For the women of Atenco, today is one more day of women’s fight for justice and freedom

In 2001, Mexico’s federal government joined with the local government of the State of Mexico and “expropriated” the land wherein lay the village of San Salvador Atenco. In order to build a new airport, the State, with little to no consultation, decided to forcibly remove thousands of people, mostly indigenous, from the lands they had inhabited for generations. The people of San Salvador Atenco organized a massive resistance to this plan. In May 2006, the Governor of the State of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto, sent in the police “to clean up the mess.” Two people were killed and 217 detained, of whom more than 50 women were tortured and sexually violated. Though haunted by the experience, the women refused to become specters. For a decade they have refused every government attempt to silence them, from intimidation to bribes. They have said, every day, we want justice and freedom, and that means we want the truth to be known. This week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to pursue the case of “Mariana Selvas Gómez y others”. These are the women of Atenco: Mariana Selvas Gómez, Georgina Edith Rosales Gutiérrez, María Patricia Romero Hernández, Norma Aidé Jiménez Osorio, Claudia Hernández Martínez, Bárbara Italia Méndez Moreno, Ana María Velasco Rodríguez, Yolanda Muñoz Diosdada, Cristina Sánchez Hernández, Patricia Torres Linares and Suhelen Gabriela Cuevas Jaramillo.

Working with the Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, better known as the Centro Prodh, the women fought, day in and day out, for one thing, “a public reckoning of what happened to them and who ordered it.” During the last decade, they say they have met many other Mexican women, and in particular indigenous Mexican women, who have suffered State-administered sexual torture. For that reason, they joined the campaign, “Breaking the silence. All against sexual torture.”

For ten years, the women of Atenco lived with trauma and memory, watching the men who tortured them walk free and empowered, watching the State do worse and less than nothing, and they refused to accept any of that. When the State tried to threaten and intimidate them, they pushed back. When the State offered them free homes and scholarships, they refused. They said, like the land, like the Earth itself, they were not merchandise, and they were not for sale.

In 2011, Martha Pérez Pineda, of the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land, an organization begun in 2002 in San Salvador Atenco, explained, “Today is one more day of women’s fight for justice and freedom … It was the women who led the fight against the government’s imposition of constructing a new airport on our land. It was we, women, who decided that nothing was going to be constructed there. It was us who decided that those lands were going to keep on being farmlands. We stood firm even when the government tried to subjugate us and to break up the social movement, we, the women said you are not going to subjugate us. We are going out to the streets, in spite of the risk to our lives and our integrity, we are not going to be quiet, we are going to keep on demanding freedom and justice … in Atenco we women say no, we will keep on raising our machete, we will keep on raising our bush of maize that symbolizes life. Those symbols give us a lot of strength … Everything comes from the land, she is so generous. When we walked in our territory during these ten years of fight we see how ourselves in our personal territory as women, have also taken a long journey. In Atenco we are no longer the same women who began the fight. This fight has changed our behavior in front of the male comrades, it has transformed our decisions and our life plans. This fight has helped us to understand that we are not the only women who are living or who lived this violence in 2006, even if violence against women continues.”

That was 2011. Five years later, for the women of Atenco and for the women they stand for, the struggle and the transformation continue.


(Photo Credit 1: Somos el medio) (Photo Credit 2: Proceso / Miguel Dimayuga)

What happened to Sophia Rhianne Dulluog? Just another domestic worker falling from the sky

On the first Sunday of September, domestic workers and their allies marched in the streets of the city center of Hong Kong, chanting, “We are workers, not slaves!” 35-year-old Sophia Rhianne Dulluog, a Filipina domestic “helper”, was nowhere to be seen and yet everywhere. On August 9, Sophia Rhianne Dulluog was cleaning the outside of the windows of her employer’s apartment in a high rise building. She fell to her death: “No suicide note was reportedly found, and there were no suspicious circumstances. The police has classified her death as caused by `falling from a height’. Dulluog, who hailed from Santiago, Isabela, was a single mother to a 10-year-old boy. She arrived in Hong Kong three years ago.” The report language is flat because the incident is absolutely ordinary. In March 18, a 47-year-old fell Filipina worker working in the same neighborhood as Sophia Rhianne Dulluog fell to her death. In the past year, at least four other domestic workers have died, in Hong Kong, from “work accidents or suicide”. Those deaths were neither accident nor suicide. They were murder, and given the victims, femicide.

