Category Archives: Reflections from Detroit

Reflections from Detroit: Reflections after the 4th Annual INCITE! Track at the AMC

Continuing our Reflections from Detroit series, the 2010 INCITE! National Collective describes the ways in which the Allied Media Conference and INCITE! have mutually transformed each other.

Reflections after the 4th Annual INCITE! Track at the AMC, by the 2010 INCITE! National Collective

For the past four years, INCITE! has sponsored a track at the Allied Media Conference, highlighting and innovating media strategies for ending violence against women of color, including trans and genderqueer people of color.  The first track, held in 2007, captured momentum coming from multiple directions: anti-violence organizers using media in increasingly innovative ways, radical women of color media-makers using the Internet to build a community that had never existed before online, and the independent media movement, as a whole, developing new practices for how to use media as an organizing strategy.

At the Color of Violence 3 Conference in New Orleans in 2005, INCITE! launched a one day Media Justice Institute, organized by tammy ko Robinson in collaboration with grassroots media projects.  Media workshops at COV 3 showed how women of color were using micro-radio, independent publishing and other media strategies as a part of anti-violence work. At the 2006 Allied Media Conference, in Bowling Green, OH, a caucus led by blogger Brownfemipower was a critical meeting point for a growing network of radical women of color bloggers.  At the same time, the Allied Media Conference was in the process of moving to Detroit and focusing on media-based organizing for social justice.

In early 2007, Brownfemipower, Nadia Abou-Karr and Jenny Lee, three women of color media-makers in Southeast Michigan, wrote a proposal to the INCITE! National Collective, asking if they would sponsor a track at the AMC.  Here is an excerpt from that original proposal:

As radical women of color feminists, grassroots organizers and media workers we are anxious to see the worlds of women of color-led anti-violence work and media justice intersect. We are organizing a track of workshops and panels at this year’s AMC that will focus on the media justice work of radical women of color.

The goals of this track are to:
  1. Highlight the innovative ways in which radical women of color are using media to organize their communities;
  2. Provide hands-on trainings in media-production skills by women of color on everything from zine-making to blogging to oral history, contextualizing these skills within a framework of women of color organizing;
  3. Create a space where women of color media-makers, organizers and educators can meet to build stronger connections between their work;
  4. Engage with critical questions around media strategies and visions for movement building, such as:
  • How can media technologies be utilized/challenged in a way to more readily meet the needs of women of color organizers?
  • What are the difficulties/realities of why women of color are not utilizing different media technologies already?
  • Is it possible to merge radical women of color based print media with radical women of color based online media? How could this merge be accomplished?
  • What kind of media do we need to end violence against women of color?

Since 2007, SPEAK! Women of Color Media Collective, Cyberquilting Experiment and To Tell You the Truth have been essential co-organizers of the track. Nadia Abou-Karr coordinated the track from 2007 to 2009.  Dozens of bloggers, organizers, artists, and other women of color (including trans & gender non-conforming folks and those who identify as queer, disabled, young, working class, mothers, people in the sex trade, students, and survivors of violence) contributed to the growth of the track since 2007.

The AMC supported the success and the growth of the track by providing infrastructural support.  This included paid staff organizers for the track during the first two years, organizing conference logistics and deeply listening to and processing the feedback from the track year after year.

The impact of the track on INCITE! and on the AMC has been mutually profound.  These two statements, from the closing remarks of Detroit activist, Grace Lee Boggs at AMC2008, and INCITE! co-founder Andrea Smith at AMC2009, reflect the shared learning that has taken place over the past four years.

I was especially  moved by the video of  Sista II Sista [an INCITE! affiliate] that was shown during Friday night’s opening ceremony. These are people in a community, living together like family, taking care of children and of elders, dealing with each other and with conflict in new ways, not out of anger at injustice but from love for one another and for our communities. Not building power over others but empowering one another.
– Grace Lee Boggs, AMC2008 Closing Ceremony
One of the main things I’ve learned from this conference is that organizing itself is a work of art. …We need to build a revolution that gives to us as much as we give to it – that’s sustainable in the long-term. We also need to create a beautiful revolution. When we start to create communities that are beautiful, we start to rethink the way we see ourselves. …What creating a beautiful revolution means, is not just organizing people who have the title “artist” but recognizing the artist within us all, because what we are doing is creating a world that we can’t even fully imagine…and that’s why we need artistic work: to unleash our political imaginary.
– Andrea Smith, AMC2009 Closing Ceremony

The poem,“Archeology of Freedom,” written by Alexis Pauline Gumbs and performed collectively by organizers of the INCITE! track at the 2008 AMC, which ends with the lines, “We are ready now / We are ready now / We are ready / for now,” inspired the vision and overall theme for the 2009 AMC.

The collective, facilitative leadership practiced by many of the chapters and affiliates of the INCITE! network has inspired and influenced the organizing model of the Allied Media Conference. The AMC staff collective facilitates the organizing of the conference, rather than directs it. They support participants to organize tracks that are embedded within a year round organizing process, that build capacity through grassroots fundraising, and that reflect an intersectional analysis.  We’ve seen INCITE!’s analysis of gendered violence and other forms of intersectionality applied in countless AMC workshops –  from the queer, disabled people of color zine-making workshops, to discussions about youth-led responses to the drop-out crisis in Detroit, to panels about the future of the Internet.  It is also applied in the Allied Media Projects Network Principles.

INCITE!’s participation in the AMC led to the creation of the INCITE! Media Justice Task Force in 2008, which later became the INCITE! Media and Communications Working Group. This group is dedicated to creating better tools for cross-network information-sharing and collaboration within INCITE!  Through caucuses at the 2010 AMC, the Working Group is now partnering with the women of color technology project, Pixelpowrrr to design an interactive, Drupal website for the INCITE! Network.

