I found this ad and think that it conveys so much about the cruelty & horror of slavery. It also illustrates the intersections between slavery and incarceration.
Source: NYPL Digital Collection
I found this ad and think that it conveys so much about the cruelty & horror of slavery. It also illustrates the intersections between slavery and incarceration.
Source: NYPL Digital Collection
Note: This post was written fast and while tired. It’s a work in process but I felt compelled to offer some thoughts because I have been growing increasingly pissed off over the past few days. Consider these preliminary notes. In addition, I mean the terms women & girls to include anyone who identifies with these categories. I want to take into account the ways that transgender women and girls experience violence (interpersonally and from the state).
Eve Ensler seems to have discovered state violence…in much the same way as Columbus ‘discovered’ America. She has announced herself ready to discuss and address the negative consequences of increased criminalization. Yet just a few months ago, One Billion Rising, Ensler’s global ‘anti-violence’ campaign, was primarily encouraging survivors of interpersonal violence to report their rapes & assaults to law enforcement. This, according to the campaign, was the way to hold perpetrators of violence ‘accountable’ for their actions. Ensler and her collaborators were either unaware or didn’t care that the state itself is a major purveyor of gender violence. In fact, as suggested by advocates like Lauren Chief Elk, many women who come into contact with the criminal legal system seeking recourse find themselves becoming victims of that system. In addition, as Andy Smith has remarked: “…this approach actually disempowers women by locating the state as the solution to gender violence rather than actual political organizing by those impacted by gender violence.”
Ensler et. al’s strategy of increasing state control over the lives of survivors of violence now appears to be in direct contradiction with a newly announced initiative that they are calling ‘One Billion Rising For Justice U.S. Prisons Project‘. I learned about this project a couple of days ago. The website describes the new campaign as:
“…a recognition that we cannot end violence against women without ending all intersecting forms of oppression and injustice: poverty, racism, homophobia, war, the plunder of the environment, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy.”
If this language sounds familiar, it’s because for years now, women of color activists, organizers, and scholars around the world have been making the case that state & structural violence are constitutive of violence against women and girls (see: Incite! among many others). That it’s all of a piece and that the interlocking oppressions manifest themselves in the daily lives of women & girls across the globe.
In a column published in the Guardian, Ensler elaborates on her new project:
This year we are escalating and deepening the campaign with One Billion Rising for Justice. Justice is about restoring the primacy of connection so that we understand that violence against women is not a personal problem, but connected to other systemic injustices whether they be patriarchal, economic, racial, gender, or environmental.
Here, Ensler seems to be responding to unattributed criticism which has suggested that the anti-violence movement has relied too heavily on individualistic forms of interventions rather than on more community-based solutions. Ensler adds:
“Many questions have arisen. How do we create justice when the state is paralysed or against us? What does justice look like? How do we address root causes of violence? How do we join our struggles? How do we distinguish between justice and revenge?”
Once again, Ensler’s readers are left to wonder how such questions “have arisen.” Who has been agitating to include these questions in mainstream anti-violence considerations and interventions? Just as the criticisms of the collusion between mainstream anti-violence advocates and the state are unattributed by Ensler so too does she erase the collective action that has forced the insertion of a transformative justice lens for addressing harm and violence. In addition, the “we” of whom Ensler speaks is undefined. This it seems is intentional because Ensler has positioned herself at the center of global anti-violence organizing where she gets to ‘learn’ from indigenous women through world traveling. For example, Ensler mentions her insipiration for launching One Billion Rising as being Congolese women:
On February 14, 2013 millions of people rose up and danced in 207 countries with our campaign One Billion Rising. It turns out that dancing, as the women of Congo taught me, is a most formidable, liberating and transformative energy.