None of this is new. Domestic workers, such as Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, struggle daily and organize to end the spectacular as well as casual violence employers heap on domestic workers. Domestic workers, such as Evangeline Banao Vallejos, struggle daily and organize to end the structural, exclusionary violence the State piles on transnational domestic workers. In public and in private, domestic workers have organized for decent work, dignity, and democracy. They have done so for decades, and they are doing so today.

And yet women like Sophia Rhianne Dulluog are falling from the sky to their deaths, and for what? For the windows to be cleaned? As a spokesperson for the Asian Migrants Co-ordinating Body noted, “Cleaning windows from the outside is not a domestic worker’s duty. It’s a responsibility of the building management.” And there it is. It’s cheaper to have domestic workers clean the outside of windows than the building management, and if a few die in the process, that’s the collateral damage of global urban development. After all, Sophia Rhianne Dulluog didn’t have to come to Hong Kong, she chose to. Right?

The domestic worker protesters called for an increase in the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers. Meanwhile, almost 72 percent are paid less than the minimum wage. The law says employers have to provide “suitable accommodation.” Close to 40 percent do not have their own room. Many live in “boxes”, “dog houses.” Employers are supposed to provide either free food or a food allowance. For many, that’s not happening.

None of this is new. The global political economy has been built on the acceptability and necessity of expendable slaves, and dogs, among us. They are meant to be the walking embodiment of social death and death-in-life. Other than their capacity as super-exploited labor, they are less than nothing. That’s why domestic workers’ struggles for decent work, dignity and democracy are crucial, because, while they are not the wooden shoes in the global machinery, they are the ones who wear and throw those shoes.

What happened to Sophia Rhianne Dulluog? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, just another domestic worker falling from the sky. “No suicide note was reportedly found, and there were no suspicious circumstances.”



(Photo Credit: Coconuts Hong Kong / Loryjean Yungco)

What’s the matter with Oklahoma? Women prisoners.

Since 1991 Oklahoma has consistently had the highest female incarceration rate in the United States. For 25 years, Oklahoma has consistently led the nation in its race to the bottom and beneath. This year is no different. According to Oklahoma Watch, “Despite years of concern over Oklahoma’s high rate of female incarceration, the number of women sent to prison jumped again in the latest fiscal year. In fiscal 2016, which ended June 30, the number of women sent to Oklahoma prisons rose by 9.5 percent, from 1,593 to 1,744, data from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows.” There is one somewhat bright spot: “Tulsa County … sent 24 percent fewer women … The drop over the past two years there was 49 percent for women … Tulsa County inmate advocates and criminal justice officials attribute the decline to a widely coordinated effort to provide diversion and treatment programs.” Last year, Oklahoma County sent 33 percent more women to prison than the year before. All the other counties combined sent 10 percent more women to prison. At the end of August, Oklahoma prisons were at 107 percent capacity. Except for Tulsa County, none of this is new.

Year in, year out, the same over all report emerges from Oklahoma, and the only exceptions, such as they are, have been an intensification of atrocity and torture. In Oklahoma, most women sent to prison are mothers. For years, Oklahoma has studied the impact of so many mothers being imprisoned, especially on their children, and for years Oklahoma has done nothingor worse. For years, Oklahoma has known that the majority of women prisoners are [a] dealing with drug and alcohol addiction and [b] are in for drug related offenses, usually minor ones at that, and for years, Oklahoma has increased the punishment for those offenses. For years, Oklahoma has known that, in any given year, it has the highest rate of sexual abuse and rape in women’s prisons, and done nothing. Much of that abuse comes from guards. For years, Oklahoma has known that its prisons put women in debt bondage to prison banks, and Oklahoma looked the other way. For years, Oklahoma has known that an extraordinarily high proportion of women prisoners are living with mental illnesses, and that much of that derives from traumatic experiences. Again, Oklahoma did nothing … or worse.