The AMC has been a space for INCITE! chapters and affiliates to showcase their work and build skills that deepen their organizing back home.  The Young Women’s Empowerment Project came to the AMC for the first time in 2008 to lead a zine-making workshop.  They began incorporating more media-based organizing into their work and have returned to lead workshops every year since then – sharing how they used participatory action research, as young women impacted by the sex trade and street economies, to document experiences of resistance and resilience.  Then they showed how you could use a video game to express the findings of that research and how they use those tactics to support their organizing for transformative justice.

Panel discussions such as “Media Coverage and Grassroots Organizing: The Jena Six and New Jersey Four From the Inside”  at the 2008 AMC broke open a critical dialogue about how gender and sexuality impacted media coverage and national mobilization around these two stories of violence. INCITE!, FIERCE, and the Bay Area NJ4 Solidarity Committee was invited by Left Turn Magazine to continue the conversation in a public forum by collaborating on an article later that year.  The panel also made the incredible online anti-violence campaigns of women of color organizations, such as Be Bold Be Red, visible to an even broader audience.

Many other ideas seeded in the INCITE! Track have flourished post-AMC on numerous blogs and in the pages of Make/Shift Magazine.  Since its first issue, Make/Shift has been a place where poets, journalists and artists involved with the INCITE! Track report-back and expand upon critical conversations that happened at the AMC.  In particular, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, BrownfemiPower, Nadia Abou-Karr, Lisa Factora-Borchers, Adele Nieves, E. Rose Sims, Noemi Martinez, Maegan La Mala, BlackAmazon, Fabiola Sandoval and Jess Hoffman have been made important contributions.

Strategy sessions between INCITE!, Cyberquilting and SPEAK! Women of Color Media Collective have led to new definitions of media and new ways of thinking about how to use media in our work for liberation.  From the 2008 “Definition of Radical Women of Color Media:”

Our media expands possibilities and incites dialog. It heals, inspires, builds confidence and radical love. We use media to time-travel, to communicate past barriers, to be heard and to share survival strategies. When we come together we make zines, tell truths, start blogs, record CDs and videos, come up with plans and make moves on them. We use media all year round to open up space, to consider creative solutions, and to build networks of support.

That definition provided a starting point for new projects and ongoing strategy conversations at the 2009 and 2010 AMCs.  In 2008 and 2009, The Radical Women of Color Skillshare, facilitated by the Cyberquilting Experiment, demonstrated how we can use media to “Enact Media Justice, End Gendered Violence Against People of Color, Nurture Energizing Connections Between Women of Color and Genderqueer People of Color and  Envision a New Day.” In stations all around the room, people shared their skills, from quilting to blogging to burlesque.  That model of skill-sharing has since been replicated in other organizing spaces within the AMC and beyond.

Art by Nadia Abou-Karr, 2009

The INCITE! Track has played an important role in making the AMC a more accessible space for mothers and other caregivers.  The AMC has gone from not having childcare, to having childcare, to having a kids track, to providing mini-grants for fundraising projects that support mothers attending the AMC. This was possible because of Nadia’s work as the INCITE! Track Coordinator, Katie Khul and Sicily McRaven, as childcare and Kids Track coordinators, the SPEAK Women of Color Media Collective and all of the childcare volunteers, parents and kids who participate year after year.   Beyond making sure that mothers and kids can simply attend the AMC, the organizers and participants of the INCITE! Track have nurtured an inter-generational culture within the entire AMC, demonstrating how essential the contributions of kids, parents and caregivers are.   This year, through a partnership with To Tell You The Truth, the INCITE! Track included space for focused skill-sharing and strategizing between mamaz, m/others and community caregivers.

INCITE!s work at the AMC over the years has helped cultivate the soil of the AMC, so that other tracks could take root and grow there. The Art and Practice of Disability Justice track, coordinated by Sins Invalid and the National Youth Leadership Network in 2010, grew in part out of the disabled women of color media-maker caucuses within the INCITE! track at past AMCs.  The Creating Safe Communities track, coordinated by STOP, Revolution Starts at Home, Data Center, Visions to Peace Project and Durham Harm Free Zone Project, thrived within the 2010 AMC because of the space that the INCITE! track has nurtured there.

The INCITE! Track continues to deepen roots within the AMC, changing it and being changed by it.  We look forward to how the track will continue to grow, expanding our capacity to use media to end violence against our communities, to incite dialogue, heal and inspire, to build confidence and radical love.

We acknowledge that this is one account of our collective history, told through recorded events. There is also a history in the countless personal interactions, the way people have challenged themselves and each other to think differently, to apply their analysis in new ways, talking over meals or late into the night, encouraging each other to take the often frightening step of trying to realize a vision, to construct rather than destruct.  Help us record those other histories by sharing your memories and reflections in the comments section below.

The 2010 INCITE! National Collective includes Piya Chatterjee, Chela Delgado, Emi Kane, Jenny Lee, Karla Chueh-Mejia, Cara Page, & Kiri Sailiata

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Reflections from Detroit: Reflections On An Opening: Disability Justice and Creating Collective Access in Detroit

Continuing our Reflections from Detroit series, Mia Mingus reflects on the process of putting disability justice into practice at the Allied Media Conference & the US Social Forum.

Reflections On An Opening: Disability Justice and Creating Collective Access in Detroit, by Mia Mingus

This summer, Detroit was an opening for me.  And not just because it was the first time that there was a Disability Justice track at the Allied Media Conference (AMC) or because of any workshop or plenary I attended.  Detroit was an opening for me because I got to spend over a week creating collective access with a group of twenty-three disabled folks and our non-disabled comrades.  I got to spend eight days getting a glimpse into a different world and experiencing a kind of interdependency that let me loosen my shoulders; that let me breathe.

