my tongue as the bombs drop over Gaza. Patience has just escaped me. Pause. Smile. We teach life, sir.
Rafeef Ziadah
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Rafeef Ziadah recites her poem 'We Teach Life, Sir' at #AndStillWeRise festival

It was hard not to be moved by Rafeef’s words. 

Palestine today is indeed the litmus test for human rights,” Omar Barghouti, Co-Founder of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement for Palestinian rights told us in the ‘Why We Are All Palestinians’ session. 

“Palestinian liberation is connected by definition to justice struggles against oppression in all its forms. Israel’s regime of oppression is a model for much of the world’s far right – it harms not only Palestinians, but millions globally.” 

Others contributing to the discussion were journalist and author, Owen Jones: “What we’re witnessing is a genocide facilitated by our governments,” he shared,  urging us “to use whatever positions and platforms to hold them to account”.

Quote mark This is one of the great crimes of our age. And if those responsible are allowed to just get away with it, then far greater horrors are yet to come.
Owen Jones
Owen Jones is pictured standing on a stage, in front of him is a lectern. He looks to be in the middle of a speech and has an animated expression on his face as he gesticulates.
Owen Jones at the 'Why We Are All Palestinians' session, 'And Still We Rise' festival
Crowds of people in the auditorium at 'And Still We Rise' festival
Audience members, 'And Still We Rise' festival.
Green banner which has 'Climate activists for a free Palestine' written across it in white writing.
Green banner reading 'Climate activists for a free Palestine' from the Climate Justice Coalition

'And Still We Rise’ also heard from British-Palestinian surgeon, Ghassan Abu-Sittah, and others including Sidi Breika of the Polisario Front and writer and activist Shanice McBean from Sisters Uncut.  

Moira Millan from the Movement of Indigenous Women for Buen Vivir delivered a powerful message of solidarity to the Palestinian people whilst eloquently connecting their struggles to those of the Mapuche people: “The pain of Palestinians is inhabiting our hearts, we identify ourselves with their pain, we identify ourselves with the injustices of occupation”. 

Award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein delivered a powerful address on Palestine as part of the festival closing ceremony, reflecting that “there is no moral leadership except the leadership springing up from the grassroots,” and that all we have in this fight is our movements “and each other”.

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Naomi Klein speaks at #AndStillWeRise festival. 

Learning from Global South activists  

Beyond the many calls for justice for Palestine, the diversity of voices and communities from the Global South, challenged us to question: 

‘Who owns our land? What does it mean for communities to have to ‘Fight for the Right to food’. These sessions explored the challenges facing Global South communities on the frontlines of land grabbing, profit hungry corporate takeovers of food systems  – and solutions to resisting corporate power and focusing on human rights. 

For one festival-goer: "this session made it more real, because it’s about the people who are actually engaging in their communities against land grabs.”  

Shamila Rathnasooriya from the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR), speaking at the right to food session stated "there are billions of farmers who are going to bed without food, though they are the producers of food,” because their food is being grown for export.  

Shamila said “collaborative solidarity movements have been really helpful in protecting the rights of farmers, as well in producing healthy and environmentally friendly foods.”  

Quote mark This festival includes so many voices from communities across the world – especially those marginalised by state violence and suffering the most from the climate crisis.
Photo of two women, Moira Millan and Vilma Diaz y Zarate. Both are smiling and have their fists raised in the air. Behind them we can see the audience in the auditorium.
Vilma Diaz y Zarate and Moira Milan from the Mapuche nation.

Economic experts examined how the rules of the global economic system have been rigged from the start by wealthy colonising nations, with the UK playing a key role in the continued corporate plunder of resources and labour from the Global South. Emilia Reyes (from Equidad de Genero: Ciudadania, Trabajo y Familia) outlined how it's the job of those of us in the UK to challenge our government, to challenge corporations – and to hold them to account. 

Other panels, such as the 'Racialised Capitalism and Colonialism' session, explored the deep historical roots of global injustice and the systems which are driving further global inequality. Meena Raman of the Third World Network drove home the point that; “They don’t listen to us. But who do they listen to? They listen to you – the people in the empires. If your voice is heard, then we are protected”.  

The 'Debt Crisis, Inequality and Austerity: the IMF vs Argentina and Sri Lanka' session was uniquely inclusive in its facilitation of Spanish to English interpretation (also available in a few other sessions on the day), meaning many were able to tune into Lucia Cavallero of Ni Una Menos Collective and Juan Grigera (King’s College) conversation with Sri Lankan activists, including Swasthika Arulingam and Sandun Thudugala, debating the issues facing both Argentina and Sri Lanka – from debt to inflation crises, and neoliberal austerity policies imposed by the financial institutions including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.  

All these struggles found cohesion in overarching sessions such as 'Putting Justice in the Just Transition', which put emphasis on the obligations of Global North countries  – precisely because of the historical damage they have caused  – in transitions to sustainable, equitable and climate-protecting economies and societies. Tejal Kanitkar from the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), India, was correct to demand that “we put the question of equity, of historical responsibility, of global inequality on the table”.

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 'Putting the Justice in the Just Transition', 'And Still We Rise' festival.

A movement of movements  

The rallying call for a "movement of movements" resonated throughout every session held over the course of the day. 

“Everything’s acting on us at the same time,” Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) announced following his speech at the ‘Workers of the World Unite: Strategies for Building Power’ session.  

“No matter what our chief interest is, whether it’s identity, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s industrial relations, we’ve got to make sure that we’re as unified as we can be in this country and in our communities but also around the globe. 

“The forces of progress have got to be organised, because the forces of capital and reaction are organised very well.” 

Mick Lynch standing at the lectern in the middle of a speech.
Mick Lynch speaking at #AndStillWeRise festival
Quote mark I wanted to reconnect with the activism that’s going on, particularly in the workers’ rights space.
Festival attendee

Similar sentiments could be heard in the closing ceremony speeches from Jeremy Corbyn, Moira Millan, S’bu Zikode, and War on Want’s Executive Director, Asad Rehman, who closed the day by reminding us that: 

“We are fighting, we are facing a war on the working class, but it’s a war that’s being fought in every country in the world, and it’s a war that we can only fight, and only have a hope of winning if we build solidarity and collective power.” 

Watch the highlights from ‘And Still We Rise: The War on Want Festival of Solidarity and Resistance’: 

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Highlights from #AndStillWeRise festival