Decolonising local organising (Rabab from Gentle/Radical)

Episode 11 of the Resist + Renew podcast, where we interview Rabab from Gentle/Radical.

We couldn’t pick one pull quote, so here are two!

“Conversation and dialogue is probably the bedrock of how I understand the work, how I understand organising, how I understand cultural work”
– Rabab


“Cultural praxis, for me, has to embody our principles that we must do more than just talk about stuff and make it look good and sound good”
– Rabab

Show notes, links

Gentle/Radical website, Twitter and Instagram. The project mentioned towards the end of the episode was Doorstep Revolution.

And a few things mentioned in the episode:


Ali: This is Resist + Renew.

Kat: A UK-based podcast about social movements.

Sami: What we’re fighting for, why, and how it all happens.

Ali: The hosts of the show are:

Kat: Me Kat,

Sami: Me, Sami,

Ali: and me, Ali,

Sami: I’m recording this now baby

Ali: Shit it’s a podcast.


Kat: Welcome to the Resist and Renew podcast. And today we’re really excited to have Rabab Ghazoul talking to us from Gentle Radical. And welcome Rabab.

Rabab: Thanks. Hi.

Kat: And so just to give you a little bit of an introduction before we dive into the questions, Rabab Ghazou is a socially engaged visual artist, activist and founder director of Cardiff based organisation, Gentle Radical, centering, social justice, healing, justice, decolonial practice and non extractivist engagement, Gentle Radicall work to curate collaborate and build projects that seek to make the marginal our mainstream, born in Mosul, Iraq, living permanently in the UK, from the age of 10. And in Wales for the last 27 years, Rabab is deeply engaged in ideas of place, colonial coloniality, connectivity and the disporic experience. So glad to have you here revived. That’s great. And so yeah, the first question, can you tell us a little bit about the context that you’re organising in and why you choose to do the work that you’re doing?

Rabab: Yeah, I can. First of all, thank you so much for having me. It’s really great to be with you both. So yeah, I, I suppose we are organising, Gentle Radical is based in Cardiff, and I’ve been in Cardiff since 1993. I came to Wales as a student, actually. And I stayed. And I think that happens for a lot of people that come here, and then they, they sort of end up a lot of people end up in Cardiff. And so on a personal level, just, I suppose before I talk about maybe, how we’re organising why we’re organising here and why I choose to continue being here. I think I almost came here by default. So I was in Aberystwyth as a student, as an undergrad and then moved to Cardiff to work in the arts or to start trying to work in the arts. And I ended up sort of staying like a lot of people. But I think at a certain point, I had a real realisation or a kind of recognition in myself that I was consciously making a choice to stay in Wales. And I realised that was because there was a certain consciousness around the colonial that I felt was deeper, more alive. Of course, it would be as because of Wales’ own history and experience of colonialism for the last well, it’s it’s, it’s England’s first colony. And so I felt that as someone who is someone who’s living out of a diasporic experience, or someone who, whose homeland is not easy to get back to who in many ways, I’ve not been, apart from a moment in 2016, I hadn’t been back to Iraq since I was 10. So there’s so much bound up in those, those dislocations, those disconnections, that the sense of the losses that you’re constantly sort of navigating and negotiating. And the and I suppose the, the new places, the new spaces, the new person you become the person you have become the person you’ve been evolving into is, I felt somehow that alongside my interest in the work and the interest in the complex, nuanced landscapes of coloniality, Wales felt like I could speak to those things in an in a, in a, in a way that there was, how can I describe it, like there was kinship around that there was a more immediate, does that make sense to kind of kinship around that, of course, from a different context and a different perspective, than I felt that there was in England and these are huge generalisations to make as if, like, you know, like, England is a phenomenally diverse place. And many of its cities, some of the most diverse in the world, so like, but somehow this sense of being to the side, being being at a tangent to the centre, and I think probably that is a very live experience for me as someone who is never quite knows you don’t, you know, it’s hard to talk about myself as being Iraqi because I’ve not been there for so long. And actually, Iraq has changed, like the Iraq I grew up in, was not the Iraq that even remotely exists any longer not just because like many of the places in our childhood have changed and don’t exist, but as we know, the history of Iraq because the catastrophic history of the last 30 years or so. So that sense of like, how do you own being of a place when that place wouldn’t recognise you any longer when to go back to that place, you go back as a tourist, like, we know that so I think, and at the same time not being British, whilst knowing I sound British, I’m a product of British culture not being Welsh. So I think being in this in between space, felt like there was space to explore that more here in Wales. And because I think Wales is also in between. and Wales’ own relationship to coloniality is highly complex. Of course, it’s been colonised, but it is also a beneficiary and a recipient of the wider European colonial project, you know, so it’s, it’s a white, it’s a small but still white majority nation, that is a small nation in Europe, and there is there are huge responsibilities, radical responsibilities around Wales’ experience, in a way on the coattails of Empire, you know, so I feel like this felt like a rich place to be and a complex place to be. And I think complexity, I like I like complexity a lot. I feel happy in amongst contradiction and complexity.

