A coalition of Brighton’s grass-roots community groups came together to throw a full day mini festival in support of Rojava. The event took place on 2 November 2019 – World Resistance Day for Rojava.

Since the Turkish military invasion and occupation of North East Syria (commonly known as Rojava) began on 9 October 2019, many demonstrations, blockades and other kinds of actions have been taking place all over the world. In the UK, the largest demonstration has seen 22,000 people take to the streets of London in protest.

In Brighton there have also been protests called at least once per week by the local Sussex Kurdish Community, supported by Brighton Kurdistan Solidarity and others.

Brighton Kurdistan Solidarity (BKS) are a local unfunded grass-roots solidarity group. It was founded in the summer of 2015 and has been involved in a wide range of activities since then, including attending demonstrations, running conferences, film screenings and other public events, and participating in international campaigns, such as the campaign to save Hasankeyf.

Brighton Kurdistan Solidarity, Youth Strike for Climate and the local Kurdish community demonstrate at a Youth #RiseUp4Rojava rally in Brighton shortly after the start of the invasion

On Wednesday 16 October, immediately following a local demonstration, BKS called an emergency community meeting to discuss the Turkish invasion of Rojava and what could be done locally in response to this. People from a wide range of community and campaign groups attended, including feminist and antifascist groups, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), local housing co-operatives, Plan C, Free University Brighton, Youth Strike for Climate, the newly emerging Social Ecology Network, and the local hunt saboteurs group. Brighton Against the Arms Trade also sent a message of support.

Over 30 people attended the meeting, which gave an overview of the current situation and what is at stake – a massacre is taking place of the civilian population, infrastructure and ambulances are being systematically bombed, and a living breathing example of a truly democratic, gender liberatory, ecological and altogether more habitable world is in danger of being wiped out – before opening up a discussion of the calls for action that have been made for specific dates, and what the local capacity is like.

One idea that emerged for the World Day of Resistance that had been called for 2 November was to hold a day-long mini festival to raise awareness about what is happening, and fundraise for Heyva Sor (Kurdish Red Crescent) – the only charity on the ground in Rojava dealing with all the casualties from the Turkish invasion. This idea gathered momentum. Concerns were raised about the short amount of time to organise something so ambitious – could we really pull this off in two weeks? Yes, we could!

The Brighton #RiseUp4Rojava Festival took place in the Cowley Club on 2 November, 2019. The Cowley Club is a social centre, a co-operative, and a member of Radical Routes, a network of radical co-ops whose members are committed to working for positive social change. The club is entirely run by volunteers, without a management structure, and has survived over 15 years on a Brighton high street.

The term ‘solidarity economy’, like in most of the UK, is not well known in Brighton. The term has myriad definitions, but essentially refers to both a vision of an economy which is the antithesis of the capitalist system – one based on solidarity, democracy, co-operation and sustainability, rather than competition, commodification, consumerism and resource depletion – and also a worldwide movement which seeks to build up this economy. The solidarity economy is one which has always existed, in spite of, and often in opposition to, the capitalist system. It exists in those projects which people turn to for support, in the way communities come together to resist the worst effects of neoliberalism, and it is alive and growing in Brighton.

It is easy to say that the Cowley Club is a local solidarity economy hub. A large number of grass-roots community and campaign groups are supported by the club, and its weekly activities include a vegan food bank, free English classes for migrants and refugees (the only one in Brighton not to demand residency papers or ask intrusive questions about where you are from), a homework club, independent and impartial benefits advice, a free software clinic, a vegan community cafe and bar, and a radical bookshop and library.

A mural in the Cowley Club

The festival took place over an entire day, from midday to midnight. There were talks from former and current internationalist volunteers in Rojava – including two voice messages recorded especially for the event by former Brightonians Tania Brown and Heval Xweza, who are both currently working in civil society as part of the women’s movement in North East Syria.

There was also an all women Feminist Anti-Fascism and Internationalist Solidarity Panel. Kate Flood, the South East Area Organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World, spoke about the IWW’s long history of internationalism and solidarity with struggles in other parts of the world, from a number of its members fighting against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, to support for the Global Women’s Strike and Rojava more recently, as well as the importance of networks at local and national level in building revolutionary and radical movements. The IWW exists on every continent and the ideology and organising principles of the “one big union” has a lot of utility for internationalist organising. Kate was followed by three members of local anti-fascist groups, Brighton Anti-Fascists (BAF) and Brighton Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly (BFAFA), who each brought important and unique perspectives to the panel.

Each group added some of their own energy and approaches to the space. A crèche was provided free of charge by DBS checked members of IWW and Free University Brighton in the library area. Queer AF made a tactile space for people who might need time out during the day.

“The idea of the quiet area is meant to be giving a space to those who need mental health support. This can be necessary for people with anything from anxiety to autism. We have found that ‘sensory items’ have both a calming therapeutic element and help to give the individual a sense of empowerment. At the festival the sensory items were kinetic sand and Lego.”

Queer AF

The antifascist groups in particular gathered over £600 of prizes donated by campaign groups and local businesses, which included workers co-operative Infinity Foods, as well as Kurdish-owned cafes and other local businesses. Top prizes included highly rated festival and comedy club tickets and a bottle of champagne!

A student housing coop member and a hunt saboteur cooked up a community meal for everyone, and then Dirk Campbell opened up the first live music set, bringing the room abruptly to attention with his zurna as the meal was cleared away.

Dirk has spent a lifetime playing the wind instruments of the Middle East. He learned from Kurds and Greeks to play zurna, kaval and ney, and is an expert on duduk (called shimshal in Rojava).

Dirk is also the father of Anna Campbell, a former Brighton resident and Cowley Club volunteer who was killed by a Turkish airstrike while defending the Kurdish region of Afrin in northern Syria in March 2018. He is currently crowdfunding the legal fees to take the Turkish Government to court over their refusal to allow him to repatriate Anna’s remains.

Dirk Campbell
Dirk Campbell
Listen to this clip of Dirk playing at the festival

The SOAS Ceilidh Band followed Dirk’s set. The band were returning to Brighton to support a fundraiser by Brighton Kurdistan Solidarity for the third year running, inspiring some raucous dancing and even an actual ceilidh, which was immediately followed by an impromptu Kurdish dancing class.

Hear SOAS Ceilidh Band playing in this sound clip

The children came out of the kids space for the music, carrying their artistic creations with pride. A couple of the Kurdish kids took centre stage and began throwing impressive shapes on the dancefloor.

The festival showed that solidarity and the spirit of internationalism are alive and well in Brighton, and that groups which are all too often absorbed in their own activities have the potential to come together and achieve a lot more. There was a palpable feeling of joy and camaraderie, and a glimpse of what real community spirit can look like.

Some of these groups are going on to develop stronger links and a higher level of coordination in their activities.

The event raised £850 for Heyva Sor – a fantastic result for a festival organised in under two weeks, and without a set entry fee. Hundreds of people came through the door, and a lot of them learned about the Rojava Revolution for the first time.

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