Antidote is an Australian festival that curates a weekend of ideas, art and action

This article titled “Antidote is the festival that wants to change the world. Can it succeed?” was written by Svetlana Stankovic, for theguardian.com on Sunday 3rd September 2017 18.00 UTC

The makers of Antidote – the event formerly known as Festival of Dangerous Ideas – decided to reinvent themselves after running with the concept for eight years. “We know what the problems are in our society,” said curator Danielle Harvey at the opening night. “Now it’s about action.”

Did they pull it off?

It’s always difficult to measure the impact of an event with such a tall order. Will people go home after the weekend and create actual, measurable change? Or was it another talkfest, an echo chamber of leftwing intellectuals and artists agreeing with each other?

It was heartening to be surrounded by like-minded people laughing about the same jokes, cheering at the same statements and spending a bright Sydney spring day listening to sometimes radical, sometimes touching and sometimes surprising voices.

Is it possible to inspire transformation and lasting change in two days? Maybe not, but this past weekend I choose to believe in the power of many. Here are some things I learned.

Cherophobia: it takes a lot of balloons to lift a human body

The concert hall of the Opera House is full of children. “But I want to see the lady fly,” exclaims one little girl when her parents try to coax her away. Austrian artist Noëmi Lakmaier is bound and immobilised on the stage for nine hours, waiting to lift off as more and more balloons are added to the complex construction of ropes attached to a harness holding her body. Cherophobia means the fear of happiness. The performance is about the anticipation, the not knowing, the suspension between one state of being and the other, but also about the power of many. This might serve as a metaphor for the intention of the festival, and it is surprisingly beautiful and whimsical.

Further reading: Sydney Opera House ditches Dangerous Ideas for festival of progressive activism

The Onion Live: doing satire in a world that’s stranger than fiction

How do you do parody in a reality that’s beyond hyperbole? The makers of the American satirical news service The Onion see their work as shedding light on a deeper truth behind the black humour. Central to their strategy is not running a headline that could be confused as being real as this is not about packaging lies for clicks. Managing editor Marnie Shure, video director Katy Yeiser and senior writer Dan McGraw admit to sitting back after big news breaks and letting others do the obvious jokes on Twitter first. They are confident that their audience will wait for them to come up with the ultimate take on events. They are cocky, witty and quite full of themselves. And they are among friends in the Opera House – there’s roaring laughter about outrageous headlines and groans at Trump’s antics. What I hear over and over during the festival is that we all agree the president of the United States is hilarious and dangerous in almost equal measures.

Further reading: The Onion in the age of Trump: ‘What we do becomes essential when its targets are this clownish’

Micah White: we might be the change we’ve been waiting for

Listening to Micah White is dizzying. He presents his radical ideas with a winning smile and a lighthearted tone that belies the gravity of his claims. White argues that we need to fundamentally change the way we protest. Going out on the street is valid and important, but it’s not enough. As a co-founder of Occupy Wall Street he knows his concept has failed. But it has taught him democracy is in a deep crisis. So what’s left? White asks for nothing less than a revolution, but one without a leader and instead delegates acting for a movement more powerful than its representative. When asked how he can stay optimistic in the face of such a monumental task, his cheerful reply is that revolution always happens when it seems most unlikely. His talk and the discussion that follows is a great advertisement for what Antidote can be at its best. It’s radical and intoxicating.

Further reading: Occupy and Black Lives Matter failed. We can either win wars or win elections

Tamika D Mallory: how to find strength in unity

Tamika D Mallory is a force of nature, exuding warmth and a ferocious passion. For her giving up is not an option. Cursing, yes, crying, sometimes. But activism is how she grew up. She urges us to identify our local community and join an organisation. It’s all about solidarity and intersectionality, Mallory says. This is something I keep hearing over the weekend. There’s strength in coming together and speaking up – not only for ourselves but also, and above all, for those who can’t speak for themselves, for those who are marginalised and oppressed. This is classical grassroots stuff, the activists’ 101. But it works, says Mallory, when we take the protest from the street and into a global movement, using the momentum that’s been gained. Why do we tear each other apart with inner conflict instead of lifting each other up? The things that divide us should not be stronger than what unites us. I leave her talk exhilarated and with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, we’re going to be OK.

Further reading: Women’s March events take place in Washington and around the world – as it happened

Eve Ensler: moaning can be a political act of defiance

Have you ever been in the audience with a bunch of strangers and moaned at the top of your voice? It’s actually quite liberating and joyful. And that’s what Eve Ensler is all about. She’s kind and funny and has managed to stay passionate about what she has dedicated her life to over 20 years since she first performed the Vagina Monologues in a small theatre in Manhattan. She tells stories of acting in town halls in Oklahoma, in secret locations in Afghanistan, in war-torn Bosnia. She tells these stories with so much feeling and compassion I’m not the only one in the audience wiping away tears when she talks about women breaking down, consoling each other and acknowledging their own trauma for the first time after hearing the Vagina Monologues. Here again is the theme of solidarity and intersectionality. The time has come to stop looking away, to stand up for truth and for what’s morally right. Your struggle is my struggle. And then we all join her in a bold, transformative, defiant moan.

Further reading: Even with a misogynist predator-in-chief, we will not be silenced

  • Svetlana Stankovic is the deputy opinion editor for Guardian Australia

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Lead Image: ‘Is it possible to inspire transformation and lasting change in two days? Maybe not, but this weekend I choose to believe in the power of many.’ Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

This article titled “Antidote is the festival that wants to change the world. Can it succeed?” was written by Svetlana Stankovic, for theguardian.com on Sunday 3rd September 2017 18.00 UTC

The makers of Antidote – the event formerly known as Festival of Dangerous Ideas – decided to reinvent themselves after running with the concept for eight years. “We know what the problems are in our society,” said curator Danielle Harvey at the opening night. “Now it’s about action.”

Did they pull it off?