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.

On Mother’s Day and Everyday – Honoring M/others Within Our Social Justice Movements!

On Mother’s Day and Everyday- Honoring M/others Within Our Social Justice Movements!
by tk karakashian tunchez, The New Mythos Project
Originally posted at The New Mythos Project, reposted with permission

I feel so incredibly blessed to live in a time where honoring young, single, teen mamas is FINALLY gaining recognition!

For as long as humans have existed, young mamas (and young families) have too.  Before colonization, many of us came from communities which honored communal living and supporting families of all sorts. As our communities were colonized and industrialization took afoot, these patterns of/for care were severed, and as a result, as the years went on, individuals who did not participate in what was/is considered efficient lifestyles were targeted as “problematic”.   Not surprisingly, this included young/single/teen/poor m/others (a word I use to represent the other-mother, these mamas).   m/others (single/teen/welfare mamas) began to be seen as “burdens”, and “threats” to industrial/ capitalist centered societies.  Instead of valuing the life-giving/life-sustaining resources  m/others bring to the table through their everyday action of “mama-ing”- our societies pathologized, criminalized and generally degraded our  m/otherhoods.  M/other’s are often targeted as “welfare-abusers”, and are blamed for “bad” children, or absent parents.  We undergo daily trauma manifesting in  loss of opportunity, judgment over our parenting, systemic and institutional oppression/exclusion, state-violence against our f/phamilies, the pathologizing & criminalizing of our choices to become parents, withdrawal of support (from systems and within our intimate relationships), and just generally degrading/negative messages in mainstream media, and everyday interactions. Choosing to be a young/teen/welfare m/other is often a hard choice, even if the choice to be pregnant is easy.  We often find ourselves judged, for “throwing our lives away”, or “choosing” to “make our lives harder”.   What’s been  even harder for me to witness and experience, is the exclusion of our m/otherhood as politicized work within social justice movements.

Despite all the negative messaging surrounds our m/otherhood, there are plenty of us that are living lives that counteract the myths of young families. We are working together to manifest new futures, full of hope, and collective transformation.  We are practicing our traditional healing tools within our families, communities, and societies to create stronger, more just worlds.  We are working (HARD) to participate in social justice movements.

As a teen/ welfare/ queer/ mama of color, my choice to become a mama at 16 was not an easy one.  To be honest, I was totally unprepared for what was to come.

In fact, I am still trying to get my bearings (and my daughter has just recently turned 18).   As I’ve grown up, so have my children.   They have become beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, compassionate young adults who are giving back to their communities.  No doubt the views of our communities and myself have helped to shape their  perspectives about the world, and their political analysis’.   They are the children of a radical woman of color, and though they are completely independent, they have been influenced as  I have become more and more politicized.   As I began organizing over their life span, they watched as  my organizing work often hit home, work that I did because it directly impacted me or my ph/family (chosen and blood family). Organizing for poor people’s rights, immigration & welfare reform, anti-police violence, youth-led movements, queer organizing, even topics like clean-water action & food justice, all had direct impact on me and my family.  At the end of the day, I couldn’t go back to the safety of my house, and hang up my organizing suit.  I had to face the one’s that mattered most, my children, and feel good about the work that I’d been doing.  I gave a lot of heart, soul, love to the work that I did as an organizer outside of my house but the work that mattered most to me always happened inside my home.  I always knew that the work I did inside the house, the valuable m/other work (which included curriculum building, valuable solidarity work, advocacy, and sisterhood building- just to name a tiny portion) was never considered politicized work.   The networks that I built with other m/others, the kitchen-table solidarity sessions, the late-night talks with teenagers (both my own children, and youth that I mentored), the healing work that only happens within our homes but allows us to continue in all the work that we do, those pieces that are so fragile, vulnerable and priceless, that work was  NEVER considered political.   After years of realizing this, living this, I started to feel like there was no space for m/other’s in the movement(s).    Admittedly, over the last few years, I began to notice some recognition of “mothering” within social justice work,  however, it mostly seemed to be predicated on the idea that “mother’s” had partners, or resources, or support- and for many m/other’s this was/is not the case.

