How Do ‘We’ Keep A Social Movement Alive?

24 09 2007

from: Fal25

How Do We Keep A Social Movement Alive

This movie documents the silence surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida.

The purpose of this movie is to document the silences within our relationships, within our homes, within our families, within our communities, within our jobs, within our schools, within our churches, temples, and synagogues, within our governments, and within our world. We want you to share with the world all your stories of injustice. Stories that the media, elected leaders, self appointed leaders, associations, and organizations choose to ignore and not speak out on. We want to document so many silences that the silences become uncensored uninhibited noise.





In These Times: “Stories of Survival”

6 08 2007

original article located here

Features > June 29, 2007

Stories of Survival

NO! explores rape within the African-American community and fights society’s instinct to focus on the racism outside while turning a deaf ear to gender violence within

By Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell

The documentary NO! chips away at the myths and silence surrounding sexual assault it he black community

Filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons didn’t miss a beat when a white, female student told her at a 2003 Boston College screening of her documentary NO!, “Until I saw your film, I didn’t know that black women could be raped.” Simmons, a Philadelphia resident, calmly asked the young woman why she believed such a thing. The student replied that she didn’t think black women, simultaneously praised and pilloried for their strength, would stand for such a violation—as if sexual-violence victims are able to negotiate with attackers or deter them with a hefty serving of attitude.That wasn’t the case with Simmons, now 38, who was sexually assaulted in 1989, when she was a 19-year-old Temple University sophomore on a foreign exchange program to Mexico. A clandestine date—outside the dorm and the curfew hours—turned into a rape that left her pregnant and so devastated that she dropped out of college. Nor was that the case with the women whose stories Simmons has included in NO!, which explores rape within the African-American community.

Among them is a woman who was raped by her mentor, the university’s highest ranking black administrator; another whose fraternity boyfriend wouldn’t take no for an answer; and yet another who struggles with bulimia decades after her first boyfriend beat and raped her after she refused to have sex outside.

For Simmons, NO! has been a labor of love to make the film she wanted, regardless of how long it took. Simmons began filming interviews in 1994 with co-producer Tamara Xavier, but the documentary wasn’t released until 2006, largely because of the struggle to find $300,000 in necessary funding.

With NO!, Simmons hopes to chip away at the myths and disquieting silence surrounding sexual assault in the black community, which has traditionally been so attuned to racism outside that it has largely turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to gender violence within.

“There’s this notion,” says Simmons, “that when black women come forward [and say they’ve been raped], that we’re a traitor to the race. I wanted to show these women, their faces, their names. I understand privacy and shame, but shame should be on the perpetrators.”

Simmons followed the case of Desiree Washington, the beauty queen who accused boxer Mike Tyson of raping her in 1991 in his hotel room. (Tyson served three years in prison.) Then came the campaign to “save” Tyson and discredit Washington—complete with T-shirts proclaiming his innocence. In NO!, Simmons includes footage of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan asking what Washington expected when she went to Tyson’s room as other faith leaders cackle in agreement.

Simmons wondered why those leaders and others never acknowledged that rape isn’t typically a crime committed by a stranger and that, for most black women, the perpetrator is an acquaintance who looks like them. The lack of critical reaction from the black community in the wake of the Washington case, combined with a 1994 trip to South Africa, where she met activists working on issues of sexual assault, galvanized her to make NO!. It is estimated that as many as half of all South African women will be raped in their lifetimes.

American women are also vulnerable to sexual assault. According to a study by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, one in every six U.S. women will be subjected to sexual assault or an attempted assault during her lifetime. The organization’s “Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey” estimates that 18.8 percent of black women will survive a rape or attempted rape—making them only slightly more likely than the general population (17.6 percent) and white women (17.7 percent) to experience such a crime, but much less likely to be raped than Native Americans.

Numbers alone don’t express the full extent of rape or sexual assault in the black community—a topic that has probably been discussed more extensively in novels such as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple than in real life. Black women must deal with competing interests—protecting one’s self versus protecting the image of black men in a society where black men are the usual suspects of sexual crimes, facing the distrust of the police versus the need for personal security—that reduce the chance they will report rape.