Rabab: And then as far as Gentle Radical was concerned, I think I it came out of the fact that there wasn’t any need to move, there wasn’t any need to leave. This is where I live, it’s where I’ve made my home. And I suppose there what what Gentle Radical is interested in doing is really working in a hyper local way. So hyper locality. And this idea of what does it mean to remain in one place? And what does it mean to remain in one place for a very, very, very long time? A little bit like adrienne marie brown, in emergent strategy, she talks about like, and building instead of mile wide inch deep movements, how do we build, like, inch wide mile deep? So I’ve been in Cardiff, I don’t know, I sort of set up Gentle Radical in 2016. So I’ve been in Cardiff, maybe anywhere over 20 years, maybe 25 years, 23 years. So I felt like, I felt like that was the right moment to set up an organisation. I felt like I needed to live that much. I needed to know this place that much, I needed to make mistakes enough. And of course, I didn’t stop making mistakes, but I needed to really be ready to once this work begins, it needs to keep going deeper. So I felt I had a deep commitment to place. And in a very specific sense, we’re based in Riverside, it’s an area I’ve lived in for 23 years myself, it’s very, it’s a very diverse part of the city. It’s not an affluent part of the city, there’s a lot of different, huge richness and huge need. So the idea of what does it mean, to construct projects, and to organise and to use culture and cultural praxis? Not for two years, or five years or 10 years, but like until I’m dead and beyond? And then who’s going to come after? And then after them? So how do we really pull elastically our sense of the work that we want to do with with people and community?

Rabab: The other sorry, the other thing to say, I suppose about Cardiff and Wales is, particularly in Cardiff, I think we are in very close proximity to seats of power. Because we’re tiny because we’re 2 million people. So you can, you can go and speak to the First Minister, I mean, it’s possible you can absolutely have conversations with people who are at the Assembly or at Welsh Government. And I think that gives Wales a very different kind of relationship to its political structures. In other words, they’re not as hierarchical. There’s less density and bureaucracy to get through. Of course, it’s there, but not anything like to the extent of it is in England. And I think that creates sort of possibilities, it creates possibilities of disruption, greater fluidity greater dialogue. So for example, some of the really I think they’re groundbreaking. I think there’s there’s there’s definitely space for these bits of legislation or policy to be more groundbreaking. But if I think of the future generations commission and legislation around future generations, those kinds of developments within the political arena are really, so for me that in Wales, there’s a, there’s the possibility for quite radical thinking and the possibility for that to impact in quite deep ways, because because of the scale, because of our scale is small enough to not be hindered by much more cumbersome, historical, deadweight. So I kind of personally, people laugh when I say this, but I really feel like I’m excited to say, I feel like the small nations will be the global leaders of the future, basically. So it seems exciting to be in places like Wales.

Sami: I think I think that’s really interesting. I think they’re a question that comes up for me, which is, as somebody who is not as familiar as, with yourself, or with gentle radical as an organisation, you use this term cultural praxis, and which I’ve seen before, but I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure I know what it means. And I’ve seen that been used also linked to gentle radical in the work that it does. So could you maybe talk a little bit about like, gentle radical the organisation that you organise within what the group is about and specifically touched on the idea of like a cultural praxis and what that means for you?