Also within the last few years, I’ve been in more and more social justice spaces that are beginning to acknowledge the valuable work that m/other’s in movement(s) are doing.  Often times, this acknowledgment has come from other m/others, within private spaces but it has been enough to ensure that the valuable m/other work that movements are often supported by, if not altogether built on, begins to be visibilized.

For those of you that are organizer’s who want to make sure you are supporting m/other’s in your work here are some tangible, and simple ways that show us you are aware of our work, lives, and contributions to movement building- and some ways that can help make entering spaces more accessible.

If you are organizing National and local convenings (such as conference’s or workshops):

1. provide free (or sliding scale- with nobody turned away) childcare;

2. offering traveling stipends that cover both single mama’s travel AND their children; or

3. create  the invaluable space for m/other’s to meet and build with each other (just as they do with other any other marginalized identity group.

Conversely, we know when spaces are not recognizing, welcoming or honoring m/other’s because they 1. do not offer childcare, or expect m/other’s to arrange their own childcare (a possibility for many partnered parents but not for many single mamas), 2. cover only the cost of a m/other’s travel but not the cost of any single mama’s children (as was recently the case in during a National Reproductive Right’s conference), or; 3.  don’t acknowledge the political work of m/othering by downplaying our identities, the political aspect of our m/othering & by  not centering our lives as quintesential identities which require as much solidarity, space, and honor as any other identity, or movement building piece.

I am sharing all of this information with you today, because, as I said at the beginning of this article, I feel so honored to live in a time where the work and lives of young/single mamas is coming to the forefront of some of our movements.

Organizations, collectives , and individuals like: http://mamasofcolorrising.wordpress.com/about/http://www.poormagazine.org/ have been doing the valuable with mamas for mamas organizing work (many of them m/others too).

There’s also countless of individual m/other’s who have long been involved in movement building- both within their own families by raising their children- and publicly by blogging, zine-making, and creating forums for other creative, political organizing.  Some of these sister’s include long-time zinemaker and blogger- Hermana Resist!, and general bad-ass, community organizer and VivirLatino! blogger   Mamita Mala.  They are just two of the many m/other’s whose work (generally) exists without non-profit support, and who continue building radical movements while raising amazing young people.

However, despite the ongoing contributions that m/others make to creating more just worlds, we still need so much support to shift both mainstream America’s, and our own social justice movement’s  perspectives of our m/otherhood from detrimental and negative to courageous and politicized!

Yes, we are calling on our movements to acknowledge radical mama’s  everyday m/othering work as political work.  Raising our children is a political action!  We are working hard to participate in movement’s that often excludie us, and we wont allow this to happen anymore.  We affirm our m/otherhood’s as politicized, and we expect the same from you.  We say this out of love because we want to continue to grow, participate, and share with those of you who have never thought about m/otherhood this way, and who may be exploring these thoughts for the first time.

Over the last year, I’ve been traveling across the US with The New Mythos Project, building relationships with m/others and community caregivers that are invested in creating and participating in movements that are centered on well-being, spirituality, and connection.  The long, and multiple conversation’s I’ve had with people across the nation, have all centered on re-thinking how social justice movement’s are built & continue to exist. I’ve heard back from many m/others, myself included, that the current organizing model which most social justice movements use excludes our unique and important needs as single/teen/welfare mamas.

We are forming our own networks to begin to address how to build solidarity around our political in-home and out of home work… these networks are grounded in very real, relationship building.  We are our sister’s keepers! And, whenever possible, we are creating interactive healing spaces where mama’s can re-generate, and make themselves stronger.  Part of building this network is celebrating that our experiences make us different.  We don’t share the same experiences as the “idealized” mother, and that’s fine with us! We know that our experiences make us who we be, the strong, vibrant, vulnerable beings we are. So, it is my honor this year to breathe deep, and humbly share with you two action’s which visibilize the valuable work, and lives,  of m/others!!!

