“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.

INCITE! supports the call to FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER!

INCITE! SUPPORTS THE CALL TO FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER!

  • Because we support black women’s right to self defense and support the call for freedom of Patreese Johnson, the last incarcerated member of the New Jersey 7, and CeCe McDonald in Minneapolis, MN,
  • and because we condemn the FBI’s continued and escalated pursuit of Assata Shakur,
  • and because collaboration programs between ICE and local police, such as Secure Communities (S-COMM), endanger the lives of undocumented immigrant survivors of violence,
  • and because law enforcement agencies routinely fail to respond to violence against Native women, allowing others to violate them with impunity,
  • and because organizers had to sue Louisiana to remove black women and LGBT people charged with prostitution from the state’s sex offender registry,
  • and because stop-and-frisk against women of color, including trans women of color, is state-enforced sexual harassment,
  • and because doctors pressure and coerce inmates in California women’s prisons to get sterilized as a cost-cutting measure,
  • and because the US is a prison nation that not only cages the most people in the world, but extends punishment and surveillance into the daily lives of low income women of color and our communities in the US and abroad,
  • and because we mourn the horrific murder of Trayvon Martin and send love, strength, and solidarity to his family and community,
  • and because we honor all of the women, queer, and trans people of color who have been attacked, brutalized, or murdered and who have been given no opportunity for redress or public recognition,
  • and because we call on our communities to support survivors of domestic and sexual violence and develop transformative community-based responses to violence so we aren’t forced to rely on an abusive criminal punishment system for safety and accountability…

Because of all of these reasons, INCITE! endorses the call to FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER from prison immediately.  Marissa Alexander is a black mother of three and survivor of domestic violence from Jacksonville, FL.  In August 2010, she fired a warning shot in the wall to defend herself from a life-threatening beating from her estranged husband.  She had just given birth to a premature baby nine days before.  Despite the fact that Marissa Alexander caused no injuries and has no previous criminal record, and despite the fact that Florida’s self-defense law includes the right to “Stand Your Ground,” she was subsequently arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison.  She plans to appeal.  More details on her experience can be found here and this pdf download.  The treatment of Marissa Alexander is a consequence of the growing crisis of prisons and policing in the US as well as a product of anti-black racism and sexism which drives individuals and institutions to punish black women when they defend themselves from violence. Her case is one of many that shows us how black women and other marginalized people are especially likely to be blamed and criminalized while trying to navigate and survive the conditions of violence in their lives.  We call all members of anti-violence, reproductive justice, and anti-police/prison movements and our allies to also support the call to Free Marissa Alexander!

TAKE ACTION!


ORGANIZE
 to free Marissa Alexander!  Hold rallies, do a banner drop, have house parties, blog, write letters, organize workshops, make art, fundraise and donate, and sign this petition.  Visit http://freemarissanow.tumblr.com/action for more ideas.

Urge your campus, organization, faith community, collective, union, or business to ENDORSE the call to Free Marissa Alexander: tiny.cc/EndorseFreeMarissa

CONNECT with the global campaign to Free Marissa Now at freemarissanow.tumblr.com, facebook.com/FreeMarissaNow, and e-mail at FreeMarissaNow@gmail.com.

Thank you for all you do to create communities and movements based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity!

Image

Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde
Download in high resolution

Break-in and Arson at Offices of Women With a Vision, New Orleans Organization That Advocates for Poor Women of Color

Video from Deon Haywood, Women With A Vision:

Article by Jordan Flaherty; reposted from Louisiana Justice Institute with permission

Women With a Vision (WWAV), a New Orleans advocacy and service organization that provides health care and other support for poor women of color, was the victim of a break-in and arson late Thursday night. A small organization that has won a national reputation for their work, WWAV was founded in 1991 by a collective of Black women as a response to a lack of HIV prevention resources for those women who were the most at risk: poor women, sex workers, women with substance abuse issues, and transgender women.

WWAV has made national news for leading the fight against Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Statute, which targeted poor women of colortransgender women, and anyone forced to trade sex for food or a place to sleep at night. The law forced women to register as sex offenders in a state database and placed a “sex offender” label on their drivers license, among other requirements. With the grassroots leadership of WWAV, a national coalition that also included Center for Constitutional Rights, Loyola Law School, andpolice misconduct attorney Andrea Ritchie was able to get the law off the books and has won a series of further victories in the process of removing the sex offender registration requirements for those convicted in the past.

The attack seemed political in its nature, directly targeting the crucial information, files, and materials needed for WWAV’s work. According to an email report from Bill Quigley, a social justice attorney and friend of the organization, “Major fire damage was done to a room which contained education and outreach materials. The arsonist seemed to have deliberately targeted this room. Destroyed were: three plastic and silicone breast models which were used to help people learn how to do self-examinations for breast cancer; a plastic pelvic model of a vagina; a two feet by one and a half foot plastic model of a woman’s reproductive system; boxes of male and female condoms; flip charts demonstrating the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV; several wooden penises which were used for condom demonstration; and boxes of educational materials. The fires in that room seem to have been set with some accelerant and scorched the walls, ceiling fan and ceiling and destroyed everything in the room….The offices were ransacked leaving drawers pulled out and papers and files on the floor. A TV and a laptop were taken but many valuables were left including computer monitors, office equipment, even some beer left over from a reception held earlier in the week. Several small fires were started inside the offices, in the bathroom, the hallway and in a sitting room.”

News of the attack has sent shockwaves across social justice communities around the US, and offers of help and donations have been coming in, but much more is needed. The fires have put the organization out of business at that location. They are seeking emergency temporary new quarters, as well as donations of clothing, supplies, and more. The organization has released a letter that lays out many of their needs.

In a video released on Friday afternoon WWAV executive director Deon Haywood shows the damage and discusses the effects, concluding, “We are fighters, we are warriors here at Women With a Vision, and we continue our work.” For the official statement from WWAV, see this link.

Please let them know you support them and donate.

(Article updated on 5/27/12 with new information.)

In Defense of Brontez—and the Rest of Us Too Proud or Too Trashy to Go Down Without a Fight

Originally published at Kenyon Farrow’s blog; republished with permission.

In Defense of Brontez—and the Rest of Us Too Proud or Too Trashy to Go Down Without a Fight
by Kenyon Farrow

Let me first state that there is no pretense of objectivity or an emotional distance here for several reasons.

One, Brontez Purnell is a very close friend of mine.

Two, this issue cuts at the core of some thoughts and problems I have with existing frameworks of victim, and the demands made on victims of violence to behave (past or present behaviors) in a fashion acceptable to others in order to claim one has been victimized; the role of police and questions of political alignments and authenticity; and the demands on victims to recall and script every fact in exactly the right chronology in order to be seen as credible.

Last week, I received a phone call from Brontez—again, close friend and musician/dancer/writer who lives in Oakland, California. It was the day after he and friend/bandmate Adal had left the Paradiso nightclub when two Black men with some Caribbean accent began harassing them as they left the club. Adal is not queer, but the two men, according to Brontez, assumed that they were a couple, and began calling them “batty boy” and other epithets. Finally, they made the statement, “if we were at home you’d be dead by now.”

Brontez, clearly enraged, went the fuck off. After more words were exchanged, and Brontez says he spit at the car the men were in, and then he was punched in the face. Brontez says he then hit the man’s car with his bicycle lock and they assaulted Brontez and Adal (who’s face was broken in five places). The police were called but no arrests have been made.

