Sites of resistance: 20 Instagram accounts to inspire your movement-building

Image by Max van den Oetelaar

Digital and social media platforms can sometimes be deprioritised and dismissed as ‘lesser’ spaces for resistance and organising. Frequently, value is solely placed on ‘real life’ interactions and interventions, and direct action as the optimum tactics for radical social and political change.

This simplistic understanding of movement-building needs interrogating. Digital platforms offer inclusive and accessible avenues for participation; as Disability Visibility founder Alice Wong explains:

“Hashtags like #ActivismIRL devalues the labor ― and it’s real labor ― of online activists like myself. We’re present and visible, but in a different way”

Digital platforms also enable nuanced narratives to reach a wide audience. This strategy aligns closely with theories of change rooted in shifting perspectives and re-configuring social norms — these objectives are of crucial importance when working on deeply complex issues such as gender equality, anti-racism, indigenous justice, and disability justice.

Below I’ve pulled together some of the Instagram accounts which inspire my own work. All of these accounts are run by small grassroots groups, collectives and individuals — the vast majority of whom are not ‘employed’ to do the work they do. These accounts are not #sponsored or trying to ‘sell’ anything (besides overtly selling items to fundraise for campaigns).

Many of the people running these accounts are also running offline counterparts and campaigns which are challenging policies, protesting injustice, picketing exploitation, and bringing people together in meeting rooms across the globe to plan and strategise for a different world. There is no single way to challenge the status quo — it is critical that we celebrate and utilise a multiplicity of approaches. This multiplicity, like the interlocking strands of a web, is our complexity and our strength. It acknowledges the different skills we hold and obstacles we face as individual organisers (some disabled or mobility impaired, some more at risk of police brutality, some historically muted or spoken over even within our movements). It also recognises that all of our struggles are connected, so we cannot liberate ourselves by working in a siloed, exclusive way. As Audre Lorde said:

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”

These artists, organisers, and creatives have curated image collections which seek to cross borders, provoke outrage, and to tell our stories precisely as we want to tell them: with humour, honesty, vibrancy, rage and potency. I hope you enjoy them.

  1. Culturestrike (@culturestrike) is an arts organisation which supports artists to “dream big, disrupt the status quo, and envision a truly just world rooted in shared humanity”. Their work is rooted in a shared understanding of the role artists play in “inciting conversations, inventing new ways of thinking, and redefining the limits of what’s possible”.

2. Legally Black (@legallyblackuk) are a young collective who work to resist the under-representation and misrepresentation of black people in the media, and seek to “create dialogue and discussion around the often inaccurate and harmful depictions that do occur. Their first project involved amending famous film posters by replacing characters from films and TV programmes with black people. They also ‘hacked’ bus stops and billboards in London, by installing prints of their posters under the cover of night.

3. #LifeInLeggings (@officiallifeinleggings) is a campaign founded by Ronelle King, a Caribbean feminist who wanted to create space to speak out about sexual harassment and violence against women and girls. The hashtag refers to the clothing item which is commonly referenced within victim-blaming narratives that attribute harassment and violence to what a woman is wearing, rather than examining the patriarchal and colonial structures that provide contexts for violence. The #LifeInLeggings Instagram account posts info about their work, marches and upcoming events, but importantly it documents and bears witness to the ongoing murders of women by men, and share information about women and girls that are missing and at risk of violence.

4. Variant Space Art (@variantspaceart) is a “ celebratory archive for Muslim women who have suffered under the various broad stroke judgments and proclamations by experts about who they are”. They showcase and repost artwork (including this image by the brilliant Areeba Siddique @ohareeba), as well as spotlighting their own work and projects.

5. Mona Chalabi (@monachalabi) is a Data Editor who creates brilliant visualisations and infographics of data sets such as mapping the elected US officials who have received the most money from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the amount of ‘niqab fines’ in France.

6. Pink Protest (@pinkprotest) is a community of activists committed to “engaging in action and supporting each other”. The collective is the home of the #FreePeriods movement, and their work includes regular public events, online video content, and protests.

7. Annie Segarra (@annieelainey) is a queer, disabled latinx YouTuber and content creator who speaks, writes and vlogs about topics ranging from disability misconceptions, chronic illness, and the importance of visbility for invisible disabilities.

8. Sarain Fox (@sarainfox) is an Anishinaabekwe activist, artist, and host of the RISE series on VICELAND. In the series, Sarain travels to Indigenous communities across the Americas to meet people protecting their homelands and rising up against colonisation.

9. Harnaam Kaur (@harnaamkaur) is a motivational speaker and a prominent advocate for mental health, body image and LGBTQIA issues. In an interview with the Guardian, she explained that society can “feel threatened by empowered, strong women. When she breaks a stereotype she has to be put in her place”, and that through her work she wants to show that “you don’t have to look a certain way to be happy”.

10. Protest Stencil (@proteststencil) is an anonymous artist (or collective, who knows?) who create/s subversive stencil art. The group has collaborated with Special Patrol Group to perform ‘ad hacks’ and ‘subvertising’ campaigns, replacing adverts in bus stops and underground tube trains with posters condemning border violence, the occupation of Palestine, and the ‘hostile environment’ of anti-immigrant policies in the UK.