I can’t tell you how many years have gone by where Mother’s Day has passed, and I’ve looked around to see all the celebration directed towards mother’s who enjoy the privilege of parenting in a traditional two-parent, heteronormative household.   In checking out these events, please think about m/other’s that might live in your community!  How are they being celebrated this year?  How can you take a vow to stand in solidarity with them in the upcoming year?   If you are an organizer, are you making space and sharing resources so that m/other’s are present at the table in your organizing efforts? If you are organizing on efforts from food justice to media justice, are you taking lead from m/other’s?  Or, are you asking them to check their mama identities at the door in order to participate with you?I hope lots of you can make it out to either of these events (or the other’s that are happening nation wide), stand in solidarity with our sistaz!!!

Today, and everyday, I honor you m/othersisters. You are building a future I want to live in, and I am honored to see you shine.
xo.tk

1. Young Families Day Celebration!

This event will be Saturday, May 7, 2011 from 11am-3pm at Civic Center Hall in San Francisco, USA. (For more information on this event check out their FB event page)

The Center for Young Women’s Development , California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice are organizing this day of  resource sharing, networking , changing stereotypes, kids activities, free food,  and celebrating what makes our YOUNG families strong!!!!

They are also working on a Strong Families initiative which honors all families: Check out their awesome new video Honoring Young Mamas!

2. Mother’s Day Liberation Rally and Community Supper 2011

Saturday May 7th 3pm through Sunday May 8th 7pm : Woodland Park & Rhizome Cafe, Vancouver BC, Unceded and Occupied Coast Salish Territories.

(For more information on this event, and this groups work check out their FB Event Page)

The Mother’s Day Liberation Rally & Community Supper 2011 is organized by the Committee for Single Mothers on the Move, which is led by a group of low-income single mothers of colour, the Breakthrough Mamas, and our allies, including Vancouver Status of Women, No One is Illegal-Vancouver, the Philippine Women’s Centre and the Transformative Communities Project Society.

We struggle from many places of resilience and urgency against the perverse conditions of systemic impoverishment, exploitation, violence and isolation imposed by a hetero-patriarchal, colonial, racist and capitalist society. We celebrate the passion, creativity, survival and power of people who mother under oppressive conditions to (re)make a world where love is more possible.

We demand RESPECT, COMMUNITY AND DIGNITY for all low-income mothers and children, and have identified the following top priorities for political struggle – with increased access, participation, and influence by low-income mothers and children:

HOUSING
HEALTH
LIVING WAGES
TRANSPORTATION
CHILDCARE
STATUS
LEGAL SUPPORT
EDUCATION
CULTURAL INTEGRITY
FREEDOM FROM VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
END TO CHILD APPREHENSIONS
SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE SELF-DETERMINATION
GENDER LIBERATION

This Mother’s Day weekend, we call on all people who desire liberating and just conditions of mothering to join us for a day of celebration, inspiration, community-building and resistance!

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Black Women Re-Defining Agency, Organizing for Reproductive Justice

by Alisa Bierria

Right-wing organizations continue to purchase billboards that attack black women and our reproductive lives.  Purchased by a group called That’s Abortion, one billboard recently showed up on the corner of  Watts Street and Sixth Avenue in New York City, featuring a photo of a black girl and the caption, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

Lamar Advertising, which owns the billboard, agreed to take the ad down, but this isn’t the first time these kinds of ads have gone up (last year, it took a movement of women of color in Georgia to battle similar billboards in the state) and, as ColorLines rightly notes, it won’t be the last.  Indeed, the Georgia billboards have now shown up in Los Angeles.

Sistersong & Trust Black Women, released some helpful and sharp talking points to counter the violent messaging of these billboard campaigns.  One of the talking points that I particularly appreciated highlights the agency of black women:

Reinforce agency of black women
African American women have struggled to control when and how we have children for centuries. Access to birth control and abortion services are vital to our ability to have lives with dignity. Every African American woman who utilizes her full range of health care options, including abortion services, does so based on her own private circumstances and must always be able to do so with dignity and safety. We trust black women and recognize that each woman who chooses abortion does so, not because she is ill-informed or a dupe, but because she is making the best decision for herself and her family.

