Resistance in the age of registries and internment

The headline reads, “Japanese American internment is ‘precedent’ for national Muslim registry, prominent Trump backer says”.

Prisons do not and will never make us safer. Everything along the spectrum that includes racist “internment camps”, which are prisons by another name, and a “national registry” of people who are Muslim is a hastening and intensifying of carcerality in our society. To be clear, the United States already has racist prisons. They’re called jails and prisons. And we already have prisons for immigrants in our country. They’re called detention centers, and the people imprisoned in them are often not counted in published numbers about this country’s gargantuan prison population.

In a fascist moment, the mode of resistance is clear: to imbue your every action with anti-fascism. This means that if there is a national registry of people who are Muslim or who are perceived to be Muslim, all people of all faiths and backgrounds need to go register for it. This means opening your home to your neighbors or to anyone who needs to hide. Solidarity is not even an option, it’s the choice of survival over necropolitics. Are you still in denial, do you still think this is far-fetched?

As everyone tries to process current events, I see people drawing a lot of comparisons between this moment and Nazi Germany. Those comparisons are important and not melodramatic, but there are some issues with them.

First, the comparison implies that previously this country wasn’t already a white-supremacist nation, wasn’t founded on racism, genocide, and slavery; hasn’t been a bloody colonizer, hasn’t destabilized/invaded other countries, hasn’t created classes of citizens that put some closer to survival and some to death. Of course, it has. And it has already been rounding up people based on ethnicity/nationality and sending them out of the country, in the millions, already. Most of all under Obama, sorry-not-sorry. The only answer to this systemic violence is to demand an abolition of borders themselves.

Second, the comparison brings us to a question of citizenship and legality, and again I see people missing some aspects of that. For example, the idea that the difference (between now and Nazi Germany) is that Jewish people WERE citizens, while undocumented people here are not. Let’s unpack that. Citizenship — and laws themselves — is not a divine mandate, nor an intrinsic natural feature. Actually, the idea that citizenship/lawfulness IS a natural feature is a tenet of Nazism, of eugenics, of racism. (I’d say “antisemitism” but the category “Semite” itself is a racist and meaningless invention, and doesn’t actually specifically refer to Jews.) Citizenship is, the law is, arbitrary and ever changing. It operates on the whim of the state, and it is a weapon that can be deployed against anyone. Citizenship is NOT a stable category. YOUR citizenship, if you have it, will NOT protect you. Your whiteness, if you have it, will not protect you. If you stand idly by while people are deported/rounded up/added to a registry, you’re not only complicit, you’re ignorant. If it can happen to anyone, it could happen to everyone. This is why our demand must be an abolition of borders and other forms of violent containment, including prisons, poverty — capitalism.

“If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.”
 Angela Davis

“If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” James Baldwin

 

(Photo Credit 1: Intro to Women’s Studies S12) (Photo Credit 2: Fortune / Michael B. Thomas / AFP)

APAP – CeCe is Free: Standing Strong Against Prisons

CeCe McDonald is 25. Last week, she was released from prison after serving two-thirds of her sentence. In June 2011, CeCe defended herself against a violent, racist, transphobic attack from a neo-Nazi and his companions. The neo-Nazi, Dean Schmitz, died in the attack. CeCe was wounded but survived. Because of her strength and survival, she was tried and imprisoned. CeCe’s trial was a true miscarriage of justice. Evidence such as Schmitz’ history of participation in fascist movements and swastika tattoos, was ruled inadmissible. Even before the trial, friends and allies rallied around CeCe and created a support committee.

In early 2012 my friend Diana and I first met about collaborating on a fundraiser for CeCe’s legal needs, and then after her sentencing, her prison canteen. But what we really wanted was to help contribute to a secure future for CeCe after release. We raised somewhere between one and two thousand dollars. The support response to CeCe was so overwhelming that before her release, she wrote on her blog asking people to donate to other incarcerated people who were in more urgent need of funds.