Creating Collective Access (CCA) was about re-thinking how we, as disabled and chronically ill people, engage in movement spaces.  This was about imagining something more and knowing that we had to do it for ourselves because it is so rare for movement spaces to ever consider disability and access in ways that go beyond logistics; in ways that challenge the ableist culture of our work.  This was about being very clear that we wanted to shift the individualized and independent understanding of access and queer it and color it interdependent.  This was about building crip solidarity.  We wanted to create a liberated space.  We would pool our resources: body and ability, financial, material and more.  We would not just think about disability as separate from class, age, race, queerness, family, children, gender, citizenship, violence, but we would understand it as intimately connected.  We would think, not just about “conference and workshop time,” but we would also think about social time and what social spaces were accessible and how we would make sure no one was isolated or left out.  Because in our movements much of the relationship building, socializing and bonding is done in very inaccessible ways in very inaccessible places—we know this all too well.

It all started with need.   About a month before the AMC, access was the number one thing on our minds.  What will we do?  How will we get to food and afford enough personal attendants to come with us?  Who will push wheelchairs?  How much walking will there be?  Who will help you go to the bathroom?  How will we manage the pain, the schedule, and the pace?  Where will we stay and will it be accessible (the majority of community housing just wasn’t an option)?  How much will access cost?

We were hit with the reality of having to be in another city for an extended period of time, under intense conditions; the same intense conditions that frame most conferences.  We knew it would be long days, stretching into late nights.  We knew everyone would be stretched thin and we knew that meant something totally different for us.  We knew we could make it through, by squeezing ourselves, as we’ve done before, into ableist practices of how bodies should function and perform, but we also knew what that would mean for our bodies (and our hearts) while it was happening and once it was all done.  We wanted to be able to stay in our bodies as much as possible, take care of our disabled selves, and be part of the community that was coming together for the AMC and the USSF.  We wanted to be whole and connected to ourselves, each other and other activists and organizers—was this possible?

We started to dream: how could we use this as a way to build community, put disability justice into practice and deepen our understanding and analysis of what it means to do this work together?  What if we invited other crips to do this with us—crips who were coming to the AMC and were probably agonizing over the very same things?  What if we did community care in a way that made space for many different kinds of bodies?  What if we made a commitment to each other to move together and centered our access and care around queer and trans crips of color?  What if we tried to create the kind of world we want to live in?  We do it in our disability justice work, so why not try and create it for the time we’re in Detroit?  CCA began as a hope and a dream to make what we need.  CCA is a reflection of the courage, resiliency, and creativity that disabled folks have in the face of an inaccessible and ableist world.

The bottom line was we needed each other.  Interdependency is not a choice.  We were not going to be able to get through the AMC and traveling to another city without each other.  We didn’t know what the environment would be like, how many people would be there and what kind of access needs would arise on-the-spot, as they always do.  We would be building the plane as we flew it.  The thought of thousands of social justice folks from the left converging at the USSF was an anxiety-provoking access nightmare, in and of itself.   But we knew if we had each other, we would be okay.  Together, the three of us, three queer crip women of color, got to work.

We drafted and put out a call to other disabled folks who were coming to Detroit and who wanted to be part of a community-led access effort.  We made a blog, explaining what we were trying to do and our vision.  We were clear that this was interdependent and we invited people to be part of creating this with us.  Leah worked to get scent free information out to folks and create a scent free room, while Stacey and I worked on a basic structure for access and communication. We scrambled with three weeks to go and came up with a model of pods.  We knew the disabled people who were coming would already have some type of access plan in place and we knew it would be with people they trusted and had relationships with.  Together, each grouping formed a pod and our goal was to connect the pods to each other.  We asked people to tell us about their pod’s access needs and what they could offer and contribute.  It was broad.  Some people were able to walk and get food, others were better at coordinating; some people had access to credit cards and others would need cash to be available; some people had personal attendants or able bodied friends/family members with them who could also help with getting food, driving and pushing wheel chairs.

I had done collective access before, but with three people, including myself; or for a disability justice meeting or when traveling with one other disabled comrade.  I had never done anything like this before with twenty-plus people, half of whom, I had never met before, on our way to a city that many of us had never been to, all in a container of shifting how we understood access, past just survival.  This time, we were all jumping together.  And we flew.

We called ourselves the Pod People and we worked seamlessly together with great affection and enjoyment.  It was truly a collective effort, centered around a simple value of care.  Everyone pitched in getting food, helping to serve food, audio describing, reaching, pushing, texting, calling, asking, offering.  We schemed together to get more accessible rooms opened for us in the dorms, access to a refrigerator and the accessible shower key from the dorm staff.  Everyday, we had lunch and dinner together, no one had to worry about not being able to eat because they couldn’t get into a restaurant, couldn’t get to the grocery store or couldn’t walk far enough.  And no one had to worry about being isolated while they were eating, as often happens to disabled people when they are in movement spaces.

When there were social events, we all talked about it and had two groups, the folks who wanted to go and the folks who wanted to stay in; we made sure no one was left out and checked in about access all the time.  We stayed up the first night after dinner talking about disability and race and queerness and invisible disabilities and coming out as disabled and bodies and gender and geographic location and our struggle to find community.  Some people were just starting to identify as disabled, having never called themselves “disabled” out loud before.  Others had been doing disability justice work for years and still others had been doing this work for decades.  A lot of us were trans, gender queer and gender non-conforming, most of us were women of color and almost all of us were queer.  We formed an almost all disabled space that centered all of who we were.  Amazing.