With the help of anthropologist and former Spelman College President Johnnetta Cole, historian Beverly Guy-Sheftall and former Black Panther Elaine Brown, NO! examines the historical forces that foster sexual violence—and suppress dialogue about it—in black communities. In a country built on slavery, which was predicated on control of black labor and reproduction, black women have been regarded as perpetually sexually available or “unrapeable.” They have never fit easily into the “good girl” mold.

“I realized that I couldn’t talk about sexual assault in the African-American community without talking about slavery,” says Simmons. “If somebody owns you, how do you have the right to consent?”

NO! is generating discussion within the black community. In 2003, writer Kevin Powell (who is black) showed an unfinished cut to a crowd of hundreds—including many African-American men—on a wintry Friday night in Harlem. Men are a vital part of the solution, says Nia Wilson, the associate director of Spirit House, an arts and cultural nonprofit in Durham, N.C. “This is not about going after black men,” she says. “This is about uncovering something we need to address, and we need to address it together. Men are the only ones who can stop rape, no matter what we say, no matter how much light we shine on it.”

Wilson, who is black and a sexual-violence survivor, is also a member of UBUNTU, a coalition that combats racism and violence. Simmons allowed UBUNTU to use NO! to foster dialogue around North Carolina. Wilson recalls a screening for a white audience that was disengaged from the topic. All of the reactions Wilson had learned to expect—tears, outrage, personal testimonies—didn’t happen. The audience members acknowledged the violence, but their comments and lack of emotion told her that they couldn’t relate to this type of violence.

Wilson told the audience, “I can watch a Lifetime movie with a cast full of white people and cry because I’m conditioned to relate to you. But you are not conditioned to relate to me. You, especially this group who thinks you’re so politically correct, you cannot watch a movie with people with brown skin and see yourself.”

Bryan Proffitt, a 28-year-old white schoolteacher and UBUNTU member, says that talking about rape and race requires starting from a framework that acknowledges a history of interracial violence, white supremacy, male domination and myths that need debunking. “There’s always a good bit of anxiety about how white folks are going to see this film. ‘Oh, look, black guys are rapists. We knew that.’ We’ve always tried to be careful of framing this film beforehand because we recognize that white people come in with that particular narrative and we want to challenge that before they see it.”

Before each screening, the UBUNTU facilitator reads a statement that lists 27 reasons the film is being shown, including: “Because the stories of survivors of sexual assault are powerful and sacred.” “Because there are survivors here.” “Because this film holds us all accountable for the world that we comply with and perpetuate.”

This April, NO! was selected as a featured resource by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “Everywhere I’ve shown the film,” says Simmons, “someone comes up and discloses she’s a survivor. I could be the only black woman in the room—me and the women on the film—in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, women stand up and say, ‘This is my story.’”

For more information on NO!, visit www.notherapedocumentary.org.





J: AMC Follow-up – thoughts on grassroots publishing as a response to sexual violence

26 06 2007

At the AMC this weekend, Lex and I ran a workshop called Wrong is Not My Name: Poetic Healing as a Response to Sexual Violence where we shared our experience creating our interactive anthology Wrong is Not My Name: A Tribute to Survival Via June Jordan. Here’s a description:

This hands-on workshop will highlight the theory and practice of grassroots publishing as a response to Sexual Violence. Participants will learn about how this form of media fits into the work of UBUNTU, a women of color/survivor-led coalition committed to replacing gendered violence with sustaining transformative love. Based in Durham, NC. UBUNTU is practicing a model of community creation centered around healing, expression, sustainability, internal education and awareness raising. Participants will experience the UBUNTU model of community creation, through the production of a group publication during this workshop.

In the course of preparing to lead the workshop, we had some really interesting conversations about grassroots publishing in the context of our work – I wanted to share some thoughts from these as well as some things I learned about zines and resources for exploring further.

