Category Archives: Prison State
How I Give Thanks
The Black Square Stays Because I Am Not Okay
My dear white folks who are uncomfortable because I have not changed my user pic to that of a rainbow flag over the last week:
I didn’t change my user pic because I am not over the deaths of the 9 Black people killed in Charleston. I am not over the churches that were burned while I was growing up. I am not over the churches burning now. I need you to know, I am not okay right now, and Black people do not have to be okay either.
I’m not over Rekia Boyd. I’m not over Michael Brown. I’m not over Vonderrit Myers. I’m not over Aiyanna Jones. I’m not over Jack Jacquez, Jr. I’m not over Tanesha Anderson. I’m not over Jessie Hernandez. I am not over Islan Nettles. I am not over Eric Garner. I am not over Tamir Rice. Or Ty Underwood. Or Michelle Vash Payne. Or Yvette Smith.
I am so glad that gay and queer folks can get married, but it’s still legal to discriminate against gay and queer folks in many areas, including in employment, business and healthcare. Trans women, especially trans women of color still die more than anyone else. The Confederate flag coming down doesn’t mean racism goes away, but it does make it harder to see. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it goes away.
I am happy for the progress we have made but I am not over the deaths of so many people in so little time. It is not okay to expect people to just get over a massacre that took place at a monument just two weeks ago. If you don’t know that 8 churches have burned in the last two weeks, you should know.
You can’t just sing some songs and have this go away. You can’t quickly absolve yourself of the ways you have benefited from White Supremacy. You can’t do this work quickly, and you should not try to do it quickly.
So I’m not posting the LGBT rainbow flag. I’m not posting the Trans flag. I’m not posting the gender queer flag (even though it is my favorite of the flags). I am keeping this little black square where my face goes to remind you that many people are in mourning right now. If it is uncomfortable for you to be reminded, imagine how uncomfortable it is for the families of those who have died.
#BlackLivesMatter #BlackTransLivesMatter #BlackQueerLivesMatter #BlackGayLivesMatter
By all outward appearances, I am a nice white lady. This gives me a lot of privilege, but it also means people make a lot of assumptions based on my appearance and demeanor.
Recently, I went to Mayor Hancock’s Cabinet in the Community here in Denver. I didn’t really want to go, but I have committed to getting out as much as possible to meetings and events so that I can livetweet the events and keep people updated. I’ve gotten a lot of comments that people like the livetweets, so I try to do them often.
In the first 5 minutes after I arrived, 2 police officers and one city official came up to me and said “I want to know how much I appreciate the way Coloradans for Justice does things.”
This is amusing, because if you’ve been watching, Coloradans for Justice is primarily an activist calendar service. We will organize events if it is needed, but there are so many groups in Denver organizing that it currently is NOT needed. We’re all about doing the work that needs to be done. We are also a really tiny group that does not hold meetings.
When I started organizing, shortly after connecting with @kennyswiley and @eliasheibert on Twitter back in August, none of us knew what we were doing. We didn’t know how to organize a vigil, a rally, a march. We hadn’t taking any organizing classes. Our main experience was that I have BEEN to a lot of marches and protest activities. We called around and no one would call us back. So we made some mistakes and we tried to build off of them and not make them again. I think we did a good job.
A friend of mine pointed out that the Denver police had run through all their informants and probably see me as a likely informant about activist activities. I get why.
Why does the city like the way we do things?
Because we met with the cops. We got permits. We asked permission.
This is why they like us. Because we played by the rules of respectability and this gets you things like handshakes and meetings with public officials.
There is a time and place for permits. If you are planning to hold a rally several weeks in advance for an annual event, you should get a permit. If you are responding to recent events, there may not be time to get a permit. You may not have time to meet with city officials. It is still vital to hold your event. It is still important that there is some level of organization and communication happening to ensure the safety of people attending your action. Having connections with other groups can help with this.
There are also times when you are just NOT going to get permission to exercise your right to free speech. When you have to realize that the requirement to get permission is an insult. That you don’t have to get permission for many activist activities.
I want to be clear that I am in solidarity with the protesters at Saturday’s #DefendDenver March Against Police Terror. I had intended to march and even went to the park, but I was really sick that day and my fellow activists encouraged me to rest. The media and police in Denver were quick to focus on red paint being thrown on a memorial for fallen police officers. They were quick to arrest a friend of the Hernandez family for overdue tickets on the day of the protest so they could claim another arrest that day.