One of the most important pieces of CCA for me was a continued commitment to move together as crips and comrades.  Every time I attempt to move through the world with other disabled folks, I am always so astounded at how hard it is for disabled people to stay together, literally.  I watch how the world separates, isolates and divides us, so that we cannot move together.  I watch how it is constructed for us to move with non-disabled people, instead of each other; and how it discourages folks with different disabilities from moving together.  Trying to move with a group of disabled people with different disabilities is very hard, takes enormous amounts of problem-solving, energy and creative solutions.  To me, one of the most powerful opportunities of CCA was another chance to figure out how we can stay together and what it would take to create a world where we understand the weight of what “access” means.  So that when I say something is inaccessible, you don’t just think “there’s no ramp” or “there are no places to sit” or “there’s no close, accessible, free parking.”  Instead, you feel. You feel the weight of what inaccessibility means to us.  You understand inaccessibility to mean isolation, shame, exclusion, disappointment, loneliness, anger, privilege, sadness, loss of community and disconnection.  For eight days, it was amazing to be with people who know what “accessibility” means; who know and feel the weight of it; and who are working to transform it.

I learned so much and was rejuvenated from my time with the pod people.  Disability requires us to re-think “independence” and how we engage in movement spaces, down to how we think, move and communicate, down to our very bones.  As movements committed to social and economic justice, where are the disabled people in our communities, organizations, bases, and movements?  Are they isolated?  How are we re-imagining access in ways that include, but are not limited to disability; that encompass class, language, gender, mamas, parents and children?  What would access beyond logistics look and feel like?  Access that allows people to not just be included, but maintain their dignity and connection to their communities?  How do we care for each other in ways that allow us to stay connected to our bodies and stay connected to each other in order to build the kind of world that can care for us all?  We are learning and trying and learning and practicing and learning again.

With my deepest gratitude to the pod people: I will forever be changed.

Mia Mingus

Mia Mingus is a queer physically disabled woman of color, Korean American transracial and transnational adoptee, living in Atlanta, Georgia, raised in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, and born in Korea.  Through her work on disability justice, race, reproductive justice, gender, queer liberation, transformative justice, transracial and transnational adoption, multiple oppressed identities and multi-issue politics; she recognizes the urgency and barriers for oppressed communities to work together and build alliances for liberation.  Though her work for liberation changes and evolves, her roots remain firmly planted in ending sexual violence.  Mia blogs at Leaving Evidence.

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Reflections from Detroit: Transforming Wellness & Wholeness

Continuing our Reflections from Detroit series, Cara Page describes the work of organizing for healing justice and liberation at the US Social Forum.

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“She had learned to read the auras of the trees and stones and plants and neighbors.  Had studied the sun’s corona, the jagged petals of magnetic colors and then the threads that shimmered between wooden tables and flowers and children and candles and birds…She knew each way of being in the world and could welcome them home again, open to wholeness…”

Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters

Transforming Wellness & Wholeness, by Cara Page

I come by way of Black Seminole, African American and Austrian ancestry a mixed creed despite eugenic laws that would render me dead or expendable.  I write this piece in memory of my ancestors and allies.  We will find our way home again and again despite bloodshed and oil spills; despite the misplaced and displaced; despite the forgotten memories we will always find our way home … and make a way out of no way.

This past year I took a deeper dive into the notion of wellness for our movements and the role of well being for organizers.  I sat with my dreams and wondered, ‘How far have we been able to come despite noxious toxic waste dumps near our homes, and oil spills and sterilization abuse, population control and genocide…just a few things on our map of oppression.  How have we survived?”  I’ve been asking these questions to the ‘salt eaters’ and the ‘dreamers’ and the ‘shapeshifters’ among us; what is wholeness? Not an ableist notion of wholeness that implies one specific body or blood type, but a shape of wholeness that intrinsically knows what each individual and collective notion of feeling whole and safe and well can look like.  Not the bought ‘wholeness’ you can find only in supreme retreat packages at sunset salons but the kind of ‘wholeness’ that calls on whole communities and whole movements to be well, sustainable and resilient.  Who will answer the call to our hurts, our wounds, our double/triple/quadruple pains of oppression and desperation?  How will we answer our own calls to wellness and safety?

I’ve been sitting with southern and national healers to remember the role of healing inside of liberation.  I am leading a storytelling gathering project with the KINDRED southern healing justice collective to tell the stories of southern healers in the U.S. to map our sites of transformative practice as conduits of social change.  Call it a quest for what the role of healing is and how healers move us to and through liberation.  What keeps us resilient in our hearts, our blood, our bones?  What helps us to rebuild a home? How do we reclaim and re-imagine safety in our homes and movements?

The role of healer as a Black queer woman in the South for me has been to demystify the notion that we are not wrong to use our imaginations and dreams for action? That we are not odd to believe in plants and herbs as integral parts to our paths of liberation? The role of healer as women of color teaches us we can heal ourselves and our own; that we can live, and birth and bury outside of institutional notions of wellness.  Yet what is the role of women of color healers inside of liberation?  While it has been our legacy it seems to have come undone, uprooted and unnoticed in our collective memories and notions of justice.  As a poet, healer, organizer I helped to envision the role of the ‘healer’ and ‘healing’ inside of liberation at the US Social Forum in Detroit (June 2010); a four day convergence of ritual, rallies, workshops etc. pulling together our movements to rebuild, and regenerate new alliances and vision towards strategy and of what is just.

The role of healing at this convergence took the shape and presence of many things.   We created two spaces of political and practical application of what we have named ‘healing justice’; a framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds.  Through this framework we built two political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation.  One was the US Social Forum Healing Justice Practice Space which created a free multimodal practice space to respond to trauma and triggers for organizers; to accept that many of us are tired and burnt out and have not fared well on responding to conditions of our movements and communities by putting our literal bodies on the line.  We provided practices such as reiki, acupressure, acupuncture, sound and somatic therapy with practitioners from across different regions in the U.S..  We used energy, body and earth based traditions alongside doulas and midwives to provide knowledge on birth, breath, resiliency and balance.   The Healing Justice Practice Space at the US Social Forum was a large room sectioned off for different practices simultaneously that gave us ample space to respond to the conditions of Detroit including; acute asthma, diabetes, and nutrition while also responding to the conditions of our lives and movements (eg. depression, burn out, and survivors of emotional, physical, sexual and psychological abuse and trauma).  As we so poignantly stated in our outreach materials, ‘We are responding to a lack of quality of life and conditions, a pattern of systemic abuse and oppression that reinforces the controlling of our bodies/wellness/systems/cultures and our capacity to remember and transform our conditions. We stand in solidarity as a national collective of grassroots healers, medical practitioners and health justice organizers who seek to create systems of wellness outside of state and corporate models that profit from these conditions.’

