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Radical Womxn's Dance Party
June 4 - 25
Transcription of podcast interview with Radical Womxn's Dance Party

Hello and welcome to this week's episode of the OUTPUT gallery podcast. OUTPUT gallery is a space in Liverpool city centre that works exclusively with creatives from or based in Merseyside. My name is Gabrielle de la Puente and I'm joined today by two members of Radical Womxn's Dance Party, a collective formed in 2017 organising events, workshops and fundraisers to promote womxn's struggles within anti-capitalist movements. Collectively and individually they are committed to raising awareness and ensuring that they play an active role within their communities to enact change where possible. They have recently produced a postal exhibition for OUTPUT gallery. But what we're going to talk about first is, who are Radical Womxn's Dance Party? Why do they exist and what type of work have they done so far. Welcome to the podcast.

Hello.

Hello, thank you for having us.

No worries. Can you tell us who you are?

Yeah - we are a collective, all based in the North West, we're made up of a range of disciplines, so some of us are academics, some of us are artists, I think we'd all say we are activists. Some people come from the service industry, so it's a mix. We've all come together with this one aim in mind.

How did Radical Womxn's Dance Party begin?

Initially, it was a way that we wanted to have a safe space for women and queer folk to be together. I think we'd been on a really crap night out in Liverpool and we were just sick of these spaces not feeling safe or welcoming, so the first event that we did was actually a club night. We thought OK, maybe we can incorporate other elements into it. That's how it started.

Where was the first clubnight?

The first party we had was in North Liverpool at a venue up there, we were raising money there for Abortion Support Network in Ireland, because the protests were going on at that time around the 8th. We had this party and we themed it as wear something you've always wanted to wear but never had the choice. It was an open invitation, because we were just sick of not having a good time when you go out, not being able to access the Liverpool music scene or nightclub scene for fear of what could happen. So it was this desire to have something other than that. But we also wanted to have a political element to it so at the first party, we had a stall outside that had different zines that people could engage with. We had artwork for sale to raise money for Abortion Support Network, we had a letter writing campaign that was part of a national campaign to send postcards to Irish politicians. So we saw it as a space that was mainly about having fun but was also about sharing politics and trying to have some kind of low-level activism within the space as well.

How did you reconcile, or feel about that coming together of such a heavy subject - such as the repeal of the 8th amendment - with a party?

The way that we thought it through, it went the other way around. We knew that we wanted to have a space that prioritised certain bodies that aren't prioritised in nightclub scenes. Then we thought OK but what are the politics here - what are we doing, what are we trying to do, why do we have to do it? And therefore creating this kind of space within the night-time economy is tapping into the wider politics about women's bodies and obviously, at the time, that was very present as a discussion. I suppose it's the inclination of the people that make up Radical Womxn's Dance Party as well. We've never found that there's been any friction, in terms of trying to create spaces that are at once fun and have this agenda within them.

To add to that, it's also about normalising these things, as well. This idea that these politics seem radical, for me anyway, I don't want them to be radical, I want them to be normalised. The way that people have responded to the events that we've done has always been really positive, people have said, oh it's really good that you're talking about these things. It's never felt like these two things coming together is jarring, it's always worked really well. Because those are environments that people- nightclub environments are where people open up and talk about these things. We've also done workshops and we've done talks and we've done exhibitions, and people's behaviours are different in those, and maybe they don't always feel like they can talk about certain things. A space where there's music on and there's people, it feels informal, but they can still access these things, it feels like maybe it's a bit easier for them to talk about them.

When it comes to the politics and the sorts of conversations we want to be available in the spaces we set up, those have been much easier and we've been met with much less friction than at later events where we set up door policies that prioritised womxn and queer folk. That causes tension, at the door. Trying to discuss radical politics within a space, having a political agenda, that's never jarred with people but other things that we've done have been more difficult to navigate.

How did you find your audience? How do you find the people who come to your events?

Usually it's through networks that we already have, so it will be some of our friends will turn up- some of the later parties, it was people who had seen a poster or heard about it through social media. That's how they would find them. What's been sad about the pandemic is that it's been... obviously, aside from the horrors of it for everyone else, for events that have been happening in real life with a social element, it's difficult to know where the next... how it would have developed, it's difficult to say, since this has happened.

Moving on from the first event, you did also previously exhibit with OUTPUT gallery pre-pandemic, when we were able to do things in person. Do you want to tell listeners about the exhibition that you did?

So we had the exhibition Against Immigration Detention, and what we wanted to do was use OUTPUT's incredible space right in the centre of Liverpool, it's really rare to be able to have that kind of access to passing public. So we envisaged it as a space, as a resource for the city, as a library, and as a place of action. So we had things on the wall, we had letters written by people in immigration detention on the wall, we had videos made by campaign groups, we had lots of resources available. There was an ongoing twitter campaign at the time so we added tweets to the wall, so we tried to see it as a lively space. We had workshops, we heard from people with lived experience and closed it with a party in true Radical Womxn's Dance Party style. We had banner making workshops as well, which fed into action in the street after the exhibition.

