Ten great podcasts on activism, movements and social change

Ten great podcasts on activism, movements and social change


By: Kevin Smith
Date: 18 August 2017

4776747298_14a3cb100e_bPodcasts present an amazing opportunity to look into so many of the dim and distant corners of movement history. This International Podcast Day here is a selection of ten inspiring podcasts that we’ve been checking out documenting some wonderful moments of activism, movements and social change that will hopefully inspire listeners in the present day.

This list is heavily skewed towards the English-speaking world and is not intentended to be comprehensive – I’m conscious of the fact there isn’t a single instance of disability rights activism on here for example, or anything that is explicityly coming out of the feminist movement. It would be great if people made some more suggestions of other ones that we could collate into a follow up list.

Happy listening!

1) The Battle of Cable Street – London’s East End rises up against the fascists

The Battle of Cable Street took place on Sunday 4 October 1936 in Cable Street in the East End of London. It was a clash between the Metropolitan Police, protecting a march by members of the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, and various anti-fascist demonstrators, including local Jewish, Irish, socialist, anarchist and communist groups. This podcast is an interview with radical historian David Rosenberg who has written a book on the subject.

2) Mariya’s story

“When I was younger, someone took a knife to my clitoris and cut out a small, but significant part of me.” Writer Mariya Karimjee takes us on a journey from her childhood in Pakistan, to her adolescence in Texas, through college, all the way to where she is now, back in Pakistan as she navigates family, love, her body and her personal relationships, all despite the physical and emotional trauma that she has suffered. In this episode from The Heart (one of my favourtie podcasts – ‘the no’ series on consent is incredible) Mariya Karimjee talks about how she draws on her personal experience to try and prevent the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.

3) The Sanctuary Movement – US churches openly defying the government over refugees in the 1980s

Throughout the 1980s nearly a million Central Americans crossed the U.S. border fleeing violently repressive dictatorships and seeking asylum. Official policy under the Reagan administration greatly hindered Central Americans from obtaining asylum status. Congress forbade foreign aid to countries committing human rights abuses, and, at same time, the U.S. provided funds, training and arms to the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments. Because admitting these governments’ abuses would bar the U.S. from providing further aid, the Reagan administration instead argued that Central Americans were “economic migrants” fleeing poverty, not governmental repression.

In response to this the Sanctuary movement developed into over 500 churches and congrations in the United States which, by declaring themselves official “sanctuaries,” openly defied the government and committed to providing shelter, protection, material goods and often legal advice to Central American refugees. Part 1 of this podcast from 99% Invisible looks at the origins and faith-based rationale of the movement, and part details the surveillance and crack down of the US government.

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4) The Grunwick dispute lead by the ‘strikers in saris’

The Grunwick dispute in 1976, at a film processing plant in north west London, is widely regarded as a landmark in British trade union history. For the first time, a high-profile strike involved women from South Asian immigrant communities, many of whom were fairly recent arrivals in the UK. Few if any had experience of industrial action – and the press at the time quickly noticed what they called ‘strikers in saris’, an image which challenged the perception that strikes were largely led by white men.

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5) 81 Words – How the American Psychiatric Association decided in 1973 that being gay wasn’t a mental illness

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declared that homosexuality was not a disease simply by changing the 81 word definition of sexual deviance in its own reference manual. The presenter’s grandfather was part of a clandestine progressive wing within the APA that consciously organised in order to hijack the larger, more conservative organisation and force through the change. What’s fascinating in this story from This American Life is the interplay of the ‘change from within’ actors coming up against very visible and confrontational ‘change from without’ activists from the emerging gay rights movement who hijacked the stage during the APA conference.

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6) The foot soldier of Birmingham, Alabama.

Birmingham, 1963. The image of a police dog viciously attacking a young black protester shocks the nation. The picture, taken in the midst of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous marches, might be the most iconic photograph of the civil rights movement. But few have ever bothered to ask the people in the famous photograph what they think happened that day. It’s more complicated than it looks. This episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History talks about the complexities of engaging in and remembering activism and efforts for social change.

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7) Green bans and red unions – radical trade unions in Australia in the 1970s

In 1970s Sydney rank-and-file unionists in the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) took control of their union and forged links with the broader community. Apart from pushing a feminist and migrant-solidarity agenda, they also developed a form of strike action known as a ‘green ban,’ whereby at the request of a local community group, they would prevent work from happening on developments that  were threatening sites of cultural or environmental significance. This red-green alliance was massively ahead of its time and has been a huge inspiration for radical union organising since then. This podcast is an interview with Jack Mundy who was the leader of the BLF at the time.

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8) Remembering Stonewall – the violent birth of the gay rights movement

In June 1969 New York police were carrying out one of their routine raids of the Stonewall bar, where they were expecting to check IDs and detain anyone who wasn’t in ‘gender-conforming’ clothes and possibly carry out acts of violence and intimidation. But this time the queens fought back. Originally aired in 1999, this podcast from 99% Invisible is an incredible oral history of the LBGTQ folks who took part in the Stonewall riot, which is widely credited with birthing the modern gay rights movement. In a world where Pride events are being increasing subject to corporate sponsorship, and where mainstream gay culture is at risk of losing touch with its radical roots, this story is more important than ever.

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9) Three stories of environmental justice

Your ability to drink clean water, breathe unpolluted air, and eat healthy food shouldn’t depend on your income or your skin color. But all too often race and class play a role in access to environmental quality. This podcast from Bitch Media’s Popaganda talks about the meaning of “environmental justice” and features interviews with a co-founder of indigenous rights movement Idle No More, African American farmers in Wisconsin, and the late Nobel Prize winner Wangari Matthai.

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10) The Black Panthers

Founded in Oakland California in 1966, the Black Panther Party represented a revolutionary disavowal of mainstream Civil Rights. Its Ten Point Programme advanced a series of radical demands ranging from the right to armed resistance against police violence to universal healthcare, housing and education for the poorest sections of the Black community. Made in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their founding, this Radio 4 programme explores the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party and its legacy for more recent black insurgency in America.

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Photo: Flickr/TimLewisnm