In our political and practical application of healing justice we also created a People’s Movement Assembly: a four hour interactive session to imagine new strategies and unlikely alliances towards building action.  The People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) we held was for Health, Healing Justice & Liberation’ to politicize the role of healing inside of liberation from the perspective of health justice organizers, grassroots healers and integrative medical practitioners.  Our vision in the creation of this PMA was to dream for organizing that uplifted the role of healing inside of liberation that will transform our conditions from generational trauma and violence.

Our goals at this convergence were to:

  • Map the frequencies of where we are in our movements to ground us in our vision towards strategies of sustaining and resourcing our collective wellness
  • To create spaces that value and honor equal exchange of resources/energies/economics towards obtaining new models for wellness that restore the earth and are adaptable to the current state of our emotional/spiritual/physical/psychic and environmental conditions
  • To locate the bridges and paths that connect us to memories, dreams and our ancestral legacy of healing traditions towards new models of healing and justice inside of our communities and movements

The questions we began grappling with at the PMA included: How do we redefine what it means to be healthy that is not profit driven or derived from one type of body, and one type of wellness? What are our shared understandings and memories of healing practices as tools of resistance and organizing?  How will we sustain, renew and uplift healers and traditions that are being co-opted, displaced, replaced and criminalized?

These questions are large and the next steps many but there was a sense of belonging and visibility amplified for healers, and the participants who came to both of these spaces.  As organizers and healers we mapped a way home to well being that did not isolate nor stigmatize our individual and collective bodies nor underestimated our need for wellness.

As a Black queer woman survivor of family and state violence, uninsured in the South I am often coming up against the notions of wellness, who is worthy of wellness and who is deserving of well being based on who can afford it.  At the Social Forum I was able to measure a different landscape.  What does it mean to be well in our collective bodies and in our collective memories inside of traumatic incidences of state/familial and communal abuse?  What does it mean to take care of one another as Women of Color, Queer and Trans People of Color, as communities in the South escaping unethical and horrific practices on our bodies to test our mental and physical capacity for labor and slavery?  Is the question really ‘Are we well?’ or is it ‘How can we be well with the overwhelming idea that we are less than human in the first place?

How can one be well if we are not well together?  And how will we get well when our sense of wellness often does not include the whole?  As Toni Cade pondered in her book The Salt Eaters we have to open ourselves up again to wellness and wholeness, because what is in our memory and intrinsically a part of us has been separated and often taken away from us.  It is something we will need to find again as part of understanding our role as organizers who once were healers, or healers who once were organizers.

Cara Page

Cara Page is a Black queer organizer, artist, healer, poet living in the state of things in Atlanta, GA.  She comes by way of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts to her home.  She is inspired by and works with the KINDRED southern healing justice collective, INCITE!, Project South, Southerners on New Ground, UBUNTU, the Young Women’s Empowerment Project & the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative.  She is committed to remembering our memories of resilience and resistance to transform continued slavery & genocide.

The Healing & Health Justice Collective Organizing Principles that were developed at USSF are available after the jump!

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Reflections from Detroit: Standoff with StandWithUs

Continuing our Reflections from Detroit series, Nada Elia recounts the struggle for solidarity with Palestine at the US Social Forum.

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Standoff with StandWithUs, by Nada Elia

In my mind, US Social Forum 2010 will always be the “Standoff with StandWithUs” conference.  How could it be otherwise, when all my energy, as well as that of dozens of Palestine activists, before and during the five-day meeting (but, thankfully, not since) was devoted to shutting down the workshop that StandWithUs (SWU), a violent racist hate group managed to get included in the program?

What follows are my own reflections — partial in that they are biased, truncated, and offer only my perspective on the standoff.  I offer them somewhat reluctantly, because I feel that it is important to record this historic moment, while fearing they may be misunderstood as an all-encompassing critique of the forum and its organizers.  As an organizer myself, I am fully aware of the work involved in organizing a conference, and I speak as someone who has organized three-day, 2000-member conferences, i.e. gatherings that pale in comparison to the 5-day, 20,000 participants USSF.  I know how much planning is needed in order to pull through an event of this magnitude, and I appreciate that USSF 2010 was overall an extremely successful gathering, whose momentum will hopefully continue to ripple through multiple progressive American communities. My reflections, then, are offered humbly as a brief retrospect of USSF’s process of addressing StandWithUs, and commentary on what this process says about the US left’s still tenuous relationship with Palestine solidarity work and Palestine activism overall.

Art by Jesus Barraza

The “buzz” about StandWithUs (SWU) presenting a workshop entitled “LGBTQI Liberation in the Middle East” at the USSF started within minutes of the Forum’s full schedule finally being posted online, a week or so before the five-day event was to open.   Palestinian activists and our allies, who had proposed a great many workshops, were super excited to see that every single one of these had been accepted.  The initial euphoria, however, was soon completely gone, dissipating into utter shock and awe as we discovered that a workshop by StandWithUs was also on the program.  StandWithUs?  Really?  How could that be?

StandWithUs is a racist hate group, an Israel apologist organization known for its history of keeping records on Palestine activists, which it then uses to disrupt their personal and professional lives.  SWU is a group that prides itself on its censorship of any discussion of Israeli excesses and its intimidation of progressive activism.  Here is a video of the hate group in action.

