Language & Action back from hiatus!

Welcome back to Language & Action, a periodic collection of news about organizing, ideas, interventions, and opportunities, with an emphasis on the lives of women of color, trans people of color, and queer people of color.  We need your help to keep this feature going, so if you spot an amazing blog post, some under-reported news that you think really needs more attention, some critical info from organizing fronts, or just a question you want to chew on with others, please share it with us to post on the next L&A!  Send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com.

WIN! Sex Offender Registration for Sex Workers Ends in Louisiana

Louisiania’s policy to force sex workers to register as sex offenders is finally over!  Most of the people impacted by this law were poor women of color and transgender women of color.  Jordan Flaherty at the Louisiana Justice Institute:

While police continue to harass sex workers across the state, and many women are still imprisoned under these regressive laws (even as US Senator David Vitter faced no penalty for his admitted liaisons with prostitutes), this is a step forward. And much credit should go to the NO Justice Project, convened by Women With A Vision, which worked to raise awareness about this unjust law and fought on multiple fronts to bring it to an end.

Congrats to Women With A Vision, the NO Justice Project, and other partners for this huge step!

Young Women’s Empowerment Project Launches New Website, New Awesome Campaign CD

YWEP has a brand new website – go check it out!  They also report back from June’s Allied Media Conference where they launched their campaign CD, Street Youth in M.o.t.i.o.n., Moving on The Institution of our Needs, and they’re calling for monthly sustainers, so please support their important work!

Skin Color & Prison Sentences for Black Women

A recent study by Villanova University suggests that prison sentences for black women correlate with skin color: the lighter one’s skin, the lesser the sentence tends to be.  Topher Sanders at The Root:

Villanova researchers studied more than 12,000 cases of African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina and found that women with lighter skin tones received more-lenient sentences and served less time than women with darker skin tones.

The researchers found that light-skinned women were sentenced to approximately 12 percent less time behind bars than their darker-skinned counterparts. Women with light skin also served 11 percent less time than darker women.

Wakefield University sociology professor, Earl Smith, raises some questions about the study’s methodology.

Half of LGBT People Who Experienced Violence Did Not Call Police, Audre Lorde Project Organizing for Alternative Safety Strategies

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs‘ annual report on hate violence revealed that, of the 27 tragic murders of LGBT people in 2010, 70% were people of color and 44% were transgender women.  Of the people who experienced anti-LGBT violence, half did not contact police.  The Audre Lorde Project is working on developing safety strategies outside of the criminal justice system.  Michael Lavers at Colorlines:

The Audre Lorde Project is among the groups that organize LGBT people in communities of color that are increasingly looking beyond law enforcement and the criminal justice system for a solution. The Safe OUTside the System Collective works with bodegas, businesses and organizations within Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and surrounding areas to create safe spaces for LGBT people of color to curb violence.

“What’s true and important is our communities have been and continue to organize around issues of harassment—whether it’s neighborhood or community harassment or [harassment] by the police,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Audre Lorde Project.

Raquel Nelson Prosecuted for Trying to Cross the Street, Needs Your Support

Raquel Nelson

Sarah Goodyear at The Grist:

In case you haven’t heard of her, [Raquel] Nelson is the Atlanta-area single mother who was convicted of vehicular homicide after her 4-year-old son was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver who later admitted to drinking and being on painkillers.

Nelson and her three children, ages 9, 4, and 2, were trying to get from a bus stop to their apartment complex directly across a busy road, and there was no crosswalk or pedestrian signal to protect them. It was a shocking, and fatal, case of bad street design. Such autocentric design is only too common around the country; in this case, it was compounded by a mystifyingly aggressive prosecution.

Nelson was offered the choice of a new trial or a 12 month probation.  Visit change.org to lend your support.

California Legislation to Protect Labor Rights for Domestic Workers Passes Senate Committee!

Press release:

Today the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee voted 5-2 in favor of AB 889. The bill – also known as the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, extends basic, humane labor protections to thousands of nannies, caregivers, and housecleaners and improves the quality of care for California’s families.

“Today’s Senate vote was a historic step forward for the rights of domestic workers in California. For decades domestic work has been excluded from both state and federal labor laws and worker exploitation in this industry has remained invisible and unmonitored. AB 889 will end that by establishing the same basic protections under the law that many of us take for granted,” said [Assemblymember Tom] Ammiano.

Check out this Colorlines article about how the National Domestic Workers Alliance is transforming long-term care.

Displaced Women Organize for Housing Justice in Port au Prince

Haitian women and their communities are organizing against government agents who are forcing people out of post-earthquake displacement camps who have nowhere to go.  Bill Quigley and Jocelyn Brooks at the Lousiania Justice Institute:

“We women demand!…” sang out a hundred plus voices “…Justice for Marie!” Marie, a 25 year old pregnant mother, was injured by government agents when they slammed a wooden door into her stomach during an early morning invasion of an earthquake displacement camp in Port au Prince. The government is using force to try to force thousands to leave camps without providing any place for people to go. The people are fighting back.

The people calling for justice are residents of a make shift tent camp called Camp Django in the Delmas 17 neighborhood of Port au Prince. They are up in arms over injuries to Marie, one of their young mothers, and repeated government threats to demolish their homes. Despite the 100 degree heat, over a hundred residents, mostly mothers, trekked across town to demand the government protect their human right to housing.