After talking to Brontez about the attack—I read an article in the Bay Citizen, followed by a pretty vigorous debate in the comments section. The debate mostly sparked by comments made by Kevin Bynes, who is known for his work in HIV prevention for Black gay men. Bynes, a bay area resident said he witnessed the incident nearby (and I know of Bynes through my own work in HIV prevention), and that Brontez was lying about the details of the incident noting:

I’m sorry I have to tell the truth because I live in this area and saw the entire incident. The so called victim rode around on his bike yelling at the two guys in the black SUV repeatedly and it wasn’t until the so-called victim spit on the driver and tried to break his window with his bike lock that the two accused “gay bashers” reacted by chasing the guy away. This man TOTALLY provoked this situation and initiated the violence. He took the first swing, spit in the man’s face and tried to damage his car. I’m a gay man who lives in this area and the club they were leaving used to be a gay club that was there for 20 + years and the area is VERY safe for gay people. That was NOT a gay bashing and I think it is dangerous for us to suggest that everytime a gay person gets into a fight its a gay bashing. The guy that is being called a victim really harrassed these guys and they did not attack him because he was gay they acted in self defense. In fact the only gay slurs that I heard came from the victim. I’m so sorry that I didn’t speak to the police this morning.

To which Brontez responded:

Yo, this is Brontez. You SADDEN me Mr. Bynes (whoever you are). We we’re unlocking our bikes and these guys stared harassing us. How did you see “everything”? It was only us four outside in the beginning! You act like we just saw these dudes and went in on them and thats a lie. Ive attended the Paradiso since it was Cabel’s Reef and have NEVER had anything like this happen. Me cursing, and yelling at them is true like after someone threatens you with VIOLENCE who wouldn’t? Sorry im NOT the type of girl whos gonna cross her legs and act fucking nice after some jock tells me im “at the wrong club” two blocks from my own fucking house! FUCK YEAH I YELLED BACK AT THEM. If your such a sensible homosexual why didnt you HELP US when these guys were fucking with us? And also my bandmate who was sitting on the sidelines got his face broken and we did NOTHING to warrant that. WE WERE THE VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE, verbal and otherwise. I threw my bike lock AFTER they punched me and Adal (who wouldn’t?) I used this tactic to pause them long enough to get their plate number. You call someone a “batty boy” threaten them with violence and then hit someone that didnt provoke you YES THAT IS A HATE CRIME. I was REACTING to being fucked with. How dare you?

My problem here is not that Bynes disagrees with Purnell’s timeline of the events or that he was “disgusted and ashamed” by Brontez’ behavior.

First, Brontez and Adal both say that the men had been saying shit to them from jump, for which Bynes (in my opinion) was likely out of earshot or just didn’t hear. Brontez is just not the type, drunk or not, to start a fight with two other men for no reason, having been out in San Fran, Oakland, and all over NYC with Mr. Purnell over the years of our relationship—even where it is clear that Adal was trying to convince Brontez to let it slide. But as Brontez himself said, and I very much believe, he wasn’t going to just let that shit slide. Brontez actually states in the article what Bynes re-asserts in his comment—he didn’t expect to be threatened with violence at a place he’d frequented for years (both men live in the neighborhood where this incident took place), so I am not sure why Bynes re-states this point in his comment—unless he flat out does not believe anything at all transpired to make Brontez angry in the first place (The Bay Citizen published a second story where Adal corroborates Brontez’s assertion that the men started harassing them first). Bynes’ assertion that the club used to be a queer space but is still frequented by queers seems to ignore the realities many of us know from experience. Many of us have been at “the club” in any city USA that used to be a queer bar, and the straights who then take it over act brand fucking new and further marginalize queers who continue to go there. And since when did neighborhoods or establishments with lots of LGBT people mean they were free from homo/transphobic violence? That doesn’t make any kind of sense.

So the question for me here, and where I vehemently disagree with Bynes, is how one defines “provocation” and who judges what then is the socially acceptable response. I tend to agree with Brontez. Too often people who are targeted for violence have to have their motivations and their recollection of all the “facts” or chronology of all the events hyper-scrutinized beyond recognition if they at all do anything other than lay down and take the abuse (or in the case of sexual assault, you’re accused of lying if you don’t have any physical evidence that you fought back, or you choose to try to still (and steel) yourself to try to avoid further violence, or are simply in a state of shock). And what is more true than not, most of us, in some way, respond verbally or physically fight back.

I think Brontez was enraged by the situation and responded accordingly. But rage, as bell hooks once stated, is an appropriate response to oppression. I actually have never seen Brontez angry to the point of fighting the way he clearly must have been that night. But any of us, caught at the right place at the wrong time, may have responded similarly. People get tired of this bullshit. I am tired of it. I have had people hurl similar epithets and make threats to me. One day I may walk away. Another day, I walk right into that fire. Once, similar to what happened to Brontez—two Black men started with me, but when I didn’t run or back down, they punched my non-black friend instead—who once they engaged, thought was going to be an easier target. So I know what it means to reach that point where you say to yourself, Fuck it. I don’t give a fuck what happens today. I am not going to be disrespected and let you walk away from here thinking that shit is OK to do. Not now.

That’s what happened to Chrishaun McDonald, a Black transwoman in Minneapolis currently on trial for murder. She was outside one evening this past spring when she and some friends were approached by a white man who hurled both racist and transphobic remarks. I don’t know who threw the first blow, but that man was stabbed (many say not by Chrishaun) and is dead. I don’t celebrate his death and yes those trans women could have done a million things to try to get away from him. But maybe they were tired of running, or were so bold as to think they didn’t have a reason to run.

I am reminded of Sakia Gunn, when she told a man to leave her friends alone—they were lesbians. I don’t know if she kicked his car, or flipped him the finger. I don’t know if she told him he had a dick smaller than hers, called him a faggot or some other name to push his buttons. But he did what patriarchal men do—he assumed it was his right and Christian civic duty to accost them, and “check” them for being “out of hand.” He got out of the car. She, or one of her friends, may have punched him first. She may have spit in his face. But he killed her. Was that justified? Was she “at fault” for provoking him? Should she have collected her friends and run back into Newark Penn Station? She could have done any of those things, but maybe, even at 15 years old, she decided she was tired of running, or it never occurred to her to run.

I think of the New Jersey 4—originally the group of seven—young Black lesbians also from Newark who one night in a “gay friendly” part of town, NYC’s West Village, were walking and a man made a disparaging comment about them being lesbians, and a fight ensued, with the man being stabbed, which he later described as “a hate crime against a straight man.” They could have went to the other side of the street. They could have decided to leave the Village and go home. They could have quoted Bible passages at him. But they didn’t. I don’t know if one of them struck him first. Nor do I care.

I respect these young women for, despite the enormous consequences that none of them could forsee, making a choice to not live in a world where they could be denigrated for being lesbians, bisexuals, aggressives (AGs), queers or however they think of their identities. And they, like Brontez, don’t present as “victims” in the way our society constructs, because they didn’t just let that shit go. They didn’t run. They saw the danger, decided to move towards it and do what it was trying to do to them, even if it meant they might not win. The “behavior,” like Brontez’s was not befitting of any victim—most people in the moment are resisting being a passive victim (and this is not to also say that people who choose not to fight back in certain moments are less than heroic, nor am I glorifying violent retribution). But it is to say that I think anyone who tries to condemn someone for not allowing themselves to be intimidated by people, especially in this case who are saying if they were a few thousand miles away they’d just as soon kill you for simply existing. I don’t know how I’d react.