Of course, I know better than to assume any public forum to be a “safe space.”  And yes, the USSF is a public forum, and as such, I and my fellow Palestinian activists (and, I would assume, any seasoned activist, whatever their particular cause) knew there would be disruptions, heckling, de-railing, and all the variations on the theme of bigotry and intolerance that pervade all socio-political spaces.  Nevertheless, the USSF did present itself as a progressive left forum, its points of unity, posted on its website, specified the forum was anti-racist and non-violent, hence a group that engages in this type of action must—by the very guidelines of the USSF—be excluded.  And now, they were going to facilitate a workshop on queer Arab communities?

Immediately after seeing the SWU workshop listed in the program, queer Arab activists in the US contacted our Arab sisters, and four queer Arab activist organizations issued a letter entitled “Arab Queers Say No To Pinkwashing,” exposing the truth about SWU and calling upon the USSF to cancel the workshop, which would have totally misrepresented our circumstances for the purposes of painting Israel as a gay haven in the Middle East.  Here is an excerpt:

StandWithUs has no connection with the LGBT movement in the Middle East apart from ties to Zionist Israeli LGBT organizations, yet it claims to speak for and about our movements. It has no credibility in our region, and as organizations working in and from the Middle East, we condemn its attempt to use us, our struggles, our lives, and our experiences as a platform for pro-Israeli propaganda.

The “pinkwashing of apartheid” is a relatively new development in Israel’s PR campaign, yet one that numerous observers of the Middle East have noted.  Jasbir Puar explains:

Israeli pinkwashing is a potent method through which the terms of Israeli occupation of Palestine are reiterated – Israel is civilised, Palestinians are barbaric, homophobic, uncivilised, suicide-bombing fanatics. It produces Israel as the only gay-friendly country in an otherwise hostile region. This has manifold effects: it denies Israeli homophobic oppression of its own gays and lesbians, of which there is plenty, and it recruits, often unwittingly, gays and lesbians of other countries into a collusion with Israeli violence towards Palestine.

In reproducing orientalist tropes of Palestinian sexual backwardness, it also denies the impact of colonial occupation on the degradation and containment of Palestinian cultural norms and values. Pinkwashing harnesses global gays as a new source of affiliation, recruiting liberal gays into a dirty bargaining of their own safety against the continued oppression of Palestinians, now perforce rebranded as “gay unfriendly”. This strategy then also works to elide the presence of numerous Palestinian gay and lesbian organisations, for example Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS).

Was the USSF going to be complicit?  Having submitted the Queer Arab groups’ statement, and forwarded a number of links about SWU, including one to the group’s own website, we assumed the issue would soon be resolved. It seemed like a pretty straight forward matter: the National Planning Committee of the USSF explained to us that, for lack of people power, they had not screened any of the proposals, and accepted every single one.  That is how the SWU proposal was accepted.  However, now they knew better.  The communities whom SWU was supposed to represent objected to this workshop in an eloquent letter. As a group, SWU violates the profound spirit and vision of USSF.   Upon being asked, Brett Cohen, the contact person for the workshop admitted there were no Arab queer facilitators of the SWU workshop, and that he would not be willing to consider having such a co-facilitator.  We also reminded the USSF organizers of the problem that had occurred three years earlier, at the Atlanta USSF, when an Israeli speaker had misrepresented Palestinians, and how the USSF planners had made a commitment not to let that happen again.  Each of these reasons alone was sufficient to have the USSF cancel the SWU workshop.

Thus it was beyond shocking to hear the USSF National Planning Committee (NPC) tell us that they would not make that decision.  They could not.  It just wasn’t feasible.  It was best for everyone if the workshop went ahead, what’s one SWU workshop, when we had so many Palestinian ones…

What??? We were in utter disbelief.  We explained to them that they would never allow the KKK to present “just one workshop” about anything (let alone “black sexuality,” for example), even if there were 50 workshops about various aspects of communities of color on the program.  We reminded them of their commitment not to allow misrepresentation of Palestinian issues by Zionist speakers.  We argued that of course the USSF is a political space—this after we were told that some members of the NPC did not feel the USSF should be political.

To add insult to injury, we kept being told that the reason the SWU workshop would not be cancelled was because there could potentially be costly consequences to other presenters at the Forum, as SWU might pull strings to influence foundations to withhold funding to groups facilitating workshops at the USSF, if the USSF gave in to our request that their workshop be cancelled.  This reasoning is a mille-feuille of layers of problematic expediency. Queer Arab rights can be thrown under the bus by some of the organizers of the USSF, out of fear that NGO funding may be withheld?

Art by Cristy C. Road

The Arab, Palestinian, and pro-Palestine Queer communities were reeling from this, but we were determined.  This was important.  This was a make or break test. Considering the long history of misrepresentation of Palestinian issues in the US, as well as Arab sexuality issues generally, the inclusion of this workshop was not acceptable.  Too much was at stake.    StandWithUs must not be allowed to exploit the homophobia our communities endure, so as to present Israel as “the only gay-friendly country in the region.”

As time went by, and we kept asking the USSF planners to cancel the workshop, only to be given answers such as “it’s only one workshop, you have dozens,” or “just tell people not to go there,” and “It’s not such a simple decision to make, we have to look at how others may potentially be impacted,” it became clear to me the USSF had no intention of canceling.   While I continued to be in “behind-the-scenes” communication with a number of NPC organizers, some of whom were sympathetic, I was also very vocal in public, social media discussions, where yes, I did openly call the BS I felt we were being fed by the USSF.  As we were told of some NPC members’ fears of repercussions, should they cancel, I lashed out, telling them solidarity requires making difficult decisions, taking a stand with the oppressed communities, rather than attempting not to rattle the powerful.  I screamed (in all caps) that the delay in giving us an official answer was unacceptable, we needed to know, so we would plan accordingly.