Grassroots publishing (by which I mean to include a wide range of mediums that allow writers to share their words without going through commercial publishing institutions – independent presses, zines, community newsletters, booklets, brochures, blogs, etc.), can be a powerful resource in the context of personal and community healing because:

The process of creating and writing – ‘coming to voice’ on paper – can be an accessible and concrete way for survivors to engage in healing. For some of us, the processes of emotional and physical healing can feel intimidating (big, mysterious, painful) and we often cope by avoiding and shutting down emotionally. Survivors of sexual violence are sometimes silenced by feelings of isolation, shame, self-doubt, and fear. Talking through experiences of violence or their aftermath with another person or people that we trust is a crucial element of the healing process (click here for information on supporting a survivor of sexual assault). Writing is no substitute, but healing is an ongoing process and putting things down on paper can be useful at any point along the way. Writing – journaling, poetry, freeform, essays, or really in any form – allows us to acknowledge and express feelings and thoughts at whatever pace and time feels right. When it is just us and the paper (or the screen) we don’t have to worry about being judged, or blamed, or disbelieved. We can share our truths, or not share them – either way, in writing we learn to hear and honor our own voices.

    …and when we speak we are afraid
    our words will not be heard
    nor welcomed
    but when we are silent
    we are still afraid

    So it is better to speak
    remembering
    we were never meant to survive

    Audre Lorde
    ‘Litany for Survival’

    When we publish our writings (on blogs, in zines, or elsewhere) it is a way of meeting the world as a part of healing – this is important because we honor eachother’s humanity by speaking our truths, and because as Lex reminded us, “silence is already a form of death.” Speaking truth is also a powerful and transformative act of resistance within the context of a rape culture that demands our silence. Research tells us that there are an estimated 21 million survivors in this country today, and that every 2 1/2 minutes someone is sexually assaulted – yet, too often people speak about rape as though it were a rare occurrence and isolated to back alleyways and “other” people. When survivors speak up, we challenge popular misconceptions about rape. We also make it easier for other survivors to do the same.

      Being part of a writing community within UBUNTU has allowed us to connect to other survivors, to support and celebrate eachother. And in sharing our stories and experiences with eachother we are able to bring our analysis of sexual violence to a systemic (rather than individual) level. When we observe the commonalities between these experiences, we can clearly see the structural roots of sexual violence and understand rape culture as situated within the context of interlocking racial, gendered, sexual, and class-based oppressions. Taken as a body of work, the writings of survivors (in UBUNTU and elsewhere) speak to and document the prevalence of sexual violence and to the physical and emotional costs of rape culture for real people – both survivors and our loved ones. In this way, these writings are also a political resource or tool that can be useful in educating and calling for change. Through the use of grassroots publishing methods we are able to share our writings quickly, easily, and widely with little or no overhead costs – making the process accessible to all who know ‘it is better to speak’.

        What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
        The world would split open.

        Muriel Rukeseyer
        ‘Kathe Kollwitz’





        A Call to Action: Justice for Erika Keels

        31 05 2007

        letter from a friend in Philly:

        dear friends,

        I am writing to ask you to support work that I’m doing with the Justice 4 Erika campaign here in Philly. Erika Keels was murdered on March 22, 2007 on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. Witnesses saw an assailant eject Erika, a 20-year-old black transwoman, from his car, and intentionally run her over four times, killing her and leaving the scene. A medical examiner’s report supports these eyewitness accounts. But police ruled Erika’s death an accident and have refused to conduct an investigation. The driver, Roland Button, was later apprehended, but he has yet to face criminal charges–including “hit and run” charges. When Ms. Keels’ friends, who are themselves trans, questioned police officials about the classification of her death as an accident, they were asked to disclose their “birth” names and told they were “trying to make something out of nothing.”

        Our immediate goal is for the Philadelphia Police Commissioner and the Accident Investigation Division to reopen Erika’s case and conduct a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding her death. We want to send a powerful message to the Philadelphia Police Department that we stand together to demand justice for trans and gender non-conforming people, police accountability, and respect for the inherent dignity and worth of every person. Things you can do to help:

        1. Sign our community support letter (read below and sign at http://www.petitiononline.com/ErikaK/petition.html ).

        2. Get organizational sign-ons from groups you’re in or connected to. (Organizations should email Justice4Erika@gmail.com to confirm their support.)