And if we’re going to claim that we don’t want to see more Black men going to prison potentially, I totally agree, but if that’s your position then it means that we have to find ways to help and de-escalate situations, even if you think someone is in the wrong and not wait till after cops are called to raise judgement about whether someone exhibited exemplary model citizen behavior in the midst of being threatened. Also, I think that those of us who think critically about calling the police (because of the nature of policing and the prison industrial complex as an anti-Black project) have to be clear that we do not begin to use this as a reason to excuse violence, or question a person’s Blackness or other racial/political authenticity against a person who, for whatever reason, calls the police in a particular moment. It’s not as though Brontez is someone the police don’t also target, threaten and violate. And while the fact that these men were likely Caribbean immigrants invokes racist narratives about Black criminality and homophobia in the Caribbean, clearly these men were quite willing to try to intimidate Brontez and his friend using those very same narratives when they declared “if we were at home you’d be dead by now.”

I think Bynes is making an assumption that even if Brontez had never responded, he and his friend would have been safe (on their bikes!!!!) from those men once they turned the corner, even if they were supposedly trying to avoid an altercation right then and there—maybe they were initially shocked that a Black gay man would have the audacity to even respond back to them. Maybe they were trying to impress the women they were with, and they clearly got a response they weren’t prepared for. I don’t know their motives, but I don’t believe Brontez decided to just pick a random fight with two dudes leaving a club he frequents regularly (as a musician this fucks with your ability to make money), two blocks from his own house, in a community he has to continue to live in.

I do hope that rather than starting a war of words (and I have to admit I was mad as hell when I first heard there was some backlash calling one of my best friends a liar), this can actually give us pause to think about what standards we’re holding people to who have been threatened, when one day, it might be you, for whatever reason, who decides not to take the high road.

Kenyon Farrow has been working as an organizer, communications strategist, and writer on issues at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, prisons, and homophobia. Kenyon is the former Executive Director of Queers for Economic Justice—an organization dedicated to organizing, research, and advocacy for and with low-income and working-class lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Prior to becoming ED, Kenyon served as the National Public Education Director, building the visibility of progressive racial and economic justice issues as they pertain to LGBTQ community through coalition-building, public education, and media advocacy. Currently he serves on the Executive Committee of Connect 2 Protect New York, and the Center for Gay & Lesbian Studies (CLAGS). Kenyon is working on a new report on the Tea Party and LGBT Politics with Political Research Associates, as well as working as a book editor with South End Press.  Check out Kenyon’s blog here.

No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed ~ August 6, 2011 SlutWalk Philadelphia Speech

Originally posted at AfroLez®femcentric, reposted with permission.

No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed ~ August 6, 2011 SlutWalk Philadelphia Speech
by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

http://notherapedocumentary.org/no-one-is-free-while-others-are-oppressed-slutwalk-philadelphia-speech

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”

—- Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider —-

Aishah speaks at SlutWalk Rally in Philadelphia

Black. Lesbian. Feminist. Mother. Warrior. Poet. Audre Lorde’s written words taught me that my silence will not protect me, and that silence is not golden.  I am a Black feminist lesbian who is a survivor of incest and rape.  When I was ten, my paternal (step)grandfather molested me over a period of two years; and when I was 12 the eldest son of a family friend fondled me. My rape happened when I was a soon to be 20 year old sophomore in college.  I was on a study abroad program and broke all of the university-enforced rules to go out, very late at night, with the man who would become my rapist. In spite of my having second thoughts about going out with this new acquaintance, I was both afraid to articulate them and to turn around because my friends were covering for me.  In the hotel room, for which I paid, I told my rapist “I don’t want to do this. Please stop.”  I didn’t “violently” fight back. I didn’t scream or yell to the top of my lungs” because I was afraid. I didn’t want to make a “scene.” I blamed myself for saying, “Yes”…for breaking the rules…for paying for the hotel room.

The morning following my rape, I went back to where the school housed us and lied to my friends. I didn’t tell them that I was forced to have sex against my will. In an effort to both deny what happened on the night of my rape and to be in control of my body, I had consensual sex with another man that evening.  When it was time to return home to the United States, I was pregnant and didn’t know which of the two men was the biological father. I was fortunate to have a safe and legal abortion at the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women in Philadelphia, PA.

And, before I continue, I want to be explicitly and unequivocally clear that I am NOT a lesbian because I was molested and raped. I am a lesbian because I’m attracted to and love women.  So, please do not walk away making the homophobic and heterosexist comment “Oh, that’s why Aishah is a lesbian. It’s because she was molested and raped.”

WRONG.

If molestation and rape made women and girls lesbians, then most of the girls and women in the world would be lesbians. Just check the global statistics on molestation and rape.

I share what some of you might view as personal, private—and perhaps—seemingly unnecessary because the personal is directly related not only to the political but also the professional in my life.

Now, I admit when Executive Organizer Hannah Altman invited me to be a speaker at SlutWalk Philadelphia, I was very, very apprehensive.  However, after quite a bit of thought and deliberation; and in spite of my many conflicting feelings as a Black feminist lesbian whose contemporary reality and ancestral lineage has been rooted in the legalized name calling/marginalizing/denigration of mind/body/spirit for centuries without too much recourse, I accepted the invitation to be a speaker.

I am here today because I want to see an end to the victim-blaming in my lifetime, and I’m 42-years old. No, victim-blaming is not going to stop because we are all here participating in SlutWalk Philadelphia. If only it were that easy. However, I believe it is important that the faces, voices, and perspectives of women of color (inclusive of all sexualities) and trans people of color are seen and heard. Documented herstory and contemporary reality has shown us that more often than not, it is our bodies that catch the most hell not only by the State but also by people in and out of our communities (however we define them). It is our bodies that have a demonstrated track record of being on the frontlines of the movements to end all forms of oppression.

I believe words are very, very powerful. At the same time, I really struggle with many who are hostile to the “SlutWalks” because they say it gives the wrong message. What is the right message? I think about Take Back the Night, which was founded in the early ’70s, when I was a toddler.  As strange as it may seem today, especially now that Take Back the Night has become an “acceptable” movement throughout this country and globally, I know there was resistance. I’m sure some, if not many people took the position, ‘What do you mean take back the night? You shouldn’t be out at night!’

Personally, I do not embrace the word Slut at all… And, at the same time, I will not say or subscribe to the patriarchal and misogynistic thinking that “we can’t do this or that type of behavior; or wear this or that type of clothing and not expect to get harassed, fondled, and/or raped.

There are some places in the world that would say that presently, I’m not properly covered in what I view as very modest attire (by most US standards). There are many in the United States; and throughout the world who believe I should be raped, assaulted, and/or harassed for the mere fact that I’m an unapologetically OUT Feminist Lesbian.

Where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be rape, assaulted, harassed, and/or called vicious and vitriolic names? Why are we okay with RAPE being the penalty for ANY type of behavior (including heterosexual women having multiple sexual partners) or for wearing ANY type of attire of clothing (including thongs and bustier? ). This line of thinking is inhumane, egregious, wretched, and should be unacceptable.

Sexual violence is one of the only crimes where the victim behavior’s determines if a crime happened or not. I could be in a drug-infested neighborhood with a lot of money on my person and even bragging about my money and showing it off. If someone steals my money, they are a thief, plain and simple. Yes, one could say “Aishah, what were you doing with all that money in that neighborhood. Are you crazy?” And yet, at the same time, it would be clear that I was robbed.  If I left my macbook pro in Starbucks and someone stole it, we may think I was dumb for leaving it there, but that doesn’t take away the fact that someone stole my macbook pro.

