Book Review: Voices that Shake! A trilogy of youth led publications

Image credit: Voice that Shake!

Book Review: Voices that Shake! A trilogy of youth led publications: Voices that Shake! An Anthology of Creative Movements, ‘Shake! The System Research Report: A Decade of Shaping Change 2010-2020’, ‘Shake! The System Guidebook: Rituals, Tools & Practices. 

Reviewed by NSUN Communications Assistant Kaiisha Kukendra

“The path towards liberation is practice and we want to continue to be honest about the spaciousness we need to make that allows each of us to grow, to feel safe enough to take risks and to be vulnerable to make mistakes or try things out… In our learning and trialling we get to practice new futures. And this is where opportunity is. If the only way is through, we find ways to make the path vast for one another.” (p15) 

Above all else this collection offers its readers powerful lessons in moving together; in building solidarity in their collective movement. Consisting of an anthology, a research report and a guidebook it celebrates the last ten years of Shake!s youth-led initiative: bringing together young people, artists and campaigners to develop creative responses to social injustice. It does this via essays, poems and artwork, together imbued with a sense of overwhelming hope. For NSUN readers, especially those within the intersection of mental health and racial justice spaces, the creative work contained within can offer accounts of how to survive, grow and heal but also through discussions on community and accountability it outlines the contours of an alternative future which draws not only from our past but also, and crucially, from voices which are too often silenced. 

This trilogy however is not solely a work of ‘celebration and documentation.’ It is also an indispensable tool with a clear function: providing a space for young, working class people of colour to ‘explore, express and embolden their voices’. Borne out of an increasingly hostile political environment with the violence of austerity further impacting young and racialised people, Shake! offered something new and revolutionary to the youth it was supporting. Jane Trowell, Shake! Coordinator, discussing the setting up of Shake!, uses a quote from Tiff Webster (Shake!’s lead designer): on saying ‘you must fill these spaces with black and brown, indigenous, working-class, queer, non-ableist ideas, not bodies!’ (p236). It is this approach, one opposed to the ‘filling of spaces with bodies’, which has allowed Shake! to avoid the assimilation and co-optation experienced by so many other projects in the charity sector and ultimately to publish a work not focussed on mere words or rhetoric devoid of context but of community experience. Encouraging us to interact with the book’s creativity through its artwork, poems and prose, whilst simultaneously challenging us with ideas and an openness to re-imagine and dream beyond what we know in the present makes for an incredibly healing read. 

The anthology is set out across five parts: Cry, Protest, Breath, Call and Harmony, each theme expressing different experiences with a broader ‘political and liberation’ process. For example, the Cry being a ‘moment of politicisation’ to the Call (‘connecting together struggles and communities’). There is this resounding sense of hope and love throughout the anthology, between the pages in the Cry and Protest to the Harmony, there are poems and words that offer ways to create community care but also space for healing and rest in the midst of all the pain. The chapter on Breath offers a page on what now also becomes a tribute to the late bell hooks on ‘all about love’, reminding us of hooks’ call to look beyond the feelings of ‘cultural brokenheartedness’ that we are normalised to. The anthology honours this message of love that hooks’ helped us all to envision, enabling those not afforded such love to receive and reclaim it in various ways so that ‘love is to become a social and not highly individualistic phenomenon’ (p143).

Rotimi Skyers’ poem ‘Hey Stevie’, appearing in the Cry chapter and written over ten years ago in tribute to Stephen Lawrence, is a poignant reminder that we still face many of the same problems today. Particularly with regards to those lost to state violence, many of them young, whether through police brutality, neglect through housing, or abuse and coercion in carceral institutions, the Cry chapter holds this pain and grief in its pages, exposing how powerful vulnerability is for building resistance and community, especially in lived experience work. 

The pages in the Protest chapter remind us how this radical work is in constant threat of erasure but refuses to be forgotten. At a time with increasing state authoritarianism through the passing of the policing and nationality and borders bill, the anthology offers an alternative imagination and a sense of future far beyond such draconian measures. Like much of the work that we focus on at NSUN, the creative works in Shake! touch on the lived experience of those criminalised and coerced reminding us how they are increasingly affected by mental ill health, and how vice versa, those affected by mental ill health are increasingly targeted by the state and how this state violence has harmed and continues to impact racialised and marginalised communities the most, but in the end will affect all of us in various ways

The Call chapter weaves between essays and notes on loss, on class and gentrification, amongst other forms of state violence, remembering those we lost whilst honouring them with words of resistance through the mediums of poems, art or films, calling for us to prepare and to ‘re-member, re-imagine, repair’ (p197). In Farzana Khan’s essay on ‘Moving from ‘No Borders’ to Broader Land for the Borderless’, she calls upon us all to dismantle borders and power dynamics within our own communities, and emphasises building without borders in our organising spaces. Borrowing a quote from Mia Mingus, “Interdependency is both ‘you and I’ and ‘we’…. It is knowing that one organisation, one student or community group is not a movement… And every time we turn away from each other, we turn away from ourselves.”(p172) This message of solidarity building and the interdependency of the community and ourselves reiterates that how we do the work is just as important as the work we do.

“There is so much light here, joy… you cannot extract from our imagination based on love” (p277). This quote taken from a group poem called ‘Surviving the System’, encapsulates the demands and energy behind the Shake! family, encouraging us to take part and learn from their radical pedagogy. The anthology will be a book to be shared with allies, friends and family to honour the work and people that Shake! carry in all its forms, picking up more young Shake!rs on their rich and revolutionary journey. 

The anthology can be bought here. (£20 / £14 economic justice price)

The Research Report and Guidebook are free to download or you can read online on the Shake! publications webpage.

Twitter: Voices that Shake!