Stella Nyanzi: “Teach the nation poetry” #FreeStellaNyanzi

Stella Nyanzi

On Thursday, February 20, Ugandan queer and women’s rights feminist activist and founder of the Pads4girlscampaign Stella Nyanzi walked out of Luzira Maximum Security Prison for Women, after having served fifteen months of an eighteen-month sentence. Stella Nyanzi had a question: “Why was I in court for all these months? Why is the current regime of Uganda oppressing Ugandans who are expressing their constitutional rights? I am the voice for the opposition of Uganda. Museveni must go. Yoweri Museveni you are on notice. I give you notice, Museveni. You can do whatever you want. We are ready for you, Museveni. We are tired. Stop oppressing Ugandans. It’s important for us the opposition to find bases of unity that are going to help us in our solidarity against the current regime. Why was I in prison because I wrote a poem? Because I expressed my deep disinterests and disgust of the NRM [National Resistance Movement] regime? Is it because I told the current illegal president of Uganda that I really want him to go? Museveni is sending so many opposition activists to prisons – for what?” 

In 2017, when Stella Nyanzi spent 33 days in prison for a Facebook post, we asked “Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse of Stella Nyanzi?” We continue to ask. Stella Nyanzi was able to walk out of prison because a judge ruled that her earlier trial was improper and improperly conducted, because thousands of supporters inside Uganda and some outside rallied, and because Stella Nyanzi refused to submit. While inside, she organized, protested, wrote poems, shared insights, worked towards freedom. As she did upon leaving Luzira, every day Stella Nyanzi posed the questions, and the crisis, of freedom, equality, justice, for all and in particular for women. 

Now that Stella Nyanzi is out of prison, and who knows how long that will last, now, as before, is the time for organizing. People should write to their newspapers and call in to their radio stations and make sure the word gets out and around. Those who teach should teach … teach the story and lessons and name of Stella Nyanzi. Those who read should read … read the words Stella Nyanzi has written, listen to her speeches, and share them. And those who hear and listen and read and share must (learn to) write poetry. 

While in Luzira women’s prison, Stella Nyanzi wrote poems which have been collected in a volume, entitled No Roses from My Mouth: Poems from Prison, available here. Here’s one:

TEACH THE NATION POETRY

Teach the nation poetry. 
Deployments of anti-riot police 
Cannot shoot tear-gas at rhymes 
Nor disperse the rhythm of our poems. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Forgotten masses will pack our pain in stanzas 
That will pierce the core of the tyranny.
Raw poems hit harder than your platitudes. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Handcuffs cannot contain the potency of poems. 
Arrest warrants cannot disappear memorised verse 
Poetry can never be detained in gaol. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Investigating detectives and crime solvers 
Cannot decipher metaphors, similes or symbols 
Their charge sheets will never make sense. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
To write, recite and interpret it.
Poems of the oppressed will oppress the oppressor. 
Poems will transport us to freedom.

Poems of the oppressed will oppress the oppressor; poems will transport us to freedom. Teach the nation poetry … to write, recite and interpret. #FreeStellaNyanzi

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Reuters) (Image Credit: Brittle Paper)

He said he didn’t know

He said he didn’t know

There are many
who are there
right here
out Africa-way

Knowing
knowingly
and not knowing

in denial
and denying

they are beyond too
on the rest
of Planet Earth

He said he didn’t know
the little enclave’s last
does as many have done
and many will continue to do

Might Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s
haunting Homeless
be a reminder
a little hint

that the system 
he oversaw
had been declared
a crime against humanity

some even have it
that it was 
an unfortunate past
a glitch on the horizon
of the planet’s timeline

like the Little Troubles
over in (Northern) Ireland
like the fall of Saigon
(and not the people’s struggles
against various imperialisms)

He said he didn’t know
notwithstanding the scars
the scarred and the scared
still

(Image Credit: African Activist Archive)

Damaris Rodriguez died in jail, in agony, screaming and begging for care. Who cares?

Damaris Rodriguez and family

The story of Damaris Rodriguez’s slow torturous death is as horrifying as its familiarity.  Damaris Rodriguez lived with bipolar disorder. Damaris Rodriguez also lived a fully functional life. Damaris Rodriguez, 43 years old mother of five; resident of SeaTac, a suburb of Seattle; married to Reynaldo Gil. Damaris Rodriguez had never been arrested and had never “engaged” with the so-called criminal justice system, until the night of December 30, 2017. Five days later, Damaris Rodriguez was dead, after a period of torture by neglect.