Rabab: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And I think I know what it means, in my mind is understanding of praxis. But this is a great moment to go and do more thinking about it is it’s the theory and the application, you know that what does it mean for us to theorise? And what does it mean for us to apply and put into practice? And I think I feel very strongly about that, that we need to live our theory, we need to do more than theorise, we need to test and put into practice these deeply held principles and aspirations. And I think so much of the so many of the systems and the structure, the structures and the institutional spaces. We all live and exist in and work in a really brilliant at the theorising and are brilliant at the posturing and are brilliant at the construction of the articulations around change. And it’s really easy to not do the practice because the practice is hard. It’s painful, it brings us into contact with our deep responsibility, our imperfection, our culpability, our guilt, a whole bunch of other things, our trauma, you know, our, our rage and anger, I’m including all of us in this, you know, so like, to practice is to, to live the theory and I don’t I think in every single walk of life, including, you know, the the realm of the religious and the spiritual like it, there is only practice, there is only practice, like I think our The reason I think most people, this kind of adage that I really frustrates me a lot. Religion is the cause of all wars. And of course, it’s way more way more complex and far less simplistic than that. But I think people are actually what people I think are saying is, we are desperately disappointed in the fact that profound teachings about compassion, and equity and justice have been so corrupted by institutions, whereby those institutions cease to embody the practice of ideas of justice, ideas of deep, radical compassion, you know, and solidarity and togetherness and equity. And so I think cultural praxis, in that sense for me, has to embody, first of all, our our principles that we must do more than just talk about stuff and make it look good and sound good. Because you can do that really well. I mean, we can all do that on our websites, you know, people can go onto our website and read a bunch of things. And I have to ask myself, what is it that we are manifesting in those words, in those intentions, and that is a time based project. It’s a conversational project. It’s a project. It’s a spiritual project. It’s a learning project. It’s a constant, constant attempt to bring yourself into the space of your coherence. This is what I believe in and this is then how I’m acting and behaving. So we’re constantly moving towards a sense of integration and coherence and, and, and also then recognising when we’re not managing to do that. That is also. That’s okay. We have to understand why we’re not managing to do that and unpack that. And also kind of continue to honour ourselves whilst we’re trying to go deeper on that journey. I’ve probably not talked enough about that. The cultural bit, but I think that’s my understanding of the praxis. I think, no,

Kat: I think that was great. Thank you very much for sharing. Yeah, it’s I love hearing you talk about these things. It makes me want to live in that world where we’re working in this way. Feels, yeah, really, deeply connected to something very exciting, but also, like, powerful in some ways.

Rabab: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and I’m, yeah, I think we all yearn for it, don’t we? And we come in and out of it. I feel like, it’s, it’s, uh, yeah, we’re trying to get I feel like I’m closer to it now. I feel it’s come through a lot of trying to be in that world is taken me learning, like really recognising when I’m not in it. And when it’s not working to understand, I’ve got to fight for this more deeply. Yeah. Yeah.

Kat: Yeah, definitely. I guess sort of this maybe follows on a little, but I’m wondering what the “this” is at the moment. So kind of what the, and what the focus is of Gentle Radical in these times where we are right now? You’re what you’re focusing your, your work on?

Rabab: Well, I suppose I mean, the one thing to say, in terms of, you know what, what Gentle Radical’s primary identity is, is, of course, we’re interested in social transformation and change and how we dismantle toxic systems of power and institutional spaces. But we do that through art and culture. And like, that’s our primary point of departure. Basically, we see art and culture as a portal, or a force, or a space of dialogue or the ground from which we can explore structural change, basically. And then additionally to that. We’re interested in I suppose, our point of entry into art and culture is within the social practice realm. So we talk about socially engaged frameworks. In other words, that the primary medium for us is people is it’s just always a strange word to use “communities” because we have a problem. I suppose that there are problematic ways in which we have come to identify who communities are they’re somehow always over there with somehow always doing stuff to them. That’s also part of Gentle Radical’s interest is how do we unpack and dismantle that sense of interest in making work accessible, interest in democratising cultural practice? And therefore, how does that relate to ideas of where and who the community is? Who has access to inverted commas mainstream culture? Why is mainstream culture like legitimately mainstream culture, how do we displace from what I would call the cultural epicentre so Gentle Radical, maybe, by way of example, you know, used to this is maybe before Gentle Radical and maybe was one of the reasons which prompted me over the years to set up an organisation. So I might have been running cultural projects as an artist as a freelancer within some of these cultural spaces. And there was always so much extractivism there was always so much tope tokenizing of some of the, you know, all of this very violent language, marginalised and excluded communities one would bring into these spaces, because my own work, as a practitioner is not just within cultural practice, but within longstanding community development, and particularly in South Wales, particularly Cardiff, working with minority ethnic communities in the city. So I would observe over the years, like how tokenized some of those groups were when they entered into mainstream, you know, contemporary art spaces, for example, how, like, how disrespected they were, in the sense that how little they were viewed as potentially long term audiences, or core long term participants of those institutions. But those institutions always love to kind of include them in their reports or sometimes completely appropriate everything we were doing and like invisible eyes us entirely and talk about, you know, this work being very I mean, there’s all kinds you know, I think so many of us have experiences of that, of the, of how institutional spaces colonise work and and and and what happens when therefore, how how how people are being used as a means. So I really feel like if I talked about like what the core practice of gentle radical is is we are interested in, in how do we how do we not reverse but how do we provide an alternative to the colonial project. And within huge amounts within huge swathes of I would say the cultural sector, people are being used as a means; they’re being used as a means because they come from inverted commas, “deprived”, you know, an area of deprivation, which has to be fixed, of course, it’s impossible to fix it because we have to change entire systems and structures to do that, and no one is fundamentally interested in that. So we do this very surface work, you know, we work with disaffected youth, or we work with minorities or marginalised groups. All of this is, you know, these are all forms of violence, as far as we’re concerned in terms of who gets to decide even what what disadvantage is like there is clear, lack, there’s clear inequality, and that has to be addressed. But how we so often end up particularly within the cultural sector, using communities, using groups of people in order to further some of the core agendas that we have, I suppose the classic experience I had for many years as an artist was being parachuted into communities and then sort of parachuted out. And actually, because, you know, in a way, Gentle Radical with we’ve, funnily enough actually reading Emergent Strategy at the moment. And I, when I went back to the book, I realised that the very thing that I call I sort of this, you know, this very common phrase of parachuting in and out to a community instead of that very extractive process, she literally talks of as penetrative. Like, and I think that’s a really powerful word to use. It’s penetrative. You know, it’s a violence that we commit when we go into communities and use them in that way. So I suppose we are really interested in how we, how do we do that differently. And that means it has to be a time based project. So access is non negotiable. We’re not interested in creating accessible projects as a little add on, because it’s nice because it reaches certain people, it should be the ground of how everyone works, it’s non negotiable. And it, for access to work, it has to be time based. We can’t just I don’t think it, I think it’s a contradiction to say we’re going to give access to certain communities to access our work for six months or a year. That’s not to say that sometimes certain projects don’t have their natural ending. But when so much of work in the cultural sector is operating on the terms of often organisations, institutions, and their needs, and when they’re done, they move, they move along. I think I think all work at gentle radical is really interested in very deeply embedded non extractivist processes that are long term and that reveal to us what what our what our curation might be with others what what the collaboration might be with others.