800 Protestors in Quebec Demand Action To Stop Violence Against Aboriginal Women

Aboriginal women in Canada are putting pressure on the Canadian government to address the murders and disappearance of hundreds of aboriginal women.  The Canadian Press:

[Women’s status] ministers concluded a two-day meeting in Gatineau, Que., just as about 800 protesters took to Parliament Hill demanding action to prevent violence against aboriginal women, and to bring attention to more than 500 who have been murdered or disappeared.

“Our missing and murdered women and girls are suffering from neglect — neglect by the Canadian government that does not recognize them,” said Laurie Odjick, whose 16-year-old daughter Maisy disappeared in 2008 from her reserve near Maniwaki, Que.

Sterilization and Reproductive Justice

Considering the politics of choice and sterilization, Iris Lopez studied the conditions in which Puerto Rican women in New York City “chose” to undergo sterilization.  Lisa Wade at Ms. blog:

Lopez found that 44 percent of the women she surveyed would not have chosen the surgery if their economic conditions were better. They wanted more children, but simply could not afford them.

Lopez argues that, by contrasting the “choice” to become sterilized with the idea of forced sterilization, we overlook the fact that choices are primed by larger institutional structures and ideological messages. Reproductive freedom not only requires the ability to choose from a set of safe, effective, convenient and affordable methods of birth control developed for men and women, but also a context of equitable social, political and economic conditions that let women decide whether or not to have children, how many, and when.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is preparing to have hearings and provide restitution to people the state sterilized without consent in the Eugenics era that listed through 1974.

Young Women United Successes in Reproductive Justice

Young Women United in Albuquerque reports in their most recent newsletter that they were able to help pass four powerful bills and defeat five crappy ones in New Mexico.  Get it, YWU!

YWU asked New Mexicans to share why our families need access to Treatment Instead of Incarceration. With only four days notice you responded, and with your voices we made an incredible scrapbook that we presented to the governor. (and will be sharing with others too.) To see the online version visit our page at facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Young-WomenUnited/115921231790158).

We had media coverage from several TV stations, and radio stations who wanted to hear our stories, perspectives and community needs.

We had three opinion pieces printed in Albuquerque media; Reflections on Justice for the West Mesa Women, Truths About Addiction and Families, and Landscape of Addiction in New Mexico.  Links to the opinion pieces can be found in the Related Links  section of our website  AVAW page (http://www.youngwomenunited.org/whatwedo/avaw.html).

We spoke at a congressional breakfast in DC to connect and carry our work to federal policy makers.

We continued to connected with organizations around the country doing this amazing work too…and these connections will help strengthen our movement as we go forward.

OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF!

Solidarity with Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, which is organizing to end solitary confinement and other institutional violence within and of prisons.  They need your support.

The Center for Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Austin seeks Seed Money Applications for projects related to gender and human rights in (or in relationship to) the Americas.

Here’s a list of ten self-defense techniques.

Queers for Economic Justice and FIERCE, fantastic queer organizing groups in NYC, both seek Executive Directors.

To submit a news item, please send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com.

Stereotypes, Myths, & Criminalizing Policies: Regulating the Lives of Poor Women

Statement from New Orleans-based Women’s Health & Justice Initiative, July 2011

Since the beginning of the year, we have witnessed a surge of legislative attacks targeting poor communities through bills calling for mandatory drug testing as an eligibility requirement to receive federal aid under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF[1]) program in over two-dozen states.

  • On January 25, 2011 U.S. Senator David Vitter, R-Louisiana, introduced The Drug Free Families Act of 2011, (S. 83), which would require all 50 states to drug test all TANF applicants and recipients.
  • On May 10, 2011, Missouri state legislature passed Senate Bill 607, which require welfare applicants and recipients to pass a drug test in order to receive public assistance, if ‘reasonable suspicion’ is raised by a social worker; and on July 12, 2011, Democratic Governor Jay Nixon signed the bill into law.
  • On May 31, 2011, Governor Rick Scott, R- Florida, signed legislation into law requiring adults applying for welfare assistance to undergo drug screenings.
  • And for the fourth consecutive year, Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo aggressively tried to get similar legislation passed before House Bill 7 died in the Senate on June 21, 2011 after winning approval in the House.

The targeting of welfare recipients – under the false pretense of “saving tax dollars from supporting someone’ s drug addiction” or by “helping drug addicts become productive citizens” – is nothing more than the continual use of stereotypes and myths to criminalize the lives of poor women and their families through invasive and unconstitutional regulatory policies of economic violence.

The Women’s Health & Justice Initiative (WHJI)[2] condemns these coordinated federal and state assaults on recipients of public cash assistance.  The legislative actions of Governor Scott, Senator Vitter, State Representative LaBruzzo, and others criminalize the poverty of welfare recipients, exploit low-income women’s economic vulnerability, and stereotype welfare recipients as illegal drug users by publicly presuming welfare recipients’ socio-economic status as linked to addiction.

