Mélina Villeneuve is a Manchester-based anti-militarism & anti-war activist, specifically, co-founder and research director of dED_ucation, and board member of Women of Color Advancing Peace & Security (WCAPS), the UK chapter. We’ve caught up with her to talk activism, the arms trade and action to facilitate change.
Tell me a bit about yourself?
Hiiii, so I’m half French & half Congolese (DRC), but moved to Manchester three years ago now. I like to think I’m the representation of a third culture kid as I lived in multiple countries growing up, - France, US, Cameroon, Mali, Switzerland and now the UK - so experienced a lot of different cultures and adapted to each as I went along.
What inspired you to become an activist and form dED_ucation?
To be honest, it happened out of the blue and it wasn’t planned at all aha. I met Jinsella - co-founder of dED - in 2018 at a mutual friend’s birthday and she was telling me about her plans to campaign for universities to end their ties with global arms trade. She’d been to the DSEI (Defence & Security Equipment International) protests in 2017 which rallies against DSEI - one of the world’s largest arms fairs that takes place in London, where governments from authoritarian regimes are invited over to essentially ‘window shop’ the latest weapons of mass destruction. For me, weapons are literally where war starts so I was keen to get involved, from there we decided we’d become a two women band to demilitarise education hence, dED_ucation!
In terms of my inspiration, generally my morals pushed me to get involved in activism but my parents both worked for UNICEF and are my biggest inspiration in terms of pursuing work that sacrifices your own comfort to try to do good for others.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at dED?
I like to think of us as the community of modern day peacemakers. When you think about activism the stereotype of going to protests, waving homemade signs and chanting slogans comes to mind, as well as the white hippy culture that’s associated with it. But what we try to do is provide a space for people who don’t fit that model, and can’t practice frontline activism but instead want to engage in other forms of activism. Predominantly we research into how UK Uni’s can divest from the arms trade, organise workshops and create media content which breaks down the traditional complexities that surround the issue, making it more accessible for a wider audience.
So you’ve been on Limbo Radio to talk about what you guys get up to - what’s been on your agenda recently?
Pre-pandemic we had a few things on the agenda, which we’re still aiming to do but might just take a bit longer! We have a video series in the pipeline - The Seven Myths, which is based on the book Indefensible: Seven Myths that Sustain the Global Arms Trade. The book explores the primary defences for maintaining the status quo of the arms trade, for example economic responses, employment, innovation and so on. It does so in a way to essentially demolish all these reasonings, so we’re going to do short videos giving snapshot overviews about each of these arguments so it’s quick and easy to understand. That way we will arm people (no pun intended) with the knowledge to be able to question arguments made by politicians, lobbyist groups, CEOs to sustain the status quo.
In terms of what we’ve been up to during the pandemic, you can check out our social media pages (Instagram, Twitter) and our YouTube to see our series “The Silent Victim - Conflict and the Environment”, where we hosted guest speakers to discuss the interconnectedness of the climate crisis and the wars we’ve been waging for the last 30 years or so.
What are the challenges of being an activist?
Gonna be upfront… Lack of money! Sub-category: fundraising. It’s a huge challenge but it has taught us a lot and we’ve been more successful recently so it’s starting to pay off. But in terms of a more personal challenge, despite being loud and sociable, I am actually really shy when it comes to putting my work out there for people to see and judge and the whole self-promotion thing. I’m getting used to it now so that’s good and it has definitely helped with self-growth.
As a young woman of colour you are representing a host of minorities in the activist community, is this something you find yourself being conscious of?
Essentially I just don’t want to be a token, the one who is giving the black voice or the youth voice to something, I’d rather just give my own voice. Sometimes it’s inevitable but if there’s no ill intentions I’m okay with it. I’m grateful to be doing what I do in a time when we’re more socially aware I guess, well at least in the circles I move in. 10 years ago, I think I would find it a lot more challenging but nowadays I think there’s more awareness of the certain privileges held by individuals by default of who they are, and if they aren’t aware they’ll probably get called out for it anyway.
What small actions can the youth do to help facilitate change in the arms trade?
It’s tricky because I don’t think the youth’s opinion is valued by a lot of politicians with the main reason being because we don’t have money, and with regard to that our needs aren’t considered as much as they should be in policy making processes. But for me personally, regardless of how moist this sounds I think we need to just look out for each other, both friends and strangers, and support platforms that engage with the youth and share fresh perspectives and voices like Limbo does and like we at dED_ucation try to do. Also, we have a power of being the generation that has taken social media into our identity to use it for a greater good and purpose. So engaging with and learning from social media is important, I’d recommend: Siana Bangura, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Simple Politics, International Peace Bureau, War Resisters International. And follow your local politicians on Twitter, it’s hilarious to be able to @ them and it’s public!
If you have any questions about what we’ve done, what’s coming up, or how to get involved, just DM us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Photography by Jess Rogers - @j_essicarogers