Sami: I think there’s a really interesting parallel in what you’re saying there around like parachuted in work penetrative. Those like analogies in terms of how we often work as facilitators as well, in terms of, it’s one of the things that we’ve been talking about within Resist + Renew a lot more recently is around how we can shift to a more long term relationship based thing and get away from solely short… And there’s like, there’s always going to be value in reactive work as a facilitator, because there are some crises, which will just need short term support, and that’s fine. But that’s definitely not the only thing that’s needed. But it is generally the only thing that’s asked for, and so how we can build some of those relationships to try and move out of that pattern. And I think that is a challenge for us, nowadays, surprise, surprise, is era of physical distancing, and how much we’re therefore relying on partly pre-existing relationships that we had. And I’m so I’m wondering if that’s, if you could talk a little bit to that idea of because you’re very, when you’re talking about this, like artistic practice around this kind of like a community building work. That’s what it’s all very place based as a thing. And so given that we’re then shifting into an era of like physical distancing. I’m really interested in how you can live those values of making things like more long term, time based, I think was the language you used and whilst also maintaining some of that like kind of safety I guess around like physical distancing, etc. Like, how are you living your values at this time?

Rabab: Yeah. Oh my gosh, such a, how are we living our values? It’s, yeah, we are asking ourselves that all the time. I really recognise the, I really recognise the same parallels with facilitation, you know, because as you, especially, you know, there can be really amazing experiences we have about holding spaces, and then it’s gone and the depth of what we might experience in that space temporarily. And then yeah, so there’s a constant question about, what is this relationship between a thing that happened and had its value? And is it devalued by not being longer and I think there’s some discernment there, like, because there’s a moment of like, we can discern when something actually, you know, is contained, and it’s okay. And then we can also know when more is needed. And so the first thing I wanted to say is like, like, there’s aspiration. For us, I think there is for everyone. And there’s literally the resources that enable us to do to do the longer term stuff. And I would say, we have come in and out of being able to speak to that longer term work, you know, so one of the projects I’ve been running, which now comes under the umbrella of Gentle Radical, but I think I started it in 2004 is today it’s called the Gentle Radical Film Club. But it always began as a film club, specifically trying to create safe spaces for for women from diverse backgrounds who were not rocking up to, I don’t know, you know, Chapter Arts Centre, the main contemporary art space in Cardiff, you know, on a Friday evening to watch a documentary about, I don’t know, whatever. Why is that? Why Why are people not accessing those spaces? Why is it not affordable? Why is there not a whole range of other things that make people feel that is a space for them. So like, that project is now in its 16th year, but like,