Punitive, Criminalizing, & Discriminatory Attacks

Using the ‘Get Tough’ rhetoric of the War on Drugs; reproductive regulation; and neoliberal austerity measures to attack poor and marginalized women (who rely on government subsidies for financial support) irresponsibly exploits their economic vulnerability by falsely implying their assistance is the cause of the country’s financial woes.  Although recipients of public assistance are no more likely to use illegal drugs than the general population, they are often disproportionately targeted by elected officials as social burdens in need of governmental regulation.

At both the federal and state levels, Senator Vitter and State Representative LaBruzzo have tried unsuccessfully for years to restrict public assistance eligibility through mandatory drug testing under the disguise of helping recipients with untreated drug addictions. Despite the fact such testing has been ruled unconstitutional by the Sixth Circuit in 2000, Vitter and LaBruzzo continue to promote dangerously punitive policies.

If passed, Senator Vitter’s Drug Free Families Act of 2011 would amend part A of The TANF Program and thereby require all states to drug test all TANF applicants and recipients.  The bill will deny assistance to individuals who test positive for illegal drugs and those convicted of drug-related crimes.  Not only will this Act further restrict the privacy and agency of women who are daily portrayed as deceitful, deviant, oversexed, and addicts—all because of racialized gender-based misconceptions of what it means to receive public assistance- it will also subject them to various forms of discrimination with regards to housing, employment, education, and their voting rights.

Additionally, Louisiana State Representative LaBruzzo’s House Bill 7 would have required twenty percent of TANF recipients to submit to drug tests as a condition to receive public assistance – a similar measure attempted by former State Representative and Klu Klux Klan member David Duke in 1989.

Under this year’s version of Representative LaBruzzo’s bill, a participant who wouldn’t sign a written form granting ‘consent’ to a drug test would not have been eligible to receive or to continue to receive cash assistance.  Consenting to a drug test is an infringement of one’s constitutional right to privacy and equal protection, yet refusal is a denial of public benefits and a presumption of drug addiction. Clearly, this legislation was designed to both publicly demonize and undermine the agency of welfare recipients – because placing women in a position to “choose” between their right to privacy and the care of their family is not an exercise of “consent” but a blatant form of coercion.  The use of coercive policies to compel welfare recipients to submit to drug testing ignores the complex structures of poverty and poor women’s daily battles for subsistence, as they often bear the brunt of income and housing related poverty, violence, and discrimination.    By placing women in such positions, LaBruzzo and others are able to justify these systemic forms of coercion by dehumanizing the lives of poor women and their families.

Lastly, legislation signed into law by Governor Scott of Florida on May 31,2011 and by Governor Nixon of Missouri on July 12, 2011 both require adults applying for temporary cash assistance to undergo drug screenings.  The Florida law took effect July 1st, which requires the Florida Department of Children and Family Services to drug test all adults applying for TANF assistance.  Applicants are responsible for the cost of the screening and will be reimbursed by the state only if they pass the drug test.  Those who fail can enter a drug rehabilitation program and reapply six months later or designate someone on their behalf to receive their child’s benefits.  Governor Scott claims, “we don’t want to waste tax dollars…and we want to give people an incentive to not use drugs.”  His statement equates public assistance with ‘waste’ and exploits the vulnerability of women’s economic status by violating their Fourth Amendment rights under the pretext of deficit reduction.

In Missouri, the recently signed law allows officials with the Department of Social Services to drug test recipients of public assistance if there is ‘reasonable cause’ to suspect illegal drug use.  If an applicant tests positive, they must complete a substance abuse program.  And if an applicant refuses to take a drug test or attend a substance abuse program, they won’t be eligible for assistance for three years.  This law, like the others, stigmatizes welfare recipient’s economic status and equates their subsidy status with addiction.

The Truth Behind the Legislation

Not only is drug testing unconstitutional, it’s ineffective and costly.  Drug testing does nothing but further marginalize and stigmatize TANF recipients. It implies that recipients are to blame for the nation’s current economic deficit, as opposed to the wasteful spending of public resources on the corporate welfare giants of Wall Street and the War on Drugs; militarism; and the over production of unnecessary commodities that negatively impact our environment. The aggressive use of punitive neoliberal policies like these rely on fear and racist stereotypes to falsely frame low-income families as economic burdens of the state, while ignoring the disastrous economic burdens of corporate welfare.

Stereotypes and stigmatizing labels associated with welfare are dramatically different in reality than what is often decried by elected officials. The racial and gendered subtext of prevailing welfare stereotypes of ‘laziness,’ ‘uncontrolled sexuality,’ and ‘drug addiction,’ implicitly informs the negative treatment of people on food stamps; landlords refusing to accept subsidized housing vouchers as rent; the general perception that welfare recipients only have children to receive a “welfare check;” the regulation of low-income women of color’s fertility; and the scapegoating of recipients as constantly burdening the government to take care of them.  Despite the fact that the current TANF program carries a 5-year term limit, along with a variety of other requirements and restrictions, the false perception of low-income women of color having endless benefits to support drug habits persists.

Nationally, financial assistance to poor families represents approximately 0.7% of the federal budget. Here in Louisiana, the number of people receiving cash assistance through TANF has been declining since President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 welfare reform legislation; and since Hurricane Katrina, the numbers of families receiving assistance has decreased by 74 %.