Yes, some of the banners were also part of National Refugee Week, there was a demonstration in town so some of them were used for that as well, they were taken through town, I remember being there for that. We had a donation point as well, for things that people were requesting. We'd teamed up with a group called Yarls Wood Befrienders, and they are able to get access to people who are inside. At this point there was a lot of controversy around this particular detention centre called Yarls Wood, a lot of stories were coming out of there of sexual assault, racism, people being denied medication, just horrendous things. A lot of newspapers had managed to get testimony from people who were being imprisoned in there, and this group would Yarls Wood Befrienders had made contact with people inside, were asking them what they wanted, and so we had a donation point where we were able to collect things that people had requested.

I think as well as things people had requested, it was coming up to Christmas time, or winter festivities, and one of the things that Yarls Wood Befrienders had told us was that meeting requests was one thing, it's predominantly the most important thing, but little treats, little things that just say - we don't just want you to survive, we want you to thrive and so we made these gift packs as well, with that in mind.

How did it feel moving from the setting of a nightclub to one of a gallery?

It was nice. For me, it felt like there was a bit more control and a bit more calm, to be able to fully lay out some of these things that would be nice to carry on the conversation with. The strengths of some of the club nights are that they're their own thing, their own environment, and that works really well. With the gallery space you have more time, as has already been said, the show was like a library where people could drop in and out and that environment has its own strengths. The hope is that more people are able to access the things that we're talking about, so that's the strength of it, for me.

When we made that transition into the gallery space we had to have a lot of discussions about, what do gallery spaces mean, they're exclusionary in different ways, they bring with them different relationships to the state, to the problems that we're trying to talk about and think through. It required us to have those conversations again. We'd obviously had them when we started doing the parties - what do these spaces mean, what do they bring with them? That's why we've always reached out to direct action groups and tried to bring them in to what we're doing.

So obviously we had planned on doing another physical exhibition together, as part of OUTPUT's current arts council funded programme. Then there was the whole pandemic and most of OUTPUT's programme has been transformed into postal exhibitions instead, which is a whole other format to try and have a conversation through. The conversation you chose this time was about prison abolition, why did you choose that subject?

I think, like with the Abortion Support Network stuff, it actually feels like every event or every topic we've talked about has been something that's ended up coming into the public domain in some way. So in a way what you want to do is capture that moment and take it to another place where people can start thinking really outside of the state structures with it. With the prison abolition stuff, since the murder of George Floyd, and policing coming under attack and people thinking about how does policing work and how does incarceration work, beginning to really question it, we started thinking - OK, well, this is capturing the public imagination now, what can we do with this? How can we keep the conversation going and give people permission to start thinking about abolition and not reform? Ultimately, that's the way that we should be thinking about this if we really want to stop people from being incarcerated, and the harm that is done to them. The separation of families and the killing of black people, migrant communities. All of these are things that really you can only think about through the lens of abolition and not reform.

And why abolition over reform?

We've had systems of incarceration, historically these have not reduced harm, they have not reduced offending, they have destroyed families and communities. Even reform, and even within places where people talk about the swedish model of prisons... there's this idea that people think incarceration is better here. The radical, the left idea of that, is that human beings just shouldn't be caged. And reforms don't work. Most people are in prison for crimes that capitalism has created - so when we talk about reformation, what that actually does, it stops us thinking deeply and more creatively about how we can live lives better. Reform especially is something that governments and the state really want to push, and I think what we like as a collective, what we want to encourage is for people to begin to have a political imagination about what other ways of living can exist outside of these state-sponsored narratives. So, abolition is a way to that political imagination. Reform is a way to pass the buck onto politicians and say to them, you're the ones who can sort this for us, you know what you're doing. In reality, we've seen time and time again that this is not true, is not what actually happens. A lot of people would find it difficult to believe that immigration detention centres like Yarls Wood were started by a Labour government. And so again, trying to encourage people to think - actually, the state is not on our side, it is not benevolent. If it pushes for reform, what we should do is question that, and campaign more for abolition. There's always that age old question, what about all the paedophiles and the rapists, what are we doing to do with them? The grim truth is, those people get away with it anyway. We've seen that victims of abuse and rape, most of the time don't go to the police because they're not believed. A lot of the time when these people are rich and powerful, they can pay their way out. The idea that this is a moral and just system based on morality - it just isn't, it's based on rules created by those in positions of power, and it only serves them. Reform is playing into that, whereas abolition is outside of that.

I was just going to say that the discourse around reform, my core problem with it is that it accepts the terms of definition issued by the systems of incarceration that we have, like it could work better if we tweaked it. This act is criminalised therefore it needs to be penalised in some way, we can just penalise it better. The abolitionist response is saying, I don't accept the terms of the conversation you're offering me here. I don't accept how certain acts are deemed criminalised, certain deviancy is constructed in order to maintain the social order that we live in. It's deeply racialised, it's deeply classed, and abolitionism therefore rejects the terms of the conversation that reformists talk in.