This week, I mailed the remaining Cece is a Hero letterpress prints to CeCe via the MN Transgender Health Coalition. Diana and I, along with CeCe’s vast legion of supporters, hoped for a day when CeCe would be released from prison “safe, comfortable, and cared for.” It is beautiful to see that day come.

I relished the sight of CeCe and her companions walking out of prison. But I also remember the obstacles CeCe will face as a person who has been incarcerated. Mostly, I am listening to what CeCe has to say.

The crux of her message emerged in an interview with Melissa Harris-Perry. Present for the interview was CeCe, Katie Burgess (her supporter and friend from MN Trans Health Coalition), Laverne Cox (trans activist and star of Orange is the New Black, currently producing a documentary about CeCe’s story), and Rea Carey (Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force). The entire conversation is inspiring, lively, and absolutely worth watching but the real heart of it emerges in the tension between what Carey and CeCe have to say. Carey affirmed the fight for special prisons for transgendered people. The resounding message from CeCe, Burgess, and Cox, was NO.

CeCe has been standing strong against all prisons since the start. Writing from inside the walls of a men’s prison, CeCe emphasized that she didn’t want “supporters to launch long-term campaigns on her behalf that exceptionalize her situation.” Shortly after her sentencing, CeCe wrote that the real issues are the ones that affect all prisoners. Just as Cox said on MSNBC, there is a cultural pipeline that puts transwomen in prison, particularly transwomen of color and especially black transwomen. “We’ll just build more prisons” is a familiar response to activists, whether they are seeking justice for incarcerated people with mental illness or mothers in prison and resisting the building of mother/child units. Radical, revolutionary thinking says: no compromise in the face of boutique prisons. No compromise when the prison industry decides you’re an emerging market.

As CeCe suggested, if you are able to donate to folks like the Rainbow Defense Fund, or if you are able to commit to writing a person in prison via Black and Pink, please consider doing so.

I read CeCe’s blog posts from prison. They are insightful, full of heart, life and resistance. She shared poetry, confronted electoral politics, and dissected power issues around straight cismen who date transwomen. Now she is free and we have the honor of hearing her voice and seeing her strength. There’s so much we can all learn from CeCe.

Remember: “prisons are not safe for anyone.” Remember: if they tell you they’re going to build a special prison for people like you, say NO.

APAP All Prisoners Are Political

 

(Image Credit: Astropressdc.com)

La Palabra: In DC, women of color resist school closures

 

Public school closures are sweeping the nation, devastating cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and our home of Washington, D.C. Since 2008 DCPS has closed 29 schools, and Mayor Vince Gray and Chancellor Kaya Henderson recently announced plans to close up to 20 more schools by the end of the 2013 school year.

It’s a trend located in a larger shift toward privatization in education and elsewhere—a move that threatens democratic access to vital social resources.

It’s also a racist trend: overwhelmingly, families of color are affected. With just the most recent wave of closures in DC, of the 3,800 students who will be displaced by closures, only 36 are white. Of those students, 80% are low income.

In DC, activists are fighting the closures—in the courts, and on the streets. La Palabra, an internet radio project broadcast on WPFW’s Latino Media Collective, is interviewing people at the schools slated to be closed. They have interviewed grandparents, parents, and other caregivers affected by the closures and the response is unanimous: Mayor Gray, Chancellor Kaya Henderson, you CAN NOT have my school!

Since women are overwhelmingly the primary caregivers in families, women are the most burdened by these closures, after, of course, the students themselves. Some parents at Ferbee-Hope elementary school have already survived multiple school closings. Mothers and grandmothers are worried about the impact on their kids lives, the safety of the new neighborhoods they’ll be in. They see a city government that cares more about paving the way for development than about their kids.

Children with disabilities will be especially hard hit by the displacement and disruption the closures entail. Their entire learning community will be relocated without their input, and the staff on which they depend will be forced to reapply for their job. Tamara, a mother at Sharpe Health (a school for special needs kids), observes that the mayor and chancellor “don’t care about the emotional stability, the physical stability of our children.”