It’s instructive that Ensler chose to be inspired by Congolese women’s dancing rather than their years of painstaking and dangerous community and political organizing against violence and for economic justice. Congolese women have been annexed to Ensler’s One Billion Rising campaign. One has to ask, how this happens? How does one become subsumed under the One Billion Rising campaign umbrella? If one Congolese woman dances, must all Congolese women dance too? Unsurprisingly not all women in the Congo are on board with Ensler’s campaign. Natalie Gyte relayed an anecdote about a Congolese woman’s perceptions of Ensler in a Huffington Post article earlier this year:
I recently listened to a Congolese woman talk in a speak-easy setting of radical grassroots feminists. She was radiantly and beautifully powerful in her unfiltered anger towards the One Billion Rising movement, as she used the words “insulting” and “neo-colonial”. She used the analogy of past crimes against humanity, asking us if we could imagine people turning up at the scenes of atrocities and taking pictures or filming for the purposes of “telling their story to the rest of the world”. Take it one step further and try to imagine a white, middle class, educated, American women turning up on the scene to tell survivors to ‘rise’ above the violence they have seen and experienced by…wait for it…dancing. “Imagine someone doing that to holocaust survivors”, she said.
Ensler is not unique in what Bell Hooks has called “eating the other” though. She is also not unique in centering herself within other people’s struggles. Quoting Andy Smith again:
— Andy Smith (@andrea366) December 11, 2013
Ensler’s language basically masks a Western Liberal project of “giving voice” to the oppressed. But as Arundhati Roy has said, “We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Millions of women across the Globe are and have been organizing for their own liberation. They’ve used their voices for that. Even if the formulation of ‘giving voice’ wasn’t problematic on its face, we should be troubled that Ensler et al. seek to ‘give voice’ to incarcerated women, for example, without offering a substantive critique of the prison itself as violence.
Even within a supposed critique of prisons as sites of sexual and physical violence, the prison is still positioned by Ensler as inevitable and immutable. There is no acknowledgement that prisons are violence in and of themselves. There’s no mention in the campaign recently promoted that women who use violence against their perpetrators often find themselves trapped within these same prisons. It’s as if they are invisible in the campaign. Are they not prisoners too then? Are they not survivors of violence too? What this underscores is that One Billion Rising’s analysis of the sources of violence in people’s lives is too uncomplicated.
This leads me to be very concerned about One Billion Rising for Justice’s U.S. Prison Project. With its inability to radically interrogate prison as violence, the campaign can only dedicate itself to making prison a little more bearable. And I guess that while real bodies are locked in those cages, there is some value in that. But the danger is that this project employs a language of “transformation” and of “justice” that makes it appear much more radical than it actually is or can be. This is tepid reform masquerading as something else..
I’m a feminist and a prison abolitionist. I have previously mentioned that there was actually a time when prison abolition was a feminist concern. Times have changed and it’s more likely that you’ll find feminists calling for more & longer prison sentences than for an end to them. One Billion Rising for Justice seems to want to hew to some feminists’ histories of resisting the carceral state. Unfortunately, it falls way, way short.
I hope to write more about Nelson Mandela and his time in prison in a few weeks. But for today, here are a couple of photographs of his prison cell.
“For 18 of his 27 years behind bars, he was housed at Robben Island west of Cape Town in an 8-foot by 7-foot concrete cell with only a straw mat to sleep on. He was eventually released from prison on Feb. 2, 1990.”
To Whom It May Concern:
A few issues arise with this policy: it implies that everyone has access to computers and the Internet; the application is only available in English, effectively shutting out everyone who isn’t fluent. The mandatory background check is also said to take 3 days for completion.
The individuals being held by Cook County Department of Corrections have families, friends, and loved ones who need and would appreciate their support systems in these strenuous times. Creating barriers such as this new visitation policy is heartless.
I have personally experienced this new policy implemented by the Cook County Department of Corrections. I am a working professional; I was able to access the application online for both my partner and myself. When we arrived to the Cook County Department of Corrections, and were turned away, I was grief –stricken. The corrections officers informed us that applications were taking nearly a week to complete the process and to call the social worker before attempting to visit again. We asked about the people who may not have access to computers or speak English “like my parents”, and an Officer’s aloof response was, “Well there is the library.” On our way out we noticed the waiting room was near empty, quite the contrast to our previous visits.