As Susan Sharp showed, in Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners, Oklahoma did more, and less, than nothing. Oklahoma chose its path. It chose to lead the nation in the incarceration of women, and it chose turn women’s well being into trash: “Oklahoma ranks 48 in the United States in the number of women with health insurance and first in poor mental health among women.” Oklahoma is not only mean to women. It’s the meanest. That’s why the news from Tulsa County is so important. How has Tulsa County begun to reduce the rates of women’s incarceration? Nothing spectacular, but rather common sense and evidence-based programs: treatment, education, counseling, “specialty courts”, diversion and a commitment to caring about the well-being of women. More importantly, why did Tulsa County embark on a new path? There was no great political pressure, either in the county or the State, to do so. Instead, people decided that sending women to prison for next to nothing and then keeping them in the system for life was destructive: to the women, their children, their communities, and everyone.

Tulsa County is showing that in Oklahoma, the worst of the worst, it’s possible to change the present, to not condemn anyone to recall a future already condemned. Another Oklahoma is possible, and it begins with valuing the well-being of women.


(Photo Credit: Newson6)

Hacking Gender Power: An Introduction

How is gender domination reproduced? This seemingly simple question has exercised the minds of feminists, Marxists, queers, and postcolonials over the past hundred years and more, and remains a question of crucial political importance for feminist organizing the world over. In these short posts, I aim to tackle this weighty problem through another:

In what ways is hacking a feminist practice?

But, then, which hacking?

The long-standing critique of gender domination that has emerged from materialist feminist practice, policy, and scholarship has taken special aim at the structures of exclusion and logistics of disempowerment that constitute the infrastructures of contemporary digital or algorithm-based technologies. In the era of ubiquitous mobile computing the everyday-ness of technology has become part of the habits of societies structured in different kinds of domination and exploitation: computer code increasingly undergirds and ramifies hierarchies that long pre-existed digital technologies. Sexual harassment, racial bullying, and the exploitation of labour have all been re-vitalised-while-morphing, as it were, in digital capitalist ecologies that fold in Facebook, Big Data, and marketing-focused crowd sourcing together with different neurological and algorithmic processes. Central to these processes and formations are questions of women’s access to resources (who gets to [learn] code?), habits of registration (what switches on when gendered subjects login?) and gender normativity (how do we perform new technological fetishes in a time of the re-normalization of rape?).

What are the material infrastructures and social practices that reproduce specifically gender domination in algorithmic capital? The recent work on gender, sexuality, and embodied habit is important here; this growing body of scholarship has asked, through what techno-perceptual assemblages or ecologies do habituations form and contribute to capital accumulation, dispossession of the commons, and neoliberal depoliticisation? Reverse engineering these habituated processes gives us a clue as to the potential of collective movements to militate, refuse, revolt, and even overthrow different forms of domination that articulate gender and technology with race, sexuality, and class. In all these questions, domestic (familial, household, kinship, affective) labor continues to be an active site of struggle for feminist organising, and contemporary digital technologies can potentialise these struggles in unexpected ways. Indeed, the networked activism of feminists organizing for social and economic justice will be a parallel focus of these posts.

The reproduction of gender domination happens in ways that are subtle, complex, and indirect but also violent, ideological, and direct. In postcolonial contexts such as India or South Africa, where different capitalist infrastructures of social reproduction have developed in negotiation with histories of nationalist anti-colonial masculinism, Euro-racism, and indigenous refusals/revolts, the question of who can hack what is already a question of power hierarchies, unequal access to money and monopoly rents (licensing), the corporatization of everyday life, and property ownership and labour conditions. These are the kinds of relations, ecologies, processes, and struggles that will form the ongoing concerns of these posts.