But mothers in DC care, and La Palabra is listening—parents are ready to act and block the closures! Support their voices with yours by signing Empower DC’s petition calling on an immediate moratorium on public school closures.

La Palabra, http://lapalabradc.tumblr.com/. Beck Levy,  beck@astropressdc.com

 

(Photo Credit: http://lapalabradc.tumblr.com)

APAP: On Grand Jury Resisters, the Latin Kings, CeCe McDonald, and Pussy Riot

When members of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation in North Carolina were first arrested in a brutal raid, the big picture was clear to their friends, family, and colleagues in Greensboro. The ALKQN in NC have been very politically active, with King Jay (Jorge Cornell) running twice for city council and negotiating a gang truce. The gang truce in particular threatened the existence of a new, lavishly funded gang task force in Greensboro, part of the decades-long national trend of funding such carceral endeavors as opposed to schools and community programs.

Across the country, another community is under attack: that of activists in the Pacific Northwest, with homes being raided in search of incriminating books and more activists being subpoenaed every day. Within left circles, there has been a heartening amount of press and support for the resisters. Last week, Anonymous announced a new campaign in support of the Pacific Northwest Grand Jury Resisters. Contrasting that with the paltry amount of attention granted the case of the Kings parallels the difference between the airtime given Pussy Riot versus CeCe McDonald. The crime that CeCe McDonald committed was surviving a racist, transphobic attack on her life. But like Pussy Riot, the Grand Jury Resisters have the benefit of being young and attractive (and thus easily incorporated, despite their radical politics, into the spectacle of fashion). And, like Pussy Riot, their crime is perceived to be ideological. Thus their innocence is more explicit. One doesn’t have to take a stand against all prisons or prison society writ large to sympathize with their plight.

The NC Kings are being prosecuted under RICO, or the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal litigation tool with a deeply convoluted history during which it has attempted to rid Teamsters of Mafia influence (which mostly resulted in obstructing democracy within the Teamsters), been disproportionately applied to people of color and weaponized against activists ranging from the Black Liberation Army to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. As a tactic of State repression it is a part of a larger effort to dismantle and delegitimize left and POC communities.

The Greensboro Legal Defense Fund has worked tirelessly to support the Kings throughout the usual moves from prison to prison, challenges in getting adequate legal representation, and disregard for medical needs. The GLDF are heavily constituted of women and queers, who are neighbors, friends, family friends, and colleagues with the Kings—a community. In addition to the partners and children of the Kings, the local anarchist community has played a huge part in doing this work, “performing the arduous labor of being on the outside for someone—trying adequately to switch among the many and sometimes conflicting roles of caregivers, wageworkers, and justice advocates”. Disdain or disinterest from the national left has come through informal channels, but usually involves questions about the perceived homophobia or misogyny of the Kings.

Why are the Kings subject to such deep scrutiny while other political prisoners are not? This demand for perfection in those we support is unreasonable, a distraction from the larger issues with mass incarceration and State repression, and often seems to be deployed only on POC prisoners. Some in the national anarchist community see the language of kings and queens as reinforcing hierarchy, but the GLDF knows these titles are about dignity, not domination. “We may not all desire to be kings and queens, we all desire to be the masters of our own destiny.”

If you are supporting grand jury resisters but not the ALKQN, I urge you to broaden your analysis. If you (like Madonna, Bjork, Julian Assange, Amnesty International, and Yoko Ono) are supporting Pussy Riot but not CeCe McDonald, I urge you to broaden your analysis—because all prisoners are political.

 

(Photo Credit: PrisonBooks.Info)

Pride 2012: Actualize Transfeminism

When my friend Diana and I first met up to discuss collaborating on a benefit for Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, we were filled with bitterness and rage. Diana had already started to campaign to raise money for CeCe, specifically wanting to get a chunk of money for her living expenses upon release. I loved a lot about that idea, particularly Diana’s life-affirming, positive remarks that she hoped there would be enough money raised that CeCe could just throw herself a big party when she got out, and not have to work for a while, and get massages every day. The list grew longer and we smiled as we thought of all the rest and joy CeCe deserves.