Just because you brought it up before, when it comes to people who have done very very bad things, how would a world in which prison abolition existed handle those people?

If we're talking about the end of incarceration, what we're also talking about is the end of state capitalism as we know it. Which is - wow, could you imagine? So in that context, a lot of things would be very different. That's not saying it would be a utopia because humans are humans and we have emotions and we do things wrong. But it would be a lot better than what we have now. Life as we know it would be different. So if  the systems of incarceration that we know were dismantled, society would look very different, and so therefore what I'm saying now is purely speculation. But my idea would be that people are accountable to their communities, there would be maybe smaller systems of direct democracy where people amongst themselves decide collectively... when someone does something wrong or bad, the whole community knows about it, and then it is down to the community to decide what happens to someone. If a member of your community has done your community harm, your community will deal with that. The problem as it stands already is that people who have money and who have power, you can get away with anything, you are not accountable to any community. Community accountability I think would play a big part in the way people make those decisions.

Speaking of community, and working with other people - who have you collaborated with on this print? Do you want to describe the print for the listeners?

The poster has two different colours on it, it's a really nice neon pink and overlaid with that is a nice pale blue, and then overlaid over that is dark blue text. It has a lot of repeating patterns and letters, very glitch-art aesthetic, it has a QR code on which you can access a PDF of resources on it. We collaborated with an organisation called CAPE which is an acronym for Campaign Against Prison Expansion. They are a UK based network of grassroots organisations all working towards stopping the expansion of prisons in the UK.

And they wrote something for the print?

We commissioned them to write a text for the poster and that is what makes up the body of the poster. They wrote it collectively so there isn't just one name to it, it's authored by CAPE. They have talked about what abolition is and they have tied it to global struggles, historically, to liberation struggles, they've also tied it to black British liberation struggles, anti-imperialist struggles such as the Rastafarian movement in the UK. I'm going to take a quote from the poster here, because I think it sums up really well what the aim of this piece is, that they've written. They say, and they're talking about prison abolition in this context, "It therefore shares with so many other ideologies the aims towards more egalitarian forms of society that are in some kind of harmonious relationship with nature." This text is talking about abolition being tied to the beauty of life. Part of expanding the political imagination and the possibilities of seeing the world differently is yes, there's activism and things you'll have to deal with that are ugly and scary, and we can't shy away from them. But it's also the idea that it is all in pursuit of life that can be beautiful, it can be harmonious with the earth around us, and the world, and other humans. I think, for me anyway, that's what the text also brings about. That's at the core of the abolition movement and also radical left politics generally.

That's a really beautiful way of putting it. I just wanted to share one of the things that was on my mind when we were planning this poster, the campaign hashtag #stopthe500. I'm not entirely sure where it's up to now but this was a campaign to stop the government plans to build 500 new places for women in prison at the moment. That really clarified how incredibly live this problem is, it's not abstract, it's about whether the government builds 500 places for women now. Under the government plans, at the time, rather than mothers being released to spend the night with their children at home, children were going to go into prisons to spend the night with their mother in prison. These are the stakes we're dealing with, these are the concrete plans we need to be challenging. One of the things you'll find on the QR code in the resources is a link to Books Behind Bars, who are a direct action group that send books - you'll have to fact check me on this, but it's very difficult to get books in prison, and I think austerity has made that situation even worse. So we just wanted to direct people towards things they can do, causes they can support that try to break down some of the barriers. Even if it's just books and the imaginative space that they provide.

If any listeners are interested in that, if you go to outputgallery.com, we've got a full page of information, details and pictures about Radical Womxn's Dance Party's current postal exhibition about abolition. On that page there are links and resources including links to Abolitionist Futures, Women in Prison, Books Beyond Bars if you want to look into those projects and maybe donate as well. Have you got any plans for the future? Is there something else you really want to tackle through the work you do as a group?

I think what's been really great about the OUTPUT exhibition is that it's been a really beautiful end point for this project, in its current form. Fortunately we have all ended up with much greater commitments which are taking up a lot of our time, whether those are to do with academic things or art things, our lives have ended up taking on a lot more things in the last 12 months. I think because this work requires, as it rightly should, time, dedication and for everyone to be present, this unfortunately is going to be the last Radical Womxn's Dance Party outing. That's not to say that some of us aren't going to be doing other projects in the future at some point, we all would really like to be active still in some way. But in this current form, this is our last...

Your last output?

Yeah! And we're really glad to have gone out this way.

This is like the world's saddest exclusive on a podcast. But I hope your project maybe inspires current art students and other artists to take up the mantle.

We're really thankful that OUTPUT have given us this platform to put these resources out there and have these conversations, for letting us produce this really beautiful poster which is out there in other people's hands, they're accessing this stuff. We're really thankful to have had the chance to do this.

It's good to put the arts council money to some good use! Well thank you very much for all of the work you do and also for speaking to me on today's episode. Again if any listeners want to find out more, please go to outputgallery.com and there are pictures and further information about all of the exhibitions we've done - see you on the next episode, bye!
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