(Image Credit: Autonomous Tech Fetish)

In Panama, Ngäbe-Buglé women lead the fight to protect the waters

Ngäbe activists block the Barro Blanco dam site, 2015

Ngäbe activists block the Barro Blanco dam site, 2015

From Canada to the United States to Panama, and beyond, indigenous women are leading major campaigns to protect the purity and health of the rivers. In Panama, Ngäbe-Buglé women have been organizing for over a decade to shut down the Barro Blanco Hydroelectric Dam. Women like Clementina Pérez, Weni Bagama, and Silvia Carrera have led the charge not only to stop the dam and to insist on real and proper negotiations before changing the entire regional ecosystem but to think and act deeply and respectfully about development models based on mutuality, respect and sustainability.

Panama has five comarcas indígenas, or Indigenous administrative zones. Of the five, three are substantial and large enough to be fairly autonomous, on the order of a province or state. Of the three autonomous comarcas indígenas, the comarca Ngäbe-Buglé is the largest. After decades of Indigenous organizing and mobilizing, the comarca Ngäbe-Buglé was established in 1997. From its inception, the comarca Ngöbe-Buglé ran up against the national government’s model for national economic expansion, which relied heavily on mining and, more recently, big dams. The Barro Blanco dam project, begun in 2006, would seriously affect the Tabasará River, a mainstay of Ngäbe-Buglé economic and social life: “The Ngäbe’s way of life is threatened by the ongoing construction of the Barro Blanco dam. This dam would displace the Ngäbe by threatening to flood several homes, schools, and farms. The free-flowing Tabasará with its abundant fish and crustaceans would be converted into a pool of standing water, breeding bacteria, mosquitos and, ultimately, disease.”

Ngäbe and Buglé women decided that they had had enough. Life for women on the comarca has been hard. Rudimentary health care is barely accessible. The national government builds the odd clinic, but doesn’t staff it or provide materials. There are no ambulances, and besides the roads are perilous. For women, this has a particular impact: “Pregnant women had to walk as many as five hours to give birth and often ended up having to stop to have the baby before arriving to a health center or midwife’s house.” The women also know that poor roads means children can’t get to school, and so they are condemned to poverty. Meanwhile, the few good roads that do exist in the comarca serve the mines and the hydroelectric dams. It’s a familiar situation for Indigenous peoples around the world.

The Ngäbe and Buglé women saw the Barro Blanco dam is the signature of their marginalized, diminished and disrespected personhood, citizenship and humanity. And so they organized. They established a protest camp on the bank of the river and got to work. For twenty years, they watched as the national government voted in law after law that allowed for, and encouraged, direct foreign investment into Indigenous lands. During the same period, Indigenous peoples’ leadership was increasingly feminized, and in 2012, Silvia Carrera, a prominent anti-mining activist, became the first woman elected chief of the Ngöbe-Buglé.

For the past two decades, Ngäbe-Buglé women activists have been systematically assaulted. They have been imprisoned, beaten, raped and killed, and throughout they have continued to lead the movement for dignity and autonomy. They have watched entire villages swept away by the waters, and refused to accept that fate. They have faced down dogs and riot squads. Today, they are still on the move. They have stopped construction of the Barro Blanco Dam, temporarily, but they know that the violence will continue until violation of their land as part of national and regional development is finally rejected.

Silvia Carrera explained, “Look how they treat us. What do we have to defend ourselves? We don’t have anything; we have only words. We are defenseless. We don’t have weapons. We were attacked and it wasn’t just by land but by air too. Everything they do to us, to our land, to our companions who will not come back to life, hurts us. … The government says Good, Panama is growing its economy. Yet the economy is for a few bellaco [macho men]. But progress should be for the majority and for this we will go into the street, and from frontier to frontier, to protest … We are not violent. We just want to reclaim our rights and justice. Above all, we want to live in peace and tranquility.”

And the people respond, “No to the miners! No to the hydroelectric!” From North Dakota to the northwest of Panama, women water protectors are saying YES to the dignity of earth, of their people, of all people, of justice, peace and tranquility.


