Parable One

Artwork by Cristy C. Road.

In the early 2000’s, I was part of a US-based women and gender non conforming people of color movement focused on ending state violence. We would meet in cities like Chicago and New Orleans and sit together for hours on end with our poster boards, markers, and snacks. We would break out into groups based upon our campaigns for prison abolition, anti immigrant violence, war, and the colonization of Palestinian and American Indian land. We focused on the gendered and sexualized effects of these systems–from the U.S. military and border police using sexual violence as a tool of control to the direct impact of state violence like policing or war on intimate partner (or domestic) violence.  At one point, we were preparing for a massive conference anticipating at least one thousand participants. When members of the anti-war break-out group starting sharing our personal histories with each other, one of us said, “We are setting ourselves up for failure.” She was referring to how all of us working on the anti-war campaign were from the regions the US had been invading–the Arab region, Iran, and Afghanistan.  We wondered why we were the only ones who signed up to build the anti war campaign. We realized we had set up the struggle to end war as if it was separate from other struggles–as if prisons and police are one set of “domestic” struggles while war “abroad” is another. We were operating as if war was a “Middle Eastern/south Asian issue;” prison was a “Black issue” and immigration was a “Latinx issue” and so on. We realized that while we were trying to challenge liberal-multicultural U.S. imperialist culture, we were reproducing it. We realized we were headed towards “oppression olympics,” a dynamic whereby we would be competing over whose struggle was more urgent than the other.  Imagine for instance if feminists from the Arab region were fighting to end U.S. militarism and Black feminists and their allies were fighting to end policing. Setting up our struggles as separate issues meant that if Arab feminists were to work towards prison abolition, it would be as if we were simply allies who ultimately prioritized ending militarism while additionally supporting prison abolition rather than struggling together to end the interconnected structures of militarism and policing. 

Women of Color Against War Flyers & Stickers, artwork by Favianna Rodriguez

At one of our meetings a few years after the horrific attacks of 09/11, as we passed my one year old son around the room, I could see the exhaustion on all of our faces. Our exhaustion was born out of the ways each of our separate communities were deeply impacted by the U.S.’ post 09/11 war on terror–from the increased militarization of the police to the reduction of resources for schools and health-care and the increased military budget. Rather than striving to figure out the connections between us, they already existed. U.S. imperial war had made the connections for us. Because the war on terror had expanded the power and numbers of border patrol and police and because sexual assault is a tool of U.S. war, police and border patrol, the war on terror was enacting violence against all of our communities–in different ways and to different degrees. While the war on terror justified the militarization of U.S. police, the same Israeli army systematically killing and incarcerating Palestinians was training U.S. police forces in military-style policing. All of these systems relied upon sexualized violence and intensified the hesitation among Arab and Black women and people of color in general related to calling the police for help in situations of domestic violence.

Rather than expecting everyone in our collective to drop everything to focus only on ending the U.S.-led war in the Middle East and South Asia, we worked from the position that the  “War of Terror” intensifies violence against women of color, third world women, and our communities living in the U.S. and in the coutnries the U.S. is invading–in different ways and to different degrees. Once we called for connecting the growing resistance in the U.S. with people impacted by the war of terror in Asia and the Pacific Islands, Africa,, Latin America, the Middle East, and anywhere the U.S. has chosen as its target.

We formed a campaign to end military recruitment in poor communities of color and indigenous communities in connection with campaigns to end the violence of prisons and policing, border-violence, and the colonization of Native Land through our collective slogan, “Stopping the War on Women of Color.” As we watched the rooms where we held anti-war workshops overflow with women and gender non conforming people of color from multiple communities and struggles, I realized that if we truly want to liberate all women of color, we need to be willing to address how the struggles we individually face are deeply intertwined in the struggles of others. We need to resist our interconnected oppressions in coalition and in relationship with each other.

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