Whenever there is a police involved death in our community, the police are quick to utilize the media to slander the name of the victim. To paint the dead person as a “thug,” to show how they deserved to die. And we, as activists, play our role. We argue for the worth of the value of the life of the dead person. We try to convince the community, the media, the country, that person’s life mattered. It is exhausting, and I hate doing it, but it must be done.
Paint that can be washed off of a statue does far less damage than the actions police take to destroy the worth of a victim’s life. So many people are so insulted by some red paint that was quickly removed… but did you think about how it feels to families who are victims of police violence to hear over and over that their loved one deserved to die?
You’re not going to catch me yelling “fuck the police” because it’s just not my style. I am generally analyzing what is happening, looking around for safety, watching people in the crowd, and looking out for my fellow activists. I’m not going to be yelling “fuck the police” but you can be sure, in my head, I am figuring out ways to subvert your system.
I am not a nice white lady. I am a radical, gender non-conforming activist. You should not let my outward appearance allow you to assume I will be your mouthpiece or your informant. I don’t want the respectability that is being offered me. I understand that in order to effect change, my personal respectability may be affected and I accept that.
The revolution is going to require we give up our attachments to respectability and public opinion and solidify activist relationships with one another. I am here for it. I hope you are, too.
Decentering Whiteness in Activism
Somewhere around tumblr, there are posts arguing that the “A” in LGBTQIA should stand for ally, and not asexual. Over the years, I have seen people who identify as asexual mocked and discriminated against for their lack of sexual desire. The clamoring for inclusion of the term “ally” in the ever growing list of letters has always made me very uncomfortable. I have written about my discomfort with the word in the past. In short, being an ally very rarely entails the risk that simply existing as a marginalized person brings. An ally can always leave. An ally can always withdraw. An ally can choose to stop supporting a cause or go find a different group of people supporting that cause. A marginalized person cannot stop being Black, Brown, trans, a woman, or whatever it is that causes them to be marginalized. For this reason, I am very cautious of any male identified person who labels themselves a “feminist,” and yet does not use their platform to uplift women, but instead uses it to silence women who question why they have been granted a position as gatekeeper of feminism.
Last week, Coloradans for Justice, along with other groups, had organized a protest. The protest turned into a large, unplanned march. We marched in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. The march was largely successful, and sparked another smaller protest the next day.
After the first march, organizers of the previous night’s event were alerted to something that disturbed many of the protesters who were out Tuesday night. When protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” frequently, they heard the chant changed to “All Lives Matter.”
I was at the back of the group and we were chanting “Black Lives Matter,” but this was a large protest. I believe the many people who came forward to say they heard “All Lives Matter” and questioned the need for White allies to change the chant, especially at such a crucial protest centered on the lives of Black people, and the worth of their lives. In addition, I have since seen people admit to changing the chant and have even been told by one protester that another instructed them TO CHANGE THEIR PROTEST SIGN to “All Lives Matter.”
This sparked an intense discussion on the event page the day after the protest, when the second protest was being planned. Many Black posters gave reasons for how they felt changing the chant to “All Lives Matter” erases their blackness. Many White posters defended their choice to chant “All Lives Matter” for many, many reasons, in spite of being told in many ways by other protesters of many races that changing that particular chant in that particular way erases Black people, and indeed, the purpose of the protest.
Denver is a very diverse city and frequently when Coloradans for Justice has held an event, Kenny Wiley, one of our organizers, will say “Black lives matter, Brown lives matter.” This is because there are many cases of police brutality experienced by the Latino population. I’ve always felt this was a good way to acknowledge the oppression and injustice faced by the Latino community as well as the Black community. I’ve never felt the need for Kenny to throw in a “All Lives Matter” to appease White supporters.
While there are certainly White victims of police brutality, there are far more Black and Brown victims. We have seen time and time again that even holding something that appears to be a weapon is enough to justify the death of a Black or Brown person. Holding a toy sword. Holding a toy gun. Holding a toy gun in the toy gun aisle of Wal-Mart. Doing these things while also NOT BEING WHITE is enough to get you killed and your killers will go home and sleep well that night. Not only that, but the mainstream media will jump to the defense of the police officer/s who shot you while your family has yet to see your body.
If you’re going to use the word “ally” and you’re going to show up to protest in solidarity with a group of marginalized, oppressed people, you need to be prepared to take a seat. Usually it’s a backseat. This should not be an issue. While your presence, the visibility of your skin and gender, can be a powerful statement, your words may not be needed. You are able to send a message just by showing up. This is also something a marginalized person cannot do. When marginalized groups show up to protest, the media is quick to say they are rioting, while when White people actually riot, it is called terms like “spirited.” Oppressed people destroy symbols of oppression. Non-oppressed people fuck shit up over a sports team’s victory or loss.
Decentering whiteness and working to dismantle White supremacy takes a lot of work, and to be honest, a lot of that work is learning to be silent or how to amplify the voice of the person you are supporting. It doesn’t mean your opinions aren’t valid, but they simply may not be needed at that moment. Save those opinions and speeches for when you are talking to another non-marginalized person who doesn’t believe what oppressed people are saying. Your words have power. Your words have merit. Use them when they are needed. White people, especially men, are used to being heard. We are used to having our opinions be given equal weight simply because it is a White person saying it. We do not realize this is a part of White privilege. A big part of White privilege is the ability to be ignorant that you have privilege. People of color are used to having to shout, and even then, have their voices ignored. White people who are unaware or still fighting awareness of privilege do not believe that people of color have to fight, because they, as a White person, do not have to fight. Please believe me, people of color have to fight.
I’m going to give an example of a time when I chose to stay silent in order to decenter my whiteness. I’m not doing this for activist cred, I am doing this to give White people an example of how to really support a person of color whose voice needs to be heard:
I was at the last Denver Sheriff’s Department reform meeting. These meetings are run on a tight schedule. Statements and questions are kept to under 2 minutes, and they only allow a certain number of people to speak at all. I had raised my hand and was in line to ask my question. Frankly, I already knew the answer to my question, but I wanted to get them to say it out loud. Two other people were set to follow me. A White man, and a young Black man.
The moderator announced that only the first two of us would be able to ask our questions, that they did not have time for the third person. Of course, this meant that a young Black man would not get to ask his question. I saw the young man’s shoulders slump. It was obvious he was very disappointed. When the moderator turned to me, I said “I’m actually going to pass, because I would like this young man to get to speak, because I feel what he has to say needs to be heard.”The White man in line also elected not to ask his question, in favor of the young Black man speaking. We had each given up our time in order to give a young Black man an opportunity to speak. By doing this, and not demanding we be heard, we decentered Whiteness from that conversation.
It was the right thing to do. The young man spoke of his mistreatment at the hands of the Denver police force, both as a young teen and as a young man. What he had to say went beyond what the other man and I had to say.
I didn’t know that young man, but I had a feeling in my gut that if three White people had been in line, all three of us would have gotten to ask our questions. Indeed, the look on the moderator’s face when two White people declined to ask our questions so that a Black man could be heard, was priceless.
After the forum, I talked with the other man who had elected to not ask his question so the young Black man could be heard. He was also an organizer who has done work against racism in his community in North Denver. I wasn’t surprised to hear this because it is always unusual when you see a White person step back to give a Black person a chance to speak.
If I am talking to other White people, I should talk about dismantling White supremacy and the need to decenter whiteness. I can talk about the centuries of structural oppression that has resulted in such high numbers of incarcerated and dead Black and Brown people in the United States. I don’t need to talk to people of color about their lived experience of oppression. If I am in a group where people of color are discussing race, I have already been given a gift. I have been given an opportunity to learn. They don’t need to learn about me. Generally, when this happens, it is because I am with people of color who know I will not insert myself into their discussion. As a White person in a Black or Brown space, I need to be aware that I am here to learn, and generally have little to teach.
What if you have questions? First, ask yourself, “Could I Google this?” if the answer is yes, don’t ask the question. This is especially important in online discussions because asking for an explanation while someone is already giving information can derail the conversation. If someone quoted someone and you didn’t catch the name and would like to read some of their work, then ask after the conversation has ended and if that person is open to questions. If the conversation was deep and the person you want to ask seems troubled or needs space, respect that. Their need for space is more important than your need for a quote at that moment.
I don’t call myself an ally. I will say “I support this cause,” and then do my best by showing up as often as possible and doing what needs to be done. A lot of my work with Coloradans for Justice is clerical and supportive. I get permit paperwork done. I make Facebook events. I write emails. I write press releases. I canvass. I bring snacks and I make sure the amp is charged and the bullhorns have batteries. I make protest signs with generic sayings for people who want to hold a sign. I bring supplies for people who want to make a sign. I take pictures and video, and then upload it. I tweet. All of these things are things that need to be done in order for protest events to be peaceful and effective. All of these roles are activist actions. This is a part of my activism, and I find it rewarding to see people holding my signs, making signs, showing up and knowing it’s because I talked to them online or in the street. All of this is a huge reward, even if it is not a public reward. It is all the reward I need.
When we are talking about Ferguson, we often say “this is a movement, not a moment.” In order for the movement to be maintained, there need to be more White people willing to take a backseat. To do the clerical and supportive work. To bring the activist cookies. There are a ton of things White people can do to further this movement, including talking to other White people. Black and Brown people do not need to hear about how oppressed they are and how much White supremacy sucks from White people. I promise you, they already know.
Update from Denver: #SolidaritywithFerguson
Tonight in Denver, we held a peaceful protest for several hours at Civic Center park. People gathered in the cold to support the protesters in Ferguson, and to bring attention to the victims of police brutality here.
As the night wore on, and the decision was pushed back over and over, we began to wonder if it would never happen. Then, a reporter team asked me to answer a few questions. As they turned the camera on, I was informed the Grand Jury decision had just been released and asked for my response. The camera was on as my face crumpled. I held it together long enoug to say that I was deeply disappointed and that protests would continue. As this happened, I could hear my text alert begin to blow up.
Deep down, I knew there would be know indictment. Statistically, a Black person probably has a better chance of winning the lottery by finding a winning ticket on the ground than receiving justice for police brutality. And in the rare cases justice has been served …. the damage is done, the life is gone
This was my Facebook post tonight:
Tonight in Denver, we paused twice, at the request of the Brown family, for 4 1/2 minutes, a symbol of the four and a half hours Michael Brown was left to lay on a hot street in August. In the middle of a protest, where noise is the norm, 4 1/2 minutes of silence leads to many thoughts. Thoughts of the death of a teenager who brought us together. Thoughts of the 12 year old boy shot for having a toy gun. Thoughts of the young man in New York shot to death because a police officer was nervous. You think a lot of things in 4 1/2 minutes.
I have always had friends of different races. It’s not that I don’t see color, I just don’t see it as a reason to not be friends. Because I have White privilege, even as a person who grew up poor and white, and therefore hated in the South, I am not at risk of being shot on the street for reaching for my ID. I am not at risk of being shot, unarmed, as I sit in my car. The ability to live life as a series of open doors is a sign of the privilege my skin gives me.
Organizing has brought me into contact with more Black and Brown friends. It has given me an opportunity to learn more about different cultures and beliefs. It has opened my mind. It has given me insight into what is wrong in our culture. Our culture does not value the lives of men of color. Black men. Brown men. Latino. Native American. African American. Asian. Only a significant change in our culture, a change which causes White people to admit to the inequalities of a justice system heavily weighed toward centering whiteness, only decentering whiteness can change the ever quickening spiral of death of young people of color.
This is an epidemic. Because as certainly as families are being wiped out by Ebola in Africa, the creation of families in the United States is being slowed by the epidemic of police deaths here. These are families that will never join. Children that will never grow. Lives that will never happen. And every life matters.
Tomorrow night, we will be out again at Civic Center Park, peacefully protesting the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict and peacefully reminding the St Louis and Ferguson Police Departments that the nation is watching. We must do what we can to protect the protestors in Ferguson at all costs.
Tonight, in Saint Louis, people who were gathered at MoKaBe coffeeshop, a long time activist supporting coffee shop, and a safe haven, were gassed indoors in order to flush them out. People inside the coffee shop were forced to flee and hope they would not be grabbed by police.
Support the Ferguson protesters who are putting their lives on the line to get the message out. Support Michael Brown’s parents who have just been told their son’s life wasn’t even worth an indictment on the 4th, 5th, and 6th shots. Support Black people. Support Brown people. Their lives matter.
Tomorrow night, Denver will be back out to continue to protest the lack of justice Michael Brown and his family have received. We will be spirited. We will be loud. Spirit and volume do not equate to an invitation to violence.
Information on tomorrow night’s protest in Denver can be found here.
When Disability Affects Your First Amendment Rights.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I have been protesting for about 11 years, most of that in Colorado. In those years, protesting has changed.
The Occupy movement had a profound effect on protesting in Colorado. In order to squelch the ongoing protest, the City Council pushed through an urban camping ban. Residents may still protest on the sidewalk without a permit, but must keep walking in order to do so. They may not sit or stand still.
On the one month anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, I met with two women down at Colfax and Broadway and we simply held signs during rush hour to remind people that Darren Wilson has not been arrested and Michael Brown has been dead for a month. No one bothered us, but I was prepared and we discussed the need to keep moving while we protested.
After @COforJustice organized the #NMOS14 in Denver, and the following March for Justice, I became increasingly aware of how activism increasingly requires the activist to be physically fit. Because we are not allowed to sit or stand still, those with chronic fatigue, COPD or other conditions may not be able to protest. If a person is in a wheelchair that requires them to push the wheels, they must be creative if they wish to hold a sign AND keep moving.
When we held the March for Justice in Denver, we worked to keep the march at about 1 mile. We got a last minute permit to use the Capitol steps. People who could not march could meet us at the steps. This was a compromise and I know many were still unhappy at the need to divert to ramps or to be unable to participate in the full scope of the protest. This is something I will keep in mind when organizing in the future, and see what can be done to allow people who do not have the strength to march to be a part of the march, whether it be by finding wheelchairs or other means of transportation through the march.
The morning of the March for Justice, I sprained my ankle. As one of the organizers, I could not back out of marching. I was ahead of the march, ensuring people got safely across the street. By the end of the night, I was in so much pain I was biting my lip and holding back tears. That mild sprain took weeks to heal. I cannot imagine how someone with a permanent disability would have been able to do what I was doing.
Personally, I have Meniere’s disease. While I can and do lead a full life in spite of this condition, I know that if I am having a flare of the disease, which causes vertigo, that I cannot protest while ill. I would need to sit. I could not keep moving.
Forcing protesters who are disabled to keep moving during a protest restricts our First Amendment rights. If a person cannot keep walking, they face arrest or ticketing and fines on the grounds of violating the rule that people who are protesting must keep walking. I use the example of COPD because it is a disease which restricts physical activity. While a person may be able to get to the protest site, they may need to sit to protest, they may not be able to keep moving.
Now, I know how to have a protest without being forced to keep moving. In order to do this you have to get a permit from the city of Denver or the state of Colorado. But that in itself goes against the nature of spontaneous protests. It is wrong to expect protestors to give the city 30 days notice after something horrible has happened so that they may protest what is happening. The state of Colorado was very helpful in getting us a permit in the space of 48 hours to have our protest, as was the Parks and Rec department. But that does not solve the issue that in order to protest, we have to ask permission to be in that space. The nature of protest is that it is without asking permission. It is our right to speak, even if it is inconvenient to the city or state that we be there.
Here’s the rub: CONGRESS is not making rules against protest, but cities and states are. They are able to control the numbers of protestors through urban camping bans and rules to keep walking and permit processes. If you are disabled, there is a strong chance you cannot exercise your First Amendment rights.
This is what was so amazing about Occupy. While there were many inspiring marches, there was also an opportunity to protest while sitting, while laying down. The occupation was the speech. As long as you were present, you were protesting.
Denver shut it down. They brought in a new police chief, passed the urban camping ban and forced Occupy off of city property. Now, homeless individuals who have no place to go face jail time and fines for sleeping on a park bench or over a grate. Yes, there are shelters, but there are not enough.
If that wasn’t enough, they began to enforce a ban on temporarily parking next to Civic Center park, which meant people had to walk over a mile to deliver supplies to the protestors. During Occupy, I worked several overtime shifts in order to be able to donate blankets, clothing and food to the protest. Now I had to come to the protest, pull someone away, pay for parking and carry supplies for a mile to the protest. Again, extremely difficult to do if I was feeling ill (which is my usual state of being, I just push through it).
Denver also began to enforce a little known ban on honking on city streets. While many people supported the spirit of Occupy, many were unable or uncomfortable with joining the protest. Still, they would honk their support. When you are standing in the cold and rain, trying to keep moving and holding your sign, those supportive honks do a lot to hold you up. They began ticketing anyone who honked on Broadway in support of the protestors.
I remember being at work one snowy night during the Occupy movement. Protesters were playing in the snow, and had built a very small igloo. The Denver Police Department brought in heavy equipment to take down the igloo. A shovel would have sufficed, but the message was clear. We are here to crush this moment of playfulness, this spirit of joy. We have the means and the method, and we’re going to crush this protest.
The last time I saw any Occupy protest in Denver, there were 8 protesters corralled on a sidewalk and about 15 police cars surrounding them. Again, I was on my way to work, and unable to stop and be part of the protest. I cannot just not show up to my job as a registered nurse. My patients and co-workers would suffer. But I remember the sorrow I felt for those few determined sign holders.
We as activists have got to start pushing for inclusion of the disabled in our movements. Disability should not be an automatic disqualifier from activism. The disabled have a lot to protest, and they have the right to protest. It is up to community organizers to ensure that our activism creates the possibility for all to join in. It is our responsibility to point out that not everyone can keep moving on the street, and this should not be reason for fines or arrest. Every person in the United States should be free to exercise their right to free speech. Those of us who are physically able, who are loud and vocal, should lend our voice to those who cannot shout, and give access to protest to anyone who would have it.