Despite the claims of lawmakers like Rep. John LaBruzzo, cash assistance payments in Louisiana represents less than 1% of the state budget, with:

  • Less than .3% of the population receiving assistance through the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program or FITAP (13,237 people out a population of 4.5 million)
  • The average public assistance grant being only $189 a month for a family of three, and
  • 74% of receipts in the state being children (only 3,656 of the 13,237 recipients are adults)

The reality of welfare in Louisiana clearly illustrates drug testing has nothing to do with saving tax payers dollars and balancing state budgets, but much to do with who’s perceived as receiving benefits.

What We Need

These current actions represent yet another attempt by conservative legislators to pass criminalizing policies to restrict and police the sexuality and reproductive autonomy of subsidy-reliant women under the pretext of saving taxpayers’ dollars.  The same women whose fertility and motherhood become routine targets of public debates, reproductive legislation, and policy mandates are the same women who are falsely accused of being economic burdens on the state and punished through government funded programs for being poor, thus becoming disproportionately subjected to racialized gender related poverty, violence, discrimination, and displacement.

We need legislators to take real leadership in addressing budget shortfalls — not by weakening the capacity of women to care for their families, which will ultimately create more social and economic cost in the future, but by targeting inflated costs of corporations that pose dangerous risks to our communities. The efforts that have been employed to police the lives of poor women could be better used to:

  • Regulate dangerous industries and out-of-control military spending that threaten the social, economic, and environmental health of families and communities;
  • Increase the efficacy and availability of social programs designed to improve the living conditions of poor communities;
  • Support responsible, accessible, and affordable public services and resources that respect the reproductive and economic autonomy of women of color and low-income women;
  • Prioritize poor women’s economic and social needs to take care of their families in safe and healthy environments.

Legislation that is appropriately funded and provide for childcare resources, family treatment programs, mental health services, non-discriminatory employment opportunities, affordable and decent housing, and safe and non-coercive health care services is needed to assist low-income families — not punitive, ineffective, and expensive drug testing initiatives that restrict the opportunities and life chances of low-income women and their families.


[1] TANF is a federally funded, state- administered aid program created when President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996C (PRWORA), which abolished Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). It is more widely known as the Welfare Reform Act.

[2] Formed in 2006 to address the hidden and persistent racialized gender-based forms of violence, neglect, and inequality laid bare and exacerbated by the disasters of 2005, the Women’s Health & Justice Initiative (WHJI) is a feminist of color organization based in New Orleans that engages in public education campaigns, research projects, and grassroots organizing activities to improve the social and economic health of women of color and our communities. WHJI advocates against punitive social policies, practices, and behaviors that restrict, exploit, regulate, and criminalize the bodies and lives of low-income and working class women of color most vulnerable to violence, poverty, and population control policies of blame, displacement, and social neglect.  Our organizing challenges the social invisibility of the various forms of social exclusion, violence, marginality, and socio-economic vulnerability women color and poor women experience, contend with, and fight against —by staving off attempts to further undermine our human rights—while forging new opportunities to build the capacity of our communities to address the social justice implications of women’s economic and social needs to live in healthy and safe environments.

Strauss-Kahn, Domestic Immigrants and Money, Power, Respect

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was recently accused of sexual assault by a black immigrant woman who worked as a maid in a New York hotel.  Since then, the media, Strauss-Kahn’s defense team, and others have attempted to violently attack the character and credibility of his accuser.  This attack has led to calls for dismissal of the case against Strauss-Kahn.

There is a movement to fight back.  Strauss-Kahn’s accuser is suing the New York Post for libel.  Activists are mobilizing and speaking out in the face of escalated attacks against her.  There is also a change.org petition “demanding the New York Post retract and apologize for victim-blaming coverage.”

Below, Tamura A. Lomax, writer and editor at The Feminist Wire, offers a lucid political analysis of the events to date.  This post was originally published at The Feminist Wire and is re-posted here with permission.  - Editors

Strauss-Kahn, Domestic Immigrants and Money, Power, Respect
by Tamura A. Lomax, The Feminist Wire

See I believe in money, power and respect.  First you get the money.  Then you get the motherf–kin’ power.  And after you get the f–kin’ power.  You get the f–kin’ ni–az to respect you. It’s the key to life.  ~Lil’ Kim

In 1998 when Lil’ Kim penned these lyrics in the Hip Hop anthem, “Money, Power, Respect,” she was likely drawing upon her early years as a struggling teen on the streets of Brooklyn with limited resources and no real place to call home.  In my naivety, I assumed that Lil’ Kim was talking about something she in fact had, not what she and countless others like her would spend a lifetime longing for.  Today, these lyrics continue to ring true for women and men alike.  For black diasporic women and girls, they are particularly profound.  However, for immigrant domestic workers, Lil’ Kim’s lyrics are prophetic.  Money, power and respect is exactly what former IMF Managing Director (and front-runner for the 2012 French presidential election) Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, has, and what the unnamed 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper, who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault in a Manhattan hotel in May, needs to be taken seriously and to win her case against him.

According to the woman’s initial testimony, she entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at approximately 1 p.m. believing it was unoccupied.  As the housekeeper cleaned the foyer, Strauss-Kahn “came out of the bathroom, fully naked, and attempted to sexually assault her.”  As she fought him, he “locked the door to the suite,” “grabbed her and pulled her into the bedroom and onto the bed.” After which, “he…dragged her down the hallway to the bathroom, where he sexually assaulted her a second time.”  After fleeing, the woman reported the incident to hotel personnel who called 911.  Upon boarding Air France Flight 23, Strauss-Kahn was apprehended and taken into custody, throwing the French political world, U.S. media and life of the 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper into utter mayhem.

