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Let Equality Bloom Fest to Combine Art and Activism

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Lulwama Mulalu - COURTESY OF LULWAMA MULALU
  • Courtesy Of Lulwama Mulalu
  • Lulwama Mulalu

When people think of activism, they're more likely to think of petitions and protest signs than food trucks and festivities. But expect both of the latter at Let Equality Bloom: An Activism Festival, an event dreamed up by the six volunteer organizers behind Women's March Vermont. This Sunday, September 23, in Burlington's Old North End, the eight-hour fest will offer political speakers and voter registration tables, but also art-making workshops, live music, a drag show and more.

People know the Women's March "as a once-a-year event," said WMV cochair Kristen Vrancken. But "this is a really important year. It's an election year," she went on. "The idea was to have something that would bring people that don't normally come out for things like this. We wanted to create a space of joy, a festival-like environment ... a place of inclusivity."

To that end, the WMV team has assembled an impressive list of speakers and guests. Democratic nominee for governor Christine Hallquist and Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington) will deliver keynotes. Young activists will be much in evidence, too, including March for Our Lives Vermont organizers Mackenzie Murdoch and Madison Knoop; and MaryAnn Songhurst, a student who was involved in raising the Black Lives Matter flag at Montpelier High School in February.

In keeping with the youth theme, one nationally prominent guest at Let Equality Bloom will be best-selling young-adult novelist Maureen Johnson, who edited a recently published anthology called How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation. (She's also been in the news lately, and unrelatedly, for sharing a cat-related tweet so popular that the New York Times asked feline behavior experts to weigh in on it.)

"I reached out to Maureen cold," said Vrancken, noting that Johnson's latest novel, Truly Devious, is set in Vermont. "She immediately said yes."

After doing a Saturday, September 22, book signing at Phoenix Books Burlington, Johnson will lead a workshop on Sunday with Rajnii Alexander Gibson Eddins, artistic director of Burlington's Young Writers' Project. Johnson's friend Julie Polk, an actor and writer who's taught at the Moth, will offer her own workshop on "Finding Your Voice: Empowerment Through Storytelling."

Eddins said participants in YWP's all-ages workshop with Johnson will get "a number of writing prompts exploring issues of race, identity, homophobia, Islamophobia." The aim is to "provide a creative outlet to people who are vulnerable" and to "encourage folks to let their voices be heard."

Assisting with that workshop will be Lulwama Mulalu, a young poet and singer-songwriter. A recent Bennington College graduate, originally from Botswana, Mulalu said she learned about Let Equality Bloom when she met Vrancken at a benefit concert for Morris. "I immediately said yes because I always want to be a part of change-making work if I can and whenever possible," she wrote in an email.

Maureen Johnson - COURTESY OF MAUREEN JOHNSON
  • Courtesy Of Maureen Johnson
  • Maureen Johnson

In addition to helping with the writing workshop, Mulalu will sing two songs and perform a spoken-word piece at an artists' showcase. Her piece about coming out is "close to my heart," she writes; "it's one of the most honest pieces I've written and performed for an audience."

The festival day will be split in two, Vrancken said, with the first part devoted to workshops and the second to speakers and performances. The former will be distributed over several ONE venues within walking distance of one another. "The concept was to have it set up like Art Hop throughout the Old North End," she explained.

An afternoon art-making workshop in Roosevelt Park will lead to an "impromptu march" to the performing artists' showcase at O.N.E. Community Center. That will culminate in a "drag show finale" with Emoji Nightmare, Nikki Champagne and others, Vrancken said.

Food trucks will serve the festival crowds. "We're hoping that this will be really appealing to young people, first-time voters," Vrancken said, but hastened to add that Let Equality Bloom will have family activities and accommodations, too, including 100 free brown-bag lunches for the under-18 crowd. "We want everybody to feel welcome," she added.

Mulalu called the fest "an amazing opportunity ... to gather diverse groups of humans and inspire movements dedicated to social change. I also love the level of intersectionality in the work that is being done," she wrote. "The only way liberation can take place is if we broaden our ideas around feminism."

In Vermont right now, Vrancken suggested, that means talking about race. "We believe the biggest problem Vermonters face right now is racism," she said, citing the example of Morris, who last month withdrew her candidacy for reelection after receiving repeated threats to her safety.

"That should give all Vermonters pause," continued Vrancken, who hopes events like Let Equality Bloom will "encourag[e] folks to face that reality. This isn't a new problem. We all have a responsibility, particularly white people, and mainly white people. This is our problem."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Let Equality Bloom Festival to Combine Activism and Art"

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