(Photo Credit: Jennifer Kennedy / Intercontinental Cry)

From Jacqueline Sauvage to Bresha Meadows, the State abuses women victims of violence

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Two weeks before her 15th birthday Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her father in his sleep with the gun he used to threaten her and her mother. She was defending her mother and herself and still the first response from the state was to imprison Bresha. Despite all evidence of domestic extreme violence the state unleashed more violence on a child who had already experienced and witnessed violent mental and physical abuse. This time prosecution of the victim takes place in Ohio close to Cleveland, where the child Bresha Meadows is facing the unbearably violent vicious US penal system.

As Bresha turned 15 while incarcerated at the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center, no visitors for her birthday were allowed, signaling a clear lack of interest for her well being after everything she had been through. Her mother, Brandi, had been beaten since her first pregnancy and almost lost it due to the severity of her injuries. Year after year, for 22 years of marriage, her husband, Jonathan Meadow, used brutal, emotional and physical isolation techniques to control his wife, regularly threatening to kill her children, especially in recent years.

Bresha Meadows suffered directly from these conditions. As she grew older, she realized her father could eliminate anyone at anytime. Bresha escaped her home twice to seek help with her aunt Latessa, telling her how their father was trying to isolate their mom from her children as well as the constant physical abuse.

Despite all the evidence Bresha’s act was not judged as an act of defense. Instead, she had to be harshly punished. There is a manifest differential of punishment between a case like hers and male killing their partners or committing racist crimes.

Why does the state want to punish not only battered girls and women like Bresha but also pregnant women or women wielding their right to control their reproduction? 75% to 80% of women incarcerated for murder were battered and killed in self-defense, not to forget that class and race play a crucial role in their incarceration generally. Moreover, 84% of the US girls in custody were victims of abuse or experienced domestic violence. Even scarier is that the last comprehensive data on US children who killed their parents was published in 1990 and at that time 90% of the 280 children who killed their parents were abused.

According to Michel Foucault, “Systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain political economy of the body.” Bresha Meadow’s incarceration had nothing to do with reducing crime, had less than nothing to do with ending violence against women. The latter is a crime that has international recognition with a day, November 25th the international day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to raise awareness.

As opposed to Jacqueline Sauvage, the French woman also incarcerated for killing her husband, Bresha, if prosecuted as an adult, will face life in prison because of mandatory sentencing while Sauvage is going to be released in January since France does not have mandatory sentencing anymore and uses a system of sentence remission. Even if the judge decides to keep her case in juvenile court, she will still face a harsh sentence thanks to the complicated legal system in Ohio. In both cases the judges demonstrate a vision of the political economy of the woman’s body in which violence against women is permitted and women are on their own.

The ultimate action should not be to only find ways to bypass mandatory sentencing in the US or influence judges in France. Rather, we need to expose the patriarchal rules and economy that use prison as an instrument of control of women’s bodies, which is exactly the reason Bresha’s father thought that it was fine to put his wife and family in a box. As Latessa explained, “If they stepped out of that box, they were reprimanded and put right back in that box.”

Meanwhile Bresha who was living in hell with no help from the state to change the situation of violence in her family is now living in the hell of the state jail.

Please consider signing the petition that calls for the immediate release of Bresha and demands the withdrawal of all charges.


(Photo Credit: Lena Cooper / Cleveland Plain Dealer)



In the California Institution for Women, women are STILL dropping like flies!

What happened to Shaylene Graves? She was “found” hanging in her cell at California Institution for Women, or CIW. Given the situation at CIW, what happened to Shaylene Graves is nothing out of the ordinary. Last July, California Department of Corrections officials “discovered” a crisis. In the previous eighteen months, four women prisoners at the California Institution for Women, or CIW, in Chino killed themselves … or were killed by willful neglect: 31-year-old Alicia Thompson, 23-year-old Margarita Murguia, 73-year-old Gui Fei Zhang, and 34-year-old Stephanie Feliz. After Feliz’s death, fellow CIW resident April Harris wrote, “We have women dropping like flies, and not one person has been questioned as to why … I have been down almost 20 years and I have never seen anything like this. Ever.” The suicide rate at CIW is only exceeded by the rates of attempted suicide and self harm. What happened to Shaylene Graves? Just another death in the hellhole California Institution for Women.