How can we have more empathy for the loss of money or even the loss of a computer than the (hopefully, temporary) loss of one’s body for a few seconds, moments, hours, or even days? Why do we tend to be clear about the impact of the loss of material possessions in ways that we don’t want to be clear about the impact of the loss of the right to ones own body. For too many, rape has become a word, almost devoid of the horrifying experience from which too many of us never ever fully recover.

There is something very disturbing and painful that there is this widespread (as in global) notion that material possessions are worth more than a woman’s body… There is something wrong that too many of us believe that a woman doesn’t have the right to show or flaunt her body, if she desires… That a woman doesn’t have a right to agree to one form of sexual activity and not agree to another form of sexual activity. That she doesn’t have the right to say “yes,” and then have the courage or even the audacity to change her mind and say “no.”  Whose body is it anyway? Contrary to global belief, it’s not the perpetrators body. And yet, too many of us defend the perpetrators RIGHT to violate the body of another.

When will we stop treating boys and men as if they are wild beastly animals or innocent toddlers (not sure which one) who can’t control their words and/or actions? When will we put the blame on the perpetrators? When will we stop saying “Well, women have to take some responsibility?”  Take responsibility for what, men and boys being unable to control themselves resulting in them violating a woman or girl’s body because of what she said, wore, and/or did?

Really.?!

Again, I ask where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be assaulted, harassed, and/or raped? As long as there is any group of people including but not limited to adolescent and teenage “fast” girls, women, trans people, queer people, and sex workers who are marginalized, then all of us are vulnerable both because it’s all subjective; and the lines of the margins shift all of the time. Who’s acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow.

We must stop subscribing to this notion that rape is the justifiable penalty for ANY type of behavior or attire of clothing that we may not like or even disapprove of.

We must centralize the margins of the margins of the margins of society so that ALL of us are free from assault, harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed. NO ONE IS FREE WHILE OTHERS ARE OPPRESSED.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the producer/writer/director of NO! The Rape Documentary, the internationally acclaimed, award-winning feature length film, which examines the international atrocity of rape and other forms of sexual violence through the first person testimonies, scholarship, activism, and cultural work of African-Americans. You can follow her on twitter, connect with her on Facebook, and/or read her AfroLez®femcentric blog.

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.

Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility — San Francisco, CA

Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility

April 8-10, 2011

Z Space (formerly Theater Artaud)
450 Florida St.
San Francisco, CA

Sins Invalid is a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized.  Sins Invalid celebrates the power of embodiment & sexuality, stripping taboos off sexuality and disability to offer a vision of beauty that includes all bodies and communities.

Knotting Stories Over Time and Geography is best captured in the words of artist performer Aurora Levins Morales:

“Our history is in our bodies—what we do to breathe, how we move, the sounds we make, our myriad shapes, our wild gestures, far outside the boundaries of what’s expected, the knowledge bound into our bones, our trembling muscles, our laboring lungs—like secret seeds tied into the hair of our stolen ancestors, we carry it everywhere.  Our stories erupt in the dances we invent, in the pleasure rubbed from our bodies like medicine from crushed leaves, spicy, astringent, sweet… Listen with your body. Let your body speak.”

2011 artists include:
Aurora Levins Morales
Antoine Hunter
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Ellery Russian
Nomy Lamm
Alex Cafarelli
Juba Kalamka
Leroy F. Moore Jr.
Patty Berne
Todd Herman
seeley quest
Maria Palacios
Ralph Dickinson
Ryon Gesink

To celebrate the 5th anniversary, we are offering a visual art installation of the same theme in the lobby!

8pm Friday April 8th, 2011
8pm Saturday April 9th, 2011 (Audio Described; ASL interpreted by Stage Hands)
7pm Sunday April 10th, 2011

Tickets are $16 – $25, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
Tickets are selling – buy your soon! (http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/157288)

The venue is wheelchair accessible.  In solidarity with loved ones and community members who are chemically injured and would like to attend the show, please refrain from using perfume, cologne and other scented products.  Although we cannot guarantee a completely scent-free space, there will be scent free seating all three performances.

Supported by the generosity of the Aepoch Fund, the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Community Foundation (Boulder), the Carpenter Foundation, the Horizons Foundation, and the Left Tilt Fund.

Conceived and led by disabled people of color, we develop and present performance work where normative paradigms of “sexy” are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities.

Sins Invalid recognizes that we will be liberated as whole beings  as disabled/as queer/as brown/as black/as genderqueer/as female or male bodied  as we are far greater whole than partitioned.  We recognize that our allies emerge from many communities and that demographic identity alone does not determine ones commitment to liberation.

Sins Invalid believes in social and economic justice for all people with disabilities  in lockdowns, in shelters, on the streets, visibly disabled, invisibly disabled, sensory minority, environmentally injured, psychiatric survivors  moving beyond individual legal rights to collective human rights.

Our stories, imbedded in analysis, offer paths from identity politics to unity amongst all oppressed people, laying a foundation for a collective claim of liberation and beauty.

Please Note: Show contains explicit content

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Migritude

Migritude, by Sokari Ekine

We have traveled half the world
with hearts open,
we’ve seen everything.
Always remember who we are,
where we came from,
and you’ll never do evil

[From ‘What we keep’ ©]

Migritude is a gift of which Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak writes:

‘A vibrant, gendered, wordsmith’s voice, speaking Africa, Asia, the metropole, history, the present – the world.’

In the introduction to Migritude, Vijay Prashad writes:

‘I came to Shailja Patel’s Migritude joyously, embraced by the first few lines about the teardrop in Babylon. The embrace didn’t falter. The words held me. They are a song.’

***

I, too, did not deviate from that first embrace.

One has great expectations from a text which begins with such poetic imagination as ‘It began as a teardrop in Babylon.’ My mind flew to all the teardrops shed from the dignities stolen by imperialism, injustice and hate. The indignities endured in exile; the collusion of global capital and imperialism in the political and socio-economic tyrannies which force us to flee our homelands.

We see this as I write, with the murder of Ugandan LGBTI activist David Kato and South African lesbians and transgendered women and men who are being raped and murdered because of  their sexuality and gender identity; with the women of Congo, many of whom face rape and other terrible acts of violence every day; with the people of Egypt who are demanding freedom from the tyranny of Mubarak and his US/Israeli allies; with the millions of people of colour, who dare to cross borders and  face constant hostility in the US, Germany, and the UK; with the surviving indigenous peoples of America whose lives are impoverished and history erased with whiteness.

Through her own life journey and mixing prose and poetry, Shailja’s Migritude exposes and shares the tears of history, merging personal stories with reflections on violence, colonization and migrant journeys which flow horizontally and vertically, through the lives of women.

It is best I start at the beginning and go with my feelings which are not linear but bounce around, moving between sadness, joy, anger, hope, irony,  knowing and not knowing.

Migritude is a gift, but not a gift on a plate. Rather, it is poetry woven with performance which requires imagination. And this is one of the many gifts of Migritude – we get to expand and explore our imaginations. And we learn. It’s about how we imagine ourselves, our histories, our political journeys. It is also about facts: facts of our histories which we are never told and facts of the politics of empires and post/neo-empires which are full of deception and exploitation.

Migritude has many beginnings. The first is in the sixth century BCE and the first depiction of the motif Ambi in Central Asia which, on the arrival of barbarian imperialism, is later stolen by Scottish weavers of the small village of Paisley. Ambi becomes Paisley, Mosuleen becomes Muslin, Kashmiri becomes Cashmere and Chai becomes ‘a beverage invented in California’.

