Bad Home Training: An Open Letter to Melissa Flournoy of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast

Originally posted on Women's Health And Justice Initiative:


A little back story:

Last night, August 13th, there was a screening of We Always Resist: Trust Black Women. The documentary touches on the ways that the pro choice framework abandons black women. It talks about solution oriented community activism and the ways that black women are left in the lurch when the conversation about reproductive rights focuses only on the single issue of abortion.  After the film, local activists Deon Haywood of Women With A Vision and Paris Hatcher of SPARK and Race Forward got together to do a panel discussion about their work and the film.

Melissa Flournoy, Louisiana Director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, was the first person to speak. She proceeded to rudely derail the entire conversation. 

This is my response as a member of the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, a queer black femme woman, a New Orleans native, and a daughter of a mother who…

View original 1,959 more words

Free Palestine is a Feminist Issue

“I was more than terrified,” [Sena Alissa] says while holding her newborn baby girl in a bed in Gaza City’s struggling al-Shifa hospital, 20 minutes from Nuseirat. “I’m giving birth in war.” (source)

The latest Israeli attack on occupied Palestine in the form of an ongoing military assault on the people living in the Gaza Strip has made an already unbearable situation much more devastating.  Women, children, and elders represent the majority of the hundreds of people who have lost their lives.  The assaults are a form of reproductive violence by creating conditions that increase miscarriages, pre-term labor, and stillbirths.  Israel is currently targeting sewage systems, worsening an existing water crisis created by the Israel blockade of supplies to Gaza, and depriving hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents of clean water.  Free Palestine is, and always has been, a feminist issue.

People around the world are mobilizing direct actions to denounce Israel’s brutal violence and ongoing occupation.  Here’s a list of convergencesBelow is INCITE!’s statement of endorsement of the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, framing the occupation with a race & gender analysis. 

INCITE_BDS_Page_1 INCITE_BDS_Page_2

Here are handouts: PDF, JPEG Front, JPEG Back
The statement is in text below.  Also visit this call from ASWAT to LGBTQ organizations to take action against the bombing of Gaza civilians. And download and place stickers or bookmarks where you see items that should be boycotted.  TAKE ACTION!

INCITE! endorses the Palestinian call for BDS—Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions for Palestine because…

  • Israel is a settler colonial state founded on the ethnic cleansing of 80% of the indigenous Palestinian people…
  • And because Israel considers Palestinian women a “demographic threat,”…
  • And because one in four women in Gaza, and 4 in 5 children there, are undernourished…
  • And because the siege on Gaza was described as “catastrophic” and a “prelude to genocide” even before the latest murderous assault…
  • And because Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and a UN-commissioned independent report have concluded that Israel’s offensive in Gaza amounted to “crimes against humanity”…
  • And because the restrictions imposed by Israel have resulted in a 58% increase in miscarriages among Palestinian women in the West Bank in a single year…
  • And because Israel celebrates the declining Palestinian birth rate as a success, while encouraging Jewish women to have more children…
  • And because Israel promotes itself as a haven for gay people, while barring queer Palestinians from participating in Pride day celebrations…
  • And because Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli soldiers with no right to due process, and are imprisoned without any charges against them…
  • And because our tax dollars are used, against our will, to create a living hell for Palestinian women and their families…
  • And because, since 2000, nearly 6500 Palestinians have been killed, including over 1400 children, and 40,000 have been injured…
  • And because, since 2000, 20,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished to allow for Israeli “natural growth,”…
  • And because Israel has resisted all official attempts to force it to comply with international law and end its violation of Palestinian human rights…
  • And because Israeli control and domination of the geographic terrain and resources of Palestine deny Palestinian families the right to free mobility, clean water, food, and other basic living necessities…
  • And because reports of torture and sexual violence of Palestinian men and women political prisoners and detainees violate international human rights law…
  • And because Israel’s entrenched system of discrimination and segregation constitutes an apartheid system as harsh as South Africa’s old system…
  • And because the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement played a major role in ending apartheid in South Africa, and is the model and inspiration of the Palestinian people today…
  • And because Palestinian civilian society, not their corrupt “leaders,” is calling upon the international community to show its solidarity and support by engaging in a similar consistent and comprehensive movement…

We can support the Global BDS movement by engaging in boycotting Israeli products everyday.