According to Victoria Law, “Graves’ death is the latest to rock CIW, which is currently at 135 percent capacity: 1,886 women in a prison designed for 1,398.” Shaylene Graves’ mother, Sheri Graves, wrote an open letter to the public concerning her daughter. The letter ends: “I got a call, `your daughter has died in custody.’ They said she was found hanging. My son said, `Shaylene would not hang herself. The officer said, `I know.’ The prison system failed my daughter. The prison system failed her son, Artistlee. The prison system failed our family, her friends and everyone she would have blessed with her vision for her organization. Most of all, the prison system had failed to protect her life. She lost her right to freedom in order to pay her debt to society. But, she wasn’t supposed to lose her right to life and protection while incarcerated.”

Shaylene Graves was a month from being released from CIW. According to all reports, she was a vivacious, engaged, sociable, charming, funny young woman. She was preparing to leave CIW, and to start an organization to help other women in their transition out of prison. She cared about her son, her family, her community. She cared about her sister prisoners, at CIW and elsewhere. Those who knew her are shocked by her death and deeply doubtful of the initial report of suicide.

Many are shocked, but the death of Shaylene Graves did not rock the Institution, no more than the prison system failed. The prison system did far worse than fail. It refused, and in so doing killed Shaylene Graves. Whatever “facts” or “details” emerge concerning the specifics of Shaylene Graves’ last hours on earth, the facts are that if it hadn’t been her, it would have been some other woman at CIW. The numbers bear that out. There is no surprise when an institution fails to address a suicide rate eight times that of the national rate for people in women’s prisons, when “suicide prevention” in the institution is consistently rated as “problematic”, when the answer to an overcrowded suicide watch unit is to shunt the “overflow” into solitary confinement.

The California Institution for Women is overcrowded, but so are the Central California Women’s Facility and the women’s section of Folsom State Prison. The overcrowding is worse at Central California, but the women there are not dropping like flies. Shaylene Graves requested to be moved from Central California to CIW, so as to be closer to her family. And now … she’s closer to her god, and her family grieves and rages and demands answers and, even more, demands justice. So should we all. We have had enough reports asking why are so many women attempting suicide at the California Institution for Women. We have had too many “discoveries” to claim any sort of innocence. Women are dropping like flies in the California Institution for Women because pushing women to drop like flies is more convenient than treating women as full human beings, more convenient than treating prisoners as full human beings, and a whole lot more convenient than treating women prisoners at all.

Women prisoners and supporters, such as the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, long ago identified the crisis. They have continually, loudly denounced the conditions and called for a thorough overhaul, beginning with releasing most of the prisoners. Three years ago, when women in the California Institution for Women participated in California’s statewide hunger strike, they called attention to the State assault on their bodies, minds and souls. They identified a crisis, and the State looked away, and instructed all good citizens to do the same. That was three years ago. It is September 2016, and the assembly line of women prisoner deaths is not slowing down. It’s time to smash the machinery once and for all. Do it in the memory of Shaylene Graves.


(Image Credit: San Francisco Bay View / California Coalition for Women Prisoners)

The Quechua women of Accomarca demand justice!

Survivors and relatives of those killed in the Accomarca massacre

Survivors and relatives of those killed in the Accomarca massacre

Thirty-one years ago, almost to the day, a terrible thing happened to the residents of Accomarca, a largely Quechua village in the Andean province of Ayacucho. On August 14, 1985, the Peruvian army entered the village, looking for Shining Path fighters. Finding none, they took the villagers, around 70 of them, separated the men from the women and children, killed and burned the men; rape and then killed and burned the women; killed and burned the children. For thirty-one years, the women of Accomarca have demanded justice for the violence that was wreaked upon their village, families, community, and upon themselves. This week, a court gave them something that begins to approximate justice.

