Marissa artwork by Molly Crabapple; Nan-Hui artwork by Dillon Sung

Free Marissa Now and Stand With Nan-Hui: A Conversation About Parallel Struggles

Marissa Alexander is a Black mother of three and a survivor of domestic violence from Jacksonville, Florida. She was prosecuted and threatened with 60 years in prison for defending her life from her abusive husband. She spent three-years behind bars and, beginning January 27, 2015, she is serving a sentence of two years of house detention while being forced to wear and pay for a surveillance ankle monitor.

Nan-Hui Jo is also a survivor of domestic violence who was convicted of child abduction after fleeing her abusive partner with her young daughter to her home country of South Korea. She has been incarcerated since July 2014, and has spent the last 3 months in immigration detention awaiting deportation proceedings. She has not seen her daughter since her arrest, and now faces the possibility of permanent separation from her.

Alisa Bierria, a member of the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign and a member of INCITE! and Hyejin Shim, an organizer with the Stand with Nan-Hui Campaign and a member of Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse (KACEDA) came together with Mimi Kim and Emi Kane of INCITE! to reflect on the common political ties between two women of color surviving the intersections of domestic violence, the U.S. carceral system and immigration control.

MK: Thanks everybody. I just wanted to start with the question, how did you first get involved in working on your specific campaigns? Alisa, I’ll start with you.

AB: I heard about Marissa’s case in 2012. She was one of those rare domestic violence cases that received mainstream media attention. She is based in Florida and unsuccessfully tried to invoke the Stand Your Ground law, which had a high profile due to the law’s influence on George Zimmerman’s acquittal after he murdered Trayvon Martin. So the public juxtaposed Zimmerman’s acquittal with Marissa Alexander’s 20 year mandatory minimum sentence. I was watching that play out and thinking about it in the context of other self defense cases—specifically, Cece McDonald in Minneapolis and the New Jersey 4—Black women who were attacked and, because they defended their lives, they were prosecuted and incarcerated. I started making some phone calls to investigate, and I learned that there was a beginning coalition of people around the country who were trying to get a campaign off the ground. [This amazing team included Sumayya Coleman, African American/Black Women’s Cultural Alliance; Helen Gilbert, Radical Women; and Aleta Alston Toure, New Jim Crow Movement.] So I started slow, but then it got fast! The more time builds, the more you committed you become, just to see it all the way through.

MK: What was it that first struck you and made you think that “I really need to get involved in this?”

AB: It’s really rare that domestic violence victims who are prosecuted for anything have a national profile because domestic violence is not politically interesting to most people. They think of it as a social service problem or some kind of pathology issue. It was such an opportunity to talk about domestic violence, Black women, the prison industrial complex and self-defense on a national level.

The #BlackLivesMatter call to action began in the shadow of the horrific murder of Trayvon Martin. Because Marissa’s case was often juxtaposed with Trayvon’s (and Jordan Davis’) murder, it received national attention, yet we weren’t really seeing a lot of gender analysis at that time. Also, for years INCITE! had been identifying these intersections that Marissa Alexander’s case was demonstrating so clearly, and it just became such an opportunity for us to show how the analysis was playing out in this woman’s case. This woman who some people actually knew about.

MK: Hyejin, how did you first get involved with the campaign to free Nan-Hui Jo?

HS: I got involved because of KACEDA, a small group of Korean women organizing around domestic violence. In the spring, we heard about the case from a former member who lived in Sacramento. There had been some organizing happening in the Korean church community for her. By this time she’d already gone through one trial that resulted in a hung jury. We learned that a retrial was about to begin—and that the situation was bad. She’d been incarcerated since July. She was denied bail because she was deemed a flight risk, was issued a no-contact order with her daughter, was under an ICE hold and had lost all parental rights. So there was really a sense of urgency when we started organizing. Her trial began on a Friday, and literally that week we began mobilizing. Another KACEDA member wrote a press release and I started making calls to figure out what was happening, kind of like you did, Alisa. I put a call out on Facebook to ask for help and said, look, there’s this domestic violence survivor who is being charged with kidnapping for fleeing abuse with her little girl. She’s lost all custody and has been in jail for the past 8 months. And she’s facing deportation. Come over tonight at 6. And people actually came! It all snowballed from there.