Later, in 800 AD, there is the beginning of the relationship between Africa, Arabia and Asia, brought about by ‘flourishing’ trade and travel between the peoples of these regions.

Another beginning is the gift of her wedding trousseau. Shailja’s mother had been collecting saris and jewelry for the day Shailja would get married. It wasn’t happening so she gave up, broke tradition and offered her daughter the gift of a red suitcase full of exquisitely beautiful saris, an act which Shailja interprets as recognition of her chosen path as equally worthy of that of her sisters’ marriage; an act of feminism and the knowledge that one has the power to change the way things are; an act which would lead to the performance of Migritude.

So I imagine I am lying down, half-struggling to extricate myself from the red, gold, green and turquoise blue saris with which Shailja performs to break the silence of violence, violation, rape, war, indignity, empire. The other half of me struggles to cocoon and protect myself in their softness.

The book is roughly divided into three parts. The first is ‘Migritude’, which was ‘created dangerously’* to ‘reclaim and celebrate outsider status’ and to ‘tell the invisible stories of empire war colonialism, the impact on those that are on the receiving end of these global forces’**. It tells of Shailja’s parents and their personal uncompromising struggle to ensure their three daughters have the gift of education; the Maasai and Samburu women in Kenya who were raped systematically for 35 years by British soldiers stationed on their land; the women of Iraq and Afghanistan – abducted, vanished, killed; the indignities unleashed by border patrols on people of colour.

The second part, ‘The Shadow’, is the story of Shailja’s ‘creative journey’ and the making of Migritude a ‘behind the scenes and after the fact, vinaigrette of memories and associations’. Here she tells of her discovery of the origins of Paisley in ancient Babylon, which forged her to engage with complex and multiple migrations.

Similarly, history as told by the Empire is full of half-truths and erasure: such as Idi Amin being a guard in the Kings African Rifles which were used to quell the Kenyan Mau Mau uprisings and from which he learned to torture from Britain’s finest; that Britain, Israel and the US sponsored the coup which brought him to power and unleashed terror on millions; and love, which in western context is often reduced to the banal by repetitious words and expressions. Following a performance in Genoa, Italy, Shailja learns from a member of the audience that during his childhood in rural Italy, life was so harsh that parents dared only kiss their children when the were sleeping, because any affection when they were awake might weaken their ability to survive.

The third and final section is devoted to poetry, Shailja’s journey from poet to performer and, most importantly, for her work as an activist, her personal shift from ‘self-protected silence to political expression’. As Shailja learns, yes, you can run in a Sari!

I end with another quote from the cover of Migritude which captures both the beauty of this poetic masterpiece and its explicit call to action.

‘Migritude is poetry as documentary. It is non-fiction as testimony. It is authorship as survival. Of course Migritude defies categorization – the best art always does.’ Raj Patel

***

Shailja Patel is Kenyan playwright, poet, performer and activist. 

Migritude is published by Kaya Press.

* Taken from Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat.
** An interview with Shailja Patel by Preeti Mangala Shekar of the Women’s Magazine.

Sokari Ekine is the author of the award-winning Black Looks blog.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Survival, Strength, Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside

Yesterday, hundreds of marchers took part in the 20th Annual Women’s Memorial March around the Downtown Eastside to remember Vancouver’s missing and murdered women. From the Annual Women’s Memorial March blog:

Increasing deaths of many vulnerable women from the DTES still leaves family, friends, loved ones, and community members with an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. Over 3000 women are known to have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since the 1970s. Two years ago, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued this statement: “Hundreds of cases involving aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention.” The February 14th Women’s Memorial March is an opportunity to come together to grieve the loss of our beloved sisters, remember the women who are still missing, and to dedicate ourselves to justice.

An article from straight.com reflects an analysis from Delannah Gail Bowen, an organizer of the march:

Delannah Gail Bowen, who has been helping to organize the memorial march for seven years, said the root causes of violence against women need to be considered in order to address the issue.

“For this issue to be addressed, we have to go to the heart of the problem, and the heart of the problem is the poverty, the heart of the problem is not having our voice heard,” said Bowen.

“We have to look at the whole picture. Dealing with an issue when it gets to the crisis point means that it’ll always be at the crisis point, instead of going to the root of the issue,” she added.

“Survival, Strength, Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside” is a short and powerful film that documents the 20 year history of the annual women’s memorial march for missing and murdered women in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. By focusing on the voices of women who live, love, and work in the Downtown Eastside this film debunks the sensationalism surrounding a neighbourhood deeply misunderstood, and celebrates the complex and diverse realities of women organizing for justice. (32 mins)  (For a subtitled version of this film, please visit this site.)

The film is by Alejandro Zuluaga and Harsha Walia, based on concept by the Downtown Eastside Power of Women Group. This is a not-for-profit production that is available for free distribution under creative commons license. For more information, to book a screening, or to order a DVD, please contact hwalia8@gmail.com or alejo.zuluag@gmail.com.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Women’s Movement Building and Creating Community in Haiti

Women’s Movement Building and Creating Community in Haiti
by Sokari Ekine
originally published at Pambazuka News and Black Looks; republished with permission

Students at SOPUDEP school; photo by Sokari Ekine

Thousands of words have been written about Haiti in the past 12 months, covering everything from the NGOisation of the country, the politics of humanitarian aid, endless questions and discussion on what happened to the millions of dollars donated by individuals and countries, the horrendous conditions in the camps where some 1.2 million IDPs (internally displaced persons) are forced to live, and in particular, women and children, hundreds of whom have been raped, trafficked to the Dominican Republic and forced into prostitution to survive. In addition to the earthquake, Haitians have had to live through another devastating hurricane and now cholera, which as of today [Dec 9, 2010] has affected 30,000 people. And to add to the frustration and anger, we can add an election, which by all independent accounts was fraudulent and farcical. As I write, protests calling for the annulment of the elections are planned this afternoon. If one is to judge from the many radio phone-ins, people are angry and concerned that the much-hated René Préval will announce his preferred candidate, Jude Celestine, as the new leader, despite the fact that so far the majority of votes appear to be for ‘Micky’ Matterly and Madam Manigat – but all of this can change in a moment.

One of the stories least reported has been the one about Haitians organising for themselves, particularly stories presented within a framework of feminist organising and movement building. This is one woman’s story of how she, her family and the people in the various communities in which she works came together collectively to care for each other’s needs and how that struggle has become the foundation of a new movement of the poor for change in education and the material lives of women and men – a struggle for dignity. Their personal and collective humanitarian response was completely off the radar of NGOs, international institutions and the Haitian government. Even Save the Children, whose office is located right next to the school, did nothing to help SOPUDEP. However, ultimately this was an aside for Rea. What was important was that those who needed help of whatever kind received it and, beyond that, the struggle for dignity and self-determination for the poor people of Haiti.

A mere five minutes passed between the death of one of the schoolteachers and the life given to Rea and her teenage daughter – one of three children.

I was in the school when it happened and I cannot describe the horror around me. The school was empty and did not fall, but the neighbourhood collapsed. Five people were crushed to death just meters from me when one of the outer walls of the school grounds collapsed. My first responsibility was to my family, so I had to get home, but the streets were chaotic. People were panicking and screaming. I had to run home ten kilometers through those streets to find my family. The phones weren’t working. It was horrible.’