Sami: Wow

Rabab: It has taken huge amounts of like volunteer labour over the years, other people’s volunteer labour, sometimes, it’s like meant our own burnout, and in health, and ill health, sometimes, we’ve just, there was a moment, I just put it on the back burner for a year and a half. So we’re aspiring to be able to do long term work, you know, we’re aspiring to do that. And I think resource is a huge, you know, kind of, I’m stating the obvious, but it’s a kind of huge issue, if resource wasn’t an issue. I think, all of these, these long term relationships would be so much more straightforward, you know, because if, if our desire is there, then I think we can find the ways. And that brings me to, I suppose, what is the desire, if the desire is there, what are the ways now at the moment in the current climate? And so I suppose one of the things we’re starting to do, maybe I can tell you a little bit about one of the projects we’ve just about to begin and

Sami: Yes, please do.

Rabab: That the Film Club is really interesting, because we so community outreach has been a huge part of what we’ve done and what what I’ve done over the years, and now that’s very much part of Gentle Radical’s work. So we sure we can bring a whole lot of people into our screenings into our sort of pop up community screenings via Twitter, and you know, Facebook, and Instagram and all the usual, we what we don’t do is reach a whole swathe of people who some of them may not be necessarily accessing us via these platforms. So going to a BAME women’s health event or turning up to a Somalian Sudanese women’s coffee morning, or going to some Esau classes or finding people in their places of community or meeting points or those engagements are really critical to our work. And you can’t do that under lockdown, you cannot turn up to those spaces, because those those groups are not meeting in those ways any longer. So, at the moment, what we’ve been really thinking about is how do we go back and have a dialogue like reknit the dialogue that we might have been having previously? And how do we take that to the next stage? So what we’re starting to do with a whole kind of outreach and volunteer team at Gentle Radical is a is a project that we sort of called “doorstep revolution”. And the idea is, okay, we can stand on people’s doorsteps, right? We can, we can, socially distanced, kind of have socially distance conversations. But what’s really critical, particularly with digital exclusion, it’s all very well that we’re on platforms like zoom. But a whole lot of people as we know, are completely shut out from that shuts out for affordability reasons for access reasons for a whole range of different reasons. So there is, I suppose we recognise how do we have those conversations? And that also came out for me from recognising what we were doing in the mutual aid group that I helped set up in Riverside. So it was all fine. And it was highly kind of successful in many ways, and we reached people. But what we weren’t having was many conversations, we were answering sort of some quite essential needs. But the stuff around the dialogue, the stuff around the conversations, the stuff around, actually, isolation, and deepening isolation was a huge need. And we weren’t necessarily finding ways to address that. So this new project is really about deep work with eight streets in Riverside. So the idea is to knock on the door of every single household on eight separate streets, and conduct really in depth kind of conversations about people’s experiences, about the last six months about what’s changed, about what do they want to leave behind, I mean, maybe they don’t want to commute to work, you know, two hours in the morning and in an evening, and a bunch of other things, maybe, maybe people have aspirations for what’s shifting, what they’re seeing anew and then of course, there’s huge levels of loss. There’s huge levels of deepening, difficulty and deepening challenge of simply surviving everyday life for people. So how do we, how do we try and bring into conversation and into a kind of held conversation, some of those experiences? And then the idea is how do we then bring people into subsequent conversations with each other? So how can the community keep having a conversation with itself. And the idea is that we do that in a very in depth level within eight streets in the neighbourhood. And then we have five households from every single street across the rest of the neighbourhood. And we really build up a picture and then we will want to really develop two things to come out of that. So one is a podcast, which will be our first kind of podcasts that we’ve done is Gentle Radical, which really will be about the community being able to then take that project forward. So the idea is that it becomes the long term means and space for the community to continue having that dialogue with itself, you know, and then also to develop a kind of something in between, like in a neighbourhood newspaper slash, cultural magazine slash multi lingual point of contact. Again, the idea is that we absolutely involve all of these different people, people who might be interested in, in curating and writing and developing the dialogues around that. So for us, it always goes back to how do we do the like, literally the knocking on people’s doors like that, that I don’t think that’s ever not going to be for us relevant. And it’s probably the most vital space in which we feel we’re kind of doing the praxis of access work, you know, not just the theorising.