I know there was some concern about my anger, my outspokenness, my “hell no I ain’t gonna take this crap” attitude, but I do believe the public pressure played a major role in finally getting the USSF to change their mind.  I received personal messages from people who have not identified themselves to this day, telling me to STFU, someone I still only know as the “list moderator” accused me of being disruptive, and duplicitous, since I was working on two fronts:  behind the scenes, with personal communication with the NPC, as well as in public spaces such as Facebook.  I responded that if there were a third or fourth front, I’d join those too, because this was too important not to pursue all the way, and in every way.

I also received expressions of concern from members of the Palestinian community, who told me my attitude may be burning bridges with the USSF NPC that they had worked hard for the past two years to build.  While networking and alliance building are of the utmost importance to me, I have to admit that I did not think burning those particular bridges would constitute a great loss, as I saw how frail they were in the first place, if now that we had a conflict, which required that the USSF take sides, we were basically being asked to “put up with SWU,” and organize your own protest if you want, as the USSF wasn’t going to cancel the workshop.

And yes, there were also messages of support, of gratitude for my persistence, my insistence that one racist workshop by a group known to advocate violence was one such workshop too many, at a progressive anti-racist anti-violence gathering.

The USSF was starting, I packed my suitcase, and headed to Detroit with a heavy heart:  we had not won the battle.  Not yet.

Apparently, however, our efforts were beginning to pay off.  Clearly, the long years of “educating” American progressives about Palestine had not been in vain, as the USPCN and the USSF NPC continued the difficult conversation, pushing, pushing…. In Detroit itself, members of various pro-Palestine groups met again with the NPC, into the wee morning hours, arguing our case.

Finally, on Monday, June 21st, one day before the USSF officially began, the NPC released a statement about the debate.  Here’s an excerpt:

We agree [Stand With Us] does not belong at the Forum, and should not have made it into our program. Also, the deliberate masking of the true nature of the workshop behind movement language goes against the transparency and accountability we expect from those participating in the Forum.

This is unacceptable to the National Planning Committee (NPC), and we deeply regret the oversight and sincerely apologize for the delay in our response. Our dilemma has been how to protect the integrity of the Forum as a movement convergence space without playing into this very underhanded, well-known, and potentially divisive tactic. We do not want to give Stand With Us a platform it does not deserve. We are aware of its history in using claims of censorship against those who defend Palestinian rights. We are engaged in a very real strategic debate about how to move forward.

And indeed, even after the NPC statement was issued, even after the USSF officially started, the debate went on.

And then, one day into the USSF, and after hours and hours of additional meetings, the decision we had worked so hard to obtain was finally announced:  the USSF was canceling the SWU workshop, a workshop it should never had accepted in the first place, and which it should have simply cancelled within minutes of discovering how dishonest it was.  With very little fanfare, this announcement was posted to USSF’s Facebook status on Wednesday morning, June 23:

The workshop “LGBTQI Liberation in the Middle East” (Thursday June 24 10am – 12pm) has been canceled for violating the submission procedure and transparency requirements for all workshops, and for being in violation of the anti-racist principles central to the US Social Forum.

The US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), representing Palestinian communities at the USSF, released a statement on the decision to cancel the workshop.  Here is an excerpt:

In a historic accomplishment, the leadership of the US Social Forum voted this morning to cancel a workshop proposed by “Stand With US”, a Zionist organization <http://www.standwithus.com/> that sought to represent Israel as a safe haven for LGBTQI communities and undermine the broadening support for the cause of justice in/for Palestine. …  This is a victory for our struggle and indeed the struggle for justice for all. This victory makes it clear that the struggle for justice in/for Palestine is an integral part of the worldwide movement for freedom, dignity, justice and peace.

Why did it take so long for the USSF NPC to do what’s right?  The delay, I believe, is sadly representative of the state of the US left when it comes to dealing with Palestine.  Despite the US left’s commitment to denouncing (and, hopefully, ending) colonialism, racism, militarism, state violence, occupation, sexism, homophobia, and the various interrelated evils of hetero-patriarchy, this “camp” is still home to large communities who fail to understand that our struggles are one and the same.  As Noura Erakat put it in her incisive analysis:

Yet despite this yearning to nurture American solidarity, there is a vast divide between the aspiration and the understanding required for its realization — that Palestinians, other nations, and millions of marginalized Americans contend with the same structural impediments standing between them and the full realization of their human dignity. The understanding of a common enemy and the affirmation of a common humanity is the linchpin of genuine solidarity.

And yet, as the USPCN statement points out, the US Left is finally coming around.    The long years of work, of “educating” American leftists about the moral righteousness of our cause, the seemingly endless task of disentangling the deliberate Zionist twinning of critiques of Israel with anti-Semitism, were beginning to bear fruit.  Not only was the StandWithUs workshop cancelled, but in the closing plenary, when the various People’s Movement Assemblies came together to announce the resolutions they had drafted after five days of meetings, a number of groups expressed not just solidarity with Palestine, but an actual commitment to engage in actions for Palestine.  The support we felt in that gigantic and potentially intimidating room was empowering and thoroughly comforting.  Yes, we were coming together, the bridges had carried us over from one shore to another, and they could withhold traffic, including solidarity work.

It is a long time coming.  It has not been an easy road, nor will it necessarily be easy now, even as we can clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But then again, such is the minefield of Palestine solidarity.  It wouldn’t be called a struggle if it were easy.

And that makes the victory so much sweeter.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a former member of the INCITE! national collective, where she co-chaired the taskforce on Militarism and Law Enforcement Violence.  She is currently organizing with the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel: http://www.usacbi.org

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Reflections from Detroit: Oh Octavia

Continuing our Reflections from Detroit series, Alexis Pauline Gumbs shares her experiences at the Octavia Butler Symposium at the Allied Media Conference.