Just last week The New York Times reported that Strauss-Kahn prosecution was “near collapse.”  “Major holes” were found in the credibility of the Guinean housekeeper, although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between the two, and despite evidence of force (i.e. torn clothing, bruising, etc.).  According to the prosecution, the accuser has repeatedly lied since her initial allegation on May 14.

Among the discoveries, one of the officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who is Guinean, and possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.

Ultimately, the accuser falls short of the Victorian ideal.  Like the rest of us, she is neither perfect nor without blemish (nor can she pay to appear as such).  Thus, the circumstances surrounding the encounter on May 14, notwithstanding forensic and physical evidence, and personal testimony (of the victim and others alike), must be called into question.  Moreover, Strauss-Kahn, who has already fallen from political grace and been replaced (perhaps conveniently), must now be exonerated (maybe, just in time to announce his candidacy for the French presidency).  According to The New York Times he was released July 2.  The case is now moving toward dismissal.

Some will undoubtedly see the most recent turn of events as just.  However, others, myself included, are eerily reminded of Lil’ Kim’s verse in “Money, Power, Respect.”  While there are admittedly several unanswered questions surrounding this case, few things are clear: violent sex happened in Strauss-Kahn’s Manhattan hotel suite on May 14, respect for black female life is largely improbable without money and power, especially for immigrant domestic workers and others, and those with money and power can pretty much do what they damn well please.  This is not a projection.  It is a reality.

The 32-year-old housekeeper isn’t the first to complain about Strauss-Kahn.  The married father of four has a history of allegations against him, strangely earning him the nickname “the great seducer.”  However, contrary to belief there is nothing seductive about rape.  And, just because one has never been tried doesn’t mean they are innocent.  Also, while we are at it, just because the accuser waited to tell her story, didn’t have a perfect life, was less than forthcoming about her experience, or, as in this case, was perhaps even downright untruthful about some of the details, does not mean violence, to which Strauss-Kahn should be held accountable, did not occur.

History reveals a ritualistic raping (and the threat of rape) of black diasporic women in general and black female domestic workers in particular by white men who use  social capital and economic prowess to not only silence their prey, but to reconfigure them altogether.  While we should not rush to judgment, we also cannot afford to ignore the growing archive.  The defense made it clear that they would make the credibility of the woman a focus of their case.  Of course this is a common rape strategy across the board. Rape trials are rarely solely about sexual violence, and often (over) emphasize the victims personal life.  Sadly, the burden of “proof” lies there–in one’s ability to avoid reasonable doubt–through the unquestionable presentation of a “perfect” life (something most often bought by those with money, power and respect, if not already privileged by race, class and gender).

So, the question is, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when one is already stigmatized due to race, ethnicity and class, and when violence against one is so familiar and normative that suffering is unfathomable?  Further, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when rape is historically a normative mode of sexuality, the black female body is made the originary locus of liability, coercion is confused with consent, class and social structures imagine the black female body to be both will-less and always-willing simultaneously, and white culpability has a history of displacement, particularly as white sexual violence is perpetuated under the rubric of seduction, paternalism and hierarchy (within which violence is a legitimate form of engagement)?  Moreover, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when she is not seen as a person with innate dignity and worth in the first place?

Apparently, the accuser lied about being raped before.  That is, she recanted her story after giving it.  However, anyone who has been on the underside of sexual violence knows that there are many possible reasons for this.  Recanting doesn’t necessarily mean that rape did not happen.  Living under a symbolic rape cloud is burdensome on many levels.  Nevertheless, lying about it can be equally death-dealing.  To this end, one might say that doubt is reasonable.  However, if sexual violence occurred on May 14, and I believe it did, what bearing does the accusers previous lie have on what happened in Strauss-Kahn’s suite that Saturday afternoon?  While it may sway how we read into the case (in the same way that Strauss-Kahn’s history of sexual inappropriateness does), DNA results confirm sexual contact and other evidence corroborate violence.  That is the issue at hand.  Let’s be clear, a woman was assaulted.

The defense will likely posit that contact was consensual, or as The New York Post suggests, that the defendant was a “hooker,” “doing double duty as a prostitute, collecting cash on the side from male guests.” One might reason, if true then presumably violence was warranted.  Not!  Not only is this stereotype as trite as they come, sexual violence is neither earned nor justifiable, not even for those with money and power.

A woman was assaulted.  According to her testimony, violence came unrequested.  And as far as I know, the prosecution has yet to find any “holes” there.  Sure, it is her word against his, not to mention there are enough stereotypes on both ends to make our heads spin!  On one hand we have the rich white Jewish womanizer.  On the other hand we have the poor Guinean Muslim immigrant widow (possibly HIV positive with a potential criminal history).  To be sure, this case is ripe for multiple “bold imaginings.”  And yes, there is also a taped phone call between the accuser and an incarcerated acquaintance that highlights talk about the benefits of such a case.  While the context and particulars of that conversation are unknown, it certainly adds to such fantasying.  However, does such behavior, whatever you may think about it, mean the housekeeper was not violated on May 14?  Is it possible that she was in fact violated and wishes to financially benefit?  She is an immigrant seeking asylum, in search of the “American Dream.”  To this end, the accuser is no different than most other American’s who make capital gains off of misdeeds against them.  This is in fact “the American way.”