For more info on the global BDS movement, please visit:
http://www.bsdmovement.net/
http://usacbi.org/

Solidarity for Baby Veronica

Keep Veronica Home

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 9.24.16 PM

Written by the Denver Chapter of INCITE! and informed by the work of many, including Andrea Smith’s work in her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Please scroll to the bottom for action steps.

On June 25, 2013, Justice Alito issued a ruling on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court stating the Indian Child Welfare Act was incorrectly applied by the South Carolina Supreme Court, which had previously given Dusten Brown custody of his biological child.  Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s order, the South Carolina Supreme Court immediately issued that Veronica’s adoption by the Capobianco family be finalized and she be transitioned back to her adoptive family. Chief Justice Toal refused all petitions for rehearing and closed the case, sending the ruling straight to the Charleston County Family Court to complete the transfer of Veronica from Brown to the Capobianco.  On July 31, 2013, the family court issued the Capobiancos with their official adoption decree.

Breaking news: According to USA Today, The Oklahoma Supreme Court has granted an emergency stay to keep a 3-year-old Cherokee girl with her biological father and heard arguments from his lawyers and those of the girl’s adoptive parents today, September 3rd, 2013, in a closed hearing. This case is not over yet and we must continue to spread awareness and advocate for Baby Veronica.

Why Denver INCITE! supports Baby Veronica:

1. Heteropatriarchal supremacy hurts all communities of color.

The Denver Chapter of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence stands behind Dusten Brown as the rightful father of Baby Veronica and opposes the state’s continual displays of dominance over people of color and blatant disregard for the sovereignty of indigenous people. We must question the legitimacy of the settler nation’s actions and laws, which continue to promote colonialism and genocide. We fully believe that colonialism is not over and is demonstrated in cases such as Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl which shows the bias and true function of the law. Although all communities of color are harmed in different ways, colonialism and patriarchy continue to be a threat to all people of color. In “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy”, Andrea Smith (scholar and co-founder of INCITE!) discusses how slavery, genocide, colonialism, orientalism, and war all function to support white heteropatriarchal supremacy. Additionally, adoption cases in the U.S. continue to tear apart indigenous families and families of color at disproportionate rates, due to the effects of criminalization and poverty resulting from capitalism and colonialism.

2. The law threatens feminism by undermining non-nuclear families.

How can progressives and feminists continue to fight for the “separation of church and state” when presidents such as George W. Bush have openly supported faith-based initiatives through organizations that attempt to separate families of color? The agency which Veronica’s birth mother contacted, Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency, is the same organization George W. Bush has publicly thanked. Furthermore, the attorney representing the Capobianco family is also representing the adoptive family of Baby Desari, which is another case in which a South Carolina family has attempted to seize a Native child. As Laura Briggs deduces, it seems suspicious that both children were displaced from their birth families by the state of South Carolina, which she explains is a state where to “have standing in an adoption case, fathers must have lived with the birth mother for at least six months prior to the birth of the child, and to have provided financial support, neither of which Brown had done.” Briggs further questions how feminists are not threatened by the notion of an unmarried father exercising his right to have a voice in the adoption case of his biological child. She explains how with 48 percent of children being born to single mothers, it is an attack to feminism that some states are claiming “ICWA should only apply when it disrupts an ‘existing Indian family,’ a standard that has been interpreted very narrowly—a married heterosexual couple living on a reservation”.  The state favors conservative notions of family, threatening both single parents and LGBTQ families.

In Andrea Smith’s book Conquest, she addresses how the “patriarchal society is a dysfunctional system based on domination and violence” and shares how “Karen Warren argues that patriarchal society is a dysfunctional system that mirrors the dysfunctional nuclear family”. If marriage is the only way to access the “privilege” of raising one’s own children, we see a narrow interpretation of civil liberties excludes many people. When the white heteropatriarchal state chooses to uphold law over bloodline connection, we see how the law fails to protect those of us who are most marginalized.