11. Enam Asiama (@enamasiama) is a Plus Size advocate and model. On a recent interview with gal-dem on Reprezent Radio, she explained “I just happen to be a model somehow […] when I was growing up I used to be in the creative industry. My number one priority was always to show myself off.”

She got into modelling via blogging and styling her own shoots with friends. Speaking of her experience breaking into the fashion industry, she said: “the companies are trying in [the UK] for the plus size community, but it’s the black visibility…its like nah. They want to use us for a little bit, but that’s because we’re the ‘diverse’ model they want to use. Once they get someone in the agency that is of colour and curvy or voluptuous, they don’t want another one of you”.

12. KIN (@kinfolknetwork) is a new initiative aiming to bring black activists and organisers together from across the UK to collaborate, strategise and support each other. Their burgeoning Instagram account comprises a in-depth digital archive of key figures from black history, including Paul Stephenson OBE, a British civil rights campaigner who led the Bristol bus boycott, and Una Marson, a writer and editor who was the was the first Black woman invited to the League of Nations, as well as the first black woman employed by the BBC.

13. Recipes for Self Love (@recipesforselflove) was created by an Amsterdam-based artist Alison Rachel. Rachel’s empowering images “of and for women”, are illuminated by short powerful quotations and mantras on topics ranging from self-harm and boundaries, to trust and sexuality.

14. Kuchenga Shenje (@kuchenga) is a writer and journalist whose carefully curated Instagram feed includes posts about race, black feminism, trans justice, pop culture, literature and a portfolio of inspirational selfies, often depicting her natural hair journey.

15. The I’m Tired Project (@theimtiredproject) wasfounded by @paulaakpan & @harrietevs and utilizes photography, the human body and written words as a tool to highlight the lasting impact of everyday micro-aggressions, assumptions & stereotypes. Co-creators Paula Akpan and Harriet Evans use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram to share photos of what participants are most tired of, which is displayed across their bare backs creating a positive space for people to share their personal stories. Participants remain anonymous providing a safe and honest platform to be both vulnerable and empowered. Since its inception in July 2015, the UK-based project has succeeded in reaching over 2 million people, spanning 45 over countries, with each photo reaching an average 23,000 people.

16. Aaron Philip (@aaron__philip) is a 17-year-old non-binary transgender girl and gender non-conforming femme model. She posts and Tweets prolifically about violence against women and femmes. In an Instagram post on 25th April 2018 she wrote:

“The story of my body is being black, gender nonconforming and trans feminine knowing that my life is at risk for unapologetically and publicly wanting to be consumed, known and loved as a teenage girl. The story of my body is revisiting my image every year to see what my body has twisted and melted itself into as I stand in front of my bedroom mirror, fixating upon follicles and the hardware I call a throne that enables me, my rough edges, the little mountain that my right shoulder becomes as my back breaks, and the sand dunes where my clavicles are. Here I am, face to face with every little bit of me — this is my ritual of self hatred, blissful ignorance, and acceptance. These are the stories of my body.”

17. Sad Asian Girls (@sadasiangirls) is no longer active as a project, but their Instagram is an archive of art projects exploring the experience of being East Asian girls/femmes in Western spaces. Their first project which caught my attention was the creation and dissemination of stickers challenging harmful, sexist and racist stereotypes about East Asian women. The stickers were printed with phrases such as “asian women are not all docile” and “asian women are not all only either prudes or “freaks””.

18. Sisters Uncut (@sistersuncut) is a feminist direct-action collective united by a desire to campaign for better domestic violence services that recognise the particular experiences and needs of women of all backgrounds. Their Instagram account is full of dynamic photos of their actions which include protesting at the red carpet premiere of the Suffragette movie chanting “dead women can’t vote” — in acknowledgement of the fact that two women a week are dying at the hands of male violence is not ‘progress’. Last year the group also occupied the previously-closed Visitors Centre of Holloway Women’s Prison, protesting the prison as a site of state violence, and demanding that the land now be used for affordable and social housing and accessible community spaces.

19. Wai Wai Nu (@waiwainu) is a Burmese Rohingya activist and democracy campaigner who was imprisoned at the age of 18 when her father was arrested for ‘political offences’. She spent seven years in prison, and upon release began doing work which seeks to promote intercultural dialogue and peace between different ethnic and religious groups in Myanmar. Her Instagram documents her global speaking engagements and packed schedule working for Women’s Peace Network — Arakan which she founded in 2012, as well as her love of food and nature.

20. Indigenous Goddess Gang (@indigenousgoddessgang) is an online femme magazine, with a prolific Instagram account full of quotes, memes, beautiful photography, and posts about their publication. They describe themselves as “a space for sharing medicine through poetry, food & seed knowledge, herbalism, music and more […] a space for reclaiming knowledge from an indigenous femme lens […] This is a step towards reclaiming our knowledge, identity and medicine. This site is not intended for exploiting or appropriating. Tread lightly and respectfully”.

They also note:

“As a project which centers indigenous women, we also recognize the crucial work of our queer, trans, two-spirit and non-binary communities, and we acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do; to walk together, to reclaim our knowledge together and to move forward together.”

Leah Cowan is Policy and Communications Coordinator at @Imkaan. She is also Politics Editor at gal-dem.