Oh Octavia
by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler came to me in a dream once.   Did she advise me to get my water-purifying pills ready for 2012?  Did she offer to assist my lover and I Oonkali style? Did she shift into a million earth-life forms right before my eyes?

Nope.  She smiled and told me she hated me.  Then she lovingly played with my hair, and moved on to discuss mosquitoes.

And the thing is Octavia Butler must hate me and probably a whole bunch of us…with my incessant belief in the essential good nature of human beings despite the incriminating evidence of genocide, war and all other forms of oppression, and my tireless work towards accountability with people who sometimes seem not to care, but a especially.

Octavia Butler, in my dreams, and in the nightmare mid-apocalyptic settings of most of her books is a reminder that some things cannot be saved, and the changes our ecosystem and solar system are about to put us through are even more radical than we think we are.    So in an urgent time of terrifying complacency Octavia Butler’s work is crucial for those of us who feel the world changing in our communities and in our bodies.

Adrienne Maree Brown, long time student and teacher of Octavia Butler’s work and all-around divalicious genius, knows this.   And she acts accordingly.  So she learned how to bake bread, and she convened the Octavia Butler Symposium at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit this June where so many of us were gathered to collate our intentions for another world.

The room filled with participants.  People who had read all of Octavia Butler’s books, people who had read one book or series and were still in shock.  People whose friends had been telling them to read Octavia for years and who had one of her books sitting on a desk neglected and unread because of all their frantic activist work.

Adrienne designed the session so that everyone could speak and learn from the bodacious body of work of Ms. Octavia by creating a fishbowl exercise where people spoke in four chairs in the middle of the room to each other until someone in the erstwhile audience tagged them out to add their take on the questions Adrienne asked about why Octavia Butler’s work was revelant in our specific work?  Why the work was important for this time in history? Etc.   People expressed their dreams and fears, their views that the capitalist anarchy that Butler prophesies in the Parable series is already upon us, questions about whether representations of sexuality in Fledgling and the Patternist series provide us with new ways of responding to abuse, thoughts on the function of science fiction in general in our time, claims that Butler’s work is much more fact than fiction to begin with.

Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler

With all of these questions dancing in the air we split into break out groups to brainstorm visionary questions for a reader for social justice visionaries for the each of Octavia Butler’s series of novels, the Patternist series, the Parable series, the Xenogenesis series and her collection of short stories, Bloodchild. This gave us the opportunity to develop specific critical questions and to share more deeply with each other.  I was in the group that discussed Bloodchild and in our addition to our critical questions about the stories and Butler’s reflections on the work of writing, we spoke of our own dreams, our own prophecies that we have watched come true, and the sacred fulfillment of our connection to each other.

In other words…it was deep y’all.  I would definitely attend a whole day or a weekend or a week of inquiry like that.   Looking forward to the reader!!!

See the raw notes from the symposium here: http://adriennemareebrown.net/blog/?p=1471

Be transformed!

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is the instigator of Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind (www.blackfeministmind.wordpress.com).  Alexis, Moya Bailey, Renina Jarmon and Summer McDonald will be speaking on a panel about Octavia Butler and Queer Futures at the conference Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide: Settler Colonialism, Heteropatriarchy, White Supremacy Conference at University of California, Riverside March 2011.

Octavia Butler

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Reflections from Detroit: 12th Annual Allied Media Conference Report Back

For the next few weeks, the INCITE! blog will feature guest posts from women of color and trans people of color sharing their reflections from amazing movement-building events in Detroit this past June, the Allied Media Conference and the US Social Forum.  Contributors will share connections they made, critical learnings, and ideas about next steps in radical feminist of color organizing. If you are interested in contributing a post for this feature, please contact the blog editors at incite.news@gmail.com.

12th Annual Allied Media Conference Report Back
by Moya Bailey
reposted from The Crunk Feminist Collective, with permission

This weekend I attended my favorite conference, The Allied Media Conference in Detroit. This year was way more subdued than the last two years I’ve attended. There were less people of color present, I didn’t go to very many sessions, I was on my period, feeling real low energy and it was still amazing, transformative, and once again reminded me of what I’m here to do in this world. Even with its challenges, the AMC is the kind of conference that has me checking the calendar to make sure I’ve got it on deck for next year.

The most powerful part of the conference for me was being connected to the Creating Collective Access folks, organized in less than a month by some of the fiercest people I know. I was reminded how conferences themselves create a non-sustainable way of folks relating to each other, to themselves and their own needs. On some days the conference schedule was filled from 8am- 2am. Being connected to the collective access folks allowed me to give myself permission to chill, to not push through exhaustion and inattentiveness to be at every session, to not sacrifice a really good slow conversation to make it to a panel presentation on listening. I felt more in my body, more aware of my needs.

Creating Collective Access also had me questioning what collective space looks like and what to do when access may be so different for different people. I went to one of the sessions that was part of the Indigenous Media and Technology track and the presenters were using smoke as a tool in the workshop. I was thinking about folks with disabilities that need scent free spaces and how you hold those things together or if you can’t, what do you do? Are we willing to do what it takes to create or use tools to share across real boundaries?

I was amazed by Adrienne Maree Brown’s Octavia Butler Symposium, people’s overwhelming interest as well as her awesome awesome facilitation skills. Adrienne is so fierce she had the notes up later that day! Check them out here! I was once again struck by folks reluctance and perhaps inability to talk about trauma in our movement and how we heal or don’t from all these –isms that impact our lives.

I feel softer now and sharper at the same time. Refined and focused, recommitted to kindness with direction and more prepared to speak up as an ally for the disability justice movement and the rights of indigenous peoples. I’m full and content and feel myself coming into a new era of myself. I’m hopeful and it feels really good.

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