This is very much on point, and I think it’s interesting that we have to make a case for black women’s agency.  How do we describe an agency that is exercised on a terrain of political conditions designed to dehumanize and undermine us?  As it relates to reproductive rights organizing, is the mainstream pro-choice framework useful when the available options from which black women can “choose” often reinforce punitive reproductive policies that threaten black womens’ bodies, reproduction, and lives?

Myth-making & the perils of “choice”

Consider the following cases of black mothers acting as agents to protect their children:

Kelly Williams-Bolar, an aspiring teacher and single mother in Ohio, experienced a break-in in her home and filed 12 different police reports related to crime in her neighborhood.  Worried about her children’s safety, she “chose” to falsify records to gain access for her children to a safer school in another district.  She was jailed, fined for thousands of dollars, and could potentially lose her ability to teach because of a felony record.

Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, an army cook and single mother in Georgia, was called to deploy to the war on Afghanistan, but her mother, who initially agreed to take care of Hutchinson’s son, could not do so because she was “choosing” to care for her own child, a sick sister, and a daycare center based in her home.  Faced with the threat of her child being put in foster care by the state, Hutchinson “chose” to not go to Afghanistan until she could figure out a different plan.  She was arrested, nearly court-martialed and incarcerated, and has lost some veterans’ benefits.

These black women are agents and acted deliberately to protect their children, but the political and social conditions in which they acted — racialized poverty, militarism, education inequity, gender violence — criminalize their mothering acts.  Further, when black women analyze and describe the context of racism and misogyny that shapes the options available to them, they are accused of not taking responsibility for their actions, of not recognizing their own agency.  See this comment on the Kelly Williams-Bolar post on this blog as an example.  Suggesting that black women in situations like Williams-Bolar’s do not take responsibility for their actions is a disingenuous position because there is a legacy of black women being constructed as intrinsically blameworthy no matter what they choose.

If black women choose to have abortions, will we be publicly demonized, criminalized, and ostracized in our own communities?

If we choose to have children, will we be pathologized and publicly blamed for creating social burdens on the state?

Flyers from C.R.A.C.K./Project Prevention who disproportionately targeted black neighborhoods with flyers like this one. Their original billboards read "Don't Let A Pregnancy Ruin Your Drug Habit."

If we choose to take birth control, will we be coerced into taking dangerous, provider-controlled contraceptives or risk being subjects of potentially fatal experimentation?

If we choose to protect our children, as Williams-Bolar & Hutchinson did, will we be criminalized and denied access to social resources and opportunities to live in safe environments?

Many of these consequences of “choice” land differently depending on where black women are socially located with respect to class, disability, skin color, sexuality, gender expression, formal education, etc.  However, the targeting and the blaming are often premised on a mythic construction of black women in general.  For example, Dorothy Roberts describes how a caricature of black women motivated blame-based legislation during the health care reform negotiations.  She writes,

Under the program envisioned in the House bill, government-sponsored medical professionals are charged with exhorting fertility control among poor women, based on the mistaken premise that reproduction among the poor leads to crime, neglect, low educational attainment, and dependency. …

The House health care bill codifies some of the worst stereotypes of low-income mothers, suggesting that bad reproductive choices and misguided family practices make their families poor.  Similarly, the provision blames low-income mothers for raising criminals and accuses them of maintaining unstable and neglectful home lives for their children.

Black mothers in particular have been subjects of deeply-embedded stereotypes about sexual and reproductive irresponsibility that have supported a long legacy of repressive state policies, including sterilization and coerced birth control.  The mythical “welfare queen,” portrayed as a black woman who deliberately becomes pregnant to increase the amount of her monthly check, was propaganda used to support welfare reform.  Several state legislators even proposed bills requiring women to use birth control or undergo sterilization as a condition of receiving welfare benefits.  Immigrant women and other women of color have suffered similar injustices that devalue their reproductive decision making, as well as their parental rights and family practices.

