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Poem: For the mamas on the frontlines

"I said, if mamas don’t fight for the children, then who will?" Helen Knott performed her poem at the 2017 Nobel Women's Initiative conference. Catch up on 50.50's coverage.

I wrote this poem, For the mamas on the frontlines, when I was in a challenging space of darkness. It is a space I believe so many of us find ourselves in when engaged in activism and so my words came from a place of necessity but also from a strong belief in the power of action taken by individuals.

We have stood on front lines
with our fists raised up on high
we’ve flooded city streets
in a collective stream
heart to heart and side by side
we have made ourselves allies
offering up personal sacrifice
we have filled up petition lines
time after time... after time

We’ve seen movements because if mamas don’t fight for the children, then who will?
swell, wax, wane, recede, and grow
we have had our children in tow
or sometimes have left them home
explaining on bended knee,
Just why mama’s gotta leave
because if mamas don’t fight for the children, then who will?
I said, if mamas don’t fight for the children, then who will?

We’ve learned to navigate the political currents
placing pressure on PMs, MPs and MLAs
cabinet ministers, and deputies of whatever department keeps messing up
some of us have broken man made laws and have gone and got ourselves arrested
we have sat in vigil of our own
sometimes our flickering candles we hold... are the only light we see
Yet we hold the belief that one day the darkness will have no choice but to recede
we have stood in defense of lands, of waters,
for our sons,
for our daughters
for something bigger than ourselves

No matter the historical struggle from which we rise
many of us have realized
we are in this together, and when we collectively defy
we actively redefine... love
Sometimes that love gives us the ability to move mountains
and other times it gives us enough drive to persist for one more day
In the face of any revolution
there are many pauses, stalls, and starts
there are many tears, unspoken of fears, and the breaking of hearts
Sometimes if you listen hard enough you can actually hear it...
the sound of your heart trying not to give up on itself
Because let’s be honest darling,
sometimes fighting for change is a lot like putting yourself through hell

So what is it that makes us persist?
When its apparent that ignorance walks hand in hand with bliss
Is it because
sometimes doing nothing just don’t sit right with the soul?
or that we believe power is not absolute
and there is no submitting to those who appear to be in control?
Do we stand for treaties and promises made and broken long ago?
For the voiceless? For the choiceless?
Or are we grounded by science or facts?
Perhaps our faith demands that we move to react?
Whichever it is, there is strength in our choice to stand together

One thing I do know for sure to be true and the giants that they speak of, well my dear they will be us
is that I would not be standing and talking freely as I do
if not for those who came before me
because they did not admit defeat
they stood grounded in what they believed
they fought, they bled, they sacrificed
and it is because of this that I can sleep at night
knowing all of these actions are not done in vain
because I stand on the shoulders of these giants
and the next generation will one day say the same
and the giants that they speak of, well my dear they will be us
so never underestimate
the power of your voice
or the strength in a collective moving kind of love
The Nobel Women's Initiative conference took place in Germany 13-16 May. See 50.50's coverage of the event.

About the author

Helen Knott is a Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, grassroots organiser from Prophet River First Nations, British Columbia, Canada. Her activism has included healing and consciousness raising at a community level and campaigning to highlight the impacts of Site C, a mega hydro-electric dam. She also writes poetry and creative fiction and has articles in forthcoming books on violence against indigenous lands and its connection to violence against indigenous women

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