A woman was assaulted, but apparently that’s neither here nor there.  She stands on the wrong side of history and power and thus her past outweighs that of the defendant.  Let us also be mindful that French elections are underway.  Perhaps the 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper was always a “non…factor.”  It’s clear that Strauss-Kahn found her to be “rape-able.”  However, one can’t help but to wonder if the woman was exploited by French political powers wanting to put Strauss-Kahn out of office and then subsequently discarded altogether by those hoping to put his name back in the presidential hat.  What cannot be ignored as Patricia Williams at The Nation points out, is that Strauss-Kahn was not only on his way to becoming France’s next president, if successful he would have been the first Jewish president.  In addition,

As head of the IMF, he led that institution in a distinctly progressive manner. He sharply critiqued corrupt American bankers and banking practices and, early on, predicted the collapse of the mortgage market. As a center-left Socialist party member, he was close to negotiating a European Union bailout for Greece. And his elimination from the election empowers the candidacy of Marine LePen, head of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic National Front party, whose popularity, alarmingly enough, currently polls higher than that of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Nevertheless, with the recent turn of events, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned later that this case was ultimately deployed by Strauss-Kahn’s supporters as a form of political peroxide.  As the case moves toward dismissal, he is slowly but surely becoming the honorable victim.  Money, power and the right pigmentation can do that for you.  Yet, what most brown and black women know is that a woman was likely assaulted on May 14.  And while her surrounding narrative may raise reasonable doubt, her story about the violence that occurred on that day has not waivered.  Again, it is of course her word against his. Unfortunately, she lacks the money, power and respect for many of us to really hear her (entire) story.  Somehow, I believe there is much more to this narrative than what meets the eye, and there are details that we will never know.  To be sure, this case is about as complicated as they come.  One thing is for sure, it serves as a definitive reminder of who actually “runs the world,” and unfortunately it’s not us girls…

Support Kelly Williams-Bolar, Jailed For Sending Kids to Wrong School District

Kelly Williams-Bolar

Kelly Williams-Bolar, a black mother of two in a low-income district in Akron, Ohio, registered her children to a neighboring school district where her father lives, but the children were not based.  Because of this effort to gain access to a  better education safer school for her children [see ETA note below], Ms. Williams-Bolar was convicted of tampering with court records, sentenced to ten days in prison, three years probation, a $30,000 fine, and, because it’s a felony conviction, the judge asserted that she will not be able to get her teaching degree, though she’s just a few credits away.  More details here.

Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University, writes,

…it’s interesting how courts find it convenient to make someone into an example when they happen to be poor and black. I’d love to see how they prosecute wealthy white women who commit the same offense. Oh, I forgot: Most wealthy white women don’t have to send their kids to the schools located near the projects. …

This case is a textbook example of everything that remains racially wrong with America’s educational, economic and criminal justice systems. Let’s start from the top: Had Ms. Williams-Bolar been white, she likely would never have been prosecuted for this crime in the first place (I’d love for them to show me a white woman in that area who’s gone to jail for the same crime). She also is statistically not as likely to be living in a housing project with the need to break an unjust law in order to create a better life for her daughters. Being black is also correlated with the fact that Williams-Bolar likely didn’t have the resources to hire the kinds of attorneys who could get her out of this mess (since the average black family’s wealth is roughly 1/10 that of white families). Finally, economic inequality is impactful here because that’s the reason that Williams-Bolar’s school district likely has fewer resources than the school she chose for her kids. In other words, black people have been historically robbed of our economic opportunities, leading to a two-tiered reality that we are then imprisoned for attempting to alleviate. That, my friends, is American Racism 101.

This case is also an example of how racial-inequality created during slavery and Jim Crow continues to cripple our nation to this day. There is no logical reason on earth why this mother of two should be dehumanized by going to jail and be left permanently marginalized from future economic and educational opportunities.

Rebecca O. Johnson at Urban Ecology also notes that there is a possibility that the Ohio Department of Education may not revoke Williams-Bolar’s teaching license and Judge Cosgrove may consider expunging the felony conviction.

You can help with increasing political pressure.  Change.org has organized a petition demanding that that Ohio Governor Kasich pardon Ms. Williams-Bolar.  Sign the petition and forward widely!

ETA: This update is from change.org:

Edward Williams, Kelley Williams-Bolar’s father, called to clarify that her decision to enroll her children in the suburban district had nothing to do with the academic quality of the school and was because of safety issues. Williams-Bolar’s house had been broken into and she’d had to file 12 different police reports due to crime in the area, he said. Enrolling the children in the district where her father lived was a safety-based decision, and Williams wants to dispel any rumors that it was based on academics.

