Entering the space of the historic Washington Hall, my heart was full of joy. It felt as if I returned home to a community embodied through the intersecting scenes of art, activism, scholarship, and social justice. Familiar intergenerational faces, smiles, abrazos, laughter y besos por todos. The Women Who Rock: Making Scenes, Building Communities conference developed the “(un)conference” model of participant driven, dialogue heavy sessions designed to disrupt conventional forms of conference gathering. As one of the organizers of last year’s inaugural conference, I’m thrilled to be back celebrating the accomplishments of women in the arts, and critically assessing how to build communities of support across scenes – musical, activist, academic and the like.
The Seattle Fandango Project opened the conference, or should I say awakened the senses of conference participants. A collective dedicated to inspiring relationship building through participatory music and dance in the tradition of the ‘fandango’ from Veracruz, the music and dance of the women on stage was a sonic invocation of the spirit. Local musician and healer Christine Cruz Guiao called upon the Divine Mother and guided participants through a meditation that paid respect to the Duwamish as the original dwellers of the land and called upon the elders of the space – Jimi, Martin, Mahalia – as a blessing for inspiring dialogue and maintaining the intentions of the conference. Stephany Koch Hazelrigg of Seattle Heartestry Educators (“SHE”) introduced the concept of the “authenticity of vulnerability,” which I interpret as the release of fear, anxiety, vergüenza, and guilt, which opens spaces and practices of healing that facilitate a transformative, liberatory imaginary.
In the ultimate form of release, folks moshed to new Seattle metal band Chi Chi, and stomped to the drum beat of Monica Rojas of the DE CAJoN Project. The opening session embodied a truly transgressive politic, and the praxis of the ‘theory of the flesh’ whereby our individual experiences were politicized through collective corporeal movement.
Participants in morning sessions were called to action through art projects, dance, sharing stories of trauma, and experiencing the spirit through sound. Dialogue sessions engaged a host of topics from hip hop in the academy to hybridity, intersectionality, desire, and motherhood.
In her workshop, “Storytelling as (R)evolutionary,” poet and youth advocate Robin Parks presented a framework for doing justice and calling out injustice when we see it. I was brought to tears by her testimonio of sexual violence and the lack of support from her organizing community. This experience is all too common for women in movements, and we have to be supported in our efforts to call oppressive behaviors out and demand accountability by members of our communities. Storytelling is revolutionary in its ability to name undocumented violence, while allowing survivors and their communities to evolve new modes of accountability and respect. As Park noted, “If you want to paint the world the way you want it, you have to paint it on yourself first.”
I am inspired by the day thus far. Props to conference organizers Luzviminda “Lulu” Carpenter, Michelle Habell-Pallan, Sonnet Retman, and Monica de la Torre and the many volunteers for continuing the participatory format. I look forward to the afternoon dialogue between two OG soldaderas in indie music – punk pioneer Alice Bag and the goddess of west coast hip hop, Medusa. If my late night cipher with Medusa, Lulu, filmmaker Barni Qaasim, and local artists Christa Bell and Gabriel Teodros are any indication of what we have in store, folks better get ready for some serious truth speaking. The Divine Mother is in the building y’all…¡Vive la artivista!