Once it was established that Rea’s family were all safe – a house just five minutes walk from Rea’s own home collapsed – she set about caring for the many in her community and whereever she was needed. Everyone was in shock, but there was no time to think about what had happened as people were injured. Many people – students, families knowing about her community work – flocked to Rea’s home and at one point there were some 60 people in her home. People feared to sleep indoors so they removed all the mattresses, blankets, pillows – whatever they could find – and spread them outside. It was January and freezing cold during the night but anything was preferable to being inside. Rea said it took her months before she stopped waking up with nightmares of being crushed. Even now one wakes up and gives thanks that you made it through the night. I too find myself staring at the ceiling every night and wondering which part would collapse first and how I would get out.

A student at SOPUDEP who was buried under rubble for two days after the earthquake; photo by Sokari Ekine

The first day after the quake, Rea went to the shop were she usually bought the school supplies and asked if they would give her credit as she needed to buy food. They told her to take whatever she needed and not to worry. As much food as possible was collected and everyone in the house – the children, students, guests and neighbours – set about making food packs. They worked all night making the packs, which they then distributed to anyone on the streets during the day. As donations from friends of SOPUDEP and organisations such as the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF), the Haiti Action Committee, Sawatzky Family Foundation (SFF) began to arrive, Rea was able to buy more food and medical supplies and continue the distribution. Food which was only being given to women and mostly bags of rice were available for those prepared to queue for up to 4 hours. Rea said she did not have the time to queue for 25lbs of rice and preferred to go and buy it with whatever money she had to hand. Besides, fights often broke out with people tired and hungry and everyone trying to push their way forward. The military would then beat the women and children. In total, food and water were distributed to 31 centres by Rea’s team.

Women collecting supplies; photo by Rea Dol

In addition to financial donations, SOPUDEP received a lot of medical supplies, which were taken to the various mobile clinics which had been set up in camps and other locations. Though the number of recipients decreased over time, the food collection and distribution lasted for three months. At a point in time Rea realised this dependency created out of a crisis could not continue. They would forever be in a state of oppression and remain in the clutches of NGOs, beggars in their own land.

No one ever knew when money would arrive, which meant any kind of systematic planning was impossible. It was like waiting for the tooth fairy to arrive and besides what humanitarian aid was being distributed was not reaching Rea’s community. It was all too ad hoc to be sustainable.

The next money she received was a sum of US$3,000, and she began to think of another way. Instead of buying food she would deposit the money in the bank and start a small micro-credit saving programme. It took courage and was a huge risk because people were hungry, but, determined to create some degree of sustainability and stability, in a moment she made up her mind. A meeting was called and the idea put to the 21 women with whom she had been working over the past months, and though there were doubts they trusted Rea. The micro-credit scheme Fanm SOPUDEP AN AKSYON (SOPUDEP Women in Action) began with US$3,000 and 21 women.

I was surprised when I heard Rea had started a micro-credit scheme as there were so many negative reports on such schemes, which rather than enhance and empower women end up impoverishing them even more. So I was interested to find out more about the SOPUDEP scheme, whether it was working and why it worked and I will write about this later after meeting with the various women’s group.

Rea’s philosophy is that each individual has to take responsibility for themselves and the notion of something for free is neither healthy nor sustainable. Both the school and the women’s project are framed within the idea of personal and collective responsibility. Education in Haiti must be available for all and everyone encouraged to attend, and no one is turned away from SOPUDEP because they cannot pay. However, everyone is asked to try to contribute something when they can, even if it is 5 gouds or helping in the school somehow (US$1 equals approximately 40 gouds). The school operates two sessions – the main one in the morning and an afternoon session for those who have never attended schools, both older children and adults.

The elections are a distraction. Leaders have the power to bring change but no one believes any leader will do anything for the poor. Everyone I asked about Jean-Bertrand Aristide wanted him back because they believed he was one leader who could change their lives for the better. Right now the only way is for communities to reach out to each other and create alliances, which is what SOPUDEP is beginning to do. Rea’s vision is one I share. We cannot fix Haiti, but we can fix our community and help others fix theirs. Eventually as all these communities build alliances among themselves, they will become strong and then maybe begin to fix Haiti.

Since the earthquake there has been an increase in the awareness that communities have to help each other and work together. People are not only more determined to improve their lives and that of their community; they truly believe it is possible. Two more schools for the poor have come under the umbrella of SOPUDEP – one in Bobin with 250 students, children and adults, and one in Boucan Lapli with about 60 children. The main school, which started in 2002 with 182 children from Petion-Ville, presently has 486 students.

Rea Dol and SOPUDEP student; photo by Sokari Ekine

I have spent two days at the school with the freedom to roam. I came across a class whose teacher was absent and I ended up teaching English for 45 minutes followed by the students giving me a lesson in Kreyol. Now I have been asked by them to teach the same class for the next couple of weeks till they break up for holidays. The school is truly like family. Since the micro-credit scheme, parents and school staff have all been encouraged to open savings accounts. The children are continuously greeting and kissing Madam Rea. Her office, which she shares with the accountant and office manager Billy Bataille, is a constant hive of activity with women coming to deposit their repayments, students wanting things fixed or asking advice from Madam Rea or Billy. Outside the office, women clean beans and rice in preparation for tomorrow’s food – the door is always open. Yesterday Rea opened a suitcase of books she had bought with donations from a partner school in the US. She now has some 15,000 books (mostly in French, so more Kreyol and English books are needed), which have to be indexed and will form the school library. A volunteer teacher from the US has promised to take on the task.

SOPUDEP nevertheless faces many challenges. The building survived the earthquake but remains in disrepair. All the external walls of the compound collapsed, along with most of the surrounding buildings, with the exception of the Save the Children building. The building housing the school dates back to the Duvallier days and was always structurally superior to others in the neighbourhood. All the classrooms are open to the elements as there are no windows. There is no water and since the earthquake, no electricity. Recently a group of NGOs met to discuss how to control the spread of cholera within the country’s 22,000 schools. The idea is to hold training sessions for district heads and some school directors on precautions to take. Many schools are already doing this, but a more coordinated effort would improve the situation. However, as Rea pointed out, we can do all we can in the schools but what happens when the children return to their homes where they are reliant on standpipes and no sanitary facilities? The majority of people are unemployed, yet there are masses of rubbish and rubble to clear – the solution seems quite simple really.

 

photo by Sokari Ekine

Through donations, SOPUDEP has purchased a piece of land in Delmas 83 and has so far managed to build the fencing wall. It will take six months to build but all that depends on how quickly they can raise the money needed to complete the project. I find it sad that an organisation like SOPUDEP, which is real and which has a history, has to rely on small donations from international friends and parents to survive. If they are not deserving of more sustained support then I wonder who is.

Sokari Ekine is the author of the award-winning Black Looks blog.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Dispatches from Haitian Women’s Organizing & Survival

In an article entitled “One Year and One Day,” Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat reflects on the first anniversary of the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti,

By this interpretation of death, one of many in Haiti, more than two hundred thousand souls went anba dlo—under the water—after the earthquake last January 12th. Their bodies, however, were elsewhere. Many were never removed from the rubble of their homes, schools, offices, churches, or beauty parlors. Many were picked up by earthmovers on roadsides and dumped into mass graves. Many were burned, like kindling, in bonfires, for fear that they might infect the living.

“In Haiti, people never really die,” my grandmothers said when I was a child, which seemed strange, because in Haiti people were always dying. They died in disasters both natural and man-made. They died from political violence. They died of infections that would have been easily treated elsewhere. They even died of chagrin, of broken hearts. But what I didn’t fully understand was that in Haiti people’s spirits never really die. This has been proved true in the stories we have seen and read during the past year, of boundless suffering endured with grace and dignity: mothers have spent nights standing knee-deep in mud, cradling their babies in their arms, while rain pounded the tarpaulin above their heads; amputees have learned to walk, and even dance, on their new prostheses within hours of getting them; rape victims have created organizations to protect other rape victims; people have tried, in any way they could, to reclaim a shadow of their past lives.