MK: I know that you also work with other domestic violence survivors in your work at Asian Women’s Shelter. I was wondering how this moved from being a case that you’d get on a crisis line to something that turned into a campaign. It sounds like it happened pretty quickly.

HS: I didn’t view this as a case where I’d be someone’s domestic violence advocate. At that point it was clear that what was needed most was not case management. What was needed was organizing. I didn’t feel like it was actually most useful for someone to be helping out in a direct services capacity, with prescribed roles and boundaries, especially because this person was being targeted so aggressively in an unpredictable and quickly-escalating situation.

The work that Free Marissa Now did, and the work that Black women and women of color have been doing around domestic violence and criminalization for decades, made it apparent that this was connected to a larger pattern of survivors being targeted by the system. They are targeted by a racist, sexist system for their survival strategies, particularly with the idea that a survivor must always be a perfect victim. There’s this belief that a domestic violence survivor must always be the victim of crime, and the abuser is always the perpetrator of crime. So in a way there’s not that much room or analysis about what happens when the survivor is actually considered the “perpetrator of a crime,” even in the anti-violence movement. Instead, we’re taking cues from the state to tell us who real “victims” and “perpetrators” are. In this case you had “domestic violence experts” like the district attorney saying that this was not a domestic violence case. So then what? We needed to organize.

MK: Alisa, I see you nodding. It seems like what Hyejin was saying was resonating for you, as well. Do you want say a little more about that?

AB: Yeah, I’m thinking, “Thank goodness that Hyejin was on the other line,” because I have found it rare for folks who are in direct service organizations to have the capacity to imagine a response outside of the usual paradigm of either direct services or pro-criminalization. It’s so drilled. Those of us who work in the field, it takes such a significant capacity to do some paradigm shift in your own mind to say, “This is actually more of a community organizing project; she needs a big push for support and let’s go make a Facebook page.”

Domestic violence organizations were actually pressured by State Attorney Angela Corey to not publicly support Marissa Alexander. So, there’s not only an imagination problem but also a real material problem, because people are worried about their funding. One argument was that groups couldn’t risk their funding to support one person when they have this whole other group of victims to support. But my pushback was, well, who gets to be part of the larger set of victims that they’re serving? It’s not just about Marissa not having support, it is also about any survivor who is being prosecuted having access to full support. As long as organizations make choices based on what Angela Corey or other prosecutors want, they’re never going to have autonomy in terms of who they support. There will always be this barrier to services for survivors who are more vulnerable to criminalization—that is to say, Black women. It’s so important to not only understand the ways that court system and police and prisons are impacting survivors of domestic violence, devastating people’s lives and so on, but also the ways that many service organizations are prevented—or prevent themselves—from supporting criminalized survivors.

MK: Hyejin, did you see anything like that in the case of Nan-Hui Jo?

HS: There were some domestic violence orgs that were very reluctant to get on board, or who acted like they were sympathetic as individuals but said they couldn’t be sympathetic as an organization. So people were saying that they felt for her, but they couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything about it.

MK: What do you think were some of the factors they perceived as barriers?

HS: I can’t say more on dynamics between this district attorney and these domestic violence organizations right now, but I do wonder if the reliance of domestic violence orgs on the DA to prosecute batterers and thus legitimize domestic violence work is a barrier.

AB: There’s this powerful fear of punishment. If an organization has funders or donors that just want to “do good,” meaning they want to donate to a domestic violence organization but they don’t want to give money to an anti-deportation project, for example, that organization is scared to look too radical.

MK: How much do you think Nan-Hui’s and Marissa’s incarceration was a factor in some of our expected allies stepping away? Is there a reluctance because of a notion that they might not be deserving in some way because of their criminalization?

AB: I was on a conference call early on in the Free Marissa campaign. There was a woman on the call who is Black and known as an anti-violence expert. She asked if Marissa was really a “genuine” survivor of domestic violence because she had heard that her husband had received a black eye from her. She didn’t ask about the context of that injury—which came about as a result of self-defense—she went straight to, “Is she telling the truth?” I couldn’t even speak. Because if we’re in a situation where this person—who should be the easiest ally in the world—is saying this really problematic stuff on this call, I don’t know how we’re going to win. So I think we had to fight for allies. Allies did not come easy. I think we had to convince people.

MK: Hyejin, do you have anything that’s comparable so far?

HS: It’s been lucky that I’m working currently at a domestic violence shelter in SF, which has some more progressive allies. The case is not in our county, and I think that makes it easier for us to be more visible in our support. But one question that comes to mind is, what if it was the other way around? What if this was a campaign to prosecute a batterer instead? It’s just interesting to think about. Who would find that politically safe, safer than this campaign to free a survivor? And why? Just think about domestic violence organizations and the commotion around Ray Rice.

MK: To go along those lines, there has been some attention paid to Nan-Hui’s abusive ex-partner in this case. What are some of the ways that people have talked about him?

HS: It’s funny because in court, the DA was talking about him as someone who’d really cleaned up his act. Like, so he hadn’t been that responsible in the past and yes, there was that one time he got violent… but you know, he’s a veteran, and all he wants to do is be a good dad now. And, in the DA’s closing remarks, he said Nan-Hui was clearly the better parent all along, more competent, mature and responsible. But also that she was also manipulative, vengeful, and too competent, essentially, to be a real victim. There was just a lot of focus on characterizing her as just another sneaky Asian immigrant trying to cheat the system. He called her a “tiger mom” too. Her attempts to survive with her baby through abuse and an immensely confusing legal system were all looked at through this lens of racist criminalization.

MK: I think it’s interesting how they raised “tiger mom” as a stereotype that many people are now familiar with now—and the stereotype that people could associate with an Asian woman. How did you see stereotypes with Marissa Alexander play out, Alisa, in terms of Angela Corey or the people that were trying to detract from sympathy for her situation?

AB: The biggest pattern that we saw was this idea that she was too entitled—too entitled to live, too entitled to take control of her life. There was definitely blaming her for being in the abusive relationship to begin with. She’s not considered entitled to defend her life because of this notion that she created the conditions for this to happen in the first place. Also, that attitude works seamlessly with the narrative about “uppity” Black women, especially in the South. Marissa Alexander did not know her place. The rhetoric Corey used was not coincidental. Her office circulated this ugly handout to state politicians because some seemed sympathetic to Marissa’s case. It said on the top, “The truth about Marissa Alexander,“ and included Marissa’s mugshots at the top and rhetoric about why she should be incarcerated. So there is this very intentional, very racialized framing they used to support the prosecution. Corey politically benefits if the person she is prosecuting could never be understood as a “victim,” so she had her own agenda. It wasn’t just to be racist in general, but to achieve an end.

Corey also constantly exploited the children for the sake of her argument. There were children in the home when Marissa’s husband attacked her and she defended herself, and there was a concern that they could have been hurt in that encounter. Angela Corey had this habit of saying, “Those children – those boys – those Black boys, those young Black boys, were endangered by this woman who acted out of anger.” So it was really interesting how she co-opted the rhetoric around violence against Black boys to argue for the prosecution of this Black woman. It happened again in the final hearing when Marissa was finally released from prison to serve a two year term of house detention. The prosecutor put one of the children on the stand, he read a statement that seemed clearly written by that office and, in that statement, they invoked #blacklivesmatter! They totally co-opted it. So the child said, “Doesn’t my Black life matter?” and it was heartbreaking, devastating, enraging, and it made me want to throw my computer out the window.

MK: I know this isn’t the first time you’ve been talking together. Can you talk a little bit about how you found the connections between these two campaigns?

HS: From the beginning, I thought of Marissa. One, because it’s so recent, and two, because it was such strong organizing I saw on behalf of a survivor who was being criminalized. I went to the INCITE! conference this past year and saw that there was a Free Marissa Now session, and thought, “I have to go to that!” So, we got there really early because we were so excited. And as people were sharing the lessons learned, challenges, and the values that guided the organizing—the ways that y’all described Marissa and holding her humanity intact instead of letting her become just a political symbol—so much of what you shared really resonated with me. And I had been feeling very isolated before that. A lot of our analysis and the ability to do the work was made possible by yours. The connections were obvious, and it was also important to note the real similarities and differences. They were prosecuted similarly and anti-violence “allies” responded similarly. Yet Nan-Hui and Marissa are racialized and gendered in very different ways, and they were aggressively targeted accordingly—one for twenty years, the other for indefinite detention and deportation. There was a lot to share.

AB: We were so excited to meet y’all at COV4. I had heard about Nan-Hui’s case because within 48 hours, three friends sent me urgent emails about it. I was like, “Ok, I got it, Nan-Hui Jo.” And then we met – and I was like right! The famous Nan-Hui Jo, I know who she is! So it was moving to meet y’all, especially along with members of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander. And I’d had a little bit of conversation with Nadine Naber in Chicago who’s working with the Justice for Rasmea Odeh campaign – which is, again, another kind of ballgame. But it is kindred in that it is a freedom campaign for a survivor of sexual and state violence. So it’s true—both cases are different in very important ways, certainly in the ways they’re racialized and gendered. And the geographic politics are really important as well. But I was also disturbed about the ways that they were similar. The fact of the pattern, the fact of the structural problem feels clearer and more urgent. Knowing that there was this powerful campaign going on, and knowing that we weren’t alone, was grounding. It situated our work in a different kind of way. So it was wonderful to meet y’all.

MK: The people that often get forgotten in these cases – is the children. I’ve been struck by the ways in which Nan-Hui Jo might be elevated but her daughter is like the secondary character. But she has obviously suffered so much and still is because of the ways that she’s lost her mother. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Courtesy of Nan-Hui Jo

Courtesy of Nan-Hui Jo

HS: It’s been deliberate to keep her child out of it, out of respect to Nan-Hui. But, of course, there’s a huge way that this child is being impacted. She’s on a plane with Mom coming to Hawaii one minute, and the next her mom gets arrested and is whisked away. And she won’t see her for another year or more… and now she’s in an environment where none of her caregivers are Korean or speak the language. What we’d heard in court was that the child had suffered a lot in those first months of transition, and couldn’t communicate with anyone except her bilingual therapist. She missed her mom. She was having panic attacks.

On the bright side they recently started contact through supervised phone calls, but sadly they can’t be in Korean. But of course, one thing that does get erased about domestic violence is how it impacts children, too.


MK: And she’s with the father right now?

HS: Yes, he has full custody.

MK: Did she have a relationship with him before her mother was detained and incarcerated?


HS:
Not since she was less than one year old. She’s six now.

AB: I think women victimized by domestic violence are disproportionately punished if they have children who are harmed. Look at the case of Tondalo Hall — her boyfriend seriously injured their child and he was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Then they prosecuted Tondalo who received a devastating 30 year sentence. We have this idea that mothers are privileged when it comes to family court, and I really want to push back on that because I constantly see mothers being intensely punished. Particularly domestic violence victims.

MK: Alisa, could you reflect a little bit on the impact of the organizing on Marissa’s life and on social movements that are important to you?


AB:
We noticed that October is the month where there’s all this anti-police brutality action happening and it’s DV awareness month. And we were like, “Oh! What a coincidence.” So we put together this
handout that showed how domestic violence is a state violence issue using the analysis and the statistics. We distributed copies to our base and we urged people to make copies and bring them to DV awareness month and anti-policing events. And I think that that tradition should continue. I think we were able to identify opportunities, but you know, it wasn’t always easy. That said, so many people organized across the US and around the world to free Marissa, including making art, direct action, letter writing, fundraising, prayer circles, a caravan, coalition building, media advocacy…people really put their hearts and minds into this project.

MK: Same question for you, Hyejin? I know it’s a different situation for you—we don’t know if there will be something to celebrate and things are looking very difficult. But what do you think, right now. What are some impacts you’ve had on Nan-Hui Jo’s life and also on the larger movements?

HS: I think that with Nan-Hui… she has definitely seen a tangible difference since we’ve started organizing. And that has to do with the support that she feels from everyone, but it also has to do with gaining some real wins resulting from the organizing. Those wins include getting her some amazing legal representation for her immigration and criminal cases. She is also feeling seen and taken care of in a way that she wasn’t before. Before I know she was feeling very much isolated.

Though it’s still really hard, she says she doesn’t feel as lonely as she did. In the beginning she felt deeply afraid and alone. We’ve also formed a close relationship. I think it’s love and connection that will help get you through hard times, so I’m happy to be able to support her in multiple ways.

I’m not sure what kinds of larger impacts this might have, but my hope is that people will be able to make the connections more easily than they used to, and have a point of reference for people in our communities actually caring about domestic violence and criminalization. And I think one legacy of the Free Marissa organizing is that we don’t feel as alone. I see Marissa’s release, even with the terms that it’s on, as nothing short of a miracle. And I know this kind of miracle does not happen without so much work. These kinds of campaigns are incredibly time/resource intensive, and very emotional. So I hope that next time—because it will happen again—that there’s just more of a support network. That we are more aware of each other than we used to be. That the next time this happens we are more ready.

AB: Yeah. I also think that we have a lot of work to do to connect with other defense campaigns. There are a lot out there. One of the things we’ve been talking about is organizing a meeting with these organizers to do next steps. To do a more formal debriefing and visioning process of what comes next. I would really look forward to building on the solidarity of these two campaigns with many others.

HS: Yeah, absolutely. Another thing I want to add is that I think people do not see the ways that state violence can actually be leveraged as a way to abuse someone—that it is an extension of the domestic violence. It does count as abuse to intentionally criminalize your former partner in retaliation for self defense. It is violent to advocate for your ex-partner to receive the maximum sentence and get deported. The courts do not exist for “victims” alone. And in this case, her abuser is very much seen as the victim. Abusers sometimes make an effort to report the person they’re abusing for child abduction, domestic violence, or child abuse charges first, to retaliate, ruin their credibility, and reinforce a dynamic of control. It’s not some completely extraordinary thing. I work at a shelter; we know that sometimes batterers do these things to survivors we are actually housing. So I wish that part was more clear for people—that domestic violence doesn’t simply end with two people separating.

AB: Right. And these prosecutions extend domestic violence into the state and then the state legitimizes domestic violence. So…who’s the batterer? The batterer is the batterer, but now the batterer’s agenda is played out or taken up by the state, and the state is the batterer. And then it gets even more tricky when you look at things like mandatory policies. Mandatory arrest, mandatory minimums. Now it’s not even the judge, police officers or prosecutors, it’s just “the state.” Somebody somewhere passed a law, and now I have to go to prison for 20 years. There’s agency with no agent.

MK: Can we end with some words of appreciation for each other and the work of these campaigns?

HS: I have nice things that I want to say all the time. I appreciate how open and generous y’all have been, with both support and sharing your experiences. Organizing can feel very territorial at times. It’s been really great to just talk and bounce ideas around with you, and to think more about the future too. When this campaign ends, and it will end, and hopefully she’ll be free and here with her child… when it ends, all these problems we’ve talked about will still be there. And individual campaigns for everyone are just not possible. So what do we need to change so we’re not doing these fifteen years later?

AB: Right, I completely agree. So looking forward to figuring out how to strengthen that network and see how that can transform anti-domestic violence organizing in general. Thank you for saying all those nice things! I think it’s so important that the campaigns are independent from non-profits. And I think that might contribute to some of the openness that you’re talking about. I think it’s important to map the ways in which the campaigns are not institutionalized, which creates some level of freedom, even though having no staff is hard because they are, indeed, labor intensive. I think the Stand With Nan-Hui campaign has been brilliant, I’ve learned a lot from y’all. In addition to the question about what impact our work has had on existing social movements, we can also reflect on the movement that we built. Build on our own terms, with our own politics that we advanced, and with the base that we made. I’m excited about the potential impacts on social movements that I think the campaigns have created or can create in the future. So thank you so much for your political work.

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Leading up to this Mother’s Day, members of Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman and our partner organizations will release the first in a series of reports entitled Austin – A “Family-Friendly” City: Perspectives and Solutions from Mothers in the City, which calls into question Austin’s family-friendly reputation. Check out the full report here:
https://mamasanaclinic.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/mamasana-book-final.pdf

Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman, in partnership with allgo and Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition (AIRC), will hold a press conference at City Hall on Thursday, May 7, 9 – 10 am to launch the report and provide recommendations for city government to address current racial and socio-economic inequities in Austin. Members of our groups, Mayor Steve Adler, City Council Member Delia Garza, and others will speak.

Also on Thursday, May 7, at 6:30 pm, the Austin City Council will have a public hearing to discuss whether city government should implement an EQUITY ASSESSMENT TOOL, as recommended in the report. This is an effort to encourage the city to prioritize those policies and decisions that make Austin MORE EQUITABLE. Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, and allgo are working together to move this forward. COME OUT AND TESTIFY IN SUPPORT OF THIS RESOLUTION. If you are not interested in speaking, please come, be counted, and stand in solidarity with us! Help us make sure that Austin policies do not continue to increase the racial and economic divide in the city. PLEASE JOIN US AT 6:30 PM AT CITY HALL TO TESTIFY AND SHARE YOUR STORY!!! (We will provide childcare and light snacks in city hall lobby)

Please join us in wearing white tops so that our numbers can be represented there. Follow us on twitter at @mamasanaclinic or check our FB page Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman to see real time updates of Thursday’s hearing.

HERE IS HOW TO SUPPORT WHEREVER YOU ARE:

-If not in Austin- Make Calls and Send Emails to City Council Members to let them know you support the report recommendations.

In Austin–Testify at the public hearing at city hall Thursday May 7th 6:30pm. Share your stories about whether Austin is truly a “Family-Friendly” city for all. Please join us in wearing a white top so our numbers can be represented there.
Attend the press conference May 7th 9-10 am at City Hall. 

Talking Points for calls/emails to City Hall:

–Share your name and what district you live in
–Let them know that you agree with the findings in the report and support it’s recommendations, including:

1) Develop and implement an equity assessment tool to guide all policy-making endeavors of the city; and
2) support demonstration projects that directly address health inequities affecting pregnant women individually and collectively in Austin.

–Ask them to take action to ensure these recommendations are implemented in 2015.

Contact Info for Mayor and City Council Members:

Mayor Stephen Adler512-978-2100steve.adler@austintexas.gov
District 1 Council Member Ora Houston512-978-2101ora.houston@austintexas.gov
District 2 Council Member Delia Garza512-978-2102delia.garza@austintexas.gov
District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, 512-978-2103sabino.renteria@austintexas.gov
District 4 Council Member Gregorio “Greg” Casar512-978-2104gregorio.casar@austintexas.gov
District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen512-978-2105ann.kitchen@austintexas.gov
District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman, 512-978-2106don.zimmerman@austintexas.gov
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, 512-978-2107leslie.pool@austintexas.gov
District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair512-978-2108ellen.troxlcair@austintexas.gov
District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo512-978-2109kathie.tovo@austintexas.gov
District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo512-978-2110sheri.gallo@austintexas.gov

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Self-Defense Panel @ COV4!

Do women of color have the right to defend themselves from violence?

Join INCITE! at the convergence, Color of Violence 4, in Chicago, March 26, 2015, and witness a historic discussion between Renata Hill (of the New Jersey 4), Cece McDonald, Yvonne Wanrow, and Marissa Alexander, facilitated by Mariame Kaba, member of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander.  All panelists have been prosecuted and incarcerated for defending themselves or their families from sexual violence, domestic violence, transphobic violence, and/or racial violence. 

More info: colorofviolence.org

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#StandWithNanHui

#StandWithNanHui and Stop the Deportation! Reunite a Domestic Violence Survivor with Her Daughter!

The verdict is in.

After an aggressive retrial in Yolo County, CA, Nan-Hui Jo, devoted mother and survivor of domestic violence, has been convicted on charges of “child abduction.” Supporters of Nan-Hui are outraged and deeply saddened over this verdict. In light of this conviction, deportation proceedings may be imminent, which would result in permanent separation between Nan-Hui and her daughter.

Nan-Hui Jo (A 098 906 641) is currently at high risk for deportation. In 2009, Nan-Hui fled the United States with her infant daughter, Vitz Da, to escape the physical and emotional abuse of the child’s father,  Upon her escape, her ex-partner filed child abduction charges, for which Nan-Hui was tried twice. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have continued to leverage their institutional power to maintain an immigration hold and pursue deportation, which would permanently separate Nan-Hui from her daughter. 

When In July 2014, Nan-Hui re-entered the United States for a 3 month visit to Hawai’i with her daughter. At the airport, she was immediately arrested and forcibly separated from her child. Nan-Hui was tried five months later on alleged child abduction charges, resulting in in a hung jury..  Ignoring all evidence of domestic violence–including two calls to the police in Sacramento after her child’s father physically abused her and testimony from her former partner admitting to physical assault and threats–the Yolo County District Attorney aggressively pursued a retrial. Assistant District Attorney Steve Mount tried to paint Nan-Hui as an abuser in his cross examination, accusing her of leaving the country with her child in a malicious attempt to retaliate against her ex-partner. To smear her credibility, Mount refused to acknowledge Nan-Hui as a survivor of domestic violence, accusing her of being a “tiger mom” who was “clearly a very capable woman” and who knowingly exploited welfare and immigration systems. We see the District Attorney’s remarks for what they are: racist, anti-immigrant, and sexist tropes that have no place in a “justice system.” 

 The Yolo County DA, CBP, and ICE have done irreparable damage to Nan-Hui and Vitz Da. Mother and daughter have not been allowed to talk in over seven months. Nan-Hui has been imprisoned without bail and without due process since July 2014 because of the immigration hold, despite her status as a survivor and a pending U Visa application on file. Vitz Da is currently in the full custody of her former partner.

We stand with Nan-Hui against an unjust system that criminalizes survivors and immigrants, as well as separates families. We call on CBP and ICE to immediately release Nan-Hui and stop all deportation proceedings.  

 TAKE ACTION NOW TO #STANDWITHNANHUI:

1. Sign this petition for Nan-Hui directed to CBP Support Director Ricardo Scheller and ICE Field Director Craig Meyer. 

2. Make a QUICK phone call in support of Nan-Hui:

Call CBP Support Director Ricardo Scheller at (415) 782-9201 and ICE Field Director Craig Meyer at (415) 844-5512 ext. 4 to demand that CBP and ICE exercise its prosecutorial discretion to drop Nan-Hui’s case.

Sample Script: “I am calling to ask Director Scheller/Humphrey to drop the immigration hold against Ms. Nan-Hui Jo (A 098 906 641) and allow her to reunite with her six-year-old daughter. Ms. Jo is a survivor of domestic violence and her case should be considered under the parental interests directive. I ask that ICE/CBP exercise its prosecutorial discretion and drop Ms. Jo’s deportation case.”
 

4. Raise awareness on social media about Nan-Hui’s case. 

Click on the share buttons on this petition and Tweet about it and spread the word using hashtags #StandWithNanHui, #WeSurvived, and #Not1More..
 

In Solidarity,
Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse (KACEDA)

Immigrant Youth Coalition (IYC)
Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus Advancing Justice (ALC)

(for a more complete list of organizations that have signed on to support Nan-Hui, please click here: http://www.kaceda.org/standwithnanhui/)

Language & Action back from hiatus!

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

WIN! Sex Offender Registration for Sex Workers Ends in Louisiana

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

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

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

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

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

Skin Color & Prison Sentences for Black Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raquel Nelson

Sarah Goodyear at The Grist:

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

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

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

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

Press release:

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

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

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

Displaced Women Organize for Housing Justice in Port au Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sterilization and Reproductive Justice

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

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

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

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

Young Women United Successes in Reproductive Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punitive, Criminalizing, & Discriminatory Attacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth Behind the Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

What We Need

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Young Families Day Celebration!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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