We walked away with feelings of sadness, that we were unable to visit our loved one and of anger, but with no outlet. Seeing the empty visiting room made us realize the injustice that was happening in our county. So we ask: Is this necessary protocol? If so, is the Cook County Department of Corrections upholding their end of the arrangement? Are applications being processed in a timely fashion? Is this set of rules conveniently omitting people who do not have access to a computer, the Internet and are not only English speaking? Are loved ones even aware of the new procedure for visitation? Are our inmates suffering another kind of punishment before proven blameworthy? What is the main intention of this policy, is it to isolate a person from any humane experience and deprive them from communicating with their external support systems? Why? This whole experience validated that our loved ones in the Cook County Jail are not treated as human beings but as property items. Is this justice?
I am challenging this protocol, asking if this procedure is being examined for need and accessibility; furthermore that the Cook County Department of Corrections be held accountable for invoking a punishment before culpability has been established.
Dulce M Quintero
Legislators are promising to discuss a comprehensive approach to address violence in the Spring session. Proponents of SB 1342 are sure to offer their bill again as a part of the ‘solution’ to violence. Those of us who oppose mandatory minimums should remain vigilant but for today we deserve to exhale and to embrace this development as a win against further criminalization of black & brown young people (in particular). There are and will be other bills and policies to resist but for now SB 1342 won’t be one of them.
It’s difficult for me to express my feelings today. As an organizer, too often, I dwell on the losses while skirting over the wins. Yet it is the wins that make it possible to keep moving forward. It is the wins (no matter how small or ephemeral) that provide the reserves for continued struggle.
I don’t spend most of time standing in the doorway saying ‘no.’ I prefer to work on building the world that I want to live in. But there are times, and SB 1342 was one of those times, when it’s important to stand up and push back against an injustice. Sometimes it’s important to just say ‘no.’
To all of the people who said NO TO HB 2265/SB 1342 over the past year, my profound appreciation. These words by Alice Walker express how I feel about the importance of taking action in the world. I offer them to all of you who acted against SB 1342 with gratitude.
“I have learned to accept the fact that we risk disappointment, disillusionment, even despair, every time we act. Every time we decide to believe the world can be better. Every time we decide to trust others to be as noble as we think they are. And that there might be years during which our grief is equal to, or even greater than, our hope. The alternative, however, not to act, and therefore to miss experiencing other people at their best, reaching toward their fullness, has never appealed to me.”
La lucha continua! But for today I’m just going to say…
and also DANCE!!
I finally crashed tonight. I got home & I was done. I knew that it would happen. For days, I’ve been operating at peak productivity. I haven’t slowed down. I’ve been consumed with opposing SB 1342, a mandatory minimum gun bill proposed by Rahm Emanuel and currently being considered by the Illinois legislature. Regular readers won’t be surprised at this. I’ve been ranting about this bill since January when it was first introduced as “HB2265.”
For the past few weeks, I’ve been told by various stakeholders that the bill was “a done deal.” “It’s definitely going to pass,” others have said. By this, they mean that the politicians have made deals with various interests and that public opposition is futile.
But I’ve learned something important in my many years of organizing: we must never give up. Why should we bother to advocate so consistently and comprehensively against a bill that is “a done deal?” It’s simple: SB 1342 hasn’t passed yet. It hasn’t come before the full House or Senate yet. And even if it does, it hasn’t been signed into law by the Governor yet. This is where things stand and so as long there isn’t a signed bill that has become law, we must resist. I would contend that our continued resistance will be needed even if the bill becomes law. Because, in the law, nothing is permanent. Everything can be changed.
