Wonderful Women Awards Interview #1 – Anny Cullum

Bristol Women’s Voice Wonderful Women Award’s were presented as part of our International Women’s Day celebrations on the 3rd of March. We celebrated over 50 women from across Bristol  who had been nominated for their contribution to their communities, each week you can find out more about one of these Wonderful Women.

Anny Cullum

Anny Cullum received a Wonderful Women Award for fighting for tenants rights. Anny is a member of ACORN which is a tenants union, a community organisation, a support network and an anti-poverty organising group. Through ACORN she fights to support those in need redress the balance of power between landlords and tenants and ensure that everyone has the right to safe, affordable and decent housing.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell her not to second-guess herself too often and not to worry about fitting in. It is better to be thought rude for getting your point across than to be seen as easy company and not express yourself. I’d advise her that coming from a working class household is something to be proud of. I’d tell her that organisation is power, and that you cannot appeal to profit’s good nature.  I’d tell her that people are less judgemental than she thinks and I’d tell her that there is all the time in the world for pints so don’t let them get in the way of projects, adventures, or the opportunity to help out others.

Which women have inspired you?

Sylvia Pankhurst, the suffragette and daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, who broke away from the suffragette movement because of her determination to fight for the emancipation of all women regardless of their social class. She was a committed communist and freedom fighter who sacrificed so much for what she believed in. Mehala Osborne, who has fought tirelessly for the rights of survivors, and recently successfully won a campaign to change the law to allow survivors living in refuges to be able to vote anonymously, giving this group who are so strongly affected by government policy the right to express their democratic voice. Knowing Mehala has taught me that you can do anything and you must fight, whatever adversity patriarchy and capitalism puts you in or whatever difficulties life throws your way. She also fights tirelessly for decent housing for survivors and the ability for women to rebuild their lives quickly and with dignity. I feel so privileged to call her my friend.

 Anna Campbell, who was recently killed in the Kurdish city of Afrin. She travelled to fight against Isis and to participate in the Kurdish social revolution with the Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ). Towns and areas liberated by the YPG and YPJ have not only seen themselves freed from the oppression of Isis, but have undergone a social reorganisation with the emancipation of women and grassroots democracy at the very forefront. Anna was always a very energetic and vivacious activist who did not walk on by when she could do something to challenge injustice, poverty or exploitation. She envisaged a fairer and healthier world and she was willing to do whatever she could to bring it to fruition inspiring many others along her way.

 What do you want to see change for women in Bristol?

Housing is a feminist issue. We need more decent, affordable and dignified housing for working class women. I would love to see more sisters inspired to get involved in my union ACORN and join the fight for this. Too many families are insecure in their homes, too many women in our city feel trapped in abusive and unsafe households because of the financial enormity of moving house in the private sector, too many kids are moving primary schools and having their education disrupted due to evictions by private landlords who want to make more in rent. I call on our city’s decision makers to do more and to represent not just the rich or the comfortable. ACORN has proved that when we come together we can win victories for ourselves and ensure our needs are considered – women have such a rich heritage of resistance and self organisation to be inspired by: from the women strikers at the Ford Dagenham plant who won us equal pay, to the women on the front line during the Spanish Civil War to the E15 mums in London. I want to see Bristol sisters even more active and united, because when we are together we are powerful and we will win.

Is there anything that you have been read, seen or listened to recently which has inspired you?

 I recently reread Marge Piercy’s ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’ a feminist sci-fi which beautifully imagines utopian and dystopian futures from the perspective of a migrant worker and single mother – it’s a great read.

What hopes do you have for your local community in 2018?

Again I hope that my community will continue to fight for the dignity and material needs of its members. I live in BS5, an area of Bristol rapidly experiencing gentrification and all its effects – most notably the uprooting of poorer residents who are being pushed further and further out of the city. This will only stop and we can only protect our community from this if we stand up and get active. That in itself is a tool for greater community cohesion. I am really lucky to share my locality with some incredible people; citizens supporting refugees across both here and abroad, young women fighting against FGM and workers refusing to settle for rubbish contracts and low pay. We have so much potential and I’m so proud to know my neighbours.

Bristol Women’s Voice are marking 100 years since the first women in the UK were given the vote with ‘Deeds not Words’ a year-long programme of events across the city. Find out about Deeds not Words events in Bristol here

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