3. The theft of Baby Veronica echoes a long history of theft from Native people.

Smith also argues states that “in order to colonize a people whose society was not hierarchical, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy. Patriarchal gender violence is the process by which colonizers inscribe hierarchy and domination on the bodies of the colonized”. We see this institutional patriarchy play out repeatedly throughout history. For example, Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. William McIntosh (1823) has many parallels to Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (2013). The 1823 ruling stated that the “U.S. government holds exclusive rights to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or conquest”. The courts upheld that because Native people did not own land legally, the state could therefore claim ownership and grant ownership to other parties without consent of Native people. The Native inhabitants were seen as being people to be protected and relocated, while not granted the agency to own land. Similarly, we see the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling, favoring the adoptive couple, making similar arguments below:

(a) Section 1912(f) conditions the involuntary termination of parental rights on a heightened showing regarding the merits of the parent’s “continued custody of the child.” The adjective “continued” plainly refers to a pre-existing state under ordinary dictionary definitions. The phrase “continued custody” thus refers to custody that a parent already has (or at least had at some point in the past). As a result, §1912(f) does not apply where the Indian parent never had custody of the Indian child. This reading comports with the statutory text, which demonstrates that the ICWA was designed primarily to counteract the unwarranted removal of Indian children from Indian families. See §1901(4). But the ICWA’s primary goal is not implicated when an Indian child’s adoption is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights. Non-binding guidelines issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) demonstrate that the BIA envisioned that §1912(f)’s standard would apply only to termination of a custodial parent’s rights. Under this reading, Biological Father should not have been able to invoke §1912(f) in this case because he had never had legal or physical custody of Baby Girl as of the time of the adoption proceedings. Pp. 7–11.

The argument being made is that Brown did not have the right of custody to begin with and that ICWA does not protect a right that never existed. We see a connection between colonizers’ justification of land ownership as “established by God” and the modern day colonizers’ justification of ownership of a baby girl as “established by law”. In the words of Andrea Smith, “Native bodies will continue to be seen as expendable and inherently violable as long as they continue to stand in the way of the theft of Native lands”, or a child in this instance. Both Baby Veronica and Dusten Brown are being moved from the jurisdiction of one state to another, as agents owned and operated by U.S. empire.

4. The U.S. has a longstanding history of using Christian imperialism to take Native children from their homes and into boarding schools and forced adoptions.

Conservative concepts of what constitutes a family have been in existence since settler America, so much so that white supremacy and Christian imperialism are closely represented in the law. In the 17th century, Puritan missionaries attempted to “civilize” Natives by separating children from their indigenous biological families. Due to Grant’s Peace Policy in 1869, the state funded Christian missionaries’ attempts to colonize Natives through Christian imperialism. In 2013, we continue to see how white supremacy and Christian imperialism have worked hand in hand to uproot and dismiss Native sovereignty by taking the law into the state’s jurisdiction and not those of tribal courts.

In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Welfare Act (ICWA), as a response to the absurd rate at which children were taken from tribes and put into foster care, adoption, and boarding schools. The majority of these children were taken because Native families did not conform to the dominant society’s view of nuclear family norms. For example, many Native children reside with many adults and extended family members, but because two biological parents are not in the picture, the state defines this type of parenting as “neglect”. Both cultural and physical assimilation have been and continue to be forced upon children. Although taking indigenous children from their Native homes initially began with the realization that cultural genocide is simply more affordable than physical genocide, violence began to be disguised as a form of charity from the church and the state, two historically violent and intertwined systems. We see the abduction of a child disguised as proper caretaking in a privileged Western mindset. The problem with the “white savior” is their inability to see damage caused due to misguided beliefs that one is “saving” a child from families that dare be in poverty or have non-nuclear definitions of families, rather than seeing the structural and historical roots that have caused poverty and annihilated both the resources and sovereignty of Native people. Christian right groups continue to organize against against ICWA, claiming it encourages abortion and stands in the way of adoption. This belief has led to an abduction of Indian children into the adoption and foster care system, continuing colonialism and keeping children from their ancestral and cultural roots. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs speaks to the shared blame of the state and the church in “the loss of language through forced English speaking, the loss of traditional ways of being on the land…and the learned behavior of despising Native identity.” Through adoption, the state attempts to extinguish indigenous people from history and existence.