Sami: I think it’s really interesting that really maps on to my own experiences of organising around mutual aid locally as well. This, how much things shift away from often what people’s motivating intention for why they get involved in that kind of perspective of somebody who’s currently requesting support or concurrently offering support. It’s, both of those people often are motivated by a desire for more like local connection. But then in practice that’s just designed out by people with I would describe as like having bureaucratic tendencies, and how much those how much those like often really, human drives are really designed out with a process in terms of how things are set up. And how shocked people can be when you suggest things like, maybe we should do some door knocking to talk to people. And people see that as like a really controversial suggestion.


Rabab: I’d really agree with that. And I also would say that and of course there was a reason for all of that more attention to detail bureaucratic approach, because of course, we’re talking about safety, aren’t we? And like, we, we actually ended up I mean, we have this extraordinary person who has really works in systems, basically, she was able to set up this incredible system, which meant that, like, every single aspect of the safety precautions that we needed to take through to the GDPR through to that, you know, was amazing, and I mean, I am in awe of that person, actually. But what we ended up having on like, our little messaging service is people phoning. I had a few experiences like this answering calls, they didn’t really need anything. They didn’t really need anything picked up. But you know, what,

Sami: They didn’t need anything material.

Rabab: They do not need anything material, but but they wanted to talk for 40 minutes, right. So like, how will we will we organise to do that and should have we should we have been, I believe we should have probably, in hindsight, been more organised to just provide, have access to, to conversation right to, to people being around to to hear people. And so I think, I think conversation and dialogue is probably the bedrock of how I understand the work, how I understand organising how I understand cultural work. But everything starts from enabling that conversation to feel open to everyone.

Rabab: Yeah, and, and something else you said about mutual aid? Actually, I forgot, I was gonna say something else, but it’s so whatever you said, it was good. I agree.

Sami: Thanks

Kat: I think yeah, I think the thing about conversation was fascinating. During lockdown, I had the street phone for a little while for our mutual aid group. And similarly had quite a few, especially older people who are on their own calling, basically, for a chat, which was such a disconnect to the kinds of offers that were being made in the WhatsApp group, which is I can go and pick up food, I can go pharmacy items, and, and very few requests of any kind, actually, on the street that I was on.

Rabab: Yeah.

Kat: And yet, there was this kind of unnamed request that was coming through and the desire for conversation, and I felt it living alone, like the days when we would have socially distance cups of tea in the street, like made my week. And yeah, and yet, that wasn’t really a formal thing that was being served by the by the group. And it’s sort of almost how do you get people to open up to those needs that maybe are a little bit more taboo or a bit shameful, feels like, especially stuff around loneliness and isolation. It’s really hard to come out and be like, actually, you know what, I’m on my own. And yeah, that’s hard to tell you.

Rabab: Totally, totally. And, yeah, I really, that really resonates actually. And that sense of, I think I sort of I remember saying something like, oh, like, I think that’s where I think for me, that’s so much where I don’t know if it sounds really clunky, but where kind of the want of a better term, the cultural offer has to start with conversation. Like, if we’re not imposing projects on people, then then really, were always beginning with the conversation. And I think I had a really, we had a really similar experience, we had not that many requests, loads of volunteers trained up, and people kind of hanging around kind of twiddling their thumbs, and it’s like, what we really need to do was, was respond to some of that, that loneliness and find ways of, as you say, enabling people to understand that not only was that okay, it was deeply legitimate, both in terms of the current circumstances and the way societal systems have been structured to, to bring that about, you know, we’ve lost a sense of extended families and extended networks. And if I think about so many people I know friends of mine who are parents and like, the levels of exhaustion and sleep deprivation, because actually, essentially, we’re bringing up children in these incredibly limited ways. The cliche of kind of village a village raises a child is there for a reason. Like it’s like we are not raising children amongst us amongst us as neighbours or communities or extended family groups. And so I think we’re in a highly dysfunctional place, and then trying to respond from a place of functionality that’s not not really working. So yeah, going deeper in terms of asking those questions. And funnily enough, I think this project for us is also comes out of that experience of some of the mutual aid stuff of like, oh, yeah, actually, we need to just need to talk, we need to talk to people, and we’d like to talk. And we’d like them to talk back, you know,