Sheila Bedi wrote about the potentially destructive impact of SB 1342 in the Daily Beast over the weekend:
So by targeting neighborhoods for mass imprisonment, law enforcement officials have created a well-greased revolving door between prisons and our communities. And in so doing, they have destroyed the only things that have ever been proven to create safe neighborhoods. Emmanuel’s mandatory minimum proposal would only serve to fan the flames of Chicago’s failed prison and policing initiatives. Thousands of young, mostly African-American men would be funneled into already overcrowded prisons.
Once there, they will languish behind bars—denied access to even the most basic educational programs which have been defunded because of budget shortfalls. Many will endure the brutal violence and sexual assaults that are endemic in a prison environment. Most will spend their three years behind bars in forced idleness. This is the case not only in Chicago, but across the country.
Writing at the Black Youth Project, Aaron Talley offered his thoughts about how #SB 1342 would impact young black people like himself:
And so let’s be clear, like the “war on drugs,” this law will disproportionately criminalize Black and Brown bodies. Communities of color who are already targets of racial profiling and brutal policing will continue to be fed into prisons, rather than being met with compassionate and creative solutions to solving the interweaving problems of violence and poverty. If there is ample evidence that suggests that this mode of punishment does not work, why then would it continue to be employed?
The consequences of mass incarceration are not academic or abstract to me. They are all too real. I see its ravages every single day in my work with young people. It’s impossible then for me to sit idly by in the face of another structural assault on the lives of black and brown young people.
This evening, dozens of other people showed up to say that they too refuse to accept another law that will do further violence to our young people and to our communities. Bundled up in the Chicago cold, holding signs, flashlights, and lightboards, Chicagoans of all stripes said “NO TO MANDATORY MINIMUMS.” Together, we stood as testaments of the refusal of so many people in this city to give up even when we’re told that things are “done deals.”
ILLINOISANS BELIEVE THAT GUN VIOLENCE IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM BUT OPPOSE MANDATORY MINIMUM PRISON SENTENCES FOR ILLEGAL GUN POSSESSION (SB 1342)
“This is not a problem we can legislate away. We have to change the way people live and are educated. I’m a CPS teacher and a DePaul Law student, so what I’m constantly bombarded with are the inequities in the legal system and public education. Fix those and we can greatly reduce gun violence!”
– Anonymous survey respondent
Download the full report of the survey HERE (PDF).
Nine out of 10 (93%) survey respondents oppose the passage of SB 1342. Moreover, Illinoisans don’t believe that mandatory minimum prison sentences reduce violence. In fact, 86% of Illinoisans disagree/strongly disagree with the statement: “Mandatory minimum prison sentences (that take away judicial discretion) for illegal gun possession will reduce violence in Illinois.”
94% of those surveyed said that Illinois should NOT spend an estimated additional $780 million in prison costs over the next 10 years to pay for SB 1342.
The findings indicate support for an approach to gun violence that runs contrary to the punitive policy currently under consideration by the General Assembly.
Nearly nine out of 10 (89%) people surveyed believe that “Gun violence is a serious problem in Illinois.” However data released today show that more than 90 percent of Illinois respondents disagree/strongly disagree that “Incarceration produces positive changes in young people (21 & under) or in adults.”
The survey also found that when given choices outside of prison, Illinoisans support the following types of interventions for adults who illegally carry a gun (whether loaded or unloaded): Vocation Training & Job Skills, Restorative Justice Program, and Employment. They favor Help getting a high school diploma or GED, Mentoring, and Restorative Justice Program for youth (21 & under) who illegally carry a gun (whether loaded or unloaded).
“Illinoisans understand that SB 1342 will not actually make our communities safer, is too expensive, and will serve to criminalize more people,” said Project NIA director Mariame Kaba. “Respondents favor community-based alternatives as opposed to incarceration to address gun violence in Illinois.”
While the rest of the country is moving away from mandatory minimum prison sentences because research and experience suggest that they don’t work, Illinois has been moving towards them. It appears that the public is ahead of the policymakers again and favors a focus on rehabilitation and community-based alternatives instead of more incarceration.
Legislators and policymakers should take heed. There is no popular demand for the ‘tough on crime’ bills that politicians often offer as a solution to violence and harm. The desire is for less punishment and to focus instead on the root causes of violence.
**The survey was carried out online by Project NIA. It was administered from November 20 through November 29. 571responses were collected from across Illinois.
Join Project NIA and others TODAY at 6 p.m. at City Hall as they protest against SB 1342 and insist on an anti-violence strategy that addresses the root causes of gun violence.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AT COOK COUNTY JAIL: PRISONERS WITHOUT HEAT
Press Contact: Turn Up the Heat CCJ Coalition 931-996-2865
As temperatures in Chicago dipped down to 8 degrees last weekend, and have stayed below freezing, Cook County Jail (CCJ) is housing prisoners in cells with absolutely
no heat. A coalition of activists and grassroots organizations working on prison issues in Chicago are taking action. Last Thursday they launched a call in campaign to Sheriff Tom Dart’s office at the jail to get answers as to why prisoners awaiting trial at CCJ had no heat and inadequate blankets. They were repeatedly and consistently told the jail would look into it.
Advocates continued to call Tom Dart’s office, and soon jail personnel began to forward all calls regarding the lack of heat to the Public Relations Department. A representative told multiple callers that the heat was on, and had been on, in all divisions.
In the meantime, confirmed reports were coming from prisoners and their loved ones about a lack of heat particularly in Division 9 of the Jail. The claims made by jail officials were refuted. At this time, the heat is still off. Reports from prisoners confirmed that in Division 9 the inspectors came to the unit last Thursday, the heat was turned on until the weekend, and then the heat was turned off again, and has remained off despite the freezing temperatures. The jail claims that this is due to old and faulty equipment in another area of the jail, yet Division 9, a maximum security unit for male prisoners, was built in 1992.
“Jail officials say the heat has been off in only a small women’s tier for a few days, but they’re forgetting to mention the fact that they didn’t even bother turning the heat on until late November, and because of our campaign demanding they look into it,” a supporter named Michelle Day said. “Tom Dart and the media the jail is putting out to avoid attention on this issue only refers to issues in Division 4, but we are in contact with prisoners in Division 9 who have complained that they only had heat Thursday and Friday and can see their breath in their cells. This is clearly a way for the jail to attempt to save money, or be punitive toward prisoners, disregarding the fact that this is a clear human rights violation.”
One advocate, Mariame Kaba of Project NIA, began tweeting directly at Tom Dart’s
office and challenging jail officials claims. She got several responses that conflicted with the on-the-ground responses from prisoners and their visitors. Kaba documented the responses in a Storify. Asked about the response from Sheriff Dart’s Twitter account, Kaba said: “It’s important that CCJ be truthful and transparent with the public. Our taxes are used to maintain this facility & we expect humane treatment of all prisoners. I want CCJ to fix the heat situation immediately and to provide honest, non-conflicting responses as well.”
Jail advocates undertook a similar campaign last winter, when CCJ failed to turn on
the heat well into winter. The heat was turned on for a few weeks, only to be turned
off again when the pressure was off. The only time the heat was turned on again in Division 9 last winter, was when federal inspectors came in from the Dept. of Justice. As soon as they left, the heat was turned off again. So this year advocates have amped up for a broader campaign to put the heat on, and keep it on, as a campaign, and literally. They are encouraging people to call Tom Dart’s office, and to write letters to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the federal overseer of the jail, to ensure it complies with federal regulations at:
US Dept. of Justice Civil
Rights Division special litigation sec. 950
Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington DC 20530
In 2008, Cook County Jail was under investigation by the DOJ for poor jail conditions including abuse by corrections officers, poor food quality, lack of access to medical care resulting in amputations, and prisoners having to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding.
The coalition says it will keep the heat on, until the heat is on for good for CCJ prisoners. A supporter named Stephanie stressed, “We’re ready to keep this campaign going, and get more advocacy organizations involved, to ensure Cook County Jail respects the human rights of its prisoners.”
For updates, find the call in campaign on Facebook.