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)

The tragedy of Sybrina Fulton, the agony of Marissa Alexander

“My message to you is, please use my story, please use my tragedy, please use my broken heart to say to yourself, ‘We cannot let this happen to anybody else’s child… I speak to you as Trayvon’s mother. I speak to you as a parent, and the absolutely worst telephone call you can receive as a parent is to know that your son — your son — you will never kiss again. I’m just asking you to wrap your mind around that, wrap your mind around: No prom for Trayvon. No high school graduation for Trayvon. No college for Trayvon. No grandkids coming from Trayvon, all because of a law, a law that has prevented the person who shot and killed my son to be held accountable and to pay for his awful crime.”

Sybrina Fulton spoke these words yesterday.

Sybrina Fulton and Marissa Alexander face each other across a chasm of tragedy and agony, a condition known by far too many Black women in the United States, women who live under the regime of more than Stand Your Ground laws. Black women in the United States today live in an internally coherent system of racial-sexual oppression.

When Trayvon Martin was killed, and even more when his killer was released, across the country, Black families understood that Stand Your Ground was code for Understand Your Place. Understand that your place is the crossroads of your race and gender.

This lesson is being lived out today by Sybrina Fulton. Marissa Alexander is also living out that hard lesson. Marissa Alexander is a Black woman in Florida, in the same jurisdiction as Travyon Martin. She is the mother of three children. One day, in desperation at the abusiveness of her partner, she picked up a gun and shot it, once, in the air. It was a warning shot.

When she was arrested and tried, she said she was protecting herself and her children, she argued their lives were in real, present and immediate danger. She invoked Stand Your Ground. The prosecuting attorney Angela Corey, the same prosecuting attorney in the Trayvon Martin case, rejected the argument.

Many want to know why. Why does a Black woman get such different treatment? Others respond, “Hey, welcome to Florida. Welcome to America.”

Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years behind bars. She now `awaits her appeal.’ For Black women in the United States, the options provided by the so-called criminal justice system are simple, agony or tragedy. Those options are unacceptable. Release Marissa Alexander from prison. Relase CeCe McDonald from prison. Reject the Stand Your Ground, `Stand Your Position program. Instead, Stand Your Dignity

 

(Photo Credit: Moms Rising; Image Credit: DignidadRebelde.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)