On December 30, 2017, Damaris Rodriguez suffered a mental health episode. Her husband call 911. The police arrived before the ambulance. Reynaldo Gill is a first-language Spanish speaker. His English was rudimentary, plus he was under great stress. The police did not speak Spanish. With no evidence and despite Reynaldo Gil’s protestations, the police determined that Damaris Rodriguez was perpetrating domestic violence. They threw her into the police car and took her to the South Correctional Entity Jail, SCORE, in Des Moines, Washington. There Damaris Rodriguez was thrown into a cell, where she was videotaped constantly. 

Within five days, Damaris Rodriguez was dead. First, she suffered mental health episodes. She stripped naked, crawled, and refused food. In response, she was placed in a cell without any sink or water. There she “became lethargic”, and so the staff stopped providing her with food. Without food or water, Damaris Rodriguez’s body shut down, and she died. All in plain view, all on film: “Almost every second that she was in jail was captured on video, and I think the only way to describe that video is as a window into hell.”

Now the family is suing, and people want to know what happened to Damaris Rodriguez. Everything and nothing. The details are specific, and the story is general and altogether familiar. What happened to Damaris Rodriguez? A woman of color needed help, her family called for help, and she was tortured and assassinated. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary. Along with the questions of what happened to Madaline PitkinAbby RudolphMichelle BewleyKelly ColtrainRobin ArrajJoyce CurnellTanna Jo FillmoreMadison JensenSarah Lee Circle Bear, Damaris Rodriguez and so many others, maybe it’s time we asked ourselves, “What happened to us?” These women’s deaths are our collective doing and responsibility. In communities across the country, women are seeking help and we respond by dumping them in local jails where they are tortured, most often through neglect, and murdered. We do this, every day, everywhere. What happened to Damaris Rodriguez? What happened to us?

(Photo Credit: KIRO7)

South Africa: “She bursts with pain and continues walking”

What is pain? This question underwrites a particular narrative that is part of what is called South Africa. Two articles yesterday suggested it’s time to pay attention, greater attention, any attention, to pain, to the pain people suffer and to the pain that engulfs people, individuals and communities, swallows them whole and then … continues walking?

Thirty years ago, February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of incarceration, hand in hand with his then partner Winnie Madikizela Mandela. He walked forth into the strong summer sun of Cape Town and addressed the nation and the world: “Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans. I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.” Mandela went on to greet, salute and pay tribute to all the various sectors and groups that had worked for and would continue to work for the liberation of South Africa and beyond. His tributes end with the invocation of pain: “I pay tribute to the mothers and wives and sisters of our nation. You are the rock-hard foundation of our struggle. Apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else … My salutations would be incomplete without expressing my deep appreciation for the strength given to me during my long and lonely years in prison by my beloved wife and family. I am convinced that your pain and suffering was far greater than my own.”

Women: apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else. Wife and family: Your pain and suffering was far greater than my own. What is that pain? 

On the same day this week that news outlets in South Africa were sharing Madiba’s speech, and reflecting on and remembering that fateful day, an article appeared with the headline, “South Africans describe the pain of unemployment”. The report distilled the findings of a study based in two South African townships, Orange Farm and Boipatong, both very near and very far from “the economic hub of Johannesburg.” In the original study, one “participant explained that unemployment brings `a black heart full of sorrow and pain; the heart is broken, angry, sore and sad.” This black heart full of sorrow and pain extends to the entire township: “They viewed their township environment as a filthy, painful, sad, and forgotten place with dilapidated infrastructure and resources.” In the shorter, more recent article, the authors tell the story of one of the participants, a woman, who, when “asked to depict what she associated with unemployment …, took a few minutes to think, and there, on the spot, she wrote this poem:

The dry lands filled
with sorrow and tears.
The cascade of showers
of death implemented by
unemployment.
The fatigue that has
impacted to the community
that is left flustered because
of unemployment.
The land filled with fake promises
by fake leaders.
The people who try to contrive
the pain of being unemployed.”

What is this pain?

South African poet Karen Press’s poem “Heart’s Hunger” speaks to that question:

“She dreams of an enormous mother beckoning her. 
She carries her father on her journey’s back.
Her stomach is filled with his bones.
She bursts with pain and continues walking.”

Across the country and across the decades, every day and day after day, she bursts with pain and continues walking, and we still have the State in which women are made to burst with pain and continue walking.

(Image Credit: Clementina Ceramics

Landmark cases: In Ecuador, Petita Albarracín demands justice for Paola Guzmán Albarracín

Petita Albarracín testifying

On January 28, 2020, Petita Albarracín, an Ecuadoran woman, pleaded before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to restore dignity to the memory of her deceased daughter, Paola Guzmán Albarracín, as she demanded justice in the name of her daughter for young women and girls across Latin America. In so doing, in this case described as landmarkmilestone, and groundbreaking, Petita Albarracín opened a door and, hopefully, made history. 

