Speaking Back: Fight, flight, freeze

He koha (for paying subs)

CW: grief

Kia ora…. it’s been such a big week, following on from a huge weekend, and several intense weeks before that. I fell asleep last night at 9pm after taking part in a talk at Unity Books titled, of all things, “Speaking Back.” I knew that I was mentally exhausted, but I didn’t quite realise just how emotionally drained I was as well. I went to sleep to stop from howling to the full moon.

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I know I’ve talked in jest about having election nightmares in previous posts, but they’re actually real. This week, a cat I’ve never seen got into the conservatory through an old cat door I thought had rusted shut. I could hear crashing and banging and screeching and in my dreams it was Nicola Willis and Grant Robinson, but then my phone rang and it was Bobbie, who’s room is right next to the conservatory. I got up and we met at the bottom of the stairs. We had no idea what it was. I told her to get behind me and I opened the door. I’m 7 years riding solo and I wasn’t afraid. In fact, it hadn’t even occurred to me to be afraid.

When I turned on the light the cat began to fling itself at the windows in desperation. I quickly opened the ranch slider door then backed away. But the cat just sat there for several inert minutes as if it did not trust its eyes anymore. Had I blinded it by turning on the light? I ended up working this anecdote into the Spinoff column I’m writing because I couldn’t go back to sleep and it seemed to say something poignant about how so many of us feel right now.

The column I’m working on is about climate, comparing each political parties’ policies side by side holistically. To do the story justice I undertook to watch all the debates, all the interviews, read all the coverage. It’s left my nerves frayed and conversely, full of faith. Watching Hana Rāwhiti Maipi-Clarke, who I met at Te Hira Pū Ao earlier this year, I got goosebumps. Did you hear her whare was rammed last night? In response, she said: “I am not afraid….. the kōhanga reo generation are here, and we have a huge movement and a huge wave of us coming through.”

Hana’s not afraid, and I believe her. Last week she messaged to ask me my address so she could post me her maramataka book. I mention this to illustrate what kind of person she is when the camera’s off. While all this crap is going on out in public, behind the scenes, Hana’s the kind of person who will remember a random person she met at a random conference in March, and follow through on a commitment she made six months ago.

I will admit, when I was invited to be a part of the discussion last night I was a bit scared. I was worried I wasn’t radical enough in the ‘Speaking Back’ sense. I’ve only been making zines for about 3 years and I didn’t get there via the punk or anarchist route, which is how the movement was birthed. I came to zines through what I’ve always thought of as activism-by-stealth (and a fair bit of cottage-scrapbooking love).

In my early days of publishing, I learnt to avoid language and ideas that would be considered “too radical.” I learned to wrap my politics up in personal narrative and anecdote so that it would be harder for publishers to reject outright. If you’ve read or listened to the critical review of a critical review, you’ll see just how much power and control editors and platforms have over the content we read and consume.

This is why Zines exist - because we shouldn’t have to contort ourselves in order to be heard. Zines exist to Speak Truth to power, to challenge, expose and resist dominant narratives. Since their appearance in the 70s, Zines have provided a mechanism to vocalise the stories and voices of the marginalised and excluded, Speaking Up against sexual violence, state violence, police violence, racism, white supremacy, white fragility, inequity, injustice, all of it.

Val (Valerie Morse, one of the founders of Rebel Press who has spent a lifetime organising and protesting) was sitting on the panel to my right. Val has a strength and fearlessness that leaves me shaking in my cherry docs. She was one of the 16 jailed for protesting the te Urewera raids and her prison diary “Can’t Hear me Scream” is an example of the work of radical publishing.

Next to her was Bryce Galloway, whose zines “Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People” I didn’t realise I’d read until he started talking and I recognised the title (I mean, how could I forget). Zines can be so awesomely irreverent.

Next to him was Nadia Abu-Shanab, who the universe keeps bringing me into relationship with through our overlapping social and community-activist networks. Facilitating the conversation was Sasha Francis from 5ever books, the crew who have given so much of their own time to support Anahera and I to get our fledgling publishing collective off the ground.

With a kaupapa like Speaking Back, especially under a harvest moon, we should have expected fire - but even I wasn’t ready for how things kicked off.

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