5. The law will criminalize people of color to force them into submission.

“More than 30,000 courageous individuals came together to stand up for Veronica’s rights – we became her voice” is the motto of Save Veronica, a conservative organization backing the Capobiancos. Their website also exclaims “22 days – number of days Veronica has been kept illegally from her parents”. Twenty-two days and counting of “illegal” holding of a child contrasted to centuries of domination by the U.S. empire shows how the government continues to criminalize people of color for holding onto their humanity and rights. Propaganda used to incriminate Dusten Brown as partaking in “illegal” activity is similar to the way many people of color have been incriminated as aliens to the state. From undocumented immigrants being made to be “illegal” to the violence and incarceration of black/brown folks on the basis of racial profiling to the removal of a baby girl from her family and land, we are all threatened by the law and its limitations.

6. Our families are not safe when it is legally justifiable to separate them.

Coya White Hat- Artichoker draws a “parallel between what is happening to Native children in the United States and what is happening to immigrant children through the deportation process”.  In accordance with our founding pillars of unity, the Denver Chapter of INCITE! recognizes the state as the central organizer of violence which oppresses women of color and our communities. We recognize these expressions of violence against women of color as including colonialism, police brutality, immigration policies, and reproductive control.

7. The SCT decision denying the rights of the Cherokee Nation are based on a eugenicist blood quantum politics that racializes Native peoples rather than recognizing the sovereignty of Native nations.

According to Coya White Hat- Artichoker, “The Cherokee determine citizenship through lineage. Veronica’s membership in the Cherokee Nation is not defined by a measured blood quantum but rather she is Cherokee because her father is an enrolled member of the tribe.  As a citizen recognized by the Cherokee Nation, Brown’s parental rights should be protected by the ICWA, as that is the intent of the law.  It was designed to protect Native children and Indigenous nations by prioritizing adoptions from within the tribe.”

Jacqueline Keeler in Native Condition shares how “we must do away with blood quantum across the board. It taints Tribal Sovereignty and citizenship to thoroughly for the public to accept and those who want to reduce or eliminate tribal power are finding it a handy tool for turning public opinion against us. Even Supreme Court Justice Alito began his majority opinion saying, “this case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2 percent (3/256) Cherokee.” This despite the fact that the Cherokee Nation does not even use blood quantum as a requirement for membership but it was the question most asked by the Conservative Justices when considering the case. Justice Sotomayer in her dissent had to correct this presumption that blood and thus race were in anyway relevant to the decision at hand. But the writing is on the wall and in the Justice’s questions; blood quantum is political death for Tribes and we must give it the heave-ho.”

In Solidarity,

The Denver Chapter of INCITE!

_______________________________

What can we do? 

1. Tweet at Governor Mary Fallin @GovMaryFallin who signed extradition papers for Veronics’s biological father. Tell her you don’t agree with her comments:

“Unfortunately, it has become clear that Dusten Brown is not acting in good faith. He has disobeyed an Oklahoma court order to allow the Capobiancos to visit their adopted daughter and continues to deny visitation. He is acting in open violation of both Oklahoma and South Carolina courts, which have granted custody of Veronica to the Capobiancos. Finally, he has cut off negotiations with the Capobiancos and shown no interest in pursuing any other course than yet another lengthy legal battle.

“As governor, I am committed to upholding the rule of law. As a mother, I believe it is in the best interests of Veronica to help end this controversy and find her a permanent home. For both of these reasons, I have signed the extradition order to send Mr. Brown to South Carolina.” 

Email her here or call her at (405) 521-2342.