Paola Guzmán Albarracín lived with her mother, younger sister and grandmother in a suburb of Guayaquil. She was a happy child, and life was good, if at times financially stressful. Then her mother started noticing a change in her daughter. For two years, starting at the age of 14, Paola Guzmán Albarracín was sexually abused by her school’s vice principal. When, at the age of 15, Paola Guzmán Albarracín discovered she was pregnant, she went to the school doctor, who offered an abortion and then sexually abused the teenage girl. On December 12, 2002, three days after her sixteenth birthday, Paola Guzmán Albarracín took an overdose, and the next day, she died. Since 2002, Petita Albarracín, Paola Guzmán Albarracín’s mother, has waged a campaign to demand justice and dignity, not only for the memory of her daughter but for all girls and young women in Ecuador, across Latin America and beyond.

After Paola Guzmán Albarracín’s death, Petita Albarracín demanded an investigation. Little was done. A warrant was finally issued for the vice principal, who immediately went into hiding. According to Petita Albarracín, “We exhausted all available resources. I did all that a mother could do, but unfortunately in Ecuador there was no justice. Today, he is free and alive, and my daughter is not. He works in private schools where they do not know him.”

Petita Albarracín sued the State, the case was thrownout . She secured allies, especially a local NGO, Centro Ecuatoriano para la Acción y Promoción de la Mujer – Guayaquil, and they brought in the Center for Reproductive Rights. Together, they approached the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. After eighteen years, the case has finally been heard. 

On the day of the trial, Petita Albarracín reflected, “When there’s impunity and no justice, a message of permissiveness is sent, which leads to these kinds of actions becoming naturalized, authorized and permitted. Then they become and remain part of the daily life for women across Latin America, in all the countries.”

For eighteen years, Petita Albarracín has persisted, has refused to accept the indignity for her deceased daughter, for her remaining daughter, and for all the girls and young women in Ecuador, across Latin America and around the world. She has demanded justice, justice for girls and young women, justice for all. The Court is expected to render its decision within the year. Paola Guzmán Albarracín would be thirty-three years old today, if she had lived. There is no justice for Paola Guzmán Albarracín. Her mother, Petita Albarracín, knows as much and has said as much, but there is justice and there is dignity, and, in the name of Paola Guzmán Albarracín, justice and dignity shall prevail.

(Photo credit: BBC)

We do not accept your apology, Mr. LeBlanc

We do not accept your apology, Mr. LeBlanc. 

We cannot accept your apology. 

People of color, especially Black people (whom you name in your metaphor but do not directly apologize to), have spent centuries being told to accept the apologies of whiteness. People of color are taught to stay gracious and forgiving, while whiteness continues its violent assault on them.

Accepting your apology would be accepting white supremacy. 

Accepting your apology would mean saying, “Yes it is okay for you to compare the state violence enacted against Black people to whatever topic to justify your point,” while standing on a land that has been violently snatched from Indigenous and Black communities. 

Accepting your apology would validate that Black death is simply a metaphor to be used when necessary, not a serious condition of this country that leaves Black communities in a constant state of mourning.

(Editor’s note: On February 3, The Washington Post reported: “The president of George Washington University issued an apology for making what he called an “insensitive” remark that compared support for fossil fuel divestment to hypothetical support for shooting black people.” The day before the GW Hatchet broke the news.)

(Image Credit: The Legacy Museum)

Feminist economics is everything. The revolution is now!

This talk is an exploration of a feminist centred world, where women’s labour, women’s energy, women’s contributions to the economy are not a side event but the main event. The talk is an invitation to view the economic world as a place of struggle and dispossession, a place of unearned male privilege must be displaced by African women’s presence. GDP cannot count us, we need new numbers and new models. We need a revolution

The problem of female misrepresentation in medical studies is very real

Reference Man

The misrepresentation of women in medical studies is a problem that has misled medical officials for generations. In “On the Generation of Animals”, Aristotle characterized a female as a mutilated male. No one corrected him. Instead, we make medical decisions based on data derived from Reference Man. Reference Man is a Caucasian male, aged twenty-five to thirty, weighing about 155 lbs. Reference-Man fails to represent half of the world population’s anatomy. Women have worked tirelessly to right these wrongs — and receive accurate medical care.