Stereotypes such as “welfare queen,” which is grounded in a long history of myth-making about black women, become entrenched as “common sense,” so it seems obvious to some that black women’s reproductive and sexual choices are causing “social problems” such as crime, poverty, disease, etc.   This view puts black women in the absurd position of not being imagined as human, but still somehow held responsible as bad choice-making agents.    This perverse “logic” is then used as justification for why others (the state, corporations, and even our families and communities) must violently wield control over black women’s bodies.

We might also consider the “choices” available to black women as political agents in a moment when there is a comprehensive movement to end affordable abortion services and access to  birth control.  This includes the recent House passage of a bill to completely defund Title X, which provides funding for community-based health clinics — including local health departments, tribal organizations, public and private nonprofits, faith-based organizations, hospitals, and community health centers — relied on by low income women for reproductive and sexual health services.  This is clearly a vicious attack on women and our right to health care.

However, some services funded by Title X are not always safe for women of color, sometimes traffic in racialized population control programs, and, because they rely on funding from the state, are constantly vulnerable to policies that harm women such as “gag rules” which prohibit doctors from  discussing abortion with and providing truthful information to their patients.  (For details, please check out Roberts’ groundbreaking book, Killing the Black Body, especially chapter 5.)  We should resist the organized assault on sexual and reproductive health care from the right, but we must also question the “choice” to either mobilize for a health care system that can be deeply problematic for women of color or risk the very real possibility that more women with low or no income will be without affordable reproductive health services.

Can we reach for a politic that’s not just about access to options that result in punitive consequences and reinforce violent perceptions of black women, but instead centers our humanity, dignity, and the real conditions of our lives?   Can we create openings for black women to complexly define ourselves as agents on our own terms?

Self-definition & insurgent agency

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.  – Audre Lorde

Cover of Outlaw Midwives, Vol 2. Art by Soraya Jean Louis

Agency is a politicized experience.  Oppression can distort any choice we make into some racist and sexist fantasy of expectations, which, however untrue, is  legitimized with institutional power and can be used as a justification to hurt us.  However, we can develop insurgent agencies that acknowledge the conditions of oppression that shape our lives, but also make space for us to actively invent alternative definitions, options, and opportunities that reflect our actual selves.  This helps us make choices that don’t instantly trigger blame, but instead allows us to be creative, responsive, deliberate, and genuinely accountable.   There are many organizers, collectives, and mothers who are gathering testimonies, shifting paradigms, and making space for this kind of work.   Here are just a few examples:

The upcoming book, This Bridge Called My Baby: Legacies of Radical Mothering, which is still open for submissions (deadline: April 1, 2011).  From the call:

All mothers have the potential to be revolutionary. Some mothers stand on the shoreline, are born and reborn here, inside the flux of time and space, overcoming the traumatic repetition of oppression. Our very existence is disobedience to the powers that be.

At times, in moments, we as mothers choose to stand in a zone of claimed risk and fierce transformation, the frontline. In infinite ways, both practiced and yet to be imagined,  we put our bodies between the violent repetition of the norm and the future we already deserve, exactly because our children deserve it too.

The amazing outlaw midwives zine.  Download the zine here.  From the contribution of Black Women Birth Resistance:

Our mission is to gather birth stories that name the traumatic birth incidences of Black women & lift up our resistance to the social control of Black women’s bodies by the birth industry in the South.

We will use these collective stories to build strategy and action towards responding to and transforming our birth experiences.

Young Women United in Albuquerque is mobilizing against the criminalization of mothers and Mamas of Color Rising in Austin is organizing for increased access to birthing options.  Together, they have launched a survey to learn more about the lives and experiences of mamas of color in the US:

Concerned with the way our US society and government treats caretakers, especially poor and working class mothers of color, this survey was created by members of Young Women United in Albuquerque, NM and Mamas of Color Rising in Austin, TX as well as individual women across the country.