2. Contact Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, who signed warrant for extradition of Dusten Brown. Call her at (803) 734-2100 or email her here.

2. Ask organizations that you are a part of to put out similar statements or sign onto ours to show support. This is an issue that threatens all of us.

3. Simply sign on to our statement by emailing suegene.park@gmail.com or leaving a comment in the comment box.

4. Educate others on this issue by tweeting #KeepVeronicaHome and sharing our statement.

5. Sign this petition to the White House and spread the petition widely among your organization’s members and friends!

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“Childbirth in Palestine” infographic

Birmingham City University Palestine Society released the infographic below entitled, “Childbirth in Palestine.”  They note, “this particular Info-graphic shows how difficult it is for a woman in Westbank, Palestine  to travel to the hospital in time to give birth due to the 500+ Israeli checkpoints.”  For more details about this crisis, visit this article discussing recent studies that document the profound impact of  the Israeli bombing raids on Gaza in early 2009 and the on-going violence of Israeli checkpoints on the experience of childbirth in Palestine.

Infographic by Birmingham City University Palestine Society

Infographic by Birmingham City University Palestine Society

BCU Palestine Society also offered the following links to download printable sizes of the infographic:
A4 Size Download
A5 Size Download

Visit INCITE!’s statement on endorsing the Palestinian call for BDS—Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions for Palestine.

Mamas of Color Rising: Urgent Public Hearing in Austin, Aug 28th!

Mamas of Color Rising

A message from Mamas of Color Rising:

Mamas want You!

After two years of pushing for change in Texas Medicaid, Mamas of Color Rising (MOCR) in collaboration with others, is on the verge of winning a major victory for Women of Color and poor women in Texas. If we are successful, pregnant women on Medicaid will now have the option to choose a Midwife and deliver at a birth center as opposed to the OB/GYN and the hospital as their only choice. This choice allows women to receive more personalized and holistic care, longer and more comprehensive appointments, as well as shorter waiting times prior to appointments. This is in contrast to the more prevalent 5 minute prenatal checks and three hour waiting times in clinic lobbies and waiting rooms. These more “healthy” and ideal scenarios are choices  that the wealthy  and privately insured are currently demanding.

For women of color, this victory will represent much more than a “healthy” choice. According to Amnesty International, in the U.S. African American women are four times more likely to die of pregnancy related complications than white women, and Latina women are 2.5 times as likely as white women to receive late or no prenatal care. The outcomes in Texas are actually worse than these national averages. Research shows that access to the midwifery model of care can tangibly improve these outcomes.

MOCR has never asked broader friends, supporters and allies to come out for an action before. As busy mothers ourselves, we only ask when its absolutely needed. BUT today we are asking!

Come out next Tuesday August 28th to the public hearing at the Health and Human Services Braker Center,  located at 11209 Metric Boulevard, Building H, Austin, Texas. The hearing will be held in the Lone Star Conference Room from 9am-11am.

Wear one of our stickers and represent the fight for equal access to healthier birth choices for ALL women!
Support our mamas members testimonies!

Call or text 254-421-4059, if u have any logistical questions the day of.
If you are interested in providing a testimony as well please feel free to email us at mamasofcolorrising@gmail.com.

WHY SHOULD YOU BE THERE??

Not a mama? Don’t have kids? Don’t even want kids?

This issue affects us ALL. For all folks committed to racial and economic justice, next Tuesday’s Medicaid ruling is critical!

For Mamas of Color Rising the right for women on Medicaid to choose their type of birth provider directly addresses the larger social issues that we are working on such as:

* The current HEALTHCARE APARTHEID we are living in this country which particularly affects African-American and Latino immigrant communities.
* The WOMB TO PRISON PIPELINE- that according to MOCR begins earlier than school, since discrimination, policing and tracking actually begin in the womb.
* And finally, a JUST and LOVING world is one world where all mothers and babies receive attentive quality loving care.

It’s THAT simple.

We will see you at the hearing!

In Solidarity,
Mamas of Color Rising Collective Members

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.