It’s the age old revolutionary debate – how do you really change the system, man? Do you risk joining it to change it from the inside? Do you start an independent lobby group and push from the outside? Do you have social enterprise, or LiveAid concerts, or social media campaigns, or…the possibilities are endless.
For the last year at YWCA Auckland, we’ve been focusing on challenging old ways of thinking and doing through a powerful emerging art form, spoken word poetry.
We were introduced to its power for change through the 2018 women’s march performance by Halsey – which went viral – and challenged power structures from internalized misogyny to Donald Trump himself.
It was an electrifying moment when we realized the power of spoken word, poetry and performance to galvanize, inspire and challenge power and patriarchy. And since then, through our work profiling, promoting and giving performance opportunities to female Auckland based spoken word poets, we’ve fell in love with the medium as a weapon of choice in targeting social problems for women.
So it seemed fitting that given that today is world YWCA day, and the theme is women challenging power structures, we wanted to share the three reasons why spoken word can be such a powerful tool for young women to use to do just that.
- It makes immensely powerful personal moments political – and powerful
Personal stories have an immense power to force change, because they make complex problems seem real and relatable. For instance, we can talk endlessly about entrenched poverty, misogyny and racism that lies behind some of society’s attitudes to single mothers in South Auckland. But it’s the moment when a poet performs a spine tingling piece, detailing the attacks she gets as a single mother, that we really understand what this means and feels like. The ability of spoken word to capture these complex issues and express them so poignantly is the key in getting people to wake up and take notice. And that’s the first step to building that challenge for change…
2. It’s an enabling, not disabling, method of challenge
So often the established methods of challenging a system, or a structure, can feel difficult and complex. Campaigning a government with a petition and marches is a worthy way of making change – but it can put off those who feel alienated by traditional methods of campaigning. The beauty of spoken word is that it can be used by everyone to challenge issues. The only requirement is your own personal thoughts, experiences and ability to communicate them. This makes activism so much more accessible, giving a voice to people who never thought they could make any change.
3. It’s authentic in its voice – and that makes it oh so powerful
When you’re speaking for such a broad demographic as “young women”, you’re constantly worrying whether you’re being accurate. Are you representing all young women’s voices? Are you listening to what they’re saying? Are your concerns an authentic reflection of theirs? But by going to our performers, and showcasing their individual voices, we can raise the challenge in a way that’s authentic, genuine and poignant for young women. It’s immensely more powerful for young women to be leading and speaking in a movement for other young women than it is for a generic organisation to be doing so. So spoken word allows us to give a very real, very genuine perspective on the issues we’re campaigning for.