Skip to main content
Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity

Decolonise Your Activism! My Fellowship Year

Jan 05, 2021

Della Duncan AFSEE

Della Duncan

Renegade Economist

View profile
Just put some flowers in your hair and in your pipe and suddenly it’s San Francisco, 1967, and you’ve started the day with a toke or two, and now you’re heading toward the park to see what’s happening, and you’re groovin’, smiling at your tripped-out costumed comrades as you pass, when suddenly a Volkswagen full of laughing hippies drives by with Sgt. Pepper blasting away on the radio, and now you can’t decide whether to spend the day saving the world, or just savoring the world.

Wes Nisker, “Summer of Love Rant”

When my parents hitch-hiked west to San Francisco from Ames, Iowa in the late 1960s, the city that greeted them was awash with music, psychedelic drugs, festivals in the park, poetry readings and political protests.

A little more than 50 years after the Summer of Love, the city of San Francisco is unrecognisable. A 2016 Issue Brief from the California Budget and Policy Center announced that San Francisco is the most unequal city in California. In 2014, the Brookings Institute reported that San Francisco had experienced larger growth in its wealth gap between 2007 and 2012 than any other city in the United States. The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housingrecently described it as “cruel and inhumane” and “in violation of human rights”.

Growing up in San Francisco over the past 33 years, I’ve had the privilege of a unique experience. I’ve seen in its extinguishing embers how bright and warm the fire of the hippie movement had burned; and how it was replaced by the cool, pale flame of avarice, isolation and inequality. This was the area of my focus when I began the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme as a Non-Residential Fellow.

Looking up, out and beyond

One year later, as I transition into my role as a Senior Fellow, my awareness has broadened. I now see myself as an advocate for social and economic equity globally. I see how inequality in San Francisco is connected through time with histories of extraction, land theft and exploitation and through space with trade treaties, intergovernmental organisations and financial systems.

Decolonising my activism was the fellowship programme’s greatest gift to me as a non-residential fellow. There are two main ways this process took place. The first was through the curriculum of the programme modules that our cohort of Non-Residential and Residential Fellows followed together. The lectures, activities and resources that we were offered were all dedicated to introducing us to a global and systemic view of addressing inequality. In one lecture about microfinance (which I had always assumed was a good thing), we heard stories from women in India who were negatively impacted by loans that came with difficult requirements and dangerous repercussions. In one activity, we went on a Decolonising LSE scavenger hunt, where we learned about the colonial legacies and counter-organising efforts embedded in the history of the institution where our fellowship is based. And on another day, we left campus for an “alternative tour” of London where we learned about the dark side of one of the financial capitals of the world.

The second way I learned how to decolonise my activism was through my interactions with my fellowship cohort. The other Residential and Non-Residential Fellows are incredible people, rooted in integrity and deeply passionate about cultivating a more equitable world. What’s more, they are grassroots organisers committed to decolonising efforts wherever they are based. I enjoyed learning with and from them. I found myself listening more than speaking, and deeply humbled and inspired by the breadth and depth of my fellow Fellows and how they embodied a decolonised approach to activism.

Five ways to decolonise your own activism

If you are an activist in the Global North, an activist with privileged identities in your region, or you are simply interested in decolonising in general, here are five initiatives that I am now practicing as a result of my fellowship experience. I offer them as invitations to you if you wish to decolonize your own work:

  1. Listen and uplift the voices of people in the Global South in your work
  2. Work in solidarity with feminist and indigenous movements for justice, liberation, land rights, economic sovereignty, and debt forgiveness
  3. Consider the impact of local activism on the Global South
  4. Support efforts to remove symbols of colonisation, including public holidays, names of streets and institutions, and statues
  5. Advocate for systemic interventions to address global inequities, such as a global climate deal, a debt jubilee for the Global South, fair trade agreements, and a global minimum wage.

Decolonising my activism has not been easy, but it is necessary. It takes unlearning, listening and humility. This gift from the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme is not something I take lightly. Decolonising our minds and our work is the only way to embody the more just, equitable and sustainable world we wish to see. What’s more, I know it will not only benefit me, but all those who I intend to work with and serve in my home town of San Francisco and beyond.

The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, the International Inequalities Institute, or the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Della Duncan AFSEE

Della Duncan

Renegade Economist

Della Duncan is an Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity, a renegade economist and the Host and Producer of the Upstream Podcast, a podcast that challenges mainstream economic thinking through documentaries and conversations. She is interested in questioning and challenging mainstream economic ideology and contributing to systems change for a more equitable, sustainable and enlivened world.

View profile


Register your interest to receive updates and information about the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme.