#Blacksexworkerslivesmatter: White-Washed ‘Anti-Slavery’ and the Appropriation of Black Suffering

by Robyn Maynard
Originally published at The Feminist Wire, republished here with permission.

Art by Robyn Maynard and Jessica MacCormack

Claiming to be a modern-day anti-slavery ambassador is a highly profitable cause, one that is increasingly popular in Hollywood circles. Most recently, hundreds of celebrities endorsed an open letter to derail Amnesty International’s draft policy to decriminalize consensual adult prostitution. The letter was written by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International (CATW), a U.S-based anti-prostitution lobby group who frequently lobbies for the criminalization of the sex industry while using the term interchangeably with “contemporary slavery.” Indeed it has developed into, quite literally, a ten-million dollar industry; it has become common-place to see organizations seeking large-scale donations for some take on a “movement to re-Abolish slavery.” Yet if fighting the supposed legacy of slavery is this popular of a social cause, how is it that crowd-funding remains one of the only means of fundraising by families of Black persons killed by the police? In what some are calling the Age of Ferguson, an era where police killings of Black men, women, and children are institutionalized and enshrined in law in the same way that slavery once was, the question must be asked: how legitimate can a ‘new’ anti-slavery movement be when the legacy of the transatlantic slave-trade is a living, breathing horror for anyone living with Black skin in the Americas? And what does this say about the value placed on Black lives that fighting ‘slavery’ is only popular when it is whitewashed of any Black-led struggles for justice?

For anti-prostitution campaigns pushing for the criminalization of the sex industry, ‘slavery’ has been decontextualized from Black struggle and repurposed to describe the multiplicity of workplaces where sexual services are exchanged consensually and for remuneration, such as strip clubs, brothels and massage parlours and on the street. As a black woman with experience in the sex industry and as a long-time outreach worker with both street-based and indoor sex workers in Montreal, this rhetoric has always troubled me. Mobilizing slavery in this way has always seemed a deeply disrespectful appropriation of Black suffering, disrespectful both to our deceased ancestors and to our still-endangered lives as Black folks.

But by hijacking the terminology of slavery, even widely referring to themselves as ‘abolitionists’, anti-sex work campaigners have not only (successfully) campaigned for funding and legal reform; but they do so without any tangible connections to historical or current Black political movements against state violence. Indeed in pushing for criminalization, they are often undermining those most harmed by the legacy of slavery. As Blacks persons across the Americas are literally fighting for our lives, it is urgent to examine the actions and goals of any mostly white and conservative movement who deign to be the rightful inheritors of an ‘anti-slavery’ mission which deigns to abolish prostitution but both ignores and indirectly facilitates brutalities waged against Black communities.

What is this ‘New Anti-Slavery’ Movement Devoid of Black Solidarity?

It is not only CATW that appropriates the anti-slavery narrative. Politicians, highly influential and well-funded international NGO’s, women’s groups, high-profile celebrities and Evangelical and Catholic organizations across Canada and the United States regularly and repeatedly invoke Black suffering under chattel slavery in a push to criminalize the sex industry. Canadian Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament Joy Smith frequently invokes ‘modern slavery‘ to pass legislation criminalizing sex work in Canada. This is part of a broader anti-prostitution movement that self-identifies as ‘abolitionist’, nominally assuming a direct lineage with those who fought and opposed chattel slavery. Vancouver women’s organization Vancouver Rape Relief explicitly link their own efforts to criminalize all forms of prostitution to the anti-slavery movements in 18th century West Indies, the United States and Canada; and go on to place themselves as modern anti-slavery ambassadors, claiming their role in “a new international abolitionist movement [which] has recently emerged.” Joy Smith directly parallels her work to the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Writer and sex worker Maggie McNeil has pointed out in the Washington Post, the use of the historically and emotionally loaded term ‘slavery’ is deliberate and not accidental: activist group Demand Abolition openly state that they strategically use the word slavery as a stand in for prostitution in order to garner popular support.

Slavery Without the Slaves?

Anti-prostitution and right wing government agencies frequently repeat the (rarely cited) statistic that sexual slavery is the ‘third largest world economy’, yet these claims have repeatedly been demonstrated to be baseless. The oft-repeated statistic that the average of entry into the sex trade is 12-14 in North America have been categorically debunked since they are based on studies which excluded adults,[1] to the point of being excluded as evidence in the Ontario Superior Court by Justice Susan Himel. Even those horrific instances of conditions that could arguably be called ‘sex slavery’ are not definitive of the entire sex industry; despite anti-prostitution advocates’ frequent but inaccurate claims to the contrary. In Canada the only large-scale national peer-reviewed study investigating the topic found that most women working in the sex trade do not consider themselves victims, let alone could they be considered slaves by any legal categorization. Working conditions in the sex industry, like in many unregulated or criminalized industries, can be far from ideal, and indeed can be coercive and even violent in many instances. Yet ‘slavery’ is an empirically inaccurate description of the sex industry as a whole; only made possible by misrepresenting facts and conflating sex work and sex trafficking statistics to drum up support to criminalize prostitution.

Using ‘Abolition’ to Promote Human Rights Abuses

Though they invoke slavery and abolition, neither the money raised nor the visibility of prohibitionist movements goes towards the Black-led movements against continued state violence. In borrowing this narrative, these ‘abolitionists’, who, as I have argued elsewhere are more rightly termed prohibitionists, exploit Black suffering to provide emotional weight to their own cause.

Not only is Black suffering appropriated and evacuated from so-called ‘new abolition’, but this movement is being used to champion a pro-criminalization movement which has been documented to harm those it purports to support. After much lobbying, Canadian prohibitionists championed a recently passed federal legislation intended to eradicate the sex industry in the name of ‘protecting vulnerable peoples’, (officially the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act). Sex workers, racial justice and human rights advocates across the country fiercely opposed this legislation, however, because it continued to criminalize sex workers and their necessary safety practices both directly and indirectly. Hailed as an ‘abolitionist victory’, the law continues to criminalize street-based sex workers, even though a nearly-identical law was recently struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada as unconstitutional because it put street-based sex workers lives in danger[2] and left sex workers vulnerable to police abuse. Incidentally, street-based sex workers are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, and trans women. One recent application of this new ‘rescue’ law saw Quebec-based ‘abolitionist’ group the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuel (CLES) call (successfully) on the police to increase surveillance and enforcement of sex work locations during Montreal’s June 2015 Grand Prix; another saw 11 migrant sex workers deported in an Ottawa-based sting in May of this year. In the wake of both empirical evidence and consultations with sex workers demonstrating the harms caused by criminalization, UNAIDS, and the World Health Organization have come out in favor of decriminalization of the consensual exchange of sexual services for money, in order to better support sex workers’ multifaceted struggle against human and labour rights abuses, including violence at the hands of law enforcement, and vulnerability to contracting HIV/-AIDS.[3] For the same reasons, hundreds of sex worker organizations around the world, notably in post-colonial nations across the continent of Africa and the Caribbean islands, continually advocate for decriminalization. Criminalization, regardless of its purportedly benevolent intentions, places sex workers in harm’s way, and invoking black slaves who lived and died fighting for their humanity to this purpose is an abuse of history.

Robbed of Our Narratives: Black Slavery and Abolition Are Not Metaphors

Yet it is simply false to parallel the entire sex industry to an economic, social and political system based on the full subjugation of one race to another, wherein Blacks in the United States and Canada were systematically chained, raped, beaten, branded, used, and disposed of by their white slave owners under the trans-Atlantic slave trade and plantation economies, categorically deemed subhuman for hundreds of years. For too long, Black communities have been robbed of our bodies, languages, and innovations, and here we are also robbed of our own historical narrative.

How is it that a quintessentially pro-criminalization movement is called ‘new abolition’ when it works directly against efforts taken to combat anti-Black policing and Black incarceration? Abolition is an important part the Black tradition; Black ex and runaway slaves played a crucial role in the formal abolition of the institution of slavery in the Americas, and were without question the original abolitionists, alongside white supporters. The significance of those Black slaves that escaped and fought for abolition cannot and must not be abstracted into mere metaphor, for the purpose of evoking strong emotions against prostitution, or any other means of working, trading, surviving or thriving.

Abolition belongs not only to Black history but also to contemporary Black-led struggles against incarceration and policing. The words of formerly incarcerated ex-Black Panther Angela Y. Davis on her involvement with anti-prison activism demonstrate this lineage clearly:

I choose the word `abolitionist’ deliberately. The 13th Amendment, when it abolished slavery, did so except for convicts. Through the prison system, the vestiges of slavery have persisted. It thus makes sense to use a word that has this historical resonance. (Davis, (1996: 26).

Though it goes ignored by the Hollywood, white-feminist, and Evangelical-church-based version of abolitionism, there exists a vibrant contemporary Black, indigenous, and women of colour-led abolitionist movement against the prison-industrial complex; pushing instead for a transformative justice which does not rely on law enforcement; INCITE!,TGI Justice, and #BlackLivesMatter are only a few. In their push for criminalization, anti-prostitution advocates under the borrowed term of ‘abolitionists’ are taking the space that rightfully belongs to grassroots Black-led/allied abolitionist movements against the prison industrial complex and the ongoing lived effects of slavery. And they do so while promoting practices that harm Black communities and Black organizing efforts against law enforcement.

Criminalization is No Friend to Black Women: #Sayhername #Blacksexworkerslivesmatter

It is not arbitrary that many Black feminist writers and racial justice activists advocate and organize to create anti-violence measuresbeyond the state, and are less likely than our white feminist counterparts to push for more policing to ‘protect’ us. The most significant violence Black communities face is still at the hands of the state. Black (and Indigenous) communities always bear the brunt of criminalization, be it via laws against sex, drugs, or even inhabiting public space. Indeed the Black inmate population at federal institutions in Canada has grown by nearly 90 per cent since 2003, the result of unapologetic police profiling, hyper-surveillance, and harassment, experienced by the Black population in every Canadian and American city. Recently, #BlackLivesMatter has made some gains in highlighting the erasure and silence of the state’s silent War on Black Women. Profiling, and indeed police murder of Black women is less mediatized, but it is no less a reality; as black feminists and others continue to point out, notably here and here. Still, our lives (and our deaths) are accorded little value in the Americas.

Where do the pro-law enforcement strategies promoted by these ‘anti-slavery advocates’ leave Black sex workers, and Black cis and trans women more generally? In the context of unchecked anti-Black racism, more police on the streets and surveillance of indoor sex work locations inevitably means more abuse of Black women and Black sex working women at the hands of the police, particularly trans women. The Ontario Human Rights Commission found that many Canadian Black women were profiled because “they were assumed to be prostitutes [by police] because they were in a car with White men who was assumed to be a customer.”[4] Black women who sell or trade sex are specifically targeted by law enforcement; the Red Umbrella Project based in New York recently documented that Black defendants in Brooklyn made up 94 percent of charges on the offense of “loitering for the purposes of prostitution.” Where there is profiling, already a form of harm, there is abuse and violence, and sex workers have been documented to experience high rates of sexual assault at the hands of the police.[5] The violence of the criminal justice system is most notably silenced when it involves Black transgendered sex workers; as tragically exemplified by the recent death of Mya Hall, a black transgender sex worker killed by police, and near media silence. Black sex workers too often live in fear of losing their children, fear losing of their only source of income with which they support their families, and sometimes fear losing their lives.

#Realabolitionnow – Our Abolition Movements Are Not Over

The abolition of ‘formal’ slavery was accomplished, but the abolition of its horrific legacy is far from over, and so abolition cannot rightly be borrowed to enhance the popularity of the political causes of celebrities and highly-funded NGO’s. Though ‘abolition’ has been appropriated, I do not intend to easily surrender the legacy of Black slavery and abolition to those who would abuse it. Co-opting the horrors of Black slavery in order to push for increased policing of women’s (often Black and cis and trans women’s) workspaces and bodies is dangerously misinformed: the harms wreaked on Black women’s bodies by hundreds of years of racist policing and imprisonment stand for themselves. The legacy of the abolition of slavery belongs to those who are still living (and dying) in its wake; there is no place for an ‘abolitionism’ that organizes for more, and not less, law enforcement, in a context in which hundreds of thousands of Black lives have been lost to law enforcement or vigilantes in the United States and Canada in recent decades.

It is only in allying ourselves to end the state’s war on Black women, including trans Black women and Black sex working women, and for an end to Black suffering, can we truly deign to call ourselves abolitionists. To fight the modern legacy of slavery, we must be part of fighting, and not contributing to Black suffering.

[1] For more information on Canadian prohibitionist’ misuse of statistics including ‘age-of-entry’ see John Lowman’s Brief to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

[2] Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, [2013] 3 S.C.R. 1101.

[3] World Health Organization: “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention” 2005; UN AIDS, UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work, 2009.

[4] Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, December 1995.

[5] A 2007 report for the United Nations brings forth a 2002 Chicago-based study that found that 30% of exotic dancers and 24% of street-based sex workers who had been raped identified a police officer as the rapist.   Approximately 20% of other acts of sexual violence were also committed by the police. This study was entitled In the shadows of the war on terror: Persistent police brutality and abuse of people of color in the United States A report prepared for the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, published in December 2007 and written by Ritchie and Mogul, DePaul College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, 28.

IMG_6299-2Robyn Maynard is a Black feminist writer, activist, and most recently, a brand-new mama. She is a full-time outreach worker Stella, a by-and-for sex workers service and advocacy organization in Montreal. She is a frequent media commentator on the harms caused by the criminalization of sex work and the harms of systemic racism, and her voice has been featured on CBC, CTV, the Globe and Mail, the Nation, Maisonneuve Magazine; she also recently testified before Canada’s Parliamentary Justice Committee on the new prostitution laws. For nearly 10 years she has been part of grassroots efforts against police racism and brutality in Montreal and she is a co-founder of Justice for Victims of Police Killings, a group of family and supporters of people killed by the police across Canada.

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?

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?

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.


Chicago, June 28: Freedom Beyond Occupation & Incarceration

Freedom Beyond Occupation & Incarceration
An Afternoon with Angela Davis & Rasmea Odeh

Sunday, June 28th, 2:30pm
University of Il. Chicago (UIC)
750 S. Halsted St, Student Center East
Illinois Room, 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL


Organized by:
The Rasmea Defense Committee
Black Lives Matter Chicago
Black on Both Sides
Black Youth Project 100
Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
Coalition to Protect People’s Rights
Committe Against Political Repression
Committee to Stop FBI Repression
Southside Together Organizing for Power/Fearless Leading by the Youth
U.S. Palestinian Community Network
We Charge Genocide


Facebook event page:


BWM521UPDATE: A regularly updated list of actions across the US can be found HERE. So far, actions are currently organized in Chicago, ILNew York, NYColumbus, OHOakland, CAMiami, FLNew Orleans, LALouisville, KYLexington, KYAnn Arbor, MIIndianapolis, INCharlotte, NCSeattle, WAAsheville, NCMinneapolis, MNAustin, TXNashville, TN

Black Youth Project 100, Ferguson Action, and #BlackLivesMatter have called a

National Day of Action to End State Violence Against Black Women and Girls:

THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2015

 JOIN in mourning the lives of Black women and girls lost to police violence, and in lifting up the voices, experiences and demands of Black women targeted by police!

Black women – queer and not queer, transgender and not transgender – are killed, beaten, profiled, and harassed by police across the country in many of the same ways as Black men, whether it’s “broken windows policing,” “driving while Black,” or the “war on drugs.” For example:

  • Racial profiling studies analyzing the experiences of Black women separately from those of men of color conclude “for both men and women there is an identical pattern of stops by race/ethnicity.”
  • In New York City, racial disparities in stops are the same for Black women as they are for Black men: over the past 5 years, over 50% of stops of women were of Black women, and 55% of stops of men were of Black men. According to the 2010 Census, only 27% of New York City’s population is Black.
  • Data recently released by the Missouri Attorney General’s office shows that in Ferguson, MO, more Black women drivers are stopped than any other group.

Black women also experience gender and sexuality specific forms of profiling and police violence – including sexual violence and assault by police, profiling for prostitution-related offenses, and police violence against pregnant Black women and mothers. For example:

  • One study found that sexual assault by police is the second most commonly reported form of police misconduct.
  • Another found that the majority (76%) of victims of on-duty police sexual misconduct are adults, but almost a quarter (24%) of reported cases of on-duty sexual misconduct involved minors.
  • According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 38% of Black transgender people who had interactions with police reported harassment, 14% reported physical assault, and 6% reported sexual assault.
  • A New York City study found that found that up to 2 in 5 young women reported sexual harassment by law enforcement.

It’s time to break the silence around Black women and police violence – because #BlackWomensLivesMatter!

Join the National Day of Action!

Here are 5 things you can do in your area:

  • Talk to 5 friends or host a kitchen table conversation about Black women and policing – for ideas, check out this workshop:
  • Hold a vigil or a gathering focused on Black women in your community who have been killed or harmed by police
  • Conduct a “know your rights” training for Black women using this brochure:
  • Call your Congressperson and Senator and ask them to sponsor and pass the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1933/ S. 1056), which for the first time would ban profiling based on gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation in addition to race, national origin and religion!
  • Call or go to your local police department or City Council and give them a list of demands on behalf of Black women – check out the demands below!

Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtags #SayHerName #BlackWomensLivesmatter #BlackWomenMatter #AllBlackLivesMatter

Some things you can push for your local police department to do to prevent police abuse of Black women:

  1. End “broken windows” policing practices, including laws used to criminalize homelessness and poverty
  2. Enact and enforce a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment and assault of members of the public by police officers;
  3. Stop profiling us! Adopt and enforce a ban on officers confiscating or using mere possession or presence of condoms as evidence of any prostitution-related offense;
  4. Adopt and enforce a policy requiring officers to respect Black women’s gender identity and expression in all police interactions, searches, and police detention and explicitly banning officers from profiling people based on gender identity or expression or searching people to assign gender;
  5. Ensure that use of force policies clearly prohibit use of TASERs and excessive force on pregnant women or children;
  6. Enact and enforce policies requiring police to make every effort to identify kinship care for children of parents taken into custody before contacting child protective services.

For more organizing ideas, check out INCITE!’s Organizer’s Toolkit on Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color and Trans People of Color:
Palmcards and brochures available here: and here:

Questions? Looking for more resources?

Contact Andrea Ritchie, Soros Justice Fellow at:



Feminist scholars to Obama: End prosecution of Palestinian survivor of sexual torture

Originally published in The Electronic Intifada
Sign petition here:
Learn more about the Nov 4th Court Action in Detroit.

Feminist scholars to Obama: End prosecution of Palestinian survivor of sexual torture

10708529_866559093356974_8244619295410734892_oBetween 1969-1979, Rasmea Odeh served ten years in an Israeli prison. Her sentence was based on a confession she made in the midst of 45 days of sexual and physical torture while in detention. Following her release, she was exiled from her Palestinian homeland and eventually immigrated to the United States from Jordan in 1994 as a legal resident where she tried to put her memories of torture behind her. She later became a naturalized citizen.

In the US, Rasmea settled in Chicago where she became the associate director of theArab American Action Network, a social service and community organization. There, she established the Arab Women’s Committee, a grassroots collective that promotes leadership among Arab immigrant women, challenges systems of oppression that impact Arab women’s lives and secures a positive and safe political, economic, social, and cultural environment for Arab women and their communities. In 2013, the Chicago Cultural Alliance granted Rasmea its Outstanding Community Leader Award in recognition of her devotion of “over forty years of her life to the empowerment of Arab women.”

Now, Rasmea is being persecuted again for not giving account of her time in jail after her torture 45 years ago on her naturalization application in 2004.

On 22 October 2013, the US Department of Justice arrested Rasmea Odeh at her home in the Chicago Suburbs. The Department of Justice alleges that Odeh failed to disclose on her naturalization application that she had served time in Israeli jail – even though her sentence was based on a confession she made in the midst of weeks of torture. Rasmea faces up to ten years in US prison, fines up to $250,000 and potential deportation and de-naturalization.

The Israeli state avoids any blame for the politically motivated abuse and imprisonment of Rasmea. The criminal charges she faces for alleged immigration fraud in the US are also politically motivated. They are based upon naturalization papers she filed ten years ago in 2004 and sprang from an illegal federal investigation of 23 Palestinian and anti-war activists that violates First Amendment rights.

They are also connected to a long history of federal authorities using fear and repression to silence Palestinian-American activists and intimidate immigrant women from participating in social justice movements.

Rasmea Odeh has suffered enough already. When the Israeli military arrested her, they also arrested her family members shortly after her arrest and destroyed her family’s home. Odeh’s 1969 conviction in Israel was determined by a court system that systematically abuses Palestinians’ due process rights, has a record of torture and sexual abuse of Palestinian women, men, and children, and convicts Palestinians at a rate of 99.74 percent.

As feminist scholars, we call on the Department of Justice to drop the charges against Rasmea Odeh. We extend our deepest support to Rasmea in the face of injustice. We recognize her as a leader in the international struggle to empower women and end violence against women. We recognize the pain and suffering she endured in Israeli prisons and we honor her for testifying before a United Nations Committee in Geneva as a survivor of sexual torture.

We honor her decades of feminist activism on behalf of Arab and Muslim immigrant women living in poverty in Chicago. Rasmea built the Arab Women’s Committee and its base of nearly six hundred Arab immigrant women from scratch when she went door to door as a recent immigrant herself and made phone calls to households with Arabic names from the white pages.

She developed an infrastructure for disenfranchised Arab immigrant and refugee women to obtain social services and support and she established English as a second language courses through which immigrant women perform plays, write their immigration stories and form deep friendships, sisterhood, and solidarity.

Because of Rasmea’s work, immigrant and refugee women who came to the US from countries facing war and political crises – like Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, and beyond – now have a place to seek support, gain empowerment and community and call their home.

Rasmea’s story encompasses some of the most urgent feminist struggles of our times – violence against women and the use of sexual violence as a tool of colonization and war; the impact of racism and anti-immigrant policies upon women; the criminalization of women of color; and the use of intimidation to thwart feminist activism.

Rasmea’s trial is set to begin 4 November 2014, in Detroit, Michigan.

We call upon all feminist movements to stand with gender justice and centralize Rasmea Odeh’s struggle within all of our movements.

We call upon President Obama and the United States Department of Justice to drop the charges against Rasmea Odeh.

  1. Sarah Abboud, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania
  2. Stéphanie Latte Abdallah, Researcher, CNRS (IFPO)
  3. Diya Abdo, Associate Professor, Guilford College
  4. Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
  5. Lila Abu-Lughod, Professor, Columbia University
  6. Fida J. Adely, Associate Professor, Georgetown University
  7. Jocelyn Ajami
  8. Nadje Al-Ali, Professor, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
  9. Dina Al-Kassim, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
  10. Deborah Al-Najjar, University of Southern California
  11. Lori Allen, Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
  12. Paul Amar, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
  13. Anjali Arondekar, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
  14. Barbara Aswad, Professor Emerita, Wayne State University
  15. Sa’ed Atshan, Postdoctoral Fellow, Brown University
  16. Elsa Auerbach, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Boston
  17. Kathryn Babayan, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  18. Paola Bacchetta, Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley
  19. Joanne Barker, Professor, San Francisco State University
  20. Janet Bauer, Associate Professor, Trinity College
  21. Leila Ben-Nasr, Ohio State University
  22. Sherna Berger-Gluck, California State University, Long Beach
  23. Amahl Bishara, Assistant Professor, Tufts University
  24. Elizabeth Bishop, Associate Professor, Texas State University
  25. Jennifer Brier, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  26. Victoria Brittain, Journalist and Author
  27. L.M. San Pablo Burns, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
  28. Louise Cainkar, Associate Professor, Marquette University
  29. Piya Chatterjee, Scripps College
  30. Julia Chinyere Oparah, Professor, Mills College
  31. Andreana Clay, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
  32. Maria Cotera, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  33. Ephrosine Daniggelis
  34. Angela Davis, Distinguished Professor Emirita, University of California, Santa Cruz
  35. Lara Deeb, Professor, Scripps College
  36. Christine Taitano DeLisle, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign
  37. Gina Dent, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
  38. Lisa Duggan, Professor, New York University
  39. Zillah Eisenstein, Distinguished Feminist Scholar, Ithaca College
  40. Omnia El Shakry, Associate Professor, University of California, Davis
  41. Nada Elia, Independent Scholar
  42. Hoda Elsadda, Professor, Cairo University
  43. Anita Fábos, Associate Professor, Clark University
  44. Roderick Ferguson, Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  45. Ellen Fleischmann, Professor, University of Dayton
  46. Cynthia Franklin, Professor, University of Hawai’i
  47. Rosa Linda Fregoso, Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
  48. Nancy Gallagher, Research Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
  49. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York
  50. Sherna Berger Gluck, Emerita Faculty, California State University, Long Beach
  51. Layla Azmi Goushey, Assistant Professor, St. Louis Community College
  52. Marame Gueye, Associate Professor, East Carolina University
  53. Elena Gutiérrez, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  54. Elaine C. Hagopian, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Simmons College
  55. Sondra Hale, Research Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
  56. Hala Halim, Associate Professor, New York University
  57. Najla Hamadeh, Independent Researcher
  58. Michelle Hartman, Associate Professor, McGill University
  59. Nadia Hijab, Author and Human Rights Advocate
  60. Grace Kyungwon Hong, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
  61. LeAnne Howe, Professor, University of Georgia
  62. Constantine Inglessis
  63. Jacqueline Khayat Inglessis
  64. Joyce Inglessis
  65. Bushra Jabre, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  66. Lynette Jackson, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  67. Amira Jarmakani, Associate Professor, Georgia State University
  68. Suad Joseph, Distinguish Research Professor University of California, Davis
  69. Mohja Kahf, Professor, University of Arkansas
  70. Ronak Kapadia, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  71. J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Associate Professor, Wesleyan University
  72. Laleh Khalili, Professor, School of Oriental and African Studies
  73. Sharon Heijin Lee, Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow, New York University
  74. Pardis Mahdavi, Associate Professor, Pomona College
  75. Lisa Suhair Majaj, Writer and Editor
  76. Jean Said Makdisi, Writer
  77. Harriet Malinowitz, Lecturer, Ithaca College
  78. Rania Masri, Associate Director, American University of Beirut
  79. Victor Mendoza, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  80. Hasna Mikdashi, Arab Women’s Studies and Research, NOUR, Cairo
  81. Maya Mikdashi, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Rutgers University
  82. Minoo Moallem, Professor, University of California, Berkeley
  83. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Distinguished Professor, Syracuse University
  84. Scott L. Morgensen, Associate Professor, Queen’s University
  85. Norma Claire Moruzzi, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  86. Susan Muaddi Darraj
  87. Nadine Naber, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  88. Margo Okazawa-Rey, Professor Emerita, San Francisco State University
  89. Jennifer Olmsted, Professor, Economics, Drew University
  90. Geeta Patel, Associate Professor, University of Virginia
  91. Suvendrini Perera, Professor, Curtin University
  92. Jasbir Puar, Associate Professor, Rutgers University
  93. Michelle Raheja, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  94. Aneil Rallin, Associate Professor, Soka University of America
  95. Barbara Ransby, Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  96. Robin L. Riley, Assistant Professor, Syracuse University
  97. Eleanor Roffman, Professor Emerita, Lesley University
  98. Judy Rohrer, Assistant Professor, Western Kentucky University
  99. Rachel Rubin, Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
  100. Rosemary Sayigh, Researcher and Visiting Professor, Center for Arab and Middle East Studies, American University of Beirut.
  101. Susan Schaefer Davis, Independent Scholar
  102. Laurie Schaffner, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  103. Malini Johar Schueller, Professor, University of Florida
  104. Sarita See, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  105. May Seikaly, Associate Professor, Wayne State University
  106. Sima Shakhsari, Assistant Professor, Wellesley College
  107. Simona Sharoni, Professor, State University of New York, Plattsburgh
  108. Setsu Shigematsu, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  109. Irene Siegel, Assistant Professor, Hofstra University
  110. Andrea Smith, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  111. Samera Sood
  112. Ahdaf Soueif, writer
  113. Rajini Srikanth, Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
  114. Maria Francesca Stamuli, National Library of Naples
  115. Neferti X. M. Tadiar, Professor, Barnard College
  116. Kim TallBear, Associate Professor, University of Texas, Austin
  117. Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
  118. Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor, The New School for Social Research
  119. Judith E. Tucker, Professor, History, Georgetown University
  120. Karyn Valerius, Associate Professor, Hofstra University
  121. Sherry Vatter, California State University, Long Beach
  122. Maurice L. Wade, Professor, Trinity College
  123. Lee Ann Wang, Assistant Professor, University of Hawaii
  124. Jessica Winegar, Associate Professor, Northwestern University

Justice for Rasmea Odeh

(Editors’ Note: To learn more about Rasmea Odeh’s case, listen to an engaging interview with Nadine Naber on KPFA)

by Nadine Naber
(originally published at Middle East Research and Information Project)

This past wintrasmeaodeher, I was privileged to participate in several events in Chicago organized by Rasmea Yousef Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Action Network and leader of that group’s Arab Women’s Committee. The events brought together anywhere from 60-100 disenfranchised women, all recent immigrants, from nearly every Arabic-speaking country. The attendees were there to learn English, share meals and stories, and discuss personal struggles, in everything from marriage and parenting to navigating the US educational and medical industries and the US immigration system. The women also talked about fending off racism. Together, they developed solutions for their own lives.

One event I attended was a celebration of International Women’s Day, at which immigrant women performed a play that Rasmea Odeh had written. The play focused on several generations of women in an extended Arab immigrant family who grappled with gender-related struggles both in the family and in American society with recourse to their loving but often tense connections with one another. The audience was engrossed, laughing and commenting throughout the performance, perhaps because they rarely see their own life struggles thus affirmed in America. Rarely, in fact, do they see humane, nuanced representations of Arab women’s lives at all.

After the play, attendees listened to music and celebrated their own accomplishments. Several women were from countries like Yemen and Iraq and had come to the United States without knowing a word of English. They could now read and write. Odeh asked each of her students to bring something they had written in English to be read out loud. The first woman stood up and read: “I love my teacher.”

As the event went on, women spoke over and over about the affection and gratitude they felt toward Rasmea Odeh for touching and transforming their lives and making such a beautiful space possible. I then understood why scores of women were attending each class, workshop or event — even though they were under no obligation to do so and even though many had to walk by themselves through a polar vortex snowstorm (in Chicago, no less) to get there.

I could not help but recall the scenes at the Arab Women’s Committee events some months later, in May, at a historic Chicago conference in commemoration of the 1964 Freedom Summer, when civil rights icon Angela Davis insisted that every social justice activist in the US embrace solidarity with Palestine and the movement demanding that the US government drop its charges against Rasmea Odeh.

Charges? What charges? Why would the US government want to prosecute this 67-year old Palestinian-American community activist and teacher?

On October 22, 2013, also in Chicago, Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Odeh. She was subsequently indicted on one charge of unlawful procurement of naturalization, and released the same day on a $15,000 bond. The US government accuses Odeh of failing to answer a question truthfully on her naturalization application ten years ago in 2004. She is scheduled to stand trial in a Detroit federal court starting on September 8, 2014. If convicted, she could face up to ten years in prison and fines up to $250,000. She may also be deported and have her US citizenship revoked after the potential prison sentence is served. From national call in-days to student protests, petitions and mobilizations to pack the courtroom, a campaign to support Odeh has gained massive support.

US officials say they are after Odeh for immigration fraud. The Department of Justice alleges that Odeh failed to disclose on her naturalization application that she had served time in Israeli jail — even though her sentence was based on a confession she made in the midst of 45 days of sexual and physical torture while in detention. In addition, Odeh’s 1969 conviction in Israel was determined by a court system that systematically abuses Palestinians’ due process rights and convicts Palestinians at a rate of 99.74 percent. The Israeli military justice system that is applied to occupied Palestinians, in fact, has itself been found to be in immense violation of international law — from the lack of protections against torture and rape while in custody to the simple fact that virtually no Palestinian walks away free from an Israeli trial. The Israeli state also unlawfully imprisoned and tortured Odeh’s family and destroyed her family home soon after her arrest.

Odeh’s release from Israeli jail was followed by exile to Jordan and immigration to the US. Living in Michigan and Chicago since 1994, she has worked at the Arab American Action Network since the mid-2000s and led the Arab Women’s Committee, one of the most successful empowerment programs for Arab immigrant women living in poverty. For this service, Odeh received the Mosaic Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Chicago Cultural Alliance. Thanks to her leadership, the Arab Women’s Committee now has a base of nearly 600 Arab immigrant women and does much more than the typical social service program. Women may obtain language training and other services, but they also come to find emotional support, genuine human interaction, artistic and writing activities, political discussion and debate, and a level of solidarity otherwise absent from their lives.

The question remains: Why is Rasmea Odeh being prosecuted, and why now, for an alleged infraction that is a full decade old? Analysts connect her arrest with many previous US government campaigns against Palestinian-American activists and their supporters. Under the Nixon administration, there was Operation Boulder. The case of the Los Angeles Eight outlasted three (and almost four) presidents before it was finally set aside. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, there has been increased spying, profiling and infiltration of Arab and Muslim communities and there have been prosecutions for sending charitable aid to Palestinians, as in the case of theHoly Land Five.

In all of these cases, as in Odeh’s, what the US government considers suspect is connected to what Palestinian-Americans and their supporters are permitted to say about Israel — and to Israel’s own systems of militarism, surveillance, repression and incarceration. There may also be a connection between Odeh’s indictment and the 2010 FBI raids targeting 23 anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists in the Midwest. And Palestine Solidarity Legal Support responded to more than 100 more incidents in 2013 alone. These incidents involve not only extra government scrutiny but also all sorts of intimidation and bullying. The Odeh indictment may also be related to the US government’s Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, which delays and denies naturalization applications of members of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities, solely on the basis of religion, ethnicity and/or national origin.

But again, why Rasmea Odeh, and why now? Why now, when so many Arab immigrant women in Chicago are celebrating their personal successes in America partly due to Odeh’s remarkable leadership? Why now, when the Palestinian struggle, typified by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, is growing faster than ever before in Chicago and across the US?

We may never really know why, but this much is clear: The federal government is using immigration infractions as a political tool to target Rasmea Odeh with criminal charges. The circumstances of her case are especially aggravating: 1) Israel tortures and sexually assaults Palestinians like Odeh as a means of facilitating the colonization of Palestinian land; 2) the US is complicit going back decades in Israeli war crimes and violations of international law; and 3) the US is now excavating the naturalization papers of a 67-year old survivor of sexual torture in order to brand her as a criminal.

These circumstances are why the streets of Detroit will be filled and the courtroom packed on September 8. From now until then, the collective voice of those whose lives Rasmea has touched, and the growing number of others who support her, will continue to demand: Drop the charges now!

For more information on this case and how to support Rasmea Odeh, see here and here.

National Action to Free Marissa Alexander: Urge the State to Drop the Case!


From Free Marissa Now:

National Action: Urge the State to Drop the Case! 

Have you heard the good news out of Florida? The Appeals Court threw out the guilty verdict in the Marissa Alexander case, citing a “fundamental error” in the jury instructions which unjustly required Marissa to prove her innocence, depriving her of a fair trial.

In mid-October, State Prosecutor Angela Corey will decide whether to drop the case or set a new trial date. We say drop the case! 

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a perfect time to draw attention to how Marissa’s experience of domestic violence and incarceration exemplifies the widespread racial and gender bias in our criminal justice system.

We are asking you to send letters and/or call Angela Corey and encourage her to seek Justice, not a Conviction! Please send copies of your message to Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott so that they know the strength of public opinion on this issue.

The sample letter below may help you get started.

— Free Marissa Now


SAMPLE LETTER (download as pdf!):

Name __________________________



Email __________________________

Dear Ms. Corey:

You have an opportunity to allow an innocent person to go free without further cost to the state of Florida and without further trauma to this woman and her family. I encourage you to drop the charges against Marissa Alexander, rather than pursuing a new trial which, if justice is served, will result in a not-guilty verdict.

Marissa Alexander was a victim of domestic violence who acted in self-defense by taking the only action she saw possible at that moment – an action that injured no one. Her case shines a light on how black women in domestic violence situations are often doubly victimized when they seek justice. Ms. Alexander has experienced at least two traumatic events: the first is being repeatedly abused by her husband, the second is being prosecuted and sentenced to prison for defending herself from that abuse.

Ms. Alexander’s experience bears out the fact that women of color are arrested more often than white women when police arrive on the scene of a domestic violence incident.

For this reason, fewer than 17% of black women call the police for fear they will be further victimized by the police or the courts. By allowing Marissa Alexander to be sentenced to 20 years for self-defense, you have given the message to women everywhere that if they defend their lives, they will be also targeted by police and prosecutors.

There is a widespread stereotype that survivors who fight for their lives, particularly if they are black women, are “too aggressive” and not genuine victims. This stereotype was carried out to such an extent in Marissa Alexander’s case that the whole premise of innocent until proven guilty was reversed, as the Appeals Court found.

Please do the right thing by stopping any further prosecution of this innocent mother and daughter. Drop the case, dismiss all charges, and free Marissa Alexander!




Send your letter to the following addresses:
(Hard copies make more of an impact!)

Angela Corey, State Attorney
Courthouse Annex
220 East Bay Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Phone: 904-630-2400
Fax: 904-630-2938

Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi
State of Florida
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Phone: 850-414-3300 or 850-414-3990
Fax: 850-410-1630

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Phone: 850-717-9337 or 850-488-7146


Read INCITE!’s endorsement of the call to Free Marissa Alexander.