Below are articles from the past year about Haitian women’s organizing for safety and justice after the earthquake:

Rape in the Camps: Lacking Security, Women Organize to Protect Themselves, Amy Goodman interviews Malia Villard Appolon, coordinator of KOFAVIV, Democracy Now

That’s a camp which has a lot of difficulties in it. The government doesn’t take any measures to provide security there. That’s why we saw a lot of problems of security there, because there’s no police presence. It’s us, as civilians in the camp, who took the initiative to put in place a committee of protection to protect the women against the sexual violence they were under, experiencing.

Haiti Women Regroup, Rebuild, by Rebecca Harshbarger, Women’s E-News

A loose-knit coalition of 106 organizations called Femmes Citoyennes Haiti Solidaire, or Women Citizens Haiti United, has emerged from the devastation of the January earthquake to lobby for women’s advancement during the recovery efforts.Part of their inspiration comes from wanting to carry on for three leaders lost in the disaster [Magalie Marcelin opened Haiti's first shelter for battered women; Myriam Merlet, chief of staff for Haiti's Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women, and Anne Marie Coriolan, who worked in the courts to criminalize rape]…

Souerette Policar Montjoie is president of Lig Pouva Fanm, a women’s leadership organization in Port-au-Prince that joined the coalition.

“We have a lot of things to say and Haitian women are very strong,” she told Women’s eNews in a phone interview. “But in Haiti, the position of men is higher than women. We want men to know that we can put our hands together. They don’t have to fight us.”

Women Citizens Haiti United members range from a collective of female university students to a network of women working in rural community organizations. Members represent an array of special projects: curbing domestic and sexual violence, as well as improving women’s access to credit, job training and education.

Haitian Women: Pillars of the Economy & Resistance, by Masum Momaya, AWID

Historically, many women were employed in Haiti’s factories or worked as farmers. Yet recent shifts have caused women to take up work in the already crowded informal sector. Many are self-employed – owning home-based stores selling small wares and clothing, cooking food to sell on the streets or working as domestic servants. Some also work in the sex industry. [1]

The small percentage of women who still work in garment factories face exploitative working conditions, but they have been mobilizing for labor rights and national policy reform to keep factories open while paying living wages and ensuring fair working conditions.

Additionally, Haitian women and their allies both inside and outside Haiti have been fighting for debt cancellation. In June 2009, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Inter-American Development Bank cancelled a significant portion – $1.2 billion – of Haiti’s debt. Other creditors, including the Canadian government, have followed suit. Now, campaigns are focused on boosting national industry and production.

Meanwhile, NGOs such as Dwa Famn, Fonkoze, the Lambi Fund and Partners in Health support women with counseling, basic education, skills-training, loans and health care, including women who have survived domestic or other forms of violence. These and other civil-society organizations employ a community-based approach and support women’s leadership development, such that women determine their own needs and gain skills to lead efforts for change.

Additionally, women continue to share and raise awareness about Haiti’s history and contemporary life locally and transnationally as artists, musicians and writers. Many draw and paint scenes of current-day joys and sorrows while others invoke words and songs dating back to slave rebellions. These expressions serve as reminders of the strength of ancestors and past struggles as well as the power of art in communicating across borders. [2]

Haitian feminist journalist Mirlene Joanis, who is interviewed in the Poto Mitan film, writes “When you see how Haitians are slaving away in the streets, it reminds you of an epoch a long time ago when our ancestors were slaves. In those days, it was only human force that made the country rich.” Today, such a tradition continues, in which women make the country ‘rich’ – not only through their economic contributions but also through their continuation of the resistance and push for reform that has characterized Haiti since its founding.

Women’s movement building and creating community in Haiti, Sokari Ekine, blacklooks.org

One of the stories least reported has been the one about Haitians organising for themselves, particularly stories presented within a framework of feminist organising and movement building.   This is one woman’s story of how she, her family and the people in the various communities in which she works, came together collectively to care for each other’s needs and how that struggle has become the foundation of a new movement  of the poor for  change in education and the material lives of women and men – a struggle for dignity.   Their personal and collective humanitarian response was completely off the radar of NGOs, international institutions and the Haitian government.  Even Save The Children, whose office is located right next to the school did nothing to help SOPUDEP.      However ultimately this was an aside for Rea.   What was important was that those who needed help of whatever kind, received it and beyond that the struggle for dignity and self-determination for the poor people of Haiti.

Post-Earthquake: “Hearing Our Mothers: Safeguarding Haitian Women’s Self-Representation & Practices of Survival,” Dr. Myriam J. A. Chancy

If you know of other news reports, video/audio, blog entries, or first hand accounts about women’s, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans community organizing in Haiti, please put the link in comments.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Dec 18th, Toronto: Sharing Celebrating and Decolonizing Indigenous Sex Work

SHARING, CELEBRATING AND DECOLONIZING INDIGENOUS SEX WORK
Saturday December 18
Native Canadian Centre, 16 Spadina Road, Toronto
6-9 pm (food served at 6 pm)
FREE event!

with
Traditional Feast catered by Ringfire Productions
Performances from RED SLAM and Brenda MacIntyre
Roundtable Discussion
Celebratory giveaway

In honor of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – this will be an evening for us as as Indigenous people and communities to listen, discuss, and learn how to end violence against sex workers from Indigenous perspectives.

A supportive, non-judgmental space for sex workers (current and former) community members and youth. This event will respect the right of self-determination over our lives and bodies for all Indigenous people including sex workers.

Please bring what you can for the giveaway (art, momentos, crafts, recipes, etc). Everyone is welcome to participate with/without an item.

FREE EVENT – ASL INTERPRETATION PROVIDED – WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE. PLEASE NOTE EVENT IS TAKING PLACE DECEMBER 18th, NOT DECEMBER 17th – CHILDREN WELCOME

For more information or to RSVP contact Krysta Williams, Lead Youth Advocate at the Native Youth Sexual Health Network at kwilliams@nativeyouthsexualhealth.com

Facebook event: http://on.fb.me/eBnZy2
Co-sponsored by the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project

Thank you to our supporters: 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, Anishnawbe Health Toronto and Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Duanna Johnson

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day of reflecting on the epidemic rates of violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color, and mourning our beloved family, friends, and community members who have been taken from us. Colorlines reflects on the statistics:

At least 22 people were killed in 2009 because of their perceived sexual orientation, four out of five of whom were people of color.  Half of the victims were transgender women and most of the other half, according to the Anti-Violence Project, were men who were either dressed in typically feminine clothes at the time of their murder or were generally gender non-conforming. Not one of these murders made national headlines.

For Duanna Johnson, who was beaten by police in Memphis in 2008, and then found murdered after pursuing a lawsuit against the Memphis police department, for Roy Antonio Jones III, who at 16 months old was killed by his mother’s boyfriend who said he was “trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl,” for victims and survivors of transphobic violence and oppression, and for the hope and work of safety and liberation for all women of color and all trans people of color, we join everyone working for gender justice on this day of remembrance and continue to organize for an end to state and interpersonal violence.

See the International Transgender Day of Remembrance Page for a list of events worldwide:
http://www.transgenderdor.org/

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Unforgotten Faces – Acknowledging Black Womyn of South Africa

Re-posted with permission from the amazing blog, Black Looks.

