Something unprecedented – and a little magical – took place at Traill College one weekend in October. On October 16 and 17, over forty older women activists, academics, and students stormed Bagnani Hall to share stories of social change, ongoing struggles, and visions for the future. Dr. May Chazan, Canada Research Chair in Feminist and Gender Studies and professor in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at Trent University, along with a team of student and community organizers, organized Aging Activisms 2015, an intergenerational gathering to celebrate and reflect on older women’s contributions to social justice.
At this dynamic and transformative event, participants engaged in rich and vibrant conversations across academic-community divides and generations. The event began with professor emeritus and Elder Shirley Williams sharing stories and teachings about the Mother Earth Water Walkers and was followed by the Peterborough Raging Grannies leading a sing-along about climate change, and a karaoke sing-along to “I Live for Menopause,” led by performance artist Dayna McLeod.
The rest of the event featured older women sharing their stories of working for change, discussions about the importance of recording or archiving these stories, and rich conversations about grappling with difference and privilege. In these dynamic conversations, the group talked about challenging ageism - instead of thinking of older people as burdens to society, looking at their major contributions to social justice.
“Aging Activisms was more than just a starting point for intergenerational discussion; it was a learning experience and an inspirational event,” said Abi Myerscough, an MA student who attended the symposium. “As a new graduate student at the Frost Centre I was somewhat shy coming into my first endeavor into an academic setting outside of my classroom. By the end of the two days, I could not have been more comfortable sharing my voice because of how safe the space became. The diversity of this symposium gave all the opportunity to speak. The most enlightening aspect of this event was the discussions and sharing of personal histories: participants openly sharing why they became activists. The beauty of this feminist event was the equality felt by all: it did not matter if you had been studying or raging for twenty years, you were welcomed and appreciated for your unique views. Equality is the reality we all strive towards, and this event gave us the opportunity to create it for ourselves.”
“I learned so much from listening and speaking with the incredibly strong and committed women at the symposium,” added Maddy Macnab, another MA student. “As a young person still trying to figure out what contributing to social change looks like for me, I felt inspired in many concrete ways by the stories and voices of women who have been and continue to be activists, whatever form that has taken for them. The biggest takeaway for me was to be brave. Be brave in reaching out to other women for support and solidarity across generations but also across other kinds of difference; and be brave in trying (and sometimes failing) to do your part to make things happen.”
To find out more about the symposium and read some of the stories that were shared, visit https://agingactivisms2015.wordpress.com/