Sami: I think it also really speaks to that idea that you mentioned before, of like things being hyperlocal, like, as, as a facilitator supported another mutual aid group in London, and from a borough in South London, and they organise things that are borough level. And some of the London boroughs are huge. And what that meant was they basically designed a system and approach which meant that they were basically around the same kind of number of core people, as a lot of the very, very small mutual aid groups had, but just designed to cover the whole borough rather than like the streets around the house. And it made a setup that just meant it was so I think people found it really overwhelming. And they found it really valuable. And they were really like seeing the impact of the work they were doing. But then they basically got into a pattern as that like ossification happens, where they ended up having to raise money to be able to sustain the work they were doing. But then that was really hard to do, because they were already busy doing the work. And I think it’s just, it’s just such a different pattern for things that operated for the people I know, who are involved in like street based things where it’s like, I’m helping the people on my road, or maybe my road and the road next to my road, where you basically always have the opposite thing we’re like, well, like there’s a limit to just how much support can be needed in this space, like in in this set up. And so the challenge is really like you’re shifting from being like we’re trying to, almost it lends itself towards gatekeeping, or at least having to resist that idea of gatekeeping. To be like, how do we limit the support we give, because we can’t sustain it to people, like, I’m going out to try and find people that need is like, people probably need more help than they’re saying. And so you’re going out and trying to create those situations and conversations where you can build enough relationships so that people can state the requirements they actually have, but they don’t really feel able for whatever way to just like act on themselves without some kind of structure support.

Rabab: That’s so interesting, all of that. And it’s, it’s, it’s it’s a complex, and I think, I mean, for me what I think mutual aid, this moment of mutual aid, we had one taught us how, like, we are not involved currently in mutual aid, right, like, but we sort of scratched the surface of it. Understood, I think how it, you know, we haven’t gotten to the place where essentially, I think we were, it was a little bit whether it was hierarchical, or whether it’s the mutual bit of it wasn’t necessarily functional, a group of people self elected themselves trained up out of a deep sense of care and in compassion, but they were essentially helping others or enabling others. And so I think there’s a whole bit of the equation that we’ve, we’ve we’ve yet to explore and go much, deeply, go much further with and I think that’s a good thing. Like, I’m kind of I think, yeah, okay. COVID, beyond COVID. What did that opening? What did that huge response from from people kind of how many mutual aid groups 400 plus all over the UK? Like, there’s, there’s huge potential.

Rabab: So yeah, and I think, I think that goes back to all of these ideas of slowness. And, you know, again, moving at the pace of trust, but how do we move so slowly that we understand the depths of what including people means not because of what they’re going to gain from us, but because of what we might understand we might need to do differently because of their voice, because their voices in the mix, and the thing changes because of them. And that is a hugely time based process. Looking forward to a bit more depth.

Sami: Though I just said to Kat, I’m going to restrain myself from asking any more questions. So we can wrap up I do actually have I have that this is I have a very specific question, which is a closed on rather than an open one. Because you you you refer to that phrase of moving at the speed of trust, and it’s a thing which I hear batted around a lot. I had a very basic question for you, which is Do you know where that quote actually comes from? In my head I associate it with the like Disability Justice organiser Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Smarasinha but I don’t…do you actually know where that phrase comes from? Because I don’t and I’m always wondering,

Rabab: Again, I can’t remember. The only book I’ve referenced in this entire chat. It is So in Emergent Strategy is is that way I’ve seen?

Kat: That’s where I’ve seen it. I don’t know where adrienne maree brown might have got it from before. Yeah,

Rabab: I think that I think that makes. Yeah. And probably I mean, as it as a, the essence of that principle, you know, people will have worked with, you know, you know, she references So many of her own, you know, mentors, doesn’t she, but yeah, and I feel like, I’ve had to learn that, you know, I’ve had to learn it did not like, I’ve really had to learn it. And, and I think there’s this huge contradiction in our spaces. One, we are all deeply invested in justice, and it can’t come soon enough, it can’t come soon enough for the obvious reasons. And, and it pains us that it’s not coming soon enough. So we’re trying to work, I think I’ve been in this space, trying to work and push myself and go, right, if we just get that resource, get that bit of funding, we’ll be able to do this work so much more responsibly, so much more deeply and inclusively and equitably and, and there’s no end to that, you know, I think I realised there’s just no end. And actually, then ill health control, burnout and exhaustion. And actually, what’s really interesting in Gentle Radical’s kind of now, nearly four year history is the point at which actually, that burnout and in health really kind of hit towards the end of last year, the point at which I finally realised, this has to go the pace of the health of all of us, you know, the capacity of all of us, you know, that is where actually things really started opening out. And I think that, that, for me is very, very profound, that when we really honour ourselves, when we honour ourselves not as kind of sack, you know, entities to sacrifice at the altar of change and radical justice and unnecessary, you know, systems transformation, like, we have to honour the self, and if the self is in any way, if you like, I don’t know, some something that is as not not as important as the whole that’s as important as the communities we’re working in not as important as X or Y. Like, I literally think the spaces in which we are gifted the means to do our work the cosmos, the universe, hears that and says, Okay, we’re not quite ready here, like only when you are only when you are moving through this space in ways that kind of honour the depth of your, who you are, and the importance of who you are. Do we seem to be supported by the spaces around us. And that’s been, I think, that’s praxos as well, like my my mind, and my spirit understands that, but to really have started to live that within the organisation, and within myself, has taken a while and, and we’re now in a space where we’ve probably for the first time had more stable resource. And I think it’s because we’re learning how to move slower, and in a way that is truly going to be lasting, but respects the self.