From the day of the Accomarca massacre until today, women have led the movement for real justice: “For groups that are not allowed a voice in the administration of justice, how does one quell a desire for retribution? For whom does reconciliation sit like a lump in their stomach and a constant irritant of their heart? For women, especially the widows. The work of grief is `women’s work,’ and women literally embody the suffering of their communities in this gendered division of emotional labor. Thus it is phenomenological that they would carry the memories of unaddressed wrongs in their nerves, the lower back, in the nape of their necks. A thwarted desire for justice becomes a felt grievance. It was long conversations with women that demonstrated the need for a political economy of forgiveness and reconciliation. Without economic redistribution, asking people to feel `forgiving’ is itself an immoral act. For the women (and the orphans) their poverty serves as a constant reminder of all they lost. Consensus-making mechanisms may stifle their voices but not their rage.”

While the bestiality of the Peruvian army in Accomarca is beyond horror, the real story is the women who refused to sit down and shut up, who refused to melt into the Andean landscape as just another unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of a dirty war. The women of Accomarca told their stories, repeatedly, and insisted that the stories were theirs. They consistently rejected the bartering system in which survivors share their pain and trauma and, in exchange, receive compassion from a “grateful nation.” From 1985 until today, the women have insisted they don’t want compassion. The women of Accomarca want indignation. First, they organized indignation in their families and communities, and then they moved to Lima with their structures of indignation. They want indignation to move the nation to transform the violence. They want people to understand that the material and economic poverty of their lives are built of the ashes of their loved ones, and that must end. They want the nation to address the racist sexist violence that surrounds and attacks Quechua, and all, indigenous women in Peru.

The women of Accomarca – including Salomé Baldeón, Cirila Pulido Baldeón, Teófila Ochoa Lizarbe, Justa Chuchón – demanded a justice that would replace the smell of burning flesh from their noses, the taste of soured milk from their breasts, and the pounding rage from their hearts and minds. This week, Peru’s National Criminal Court convicted ten officers and soldiers for their roles in the massacre. Meanwhile, the women of Accomarca continue to organize. To this day, those who were killed in the massacre thirty-years ago have yet to be properly buried.


(Photo Credit: Proceso / Rodrigo Abd / AP)

Supporting Gordhan against Zuma weakens the resistance politics of the poor

A sense that there is a crisis at the highest levels of government has taken hold in South Africa. The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations, known as the Hawks, has instructed Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Finance, to make a warning statement on allegations of illegal spying and corruption against him relating to his time as tax commissioner. Gordhan’s refusal to comply, plus his stand-off with senior leaders of some state owned enterprises, have led even Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to speak of a state at war with itself as he declared his support for Gordhan.

The finance minister is enjoying an outpouring of support, especially from the business sector and academics and journalists aligned to it. Their positions are all presented as ultimately a concern for the poor, who they say will suffer even more should Gordhan be defeated by his enemies. Even some in civil society have now taken this position, although they disagree with the economic policies Gordhan and his fellow neoliberal capitalists stand for.

Supporting Pravin Gordhan in the belief that the poor are better off with him rather than his ANC rivals in charge of the finance ministry is based on a mistaken theory. Perhaps the cruellest tyranny of politics is that no amount of sincerity, passion and effort can deliver desired results if the political framework does not support those results.

Maybe Gordhan is a better person than whoever might replace him. And let’s say a neoliberal capitalist system based on the rule of law, which Gordhan is debatably seen to represent, is better than a neoliberal capitalist system without the rule of law, which the so-called patronage politicians in the ANC fighting against Gordhan are seen to represent. But the amount of resources going to the poor is not determined by the ethical character of the rulers, nor by the presence or absence of the rule of law. All three of these factors are the result of the relative strength of the resistance politics of the poor. Supporting Gordhan against Zuma subordinates the resistance politics of the poor to the factional battles of the ANC and thereby weakens it.

