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Antidote has announced its first speakers for this year’s festival

L-R: Kim Gordon, DeRay Mckesson and Chris Wylie
Photograph: 1. David Black 2. Sarah Storm 3. Supplied L-R: Kim Gordon, DeRay Mckesson and Chris Wylie

The first guests at this year’s Antidote festival have been announced and the emerging themes of the program include data privacy, press freedom, and our creative response to a world in political and social turmoil.

“The big underpinning idea for Antidote is how we can practically respond to our times,” says festival director Dr Edwina Throsby. “There are big thematic issues that we’re all struggling with, and a lot of them are to do with our online environments.”

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie, Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon, and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson are some of the headline speakers for Antidote, which takes place on Saturday, August 31 and Sunday, September 1.

Throsby says the festival’s themes ask a lot of questions about our collective and individual freedoms, restrictions and rights to rally against injustices – but that Antidote is a festival that’s also very hopeful.

“I think that hope comes through a lot in this session,” she says. “A lot of people in their work are holding others to account, bringing about change in their community – but the person who articulates the idea of hope the best is DeRay Mckesson.”

Born in Baltimore to drug addict parents, the former teacher is now a prominent voice in the Black Lives Matter movement. “One of his really strong messages is to find hope in activism. People become activists because they’re angry and because they’re railing against injustices, but the fact that communities form around this is a massive cause of hope.”

Opening the festival is Sonic Youth’s co-founder Kim Gordon, who represents a connection between politics and creativity. Throsby (who is unapologetically fangirling right now) says the link between the ’80s band’s political climate (Raegan in the US and Thatcher in the UK) and the one we’re living through now provides an opportunity to learn from the past.

“It’s incredibly interesting to consider what Kim Gordon has to teach artists today who are wanting to make art that responds to the political climate,” she says. “We’re also looking at massive, unexpected political shifts, an air of uncertainty… governments that might not be as supportive of artistic pursuits. And I think we’ll see an artistic, creative flourishing. Who better to provide pointers, tips and insights with how to proceed than the absolute goddess of punk herself?”

Photograph: Prudence Upton

Antidote has programmed a panel on reporting about hostile governments and regimes called ‘My Crime is Journalism’ – a quote by one of its speakers, Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa. “She started a social network several years ago called Rappler, which had political purpose when it started but she couldn’t have foreseen the impact that it would have when [president] Duterte came to power. Since he’s come to power, Rappler has been a focus of political organising and Maria has been jailed several times, and is constantly under threat.”

That panel features journalists from four continents talking about the issues they face in very different parts of the world. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll joins Russian journalist Irina Borogan and co-founder of Egyptian newspaper Mada Masr, Lina Attalah.

At last year’s festival, Chelsea Manning appeared via satellite due to a last-minute visa issue. Is there a concern that these journalists may not make it to the festival in person?

“One of the things about Antidote is that it’s so responsive to contemporary events that there’s always a risk when programming a festival like this. We’re not talking about people who sat back and wrote a book about it years later, we’re talking about people who are up to their eyeballs on the streets working to make their communities better.”

If you’re feeling particularly riled about the state of the internet right now, there’s a session that’s likely to push your buttons. Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie will be at the festival to disclose all the scary realities of data privacy and surveillance. “What he revealed, and the extent of the fact that Facebook had collected and passed on all of this personal data without permission, and how that information was used to directly affect a couple of elections, that have had massive global impact.... We let it happen because we didn’t know any better.”

On the flipside, there’s a session for all real world-avoiders out there – ‘Because Self Care’, which brings together Junkee entertainment editor Patrick Lenton, Guardian journalist Brigid Delaney and Broadly editor Zing Tsjeng for a panel about escapism.

“We realised we were increasingly starting our Antidote meetings with conversations about Queer Eye, and it was like ‘is one of the reasons we’re reaching for this stuff because working on this program has become a little overwhelming?’ At the same time we’re all downloading astrology apps, doing yoga, getting into meditation… and this is happening on a massive cultural scale. It made me wonder whether all this was related, and I think it probably is.”

Photograph: Prudence Upton

The panel will look at how we’re coping with the pressures of politics, climate change and the uncertainty of the future. It’s not about shaming anyone for binging Netflix shows under your doona. In fact, no one is shaming you all weekend – especially you, Dads. Antidote has programmed a special workshop for Father’s Day, and all parents are welcome. It’s called ‘How-to’ hair dos for dads with Surry Hills hairdresser Desmond & Molly Jones.

“The idea came from talking to a bunch of dads, including a friend of mine whose wife got incredibly sick. While she was in hospital he said he felt like he had everything completely under control. The only thing that he felt totally helpless in the face of was his daughter’s hair. We reached out to Leonard, who himself is a father of girls, and he is going to run workshops where people can bring their long-haired children to have hands-on instruction in how to braid, plait, bunch.”

Antidote has announced two other workshops – ‘Making and mending with the team from Sew Make Create’, and ‘A collective tarot reading with Psychic Sarah’.

“We want the workshops to not only solve an immediate problem, but to give people skills to be able to apply in their lives in an ongoing way.”

Find the full program so far at Antidote’s website. Additional speakers and artists will be announced in the lead up to the festival.

Antidote takes place at Sydney Opera House from Aug 31-Sep 1. From $20. Tickets are on sale from 9am, Thursday June 27.

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