But when we started talking about the text of the poster, our anger resurfaced. We so wanted to curse all of the oppression that is responsible for CeCe’s situation. We wanted to condemn individuals working within the racist, cis-sexist criminal justice system and the institution itself, which is rigged to cage the poor and other undesirables. We wanted to attack the combination of administrative, legislative, and cultural forces that restrict the life chances of transpeople, particularly people of color, and punish or criminalize their survival. Yet we could not articulate that rage into a poster-sized message. Nor did we like the idea of that poster hanging on the walls of folks who probably do not need more anger and vitriol in their lives.

Diana wrote an amazing song for her band about the Trans Day of Remembrance, voicing her disillusionment and frustration at the despairing tone of the day, as well as at the futility of prayer. She is not the only person I have heard express their desire for a trans holiday that is more like a celebration.

For myself and many of my loved ones, striking a balance between the trauma of victimization and the triumph of survivorship is an ongoing struggle–in day to day life and in our activism.

Weighing all of this, we flipped our approach in crafting a message for the print to one of positivity and rejoicing, in the same spirit of that party for CeCe that Diana had imagined.

And we came up with:

CECE IS A HERO.
we celebrate your survival
we praise your strength
we struggle with you

The bottom border of the poster contains three symbols: a crossed-out swastika asserting our resistance to fascism (both in the particularities of CeCe’s case and at large), the symbol for trans liberation, and a heart.

 

(Image Credit: Beck Levy / AstropressDC)

 

Radical Feminisms & Occupy

 

(Photo Credit: Rabble.ca)

As one who was an activist and a radical pre-occupy (as I have been during- and will be post-), I had mixed feelings upon occupy’s initial momentum. It is nice to be surprised once in a while. A friend put it best—“if someone had told you five years ago that Adbusters would be responsible for the next US protest movement, and that Crimethinc would be providing useful, levelheaded discourse on it, would you have believed them?” Not a chance. So when it kicked off, I was extremely skeptical. I had long ago dismissed anything resembling a mass mobilization as being unable to enact real change in the USA. Instead, I cast my lot (as did many of my friends and colleagues) with what we call somewhat euphemistically “long term movement building”: direct services, raising funds and resources for said direct services, and small-scale community building. But I was also excited that the national conversation was approaching a critique of capitalism, excited for there to be a left movement in the USA again, and intrigued by the possibilities of the encampment tactic. Occupy’s connection to the “Arab Spring” in the national imagination gave it a particularly tantalizing flavor of possibility.

On paper, occupy is inherently aligned with feminist critiques of power. The heart of occupy is an objection to unearned power—the same objection at the heart of work seeking to dismantle patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia, ableism, and the myriad interlocking oppressions that both sustain the ruling order (or in the parlance of occupy, the 1%) and keep the 99% divided and conquered.

But at large and locally, the internal and external dynamics of the movement have not always reflected that ideological alignment which seems at once so obvious and so necessary. Instead, the physical spaces of occupy have often replicated oppressive social relationships, when they should have been sanctuaries for those who need it the most—people experiencing homelessness, people of color, queer and trans* people, women in need of shelter and childcare, and survivors of violence, to name a few. Also, the conversation with occupy seems to have shifted to mainstream liberal concerns such as Citizens United and away from poverty and structural violence.

Occupy’s shift to liberal values, if not tactics, did not come as a total surprise. Radicals have long known to be wary of our liberal and moderate compatriots. They can sometimes be our worst enemy or biggest obstacle, as The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently expressed in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

…the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom…lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

This is why a feminist critique is essential to occupy. We have got to keep an eye on the people who claim to be speaking for us or on our behalf, but are not. It is not a lack of demands or incoherence of message that weakens the occupy movement, but the lack of a radical analysis, and the unwillingness of privileged people within the movement to step back and let the movement be directed by the needs of its most marginalized participants.

For a moderated panel discussion of this and more—where is occupy going in relation to labor? To academia?—please attend a Panel Discussion on the Future of Occupy, GWU Gelman Library, Wed March 7
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