Through a whirlwind of decisions made from 1977 and 1993, women lost their right to participation and they took it right back. In 1977, women “of childbearing potential” were removed from the possible subject pool of medical studies. This was due to the fact that 10,000 children had been born between 1960 and 1962 with thalidomide-related disabilities because doctors prescribed it to pregnant women for morning sickness. Drug developers and doctors everywhere had made the mistake, and women continued to pay the price. In 1985, Public Health Reports released “Report of the Public Health Service Task Force on Women’s Health Issues”, which called for data on women – not data on Reference Man. Because the data simply did not exist. In response, NIH and FDA worked to develop more inclusive guidelines regarding the inclusion of women in medical studies. In 1993, the 1977 ban was rescinded. 

Yet we fail to learn from our mistakes. In 2012 and 2013, as recounted by Vox producer Kim Mas, headline after headline read that women were crashing their cars the morning after taking a sleeping pill, Zolpidem, commonly known as Ambien. Why? Men and women received the same prescription of a ten-milligram dosage for eight hours of sleep. But developers had failed to test the drug’s effects on women. Women’s metabolism took twice as long as men to break down the drug and remove it from their system. So, when they got started with their day the following morning, they were still under the influence of Ambien, impairing their ability to operate a motor vehicle. But the doctor prescribed it, so how could it be their fault? 

Well, it was. Surprise! Reference Man had gone through the trials, and his results were not generalizable. Not to women, and not to anyone besides Reference Man. Rather than take the time and money to test more subjects, developers assumed the data they had covered it all. Plus, the Vox report illustrates how even if women are included in these studies, their results are usually lost amidst the overwhelming male data. Following this scandal, the FDA released a safety warning in 2013 cutting the Ambien dosage for women in half. If drug companies cannot take the time to test the effects of their drugs on women, how can we trust our medical care? And how can we expect anyone else to give a damn about our needs?

We can’t. In February 2018, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published an all-male-authored medical paper entitled ‘Gender differences in clinical registration trials: is there a real problem?’. Their conclusion? No, the problem was not “real”. If you ask me, when women are crashing their cars because their doctors did not know the effects of the drug dosage they were prescribing, I’d say that’s a real problem.

(Photo Credit: Vox)

Landmark cases: In South Africa, Agnes Sithole said NO! to the oppression of Black women elders … and won!

In South Africa, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole made history last month by insisting that [a] apartheid was really over and [b] as a Black woman elder, she has full and equal rights of every order: civil, legal, human and otherwise. In so doing, Agnes Sithole reminded everyone of the power of women’s insistence on their own dignity and the obligation of the State to recognize that dignity, formally and materially. Agnes Sithole’s individual story goes back almost 50 years, when she married Gideon Sithole. 

Almost 50 years ago, Agnes and Gideon Sithole entered into civil marriage. As two young Black South Africans, their marriage fell under the Black Administration Act of 1927, which specified that all Black marriages were considered out of community of property. That meant everything went exclusively to the man. Period. Gideon Sithole ran a business, which Agnes Sithole supported as a manager. She also has run her own successful clothing business. The money from Agnes Sithole’s business went to their four children’s education. The children are now adults, successful in their own rights, and “fiercely loving and protective of their mother”. She also raised four children and took care of … everything. She made the Sithole estate what it became. 

In 1984, the Matrimonial Property Act changed the marital property landscape for South Africans … except for Black South Africans, who were explicitly excluded from the new order. That meant that Agnes and Gideon remained under the rules of the 1927 Black Administration Act. In 1988, the government passed the Marriage and Matrimonial Property Amendment Act, which overturned conditions of the Black Administration Act for Black South Africans, but there was a catch. The State provided a two-year window in which change marital status from out of community property to community property. Gideon and Agnes Sithole had heard of earlier changes and assumed they were already in community property. They never filed for the change, and so Agnes Sithole remained under the jurisdiction of a 1927 law that specifically targeted Black South Africa women. About 400,000 Black South African women are in the same situation.

None of this mattered much, until, about two years ago, Gideon and Agnes Sithole’s marriage started falling apart. With the end in sight, Gideon Sithole threatened to sell their home and leave Agnes Sithole penniless. Much to Agnes Sithole’s surprise and dismay, according to the law, Gideon Sithole could actually do that, and she had no recourse. 

Agnes Sithole said NO! She said that apartheid was over, had to be over, and that she didn’t care what the State thought the law was, this was wrong, discriminatory, misogynist, racist, and evil. She decided that the specter that haunts South Africa cannot be apartheid, it must be the living mass of women, especially Black women, on the move, organizing, mobilizing, and setting things right. So, she sued.