Kat: Yeah. And I feel like that’s for me, something that I find so powerful about the work of Gentle Radical is the way that it sort of notices our own ways of being and needing to be the ways our groups are the ways we work. And that connection to the system, and how systems of capitalism, want usto burn out. That’s what they’re designed to make us do. Yeah. And I guess, just to throw in the Audrey Lorde quote, feels like when she’s saying caring for myself is not self indulgence it is self preservation. And that is an act of political warfare, is because it’s connecting to that resistance to what the system is asking us to do. Yeah. And that’s just, that’s feels like that’s what you’re living. And that’s, it’s hard because the system doesn’t want us to, but to actually really encourage ourselves to go at that pace of slowness and trust is really radical.

Rabab: I think. I think so. And I really feel like I’m, I’m constantly know, like, I have to constantly notice it in myself, you know, and like, what was happening the other day. I think I had a meeting in the morning on zoom. And I remember thinking Rabab you really need to go for a walk before your next meeting. And I’m not doing my walks very well because the work always seems to be more urgent and there’s some emails I could write, like, the the, it took a kind of active will to go out and do the walk. And I actually think, you know, when we do that we are resisting capitalism, we are resisting so many other systems, which basically say, constantly, you know, you’re you as a site of constant productivity is the thing that you need to raise up, not you as a site of like, no productivity, but but centering yourself and your needs at this moment, which is, of course, the most deeply productive thing you can do. So yeah, I think it’s a, there’s an amazing, I couldn’t believe I found this. But anyway, it’s around, I’m sure there are other documents that this is a really great report written by the Movement Strategy Centre, I think, can’t remember where they’re based in the US, it might be Detroit, and they, they wrote this really stunning report called, coming out of the spiritual closet. And it was one of the first documents where I really, really felt like people writing about how, in our movement building and in our organising, we have to understand that kind of, with all of the strategies that we have access to, and we perfect, and we use in different ways. And if we don’t, if we, if we don’t have love it, if we don’t have spiritual strategy, spiritual work, spiritual resources, like the work on self, the inner work on self, all of our organising will kind of ultimately fall into some of the same traps and the same pitfalls. Because of course, all of those spaces are subject to power dynamics, we, each of us are subject to our own histories of trauma and challenge and resistance. And so like, it’s really beautiful now to see so much material out there, which is starting to say, we have to send to this slowness, and we have to centre this depth of practice in ourselves. So yeah, yeah, getting there slowly.

Kat: Absolutely. I mean, I feel like I could carry on talking about these things all afternoon, and then maybe longer. But I think we’re gonna need to start drawing this to a close and maybe another time invite you back to talk about spiritual ecologies and the role of spirits and spirituality in our activism. And, but for now, and it would be really wonderful if there’s anything you could share for listeners who may have been inspired by what they’ve heard you talking about this afternoon, if there are ways that people can find out more or get involved in the work of Gentle Radical?

Rabab: Yeah, it’s been really nice chatting to you both. And I think the obvious ways are probably just like our website, We also are on all the usual places like Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, and I suppose yeah, there’s a bunch of things that that we have different projects, which are operating in different ways across different spaces. And we really encourage anyone, particularly obviously, people who are local, to just get in touch and let us know how they’d like to get involved and we’re always open to that conversation.

Kat: Amazing, great. That’s lush to hear. And okay, I think we’re gonna draw to a close and to say again, thank you so much. It’s been really lovely talking with you.

Rabab: Likewise, both. Really great.

Ali: Thanks once again to Rabab for joining us on this episode. You can find out more about Gentle Radical on their website and on socials. They are gentle_radical HQ on Twitter and Gentle Radical on Instagram. This week we had music from Kareem Samara and his song Light for SH. You can find him on soundcloud. And as ever thanks to Klaus for letting us use his song Neff for this backing track. And you can find out more about Resist+Renew at and on all the socials. And on the website there is a page for donations if you want to support the production of this podcast. That’s all for now. See you next week.

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