’My struggle is your struggle’: Creating a convergence of struggles across anti-discrimination movements
By Intissar Kherigi, Board member of ENAR and of the Federation of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO)
Intersectionality is deeply connected with convergence of struggles. This concept is not new but still needs to be properly implemented by anti-discrimination movements. What are the keys to build convergence of struggles? Why is it needed and are there any relevant examples?
As the world gets smaller and smaller with globalisation and the spread of ever-increasing forms of communication, we have never been more connected. We have more information at our fingertips and more opportunities for collaboration and common action than ever before. Campaigns such as “Black Lives Matter” show how rights activists now have more tools and spaces at their disposal for creating awareness around issues of discrimination and bringing dozens of organisations and millions of people together around a common cause. This provides fertile ground for building a real convergence of struggles across anti-discrimination movements, but that also requires us to align our priorities and question and change our way of doing things.
The concept of “convergence of struggles” has most recently emerged as an animating force behind the #NuitDebout protests in France, a citizen-led movement that united millions of ordinary people fighting for a spectrum of causes, from labour rights to the environment, and anti-austerity to opposition to the state of emergency. The movement is organised as an umbrella body to coordinate different groups and struggles and coordinated by committees. Each day at 6pm in the Place de la République, a “general assembly” would take place (of which all minutes can be found here) where all participants can propose and discuss ideas. There is no one leader, no organisation in control.
If we believe that human rights are indivisible, then an attack on any one human right is an attack on others
A convergence of struggles that brings together different causes is ideally suited to the anti-discrimination field because we are often dealing with intersecting and overlapping social identities – the complex lived realities of individuals cannot be reduced to single categories such as class, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. This was highlighted in ENAR’s most recent report, Forgotten Muslim Women, which showed that we cannot understand the experiences of Muslim women solely through the prism of discrimination on the basis of religion – Muslim women disproportionately experience discrimination compared with non-Muslim women and Muslim men. They face a triple penalty - as women, as ethnic minorities, and as religious minorities. An intersectional approach is vital to understanding and addressing each level in the discrimination process and experience. This idea is not new. The civil rights activist, W. E. B. Du Bois, was already developing theories in the early 1900s about how race, class, culture and national identity intersect in producing social hierarchies. Black feminists have for decades drawn attention to how Black women’s experiences of discrimination often do not fit within the legal categories of “racism” or “sexism”, but work as a combination of both. Despite this, anti-discrimination organisations still have a tendency to work in isolation from each other, focusing on their field of action without seeing how it fits within the wider patchwork of anti-discrimination struggles.
Why we need a convergence of struggles
In recent years, we have begun to see anti-discrimination activists from various struggles (racism, anti-gypsyism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, Afrophobia and anti-migrant discrimination) coming together to face the rise of far right movements who are increasingly threatening social cohesion and human rights.
Despite the particularity of each of our struggles, anti-discrimination activists urgently need to unite around each other’s struggles. If we believe that human rights are indivisible, then an attack on any one human right is an attack on all others. Facing up to the scale of the challenges before us in Europe – soaring levels of prejudice, increasingly harsh anti-migrant policies, the relentless rise of the far right, the securitisation of political discourse, and the stalling of a progressive social justice agenda – requires us to adopt a joined-up approach.
Racist and fascist movements are increasingly seeking to drive a wedge between communities to advance their own bigoted causes. The UK’s British National Party, for example, began using ethnic minorities in their party propaganda for the first time in the 2005 elections, in a sophisticated strategy to divide ethnic communities and turn them against each other. Far right movements across Europe have also joined forces to generate popular anxiety about immigration. While claiming that they are raising legitimate concerns about migration, their campaigns directly target all minorities, resulting in a rise in attacks on anyone perceived to be “foreign”. Most worryingly, this discourse has infected mainstream political language, and has even been adopted by some liberals who have fallen into the trap of invoking European or Enlightenment values to provide a cover for a new insidious form of cultural racism.
One step further than creating inclusive spaces is to create truly shared space between movements
This only makes it ever more urgent for anti-discrimination activists to join forces, and see their struggles as part of the same struggle for a more equal and cohesive Europe. Fortunately, this has begun to happen – initiatives are emerging that bring together NGOs working on different forms of discrimination. A good example is the initiative taken by ENAR, together with the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO) and CEJI - A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe, to issue joint briefings on Antisemitism and Islamophobia, at a time when both Jewish and Muslim communities are facing greater fear after the rise of antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks across Europe. Taking up each other’s causes as our own as part and parcel of one struggle for equality serves to strengthen us and silence the voices that seek to play communities off against each other in an effort to weaken social cohesion.
How to create convergence
A convergence of struggles requires activists to commit to mobilise themselves to collectively campaign for shared aims. Some key principles are useful in thinking through how to create a convergence of struggles:
There is no hierarchy of suffering All forms of discrimination are equally unacceptable. There are no grounds for giving priority to one over another.
Convergence is voluntary Pledging to participate in a convergence of struggles requires us to be genuinely committed to the belief that our struggles are intersectional and equally important, and that our strength lies in working together.
Thinking about space - inclusion and exclusion One way to begin to build convergence is to create more inclusive spaces within our own organisations or movements. Few of us are conscious of how our organisational spaces, which seem perfectly accessible to us, exclude or fail to welcome others. At the recent Forgotten Muslim Women report launch, we had a fascinating discussion about space within the feminist movement and how (un)welcoming it is to Black and Muslim women activists. We need to think about what conditions we are placing – often unconsciously - on who is and is not welcome, depending on how they self-define, the views they hold or even their appearance.
ENAR has also become increasingly aware of the need to build inclusive platforms by ensuring all events have an intersectional approach – a conference on Afrophobia should not be an occasion only for anti-Afrophobia activists. Active efforts must be made to include activists from organisations working on racism, gender, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, Antigypsyism, homophobia, etc. Having these perspectives serves to enrich the debate and introduce new experiences and dimensions that are otherwise overlooked.
Shared space - Letting go of top-down institutional control One step further than creating inclusive spaces is to create truly shared space between movements. In each field of anti-discrimination, structures have emerged (NGOs, unions, etc.) with their own ways of doing things. A convergence means individuals and organisations coming together to create a shared space in which there is not one imposed approach but a multifaceted approach that is decentralised while being coordinated. This requires us to put aside our attachment to our own ways of doing things, in order to find a common method and reach joint decisions.
A top priority for the anti-discrimination movement
The need for convergence across the anti-discrimination field is not a theoretical notion but a real, urgent priority to address the rising tide of intolerance and prejudice we are witnessing across Europe. If our work is to change the realities of millions of victims of discrimination, we must begin from these concrete realities, which often involve multiple and intersecting levels of deprivation of rights. Not to work together would be to continue to allow victims to fall through the cracks of the rigid categories of the legal system, as well as to allow bigots to manipulate differences in order to unravel the framework of human rights and equality standards that anti-discrimination movements have worked so hard to establish.