On January 24, 2020, the Durban High Court agreed with Agnes Sithole, and her attorneys from the Legal Resources Centre, LRC, working with Geoff Budlender. Writing for the Court, KwaZulu Natal Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo wrote, “The discrimination the impugned provisions perpetuate is so egregious that it should not be permitted to remain on our statute books by limiting the retrospective operation of the order or by suspending the order of invalidity to allow Parliament to rectify the error. The effect of the order is that all civil marriages are in community of property. The recognition of the equal worth and dignity of all black couples of a civil marriage is well overdue.” In response, LRC attorneys noted, “The default position for all other married couples in South Africa is in community of property – except for African couples married before 1988. The consequences of this discriminatory provision have remained to haunt older African women like Sithole.”

The consequences of this discriminatory provision haunt older African women, haunt Agnes Sithole, haunt South Africa … and beyond. The High Court decision must be approved by the Constitutional Court, and so, for now, Agnes Sithole “is relieved and overjoyed. She has celebrated with her children. She is now praying that the Constitutional Court application will go well” as do 400,000 African women elders in South Africa and their supporters. The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: Legal Resources Centre)

What Should I Do Assata: for the Ancestors

What Should I Do Assata: for the Ancestors 

What should I do Assata? They’re coming for my womb!

Shouted Justice

And, I won’t know who is grabbing my pussy because I’m blindfolded!

But, I can guess.

Is it quisling Alan Dershowitz forgetting the wisdom of “when they came for…”

Is it the narco-trafficante 

Killing Isabel Cabanillas while she bicycles home from a gathering in Ciudad Juàrez?

Was her music too dangerous?

Or, her murals too revolutionary and inflammatory?

Was it the artificial intelligence facial recognition technology that misidentifies Black, Brown, Yellow and female faces?

But can spot a Uyghur from outer space in a crowd of ethnic Chinese.

Removed from their homes

Their graveyards desecrated

By a country that claims to be re-educating them 

And protecting them from their own culture, religion, and language

To make them more productive citizens.

Uyghurs — apparently — are the new Niggers; or perhaps the new Redskins or Chiefs

And, A.I. Identifiable “Whiteface” is the new blackface warns the MIT Media Labs.

Was it the new laws in South Dakota outlawing treatment for trans youth? 

They won’t have to be oppressed if they just kill themselves and be done with it

Cause of death: body dismorphia

Is intersectionality dead 

The wisdom of “when they came for…”

Or are the opiates just that strong?

Because if they come for my body

They will come for yours, too.

Who was it who said:

I wish that they all had just one neck so that I could slit their throats all at once 

I think it was Caligula

If he had waited just 2000 years his wish would have come true. 

We rewrite the New Colossus to include a wealth and education test

While we install a new Caligula

His hand on the throat of Our collective dreaming 
One foot in America and the other in the Middle East

While pissing on immigrants. 

And the lies 

So many lies.

“Why don’t we get to keep the oil?”, he asks.

I shake my head in shame

Everyone I respect is dead 

And all of my enemies are in power 

The affirmation of an optimistic 

Revolutionary mind

I would root for the intelligence agencies if your COINTELPRO experience didn’t inform me, Assata.

What should I do, Assata? 

While you are still here for me to ask you the question

What should I do?

How did you find hope in your gunshot riddled and beaten body?

How did you not despair when your godson was taken away too soon?

When you were imprisoned with men

And they tried to murder both you and your hope

How did you escape to fight another day? 

Oh, 20 century escaped slave with a price on your head

A two million dollar bounty for helping people to get freed;

While America bends over backwards to exonerate a man murdering representative democracy

And renewing the call for your capture

The first amendment has been  shot through and beaten 

As if it were a Black Panther on the New Jersey Turnpike 

Tolls paid for with blood sweat and tears 

Hope left waterboarded, tortured, and gasping 

Through disinformation and the scrawl of a Sharpie marker

Assata, may the trade winds of Cuba ever caress your skin 

And Afro-Cuban music ever fill your ears. 

Spit in the direction of Mar Largo

And cast ancient curses at an Orange Man.

Should I learn how to make myself small like Harriet

Or should I become larger then Life itself like you?

If we sing out loud; or paint our murals; or march

Will the Space Force and the A.I. cameras see us? 

They are coming to get me

And I AM paranoid.

Justice is blind 

But not stupid. 

At midnight all the agents and the superhero crew 

Will round up all the people who Love more then they do

Then they’ll hook us to Alexis to publicize our dreams 

And sell our souls to Facebook and the information machines.

Ain’t I a woman, too?

Asks justice 

Taking off her blindfold 
And bearing her breasts.

Ain’t I a fuckin’ woman, too.

(Image Credit 1: LA Progressive) (Image Credit 2: Mural de Genero)