From Che Gossett:
[Correction: The word limit is 2,000 words, not 5,000 words.]
Anti-prison activists at the US Social Forum wrote this resolution together. For more information about the People’s Movement Assemblies, see http://pma2010.org/
Anti-Prison People’s Movement Assembly
When: Thursday, June 24th, 1-5:30pm
The problem: The United States is a prison empire, founded on the legacy of slavery, which uses racist mass incarceration, widespread criminalization, torture and the targeting of political dissidents to try to solve its fundamental economic and social problems. It locks up more people than any other country on the planet. The prison system is a central node in an apparatus of state repression; it destroys our communities and weakens our resistance and movements for justice. Repression is a tool used to maintain state power, and the prison population represents the most oppressed sectors of society: people of color, the poor, First Nations communities, immigrant communities, working class women, queer and transgender people, and radical organizers from many communities.
Because we share a vision of justice and solidarity against confinement, control, and all forms of political repression, the prison industrial complex must be abolished. We envision a movement and a society free of racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia.
The work to dismantle the prison industrial complex and build stronger communities includes:
• Supporting the efforts of diverse anti-prison organizations as part of a shared movement against repression in all its forms, including political, racial, gender, sexuality, economic, disability and age, legal status, HIV status, national origin, immigration status, and alleged gang affiliation;
• Fighting for the full civil and human rights of currently and formerly incarcerated people and affirming the rights of currently and formerly incarcerated people to speak in their own voice on all matters pertinent to their existence and well-being;
• Eliminating the stigmas that inhibit currently and formerly incarcerated people and their love ones from speaking out;
• Supporting leadership and leadership development of currently and formerly incarcerated people, and ending all forms of discrimination based on legal status for formerly incarcerated people;
• Organizing for the immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoners of war from grand juries, jail, detention, trial or prison;
• Demanding the immediate end to the death penalty, life without parole, solitary confinement, mandatory minimums, the incarceration of youth in adult facilities, behavior modification/communication management units, all forms of torture, the war on drugs and the criminalization of youth, immigrants and gender nonconforming people;
• Promoting physical, mental and emotional health and healing inside and outside of prisons, including humane models of and access to health care and substance abuse treatment that do not expand the prison industrial complex; Continue reading
My favorite session at the U.S. Social Forum was organized by LA COiL (Communities Organizing Liberation), a collective of revolutionaries who work with the teachers’ union, the Garment Workers’ Center, and in hospitals in Los Angeles. [For more information, contact them at coil.losangeles (at) gmail.com.] They asked us to imagine in detail the world we want to live in, starting with what we want our schools to look like (windows on every floor! peer evaluation! all students, faculty, staff and community members involved in decisions about budget, curriculum, etc!) and then exploring how we can build accountability and support structures in our neighborhoods to replace police and prisons. These folks are for real.
LA COiL members gave workshop participants a little green booklet with a fresh design (trippy rippling circles that intersect) and reader-friendly layout. I am going to zerox the hell out of this thing and start handing them out like candy. I don’t think it’s available on the internet yet (although you can download a scrappy pdf here), so I’m going to type up a few short excerpts. The pamphlet, which LA COiL wrote together with a group named Another Politics is Possible, is called, “So That We May Soar: Horizontalism, Intersectionality, and Prefigurative Politics.” What does that mean? Basically, these folks are putting into words the kind of politics many of us have been trying to develop and have been searching for in every organization we work with. Here are some brief quotes from the pamphlet that can be used as definitions:
1. “Horizontalism challenges each individual to break out of the patterns of allowing others to be the agents of change, and to begin to trust, grow and develop ourselves, politically and personally, alongside others…. It is about investing the time and energy in education, support, and encouragement in order to allow for full participation and decision-making…. This requires the development of structures that truly embody collective work, collective leadership and decentralize power.” (pages 11-12)
2. Prefigurative politics: “We offer our vision of a different world, not as a promise of a place that is far off in the distance where one day we can hope to dramatically arrive, but rather as a set of principles and values that guide us in our practice of liberation now. We want to talk about how to build movements and organizations that both challenge current conditions and practice liberation. We practice liberation now in order to build experience with holding power differently in our own lives and communities, to reclaim our agency, creativity, humanity, dignity, and our capacity to love and be joyful…. We understand revolution as a process rather than an event and are working to build movements that transform power, rather than merely seizing or democratizing power in its current forms.” (page 1)
3. For Intersectionality, the term I think is most relevant to the AIDS movement, I’m going to type up a whole section of the pamphlet here:
Making an Intersectional Analysis Central
“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.”
— Audre Lorde
We all live at the intersection of multiple identities, privileges and oppressions. As a result, radical politics that rank oppressions or attempt to identify a “primary contradiction” all too often end up addressing one aspect of domination while reinforcing others. Continue reading
The Solidarity Project, published online by the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) from November 2006 to November 2008, is available in pdf format on CHAMP’s website. Issues 8 and 9 can also be viewed on the CHAMP site. Download Issue 9 – HIV and Indigenous Peoples: In the Aftermath of Trauma – here.