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New Zine: Surviving the Witch-Hunt: Battle Notes from Portland’s 82nd Avenue, 2007-2010

Emi Koyama of eminism.org released a new zine entitled, Surviving the Witch-Hunt: Battle Notes from Portland’s 82nd Avenue, 2007-2010.  Here’s the introduction:

Surviving the Witch-Hunt

This story starts in September 2007, when City of Portland abolished controversial Drug Free Zone and Prostitution Free Zone.  These “zones” authorized police to issue “exclusion” orders for anyone who is suspected of drug- or prostitution-related activity without conviction, and arrest those who violate the orders of criminal trespass.

Because these “zones” unfairly targeted certain groups of people based on their race, class and gender, many people protested DFZ/PFZ over the years.  So it was great news when the City finally recognized them for what they were, violation of our civil rights and liberties, and dropped the whole thing.

Ever since, however, neighbours in the previously PFZ areas — especially along NE/SE 82nd Avenue — complained about the increased level of street prostitution and other crimes they associate with it, and how they made their neighbourhood unsafe (and hurt their property values — which probably had more to do with the subprime lending crisis than with the end of PFZ).

The ensuing hysteria have led to the formation of several neighbourhood groups that either seek reinstatement of PFZ and/or other strategies to contain the prostitution “problem.”  Some of these groups are more reasonable than others, but the whole conversation (neighbourhoods, police, city council, media) focused on solutions that center on how police can reduce prostitution.  Tension rose high, and hostile, even hateful rhetoric were exchanged.

At the same time, anti-prostitution feminists entered the discussion, arguing that the problem of prostitution should be solved by cracking down on minor sex trafficking and educating johns how prostitution harms women and children to reduce demand for sexual services.  They use intellectually dishonest arguments to intentionally conflate prostitution and trafficking, which also led to the increased demand for heavy-handed police intervention to “rescue” women and girls (by arresting and imprisoning them).

This booklet compiles some of my writing during this witch-hunt along Portland’s 82nd Avenue, which is just several blocks away from where I live.  Throughout the debate, I have always maintained that the heightened situation on 82nd Avenue is not a law enforcement issue, but a symptom of social and economic injustices in our society.

I also include in this booklet a letter I received from a woman who was charged with the crime of murder for defending herself against an attacker (a pimp who attempted to force her to work for him).  Because she was a 19-year old woman who had worked on 82nd Avenue, instead of a 19-year old attending college, she was demonised by our “concerned” neighbours as a merciless killer.

The zine is a fierce challenge to criminalization and scapegoating as institutional responses to sex work.  Emi illustrates the importance of organizing for economic, housing, and social justice in the struggle to address the violence against people working in the sex trade.

Purchase online for $5, or preview an excerpt!

After Emi released the zine, she learned that, because of the organizing and advocacy of the Sex Workers Outreach Coalition, the City of Portland scrapped a plan to build a “10 bed in-patient rehabilitative housing” facility for women leaving prostitution and is instead giving women financial and other support so they can live in the community.  More on that development in housing justice here.

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Language & Action – 8/21/10

Language & Action spotlights analysis, news, & performance from around the blogosphere that shine a light on critical ideas and action addressing violence against women of color.  Check out the findings for our second installment below!  Plus, woo hoo, thanks for the submissions!  Keep em coming!  If you have suggestions for things to include, please send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com or float it in the comment section…

***

Race, beauty, disability, and symbolism:

Wheelchair Dancer discusses the tension between beauty politics, disability, and the use of a photograph of a woman as an argument for waging war.  She analyzes the recent TIME cover photo of Aisha, a young Afghan woman:

Regardless of how disability plays out in Aisha’s world, the vast majority of readers of TIME live in a culture that understands disability as tragedy. As shocking. As among the worst things that can happen to you (bar death). Mainstream American culture thinks it knows disability and knows how to read it. Ms. Bieber has a history of photographing disabled bodies (there’s an image of a wheelchair user in this video of her “Real Beauty” pictures). But the work she does in the Real Beauty series does not come through in this photograph — perhaps because of the context and placement of the image. Here she (and or the editor) uses Aisha’s disability to trade upon the readership’s sympathies and their horror: this and other unknown kinds of disability are a direct result of the US departure from Afghanistan. This is not about Aisha; it’s about the message of the article.

That women’s rights will be at risk, should the US leave Afghanistan is really not a debatable issue. In fact, looking at Aisha’s story, it seems pretty clear that women’s rights are at risk even while the US is in Afghanistan. So why does the story need Aisha’s disability?

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Legislation to address violence against Native women is signed:

On the Ms. blog, Native feminists without apology, Jessica Yee & Sarah Deer, discuss the recent passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act, which addresses violence against Native Women:

JY: What is the most important part of this bill for people to know about?

That it requires Indian Health Service (IHS) to train their employees on how to respond to rape. That, to me, is huge. The experiences of Native women at IHS when they are raped or sexually assaulted are horrible, and for IHS not to know what to say or do in these instances is unconscionable. The bill now requires them to go on record with policy and procedure–and if that is the only thing that the bill accomplishes, we can be glad for that.

JY: Is there anything you would change about the bill?

SD: I’m always concerned about “law and order” language. It certainly doesn’t protect or help white women, so it’s not going to help Native women. We have to make sure that the systems we set up are Native women-centered.

I wish the bill had language overturning the destructive 1978 Oliphant decision, which concluded that tribal courts do not have jurisdiction over non-Indians. It’s not acceptable to have a non-Native person to come into the tribe and not be held accountable by the tribe.