        3. Come to the Justice 4 Erika demonstration on Thursday, June 14 at noon @ 6th and Arch in Center City Philadelphia.

        4. Sign up for weekly email updates on the campaign (email Justice4Erika@gmail.com)

        5. SPREAD THE WORD. Write letters to local newspapers. Ask everyone you know to sign on to the letter.

        Thanks. I can answer any questions about the campaign.
        Contact me if you want to get involved with the organizing…

        in love & struggle,

        COMMUNITY SUPPORT LETTER
        http://www.petitiononline.com/ErikaK/petition.html

        To: Captain Michael Murphy
        Accident Investigation Division
        Philadelphia Police Department

        Cc: Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson
        District Attorney Lynne Abraham
        Michael Hinson, mayor¹s liaison to LGBT communities
        Mayor John Street

        June 2007

        Dear Captain Murphy,

        Young transwomen of color living and working in Philadelphia know they are
        at risk of physical attack at any moment, and many experience layers of hate
        and harassment on a daily basis. Erika Keels was one of our own.

        On March 22, witnesses saw an assailant intentionally run over Ms. Keels
        four times after ejecting her from his car at Broad and Thompson streets in
        North Philadelphia, killing her and leaving the scene. A medical examiner¹s
        report supports these eyewitness accounts. But police have ruled the death
        of this 20-year-old African American transwoman an accident and have refused
        to conduct an investigation. The driver, Roland Button, was later
        apprehended, but he has yet to face criminal charges‹even ³hit and run.²
        When Ms. Keels¹ friends, who are themselves trans, questioned police
        officials about the classification of her death as an accident, they were
        asked to disclose their ³birth² names and told they were ³trying to make
        something out of nothing.²

        We, the undersigned, refuse to be told that the murder of Ms. Keels‹and the
        subsequent police denial of the brutal, hateful assault on her‹are
        ³nothing.² The Philadelphia police have failed to protect her basic human
        rights and dignity. The schools and businesses of Philadelphia never gave
        her a chance to choose a career‹they failed her, and she was forced to earn
        her survival on the streets. The social services of this city failed to
        shelter her in a safe place to explore her own potential as a young person
        with imaginative goals and opportunities to thrive.

        We, as a community, will not fail her. We are individuals and organizations
        representing Black, Latina/o and Asian people; trans and gender
        non-conforming people; lesbians, gays and bisexuals; youth; immigrants;
        educators; students; social service providers; activists; religious
        communities; professionals; neighborhoods; and supporters around the world.

        We demand a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding Ms.
        Keels¹ death. Her case must be re-opened. Now and in the future, the police
        must follow their mandate to protect and serve all Philadelphians, including
        those targeted for hate because of their gender expression and identity. All
        levels of city government and administration must ensure that policy meant
        to protect human rights of people in this city is followed in letter and
        spirit.

        Sincerely,
        ______________





        A Call to Action: Justice for Erika Keels

        31 05 2007

        letter from a friend in Philly:

        dear friends,

        I am writing to ask you to support work that I’m doing with the Justice 4 Erika campaign here in Philly.  Erika Keels was murdered on March 22, 2007 on North Broad Street in Philadelphia.  Witnesses saw an assailant eject Erika, a 20-year-old black transwoman, from his car, and intentionally run her over four times, killing her and leaving the scene.  A medical examiner’s report supports these eyewitness accounts.  But police ruled Erika’s death an accident and have refused to conduct an investigation. The driver, Roland Button, was later apprehended, but he has yet to face criminal charges–including “hit and run” charges. When Ms. Keels’ friends, who are themselves trans, questioned police officials about the classification of her death as an accident, they were asked to disclose their “birth” names and told they were “trying to make something out of nothing.”

        Our immediate goal is for the Philadelphia Police Commissioner and the Accident Investigation Division to reopen Erika’s case and conduct a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding her death.  We  want to send a powerful message to the Philadelphia Police Department that we stand together to demand justice for trans and gender non-conforming people, police accountability, and respect for the inherent dignity and worth of every person.  Things you can do to help:

        1. Sign our community support letter (read below and sign at http://www.petitiononline.com/ErikaK/petition.html ).

        2. Get organizational sign-ons from groups you’re in or connected to. (Organizations should email Justice4Erika@gmail.com to confirm their support.)

        3. Come to the Justice 4 Erika demonstration on Thursday, June 14 at noon @ 6th and Arch in Center City Philadelphia.

        4. Sign up for weekly email updates on the campaign (email Justice4Erika@gmail.com)

        5. SPREAD THE WORD.  Write letters to local newspapers. Ask everyone you know to sign on to the letter.

        Thanks.  I can answer any questions about the campaign.
        Contact me if you want to get involved with the organizing…

        in love & struggle,

        COMMUNITY SUPPORT LETTER
        http://www.petitiononline.com/ErikaK/petition.html

        To:  Captain Michael Murphy
        Accident Investigation Division
        Philadelphia Police Department

        Cc: Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson
        District Attorney Lynne Abraham
        Michael Hinson, mayor¹s liaison to LGBT communities
        Mayor John Street

        June 2007

        Dear Captain Murphy,

        Young transwomen of color living and working in Philadelphia know they are
        at risk of physical attack at any moment, and many experience layers of hate
        and harassment on a daily basis. Erika Keels was one of our own.

        On March 22, witnesses saw an assailant intentionally run over Ms. Keels
        four times after ejecting her from his car at Broad and Thompson streets in
        North Philadelphia, killing her and leaving the scene. A medical examiner¹s
        report supports these eyewitness accounts. But police have ruled the death
        of this 20-year-old African American transwoman an accident and have refused
        to conduct an investigation. The driver, Roland Button, was later
        apprehended, but he has yet to face criminal charges‹even ³hit and run.²
        When Ms. Keels¹ friends, who are themselves trans, questioned police
        officials about the classification of her death as an accident, they were
        asked to disclose their ³birth² names and told they were ³trying to make
        something out of nothing.²

        We, the undersigned, refuse to be told that the murder of Ms. Keels‹and the
        subsequent police denial of the brutal, hateful assault on her‹are
        ³nothing.² The Philadelphia police have failed to protect her basic human
        rights and dignity. The schools and businesses of Philadelphia never gave
        her a chance to choose a career‹they failed her, and she was forced to earn
        her survival on the streets. The social services of this city failed to
        shelter her in a safe place to explore her own potential as a young person
        with imaginative goals and opportunities to thrive.

        We, as a community, will not fail her. We are individuals and organizations
        representing Black, Latina/o and Asian people; trans and gender
        non-conforming people; lesbians, gays and bisexuals; youth; immigrants;
        educators; students; social service providers; activists; religious
        communities; professionals; neighborhoods; and supporters around the world.

        We demand a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding Ms.
        Keels¹ death. Her case must be re-opened. Now and in the future, the police
        must follow their mandate to protect and serve all Philadelphians, including
        those targeted for hate because of their gender expression and identity. All
        levels of city government and administration must ensure that policy meant
        to protect human rights of people in this city is followed in letter and
        spirit.

        Sincerely,
        ______________





        A Survivor’s Response

        30 05 2007

        This powerful post comes from the blog Taking Steps. If you follow the link, you will also find a really interesting conversation going on in the comments section. Thank you to little light (blogger) and to Pigeon (guest poster)!

        on the record

        This is another guest post by Pigeon, in response to the huge mess going around right now in relation to the accouncement regarding the Duke lacrosse rape case. I didn’t feel qualified to offer an opinion myself, certainly not one that’s not already been offered by folk who know better than I do, but this is important to read. If this doesn’t bring it home for you and hurt, I’m not sure you’re a person.
        Anyway. I should leave it at that.
        Except this, considering how many trolls are out running around right now: if you so much as consider being an asshole about this, I will moderate you so hard your ancestors will feel it, capisce?
        –ll.

        i tried to write about this post a few days ago, a few days after the duke verdict came out.
        i tried, and erased and rewrote and erased, and gave up.
        i want this to come out right. i want this to be so many things, i don’t much think it will be. but i think i need to write this anyway.i didn’t expect the duke case to shake me so much. i feel like i hear about, talk about, read about, think about rape every day. i like to think i’ve built up some callous at this point, a tough, thick covering to take the edge off.the whole thing caught me off guard. i didn’t follow the case very closely, mostly just reading feminist analyses on various blogs, snippets on npr. closely enough though, to know that the whole thing was deeply fucked up, that something happened to that woman that night, whether or not it fit the official charges or was perpetrated by the three accused.and now they’ve been proclaimed not guilty, and that’s fine. i don’t know if they did it, but let’s presume innocence. glad they got their names cleared.

        except now you hear the news, following “three boys innocent” with “she was never raped” and liar and whore. and no one seems to notice that the accused men’s innocence has nothing to do with whether or not she was raped, only that they didn’t do it. she called 911 for a reason, she went to the hospital afterwards, the examination supported her claims of sexual assault. we have no reason to think those results were wrong, no new information to contest it. perhaps she picked the wrong guys from the line-up, but that has little to do with what actually happened to her.
        (go to feministe for more intelligent, coherent and thorough thoughts on this. read the comments at your own risk. i wish i hadn’t.)

        but no one seems to remember that. instead it’s just liar, liar, liar. as if survivors aren’t called liars often enough as it is. this case just adds fuel to the fire of news media crying out, “she says she was raped, but what if she’s lying!” perpetuating the idea that women routinely lie about sexual assault to deflect attention from their own misdoings.

        i don’t know a lot of statistics, and am never quite sure when to trust them, but i do know a lot of women, and i trust them a whole lot. of all the women i know, more than not have been raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused at some point in their lives. of these women, more than not never reported. and of the few who did, more than not suffered pretty intense negative consequences because of it.

        Read the rest of this entry »





        Editorial: Defending the ‘good girls’

        21 05 2007

        From: TheState.com

        Posted on Fri, May. 04, 2007

        By CONSEULA FRANCIS
        Guest columnist

        There’s probably been more than enough said about both Don Imus and the Duke rape case. I have debated whether I should add my voice to the throng. But then I think about this statement and why it bothers me so much:

        “Why do people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson always play the race card? We will never get over our divisions unless people learn to let things go.”

        What does this even mean? Does it mean that racism will end if we let racists be racist in peace? We can live in a less racially divisive society if only I can learn not to bother you with the circumstances and consequences of my oppression? Your need to live free of emotional and social discomfort is more important than my right to be heard?

        And what exactly am I getting out of this? The right to be called a “nappy-headed ho” on national radio? Thanks but no thanks.

        If this was the only thing bothering me about the whole matter, I might be able to let it go. I can’t though. Here’s why:

        In the rush to defend the Rutgers women’s basketball team, it seems that they have earned our support precisely because they are not actually “nappyheaded hos.” They are not the young woman in the Duke case. That nameless young woman — a single mother, a college dropout, a former exotic dancer, as every article reminds us — didn’t deserve our defense. We could be outraged on her behalf. We could rail against the white male privilege run amok. But defend her? No.

        Her very existence undermines what so many black women try so hard to prove every day: We are not welfare mothers. We are not video vixens. We are not “nappy-headed hos.” But being the sexual entertainment at a party full of white men doesn’t really demonstrate that, does it? So there will be no defense of her, no meetings with her, no rallying around her now that North Carolina has decided she’s a liar.

        But the Rutgers players? These young women are on the Condoleezza Path of Success. They have struggled, worked hard, followed the rules, played the game. and it’s paying off. They have been trotted out on TV, not a nappy head among them, looking every bit the bright, high-achieving women they are. And the implication, at least to my eyes, is that they deserve our protection because they are good girls. What would have happened if they had been less than good?

        Maybe this all bothers me because I was placed on the Condoleeza Path of Success early in life. I learned, even though no one ever said these words, that being smart and well-spoken and modest would protect me from many of the degradations that so many black women have to live with every day. And I succeeded. I live with a certain amount of privilege that many black women don’t have.

        It’s amazing how people’s facial expressions and body language change when I introduce myself as Dr. Francis or mention that I’m a college professor. A whole set of assumptions about me get thrown out because of that PhD. But Dr. Francis isn’t exactly tattooed on my forehead, is it?

        I walk around in my brown skin, appearing very much the nappy-headed ho to the Imuses of the world simply because of that skin. And it’s small comfort to think that, apparently, my only defense against that is trying really hard to be Condoleezza.

        Dr. Francis is an assistant professor of English at the College of Charleston.