By Suzy Subways
In this issue:
When stigma is attached to HIV, people’s vulnerability to the virus is discussed in terms of individual behavioral choices, and a community with disproportionately high HIV rates is blamed for its supposed failures. The injustice that drives HIV is covered up. But when we take the stigma away and look at history, we see that homophobia shapes the epidemic among gay men to a devastating degree, and that sexism makes women vulnerable. In Native American communities, homophobia and sexism also drive the epidemic, but in ways that are deeply rooted in racism, colonialism, and genocide.
“When conducting research among Native Americans, dispossession must be considered as the underlying cause of the many existing health disparities, including those that result in HIV/AIDS,” according to a 2007 research brief by John Lowe for the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care called “The Need for Historically Grounded HIV/AIDS Prevention Research Among Native Americans.” Lowe continues: “The policies enacted by the United States government that enforced the dispossession of Native American Indian lands and termination or assimilation of Native American culture have resulted in a trauma of catastrophic proportions with destructive outcomes. Aside from disease, these include disenfranchisement; extermination of tradition, language, and land rights; broken treaties; sterilization of women; placement of children in Indian boarding schools; and other strategies of colonization.”
Lowe explains that many generations have endured this trauma – and it has many symptoms. A Center for AIDS Prevention Studies fact sheet states that HIV in Native communities is linked to high rates of poverty, ill health, family violence, and drug and alcohol use, which are among the symptoms of the intergenerational trauma that Lowe discusses. According to the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, HIV rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives rank third after those of African Americans and Latinos, and Native peoples’ life expectancy after diagnosis is the shortest of any ethnicity. High imprisonment rates and substandard health care contribute to the problem. The numbers of Native people living with HIV in the United States are significantly under-reported for many reasons, including the misclassification of individuals as white or Latino.
In this issue of Solidarity Project, we look at innovative ways that Native communities are organizing to heal from the intergenerational trauma that has increased their vulnerability to HIV. The Boarding School Healing Project is not only documenting the abuses Native people experienced at government-sponsored Christian schools, but also creating space for community healing and fighting for reparations.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, muxhes, whose assigned sex at birth was male and gender expression is female, celebrate their traditional roles in indigenous culture and lead AIDS activism in their communities. Indigenous rights activists in Oaxaca are challenging massive government corruption, which has crippled AIDS services there, and helping farmers keep their land so they won’t have to seek jobs in the United States, where HIV risk is greater for them and for their partners when they return home.
|An 1890s photo of Carlisle Boarding School graduates. Carlisle, the first Native American boarding school, was opened by Captain Richard Pratt in 1878.|
“Many of the problems of alcoholism and drug abuse now prevalent in Indian country can be traced back to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of our keepers in the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and mission boarding schools,” Lakota journalist and boarding school survivor Tim Giago wrote in the Huffington Post. Government-sponsored boarding schools have created a legacy of trauma among Native American peoples in the United States. The Boarding School Healing Project documents the abuse and demonstrates how it has led to high rates of childhood sexual abuse, family violence, violence against women, alcoholism, and drug use in Native communities. In addition to the homophobia the schools enforced in children from cultures traditionally welcoming of gay and gender-nonconforming people, most of these symptoms of trauma are the same factors that make Native communities vulnerable to HIV. A look at the brutal history of these boarding schools can teach us a lot about the ways that social injustice fuels the epidemic – and how to fight back.
“Kill the Indian, Save the Man”
In the late 1800s, the U.S. government debated how to remove Native Americans from their land – “extermination or civilization,” as one former commissioner of Indian Affairs put it – and it paid Christian churches to run boarding schools as a “civilizing” alternative, Cherokee activist Andrea Smith writes in her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and Native American Genocide. Army captain Richard Pratt opened the first of the schools in 1879, arguing that they would “kill the Indian and save the man” by destroying the cultural link between children and their communities. Until the 1930s, Native children were forcibly taken from their families at age 5, and parents who resisted were jailed.
For 100 years, from the 1880s through 1980s, about 100,000 Native people grew up at the schools. Abuse was rampant, and children were physically punished for speaking Native languages or practicing their religion. “I want people to know how we were beaten with leather straps, shorn of our hair, and used as child slave-laborers at these boarding schools,” Giago writes. “My eight-year-old sister, along with dozens of Lakota girls the same age, was raped at the mission school …. [she] told me about her abuse on her deathbed and I, along with her three children, finally understood why she had become a violent, alcoholic woman for so much of her life.”
“I agree that the effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses,” activist Charmaine Whiteface told the Native Press. “My parents both attended a Catholic boarding school and experienced, as well as saw, all these types of abuses. They refused to speak the Lakota language to us and only wanted us to be ‘white.’ There was alcoholism and major physical, emotional and mental abuse in our home. They knew no other way: They were terrified of being Indian. If it were not for my grandmother who taught me in secret, I might not have even a little knowledge about my culture.”
|“The effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses.”|
Canada forced Native children into residential schools until the 1970s, and abuses there are better documented. According to the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, churches and government are responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 Native children. Survivors tell of witnessing church and school officials murder their classmates through beatings, hangings, electric shock, and other forms of torture. Many children starved because the schools were run on chronically low budgets. Until the 1940s, students were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis. Survivors say they were forced to play and share beds with children dying of the disease. There is testimony that babies born to Native girls raped by church officials were killed and buried on school grounds. The Canadian government issued an apology this year, but activists say that nearly half the survivors will be left without compensation, and witnesses will not be allowed to give the names of perpetrators or describe any misconduct. Continue reading
The United States has twice the HIV prevalence of Mexico, so it isn’t surprising that the need to cross the border for work has increased Mexican communities’ vulnerability to HIV. But the reasons for HIV’s increase in some places in Mexico – indigenous, rural communities far from the border – may not be so obvious. “The state of Oaxaca has the highest HIV rate in Southeastern Mexico,” Oaxacan queer activist Leonardo Tlahui says. “One of the primary factors is immigration. The Mixteco people [one of Oaxaca’s largest indigenous groups] have a high population of immigrants to the United States.” He explains that migrating to a country with double the HIV rate makes immigrants more vulnerable to HIV, and that increased vulnerability is then shared with their home communities since most of the immigrants return home to Oaxaca.
Half a million indigenous people from Oaxaca (roughly one-seventh of the state’s total population) live in the United States, according to Rufino Dominguez, a founder of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB) in Oaxaca. Interviewed by David Bacon for a Truthout.org article called “The Right to Stay Home,” Dominquez said, “There are no jobs here, and NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] made the price of corn so low that it’s not economically possible to plant a crop anymore. We come to the U.S. to work because we can’t get a price for our product at home. There’s no alternative.”
Treaties and Lovers
Two years after the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched its 1994 offensive in the state of Chiapas as NAFTA was implemented, the EZLN won a potential victory for indigenous land rights with the San Andres Accords, an agreement it negotiated with the Mexican government. But in 2002, the government gutted the accords, and now, indigenous activists say that large corporations are buying their peoples’ land. As more young people come to the U.S. to work and send money home, families are separated for years at a time, and individuals far from their partners become vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
For a new study called “Migration and ruralization of AIDS: reports on vulnerability of indigenous communities in Mexico” [“Migración y ruralización del SIDA: relatos de vulnerabilidad en comunidades indígenas de México”], researchers from Mexico City and California interviewed migrant workers and indigenous women in poor rural areas. Before a young man leaves as a teenager, the researchers report, he often partners with a girl who is also too young for legal marriage and hopes for pregnancy so that she will remain faithful while he is away. Some of the women said that, although they understand the likelihood that migrants have other sexual partners, it is very difficult to ask the men to use condoms when they return. It doesn’t help that Oaxaca’s archbishop condemns the use of condoms [“Condena el arzobispo de Oaxaca el uso del condón”] to prevent HIV.
One Zapoteca indigenous woman in Oaxaca, age 23, told the researchers, “I am here with my in-laws while my husband is in the United States, and he sees that somewhere they pick up other women. Now it is long that my husband hasn’t come, like five years. He already entered [the U.S.] for six years [once before]… When he returns, he always comes looking for another pregnancy.”
In a 2008 poster presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) about HIV risk behaviors of Mexican migrant workers, Melissa Sanchez and other researchers reported that migrants, often struggling with unsafe working and living conditions, generally had more sex partners while in the U.S., and had more sex while using drugs or alcohol. A related study found that migrant men in California were 13 times more likely to have sex with another man than they were before leaving Mexico. Condom use increased while away from home, but migrants were unlikely to get tested for HIV for fear of deportation.
Sanchez also told TheBody.com that young men are being targeted for sex work at day-labor pick-up sites where they wait for construction work. “There are actually Web sites developed now where they give tips to people who want to approach Mexican-migrant, job-pick-up-site workers and actually recruit them,” Sanchez said. “They are told, ‘Go after three o’clock, when there is a clear indication that there is no work coming for the day.’ They target young, young men, thinking, ‘Well, they’re going to be more naïve, they’re perhaps more desperate to make some money given that they’re not going to get a landscape job during the day.'”
Corruption and Repression in Oaxaca
|“It was agreed I would sign a document with the government promising…to cease activities concerning HIV/AIDS in Oaxaca.”|
In 2001, the Frente Común Contra el SIDA (Common Front Against AIDS), a community organization in Oaxaca, began buying bus tickets for people living with HIV in the countryside to see their doctors at the clinic of COESIDA, the state AIDS council, in Oaxaca City. While meeting this need, activists got to know the people they were serving. The stories they heard – many of the people weren’t getting their medication regularly, were told to come back next month for medicine, or were given only one or two antiretrovirals rather than the standard combination of three – shocked the activists. According to the Frente’s website, this revelation set in motion a clash with COESIDA that culminated in the Frente’s closure amid threats and violence by government thugs in 2006. Continue reading