JY: A thing that somewhat troubles me about the bill is a lot on criminalization and penalization. I’m a prison abolitionist in many senses and I’m very aware of how many Indigenous people are in the criminal justice system unfairly; but more importantly, that these entire systems are not our laws and not our systems.

SD: I agree with you 100 percent. You have to constantly challenge the idea that the Western criminalization system is the answer–it’s actually the cause of our problems. It’s difficult for people to understand that in order to change this, we have to give back sovereignty to tribes.

I’m so pleased that we are now collectively trying to keep things safer in our own communities–we don’t have to replicate white law and order.

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Economic justice in LGBT movement building

In an interview with Harmony Goldberg at Organizing Upgrade, FIERCE Executive Director Rickke Mananzala describes the future of LGBT organizing that includes an emphasis on coalition building for economic justice:

There are pockets of left and progressive LGBT groups that are trying to advance demands outside of the mainstream movement, like the Audre Lorde Project (ALP), Southerners on New Ground (SONG), the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and FIERCE.  Many of these groups are part of a newly formed national alliance of progressive LGBT organizations – the Roots Coalition – that is trying to figure out how to take advantage of these openings. We are trying to figure out what opportunities exist for more progressive national fights. We are looking at both the mainstream issues that are already on the table that we might be able to win immediately and new issues that will push the LGBT movement to the left.

We are doing that by intentionally choosing issues that have an LGBT lens and that – if won – will also impact many other communities. In particular, we are looking to build a stronger bridge between fights focused on LGBT issues with those that are focused on racial and economic justice.  An example of a fight we could consider taking up is the struggle around the impending reauthorization of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), specifically challenging the expansion of the marriage promotion programs that Obama has been pushing.  The current economic crisis has increased the need for welfare programs, but the marriage promotion requirements and strict definitions of family present structural barriers that limit LGBT families’ abilities to access the resources they need to survive.

***

A couple of exciting calls for submissions:

Call for submissions: Deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism – Feminist education now: youth, activism, and intersectionality:

I’m really interested in talking about the intersectionality of feminist education and breaking down the barriers of what constitutes “education”, where that might be, and according to whom. Education does not have to solely be within a school or school-type setting – if it happened on the street, in your kitchen, if it’s not happening at all, if you want it to happen some particular place – I want to hear about it.

Deadline is September 10, 2010.  Contact Jessica Yee at jessica.j.yee@gmail.com for more info.

Call for Submissions on Addiction & Recovery:  Substance: On Addiction and Recovery is a collection of peoples’ experiences with addiction and recovery in radical and/or marginalized communities.

In addition to pieces by individuals, I’d like to include a few pieces about the work that community-based groups have done to address the politics of addiction and recovery and to support those dealing with substance abuse. If you are a member of such a group, please feel free to write.

Deadline is March 7, 2011.  Contact Emily at substancebook at gmail dot com for more information.

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Women in India Use Media, Self Defense, & Direct Action To Organize Against Gender Violence

Sampat Pal Devi and members of the Gulabi Gang

The New York Times profiled three groups in India using community art, media, direct action, self-defense, and community-based responses to resist street violence against women.  Blank Noise is a community art project that was founded by Jasmeen Patheja, and uses Facebook, Twitter, and blogging to mobilize women against street violence.  Here’s an excerpt from the NYT article:

“Blank Noise started as an art project,” Ms. Patheja said recently. “I was experiencing street sexual violence every day, and if not every day it was the threat of it that kept me on guard, hyper and alert. Moreover, it wasn’t being taken seriously by those around me — ‘It happens,’ ‘There’s nothing you can do about it,’ ‘It’s only teasing.”’

According to their Facebook page, Blank Noise “creates events and interventions both on the internet and on the streets of cities in India.”  In 2006, Blank Noise organized a public demonstration of women to confront street sexual violence.

The NYT article also profiled the Pink Chaddi movement, started by Nisha Susan, which began as a response to women being attacked in pubs.

Last year, after Sri Ram Sene, a rightist Hindu party, attacked women in pubs, Ms. Susan began a Facebook group, and the Pink Chaddi movement was born.

Chaddi is slang for underwear, but also for rightist hard-liners. Ms. Susan invited women to send Pramod Muthalik, the head of Sri Ram Sene, pink underwear in protest of his party’s actions and its plans to hold rallies on Valentine’s Day, which it condemns as a foreign holiday that encourages men and women to express their affection in an openly “un-Indian” fashion.

Chaddis poured in from across the country, a deluge of underwear in fuchsia, mauve and rose that forced the hard-liners to cancel their rallies and stop the attacks on women.

Sampath Pal Devi began the Gulabi Gang, a group of women who organize collectively to end gender violence, law enforcement violence, to learn self-defense, and to organize for economic justice. From the article:

Gulabi means “pink” and refers to the color of the saris Ms. Sampath Pal and her band of women wear. The movement has grown from that tiny core of four concerned women to a movement that covers much of rural Uttar Pradesh, one of the most conservative states in India. The brooms have evolved into canes. The Gulabi Gang has thrashed recalcitrant officials and police officers who wouldn’t register cases of domestic violence. It also runs vocational centers that offer practical ways of employment and empowerment for women.

Here’s a video spotlighting the Gulabi Gang’s work:

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