Unforgotten Faces – Acknowledging Black Womyn of South Africa

by Zanele Muholi on August 6, 2010

Busisiwe Sigasa

For Artscape Women’s Festival 2010, Zanele Muholi and Ellen Eisenman have produced a collection of photographs that celebrate women’s lives. They recognize and honor the living as well as those who have left the planet. And they question, why does society allow some to be taken away so early and with such violence? These are Unforgotten Faces.

The artists’ collaboration began in 2008, as they began to share ideas, images, questions, and challenges. Included in the exhibit are portraits of women; in addition, Muholi and Eisenman have together created a series of stamps, acknowledging Black Womyn of South Africa, especially in honor of Busi Sigasa, Nosizwe Cekiso, Eudy Simelane, and Penny Fish . Zanele and Ellen hope that their work stimulates a discussion about hidden histories–unexamined stories that so influence many women’s daily lives. In order to honor life, let us see all of life, and to question the brutality of how many lesbians are dying.

About her portraits, Zanele Muholi has said,

“In the face of all the challenges our community encounters daily, I embarked on a journey of visual activism to ensure that there is black queer visibility. It is important to mark, map and preserve our mo(ve)ments through visual histories for reference and posterity so that future generations will note that we were here.

In my portraits, I present our existence and resistance through positive imagery of black queers (especially lesbians) in South African society and beyond. I show our aesthetics through portraiture. Historically, portraits serve as memorable records for lovers, family and friends.

“The viewer is invited to contemplate questions such as: what does an African lesbian look like? Is there a lesbian aesthetic or do we express our gendered, racialised and classed selves in rich and diverse ways? Is this lesbian more ‘authentic’ than that lesbian because she wears a tie and the other does not? Is this a man or a woman? Is this a transman? Can you identify a rape survivor by the clothes she wears?

“These portraits present an insider’s perspective that both commemorates and celebrates the lives of the black queers I have met in my journeys. Some of their stories gave me sleepless nights as I tried to process the struggles that were told to me. Many of the women I met had been violated and I endeavoured not to exploit them further through my work. I set out to establish relationships with them based on a mutual understanding of what it means to be female, lesbian and black today. “


Ellen Eisenman’s portraits are tributes to cultural workers–people who have committed a large part of their lives to working for progressive social and cultural change. They are from various walks of life and take up many different issues, from leading community groups to practicing the arts for social change, from organizing demonstrations to supporting youth groups. This multi-year project began in South Africa in 2009, and continues in the U.S.The goal of the work is to contribute to a larger understanding of social change and of the many different people who live their lives working for change.

At the core of any democratic society must be engaged citizens who organize politically in their own communities and who willingly and boldly cross the cultural borders that set us against each other. Otherwise, these borders between races, classes, sexualities, national boundaries, and gender expressions will increasingly fragment us into ever-smaller communities. It seems that the forces of division and against progressive social change are growing stronger and isolating us from one another. Now more than ever, we need to recognize and support those cultural workers who are deeply committed to progressive social change and who work against these dominant trends.

Text and Photographs by Zanele Muholi and Ellen Eisenman ©2010

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

The Mountains Are Just Ahead of Us

We’ll be skipping the Language & Action feature this weekend because we’re putting together this month’s e-newsletter (sign up here).  In the meantime, here’s a beautiful guest post from Alison Roh Park on the role of poetry in women of color organizing. Republished from Delirious Hem, with permission.  – Editors

The Mountains Are Just Ahead of Us, by Alison Roh Park

“Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule, and most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that we women use to struggle against our oppression.”
— The Combahee River Collective Statement

Poetry has been a rock for me throughout my life; my oldest pastime, coping mechanism and creative outlet—my dearest BFF. And yet, poetry has also been pushed to the margins of my life, overshadowed by the daily hustle, the drama, the goals and investments of my life, my political coming-of-age and growth as a woman of color. Last year, after almost a decade of  squeezing in poetry wherever it fit, I made a commitment. I applied to and was accepted to a graduate program in poetry and, skeptical but trying hard not to be a cynic of academia, embarked on the journey (albeit while continuing to work full-time) in the hopes of “learning” how to be a better writer and to access all the treasures that an institution might hold for me, a simple poet of the people.

Not unsurprisingly, I often find myself in situations where my artist self and my political self cannot comfortably occupy the same space publicly, though they are rarely separate in my artistic process. I like to imagine there is a secret network of left artists, people of color and women poets, in academic settings like mine all around the country, who communicate through hidden cyphers in sonnets and sestinas and the like. But more often than not, I think the critical political thinkers in conservative academic settings have to exist on two parallel tracks or be forced to do the dirty work—to ask the hard questions and speak up. It’s a nasty place to be, but one that folks who are not so disillusioned and burnt out by the journey are charged with, and more often than not those people are women, gender non-conforming and people of color. Recently in a class discussion that felt like deja vu from my undergraduate years, we were talking about (privileged/entitled) people writing (stealing/exploiting) other (oppressed/marginalized) people’s stories (cultural products/collective histories). The feeling of being “that” person was all too familiar—someone “radical” or “crazy” compared to the rest of the room, the butt of other people’s privilege, that menstruating yellow beast that needs to be put down for the sake of order and the sanctity of white entitlement. Is this what poetry is supposed to feel like?

It’s as if there are two of me walking two parallel paths: my journey to an appreciation of poetry beyond what it does for me, and my journey to a truer understanding of justice and every person’s right to have it. Here are some of my personal ruminations as a woman of color of the Asian diaspora in the United States:  I am aware of how often and how much women and gendered bodies all over the world are required to survive. We are compelled, often with outright violence, rape or social control, to survive the worst things, like the lowest quality of life; lower wages; war and occupation; no or little access to education, food, clean drinking water or healthcare; community violence; daily sexual harassment; police violence or the fear of police violence; denied, with laws and violence, the right to control our own reproduction; to give up our dreams and talents to take care of others and so many other things tangible and intangible that wouldn’t fit here. And, yet, in all that desperation, there is hope. I hear stories about people resisting and exercising agency within their oppression on a daily basis, as individuals or collectively. I hear stories about women in Mexico overthrowing a radio station to be heard; or women farmers in South Africa participating in organized civil disobedience for land and housing rights; or a community in California that has found a way to hold domestic violent perpetrators accountable without relying on the police state. I hear about sex workers sharing information on message boards to keep each other safe; or about men working with young boys to stop violence against women; or about transgender women of color organizing against police abuse and harassment in New Orleans.

This is where I want my poetry to live—in hope. And though there are plenty of days when I doubt the relevance of my poetry, either because my aesthetics have moved from performance to the page, or because not every poem I write is explicitly about oppression or resistance, or because it might just not be very good—whatever that means—it’s what I have to offer. Toni Cade Bambara said “The role of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.” I dream about a worldwide, poor women-led liberation movement to overthrow capitalism and hetero-patriarchy from the Global South and up. I dream about art fueling that movement, swimming free in a new world that is finally ours.

—————————————
Country Lesson

Put the baby on your back
Wrap the sash around your waist and the baby’s too
Balance the bundle in your free hand, wrap your fingers
around the knot. Bend your body forward on the dirt path
It will help you get up the hill. The mountains are just ahead;
you’ve left the other ones behind you.     Walk
Watch the silver mist rise from the triangle shapes
on the horizon. The peninsula will always hold you.

Alison Roh Park is a cultural worker and activist from Queens, New York.  She blogs at http://delirioushem.blogspot.com/, where this post was originally published.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine