Would you believe me if I told you that artivism can save the world? Art can be used a mobile forms of protest that can reach far and wide. The act of storytelling is so vital to social justice movements, especially surrounding decriminalization because it gives people with lived experience a platform to talk about their lives to people who have been captivated by traditional narratives that often don't speak from personal experience.
The criminalization of sex work, drug use, and other non-violent or "quality of life" offenses can often send people through a criminal justice system with no real resources. While these systems may have the intention of helping people in these situations, they are poorly executed. Programs that are set up as diversion have the potential to provide some assistance but often ignore the root causes of why a person may choose to engage in those activities in first place and lack the compassionate understanding of the trials and tribulations a person faces while operating in a criminalized state.
Storytelling has always been a powerful healing tool. I have written poetry and stories since I was 16 years old, I was mentored by a team of spoken word artists through a learning to work program at my High School. I went to Urban Word in New York City, competed in youth poetry slams, practiced at The Nuyorican Poetry Cafe and all of this gave me the opportunity to be honest about the reality of being a young black mother in foster care, my experiences of having drug dependent parents, death, and assaults that happened on many different levels. I started to heal and people understood me better because of my ability to share my story.
Poetry was a way for me to advocate for myself and others, to create a compassionate dialogue about taboo situations such as sex work. It created a dynamic that made people listen to the issue in a way that wasn't confrontational. From there I worked at a community based non-profit that hosted storytelling workshops that centered those stories to create political advocacy. In those sessions is where I really understood the nuances of the industry I participated in, Those stories and lived experiences shifted based on who, what, where, and how. Depending on who you were, what you were doing, where you were doing it and how dictated how close you were to interacting with law enforcement. These stories at times also stayed the same, shitty clients, pushed boundaries, health problems and the lack of trust in health care settings, and family dynamics.
We performed these stories for the general population at different bars or in classrooms. Each story unique and also connected. It gave people we worked with a first hand account about the things that they have been curious about. A doorway so professionals such as lawyers and those working in the medical field a base of knowledge to bring down stigma and truly be able to serve a person who may be in similar circumstances with compassion.
All of these experiences have led me to the conclusion that art can save the world. Art just hits a person differently, I have achieved more successful conversations about change through storytelling even at places such a City Hall and Yale than I have debating with anybody about my lived experiences. Art is so vital to our movements. The biggest take away from this is support artist being artist! Buy their books, go to their shows, book them for engagements, show them love on social media!