We put together this survey as a way to hear from you, Mamas of Color, about your experiences, feelings, ideas, and knowledge as a parent in the US. In gathering this information, we hope to identify issues affecting our lives, find common experiences and collectively organize as Mamas of Color.

These organizers, and many others, are creating breathing room for us to define ourselves rather than being interpreted through a distorted logic that create set-up scenarios disguised as “choice.”   These strategies support us to conjure and create subversive opportunities to actualize insurgent agencies for self-definition and movement building.

Alisa Bierria is a member of INCITE! and the New Orleans Women’s Health & Justice Initiative.  She is also a grad student in philosophy at Stanford and works with the UC Berkeley Center for Race & Gender.

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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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Dec 4th in Austin, TX: Mamas of Color Rising End of Year Benefit Party

Join Mamas of Color Rising (MOCR) for a night of:

Women of Color Performers and Dj’s
A Benefit Dance Party

Sat Dec 4th 6:30pm-12 midnight
(6:30pm-8pm special kids activities-kids welcome all night long)
held at the Historic Victory Grill
1104 E 11th Street, Austin, TX 78702

$5-20 donation at the door

Mamas of Color Rising is launching a campaign to increase access and choices for pre-natal care and birthing services for low-income women of color in Texas. The campaign is pushing for Texas Medicaid to cover Midwifery services and is creating a pool of volunteer women of color Labor Assistants (Doulas).

Help us raise the funds needed to train 20 Women of Color to become Doulas in Austin so that we can strengthen our MOCR community of mutual support!

Music!  Free Food!  Cash Bar!  Raffle!

for more info, go to http://mamasofcolorrising.wordpress.com/
or email mamasofcolorrising@gmail.com

Find out more about the history of the venue for this event, the Historic Victory Grill in East Austin (read about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_Grill).

Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/incitenews#!/event.php?eid=169046836450783

 

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Mamas Action Project + Mamas of Color Survey

A Report from Mamas of Color Rising:

Mamas Action Project

On May 9th, 2010, Mamas of Color Rising realized their first Mother’s Day Action Project to demand midwifery through Medicaid in Texas. After brainstorming and bringing their ideas together, MOCR decided that to bring awareness to the community about the midwifery model that women of color lack access to, they would hand out flowers to women of color with a palmcard attached with reasons why Medicaid in Texas SHOULD cover midwifery (reasons on posting below).

The Mamas gathered in a parking lot of a grocery store which they thought would be supportive of their work, being that the majority of their customers are families/women of color. However, the store managers failed to demonstrate interest in their work. The Mamas being the revolutionary group that they are, proceeded to gather in the parking lot and continued with their work, aware that their presence was not wanted.

As the members of MOCR approached women of color in the parking lot, offering other women a flower to acknowledge the work that they do/ did as a mother, some were surprised, perplexed, responsive, and the majority thankful. Some, even offered donations for the flower, and then it was clarified by a Mama that no donation was needed and that the flower was simply a symbol of acknowledgment from one woman of color to another.

After passing out nearly 300 carnations to women, the store security approached a member and notified her that they were not allowed to be passing out flowers. Lucky for the Mamas, they had already made contact with nearly 300 mothers with whom they had the opportunity to chat with and bring their message across to.

This moment of accomplishment within a community of motherhood had to be captured.

***

Young Women United (Albuquerque, NM) & Mamas of Color Rising (Austin, TX) also posted a nation-wide survey to find out what’s most important for mamas of color. They write:

Mamas of Color….how are you doing out there?

Concerned with the way our US society and government treats caretakers, especially poor and working class mothers of color, this survey was created by members of Young Women United in Albuquerque, NM and Mamas of Color Rising in Austin, TX as well as individual women across the country.

We put together this survey as a way to hear from you, Mamas of Color, about your experiences, feelings, ideas, and knowledge as a parent in the US. In gathering this information, we hope to identify issues affecting our lives, find common experiences and collectively organize as Mamas of Color.

revolutionarymamas@gmail.com

We are Mamas of Color, together creating a vision of how we want birthing, parenting and caretaking to be in a more just and loving world.

You can find the survey here.

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