This resistance politics of the poor is ultimately based on two broad tactics known as direct action. The first is where poor people simply take resources denied to them, for example through occupying land for residential or agricultural purposes or through poaching. The second tactic is to disrupt the wealth and comforts of the elites until they concede needed resources to the poor, for example through strikes, road blockages and office occupations. Both of these are high risk options usually forbidden by law and almost always repressed by force, and therefore there are a number of other tactics such as marches, demonstrations, negotiations and media interventions, which are often in effect threats to employ direct action and, importantly, processes of building up the necessary support for it.

How does supporting Gordhan weaken resistance politics? Because this support is framed as supporting the rule of law and the power of the ANC. The rule of law is an idea through which the ruling class legitimises their power. It does not exist in reality, although it influences reality, sometimes in ways that benefit the poor. The ruling class does not seriously operate within the law, least of all the faction that Gordhan is part of, even as they use the law to present their power as just and fair. It is precisely the power of the ANC legitimised by the rule of law that has enforced neo-liberal capitalism and led to explosive growth of poverty and inequality.

The struggle for more resources for the poor is essentially a struggle to build the politics of resistance against elite power. Aligning with one elite faction against another on the basis of a framework supportive of elite power as a whole just consolidates the position of the ruling class. Those concerned that Gordhan’s defeat will mean less resources and freedoms for the poor should step up direct actions and deepen the exposure of the power of the ANC and the so-called rule of law as sources of domination and exploitation of the poor.


(Photo Credit 1: Roar Magazine) (Photo Credit 2: Right 2 Know Campaign)

Free Jacqueline Sauvage, domestic violence survivor, patriarchal (in)justice prisoner!

In France, the case of Jacqueline Sauvage captures the inability of the justice system to do away with patriarchal rules and with prison as the essential means to assert punitive power. Jacqueline Sauvage’s story is the archetype of the effects of repetitive domestic violence. In September 2012, Sauvage, the daughter of a victim of domestic violence, shot her husband in the back, thinking that this time he would carry out his brutal threats, after 47 years of constant and ferocious abuses. She feared for her life one time too many.

The couple had four children, one boy and three girls, all raised in a climate of violence orchestrated by the father. The family is a middle-class family that runs a small business in Montargis, in central France; all these years of abuse, nobody dared say anything. The daughters were sexually abused and the son verbally abused. The son reproduced the climate of violence in his own life. He committed suicide the night before his mother killed her husband, but she did not know that when she killed her abusive husband.

Jacqueline Sauvage was accused by the prosecutor of faking or lying, arguing that she and her daughters never pressed charges against the husband/father oppressor. She lived in fear of retaliations; moreover she was under his control.

In France only 14 % of the women who declare having been a victim of violence file a complaint. Every year, 134 women are killed by their respective partner. In addition, 90% of rapists are known by their victims; 37% are their husbands.

Jacqueline Sauvage’s defense attorneys relied on a self-defense argument to save their client from more punishment. The court dismissed the argument and sentenced her to 10 years for aggravated murder. Another court dismissed the argument a second time in appeal. Meanwhile, the case became emblematic of the lack of support for women victims of domestic violence.

Then, Jacqueline Sauvage’s lawyers sought presidential pardon. They obtained a partial pardon, which means that it allows the justice system to grant remission but does not change the charges. She was still convicted of aggravated murder. The pardon skillfully did not challenge the status quo.

Finally, two weeks ago, a court decided that Jacqueline Sauvage would remain in prison despite the presidential pardon. The judge declared that self-defense cannot be applied, and she should have responded to the violence of her husband with proportionate action. With mass support, Jacqueline Sauvage is now appealing this last decision.

In the patriarchal code of justice women are still held responsible of their situation, particularly cases of abuse. In refusing to free Jacqueline Sauvage, the judge has normalized violence against women, making clear that revolt for abused women is unacceptable, even unfathomable. This long and painful story demonstrates one more time that women’s well being and rights are still a burden that lies on women’s shoulders, no matter what outfit they are wearing!


(Photo Credit 1: Grazia) (Photo Credit 2: 20 minutes)