“Strategies of Reparation, Rather Than Retribution”

Try imagining a world without prisons, or punishment for what governments and societies deem “crimes” and “criminals,” for that matter. My Critical Approaches in Social and Cultural Theory class last semester tried doing so when we read Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? to extract the functions of prisons and punishment in contemporary time-spaces. Funnily enough, our reading of Davis coincided with the height of my Law & Order: Special Victims Unit infatuation. Episodes streamed back to back thanks to Netflix, and I gorged on the justice Detectives Benson and Stabler served to NYC perpetrators without engaging the ramifications of imprisonment. Law & Order comprises only a fraction of police/crime dramas that inform U.S. popular imagination of what prisons look like and do. In reflecting on the “Prisons and Capital Punishment” workshop, I hope to offer a transitional space to critically examine imprisonment for the upcoming “Prison Abolition” workshop at The Scholar & Feminist 2013: Utopia conference.

“Prisons and Capital Punishment” workshop led by Cathleen Price and Shari Silberstein. 

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More Contributers for The Scholar and Feminist 2013: Utopia

In one week, the BCRW conference The Scholar and Feminist 2013: Utopia will be showcasing a diverse and accomplished range of contributers presenting and leading workshops on topics that range from community design and remix culture to open education and feminist parenting. This is our third round of introductions (read earlier posts here and here) highlighting the work of six Utopia contributors who educate, organize, document, and design to change the status quo.

Utopia will kick off on Friday, March 1 with a screening of Wildness, an explosive documentary and “visual extravaganza” exploring the intersection of queer community, creativity, class, and “safe space” through its magical-realist portrayal of the Silver Platter, a historic Los Angeles bar home to Latin/LBGT immigrant communities. The screening will be followed by a conversation with the filmmakers Wu Tsang (Director) and Roya Rastegar (Co-writer). You can watch the theatrical trailer or read more about the intensions behind the film in Wu’s essay for the 2012 Whitney Biennial (PDF), which featured the documentary.

Leading a workshop on Creating a New Feminist Framework for K-12 Education at Utopia, Ileana Jiménez is a high school English teacher in New York and a pioneer in the field of social justice education. She is committed to “transforming education for gender, racial, and economic justice” as well as teaching students “how to make their writing a part of a larger public discourse through blogging.” Read more about her efforts in a recent video from The Atlantic or on her blog, Feminist Teacher.

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Feminist Scholar Mamphela Ramphele launches new political party in South Africa

Mamphela Ramphele, a keynote speaker at BCRW’s 40th Anniversary conference, has made news in South Africa, possibly to change the face of South African politics. Ramphele has stepped down from her position as Chairwoman of Gold Fields to announce the formation of a new political party, Agang (‘Let Us Build’), in time for the 2014 elections.

BCRW students and staff with Mamphela Ramphele

In the speech that launched her political aspirations, Ramphele said:

I have seen both the high points and low points of our imagined future. I have had to overcome the high barriers to opportunity confronting many black people, especially black rural women, to become a student activist, a medical doctor, a community development activist, a researcher, a university executive, a global public servant at the World Bank and now an active citizen in both the public and private sectors. Key to my success is the support and encouragement I received from my family, my teachers, my friends and fellow citizens. My journey is the journey of a searcher who never gives up dreaming of a better tomorrow.

This puts to rest the speculation that Ramphele would create a new political party. Ramphele is often accused of being too much of “an academic” but she has never forgotten that the commitment to pedagogy is a form of activism and commitment to social justice and to serve in a just society. It was therefore no surprise to see her reference to education in her condemnation of corruption. Neither is it a surprise to see her very important unpacking of the idea of leadership through the example of representation and not simply creating a class of followers necessary to a narrow, traditionalist notion of leadership.

Yvette Christiansë is a South African-born poet, novelist, and scholar. She is a Professor of English and Africana Studies at Barnard College, where she is a BCRW Transnational Faculty Fellow. Her research interests include the nexus between theories of race and gender, class and postcoloniality. She was born in South Africa under apartheid and immigrated with her parents to Australia at age 18.

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A Few More Contributers for The Scholar and Feminist 2013: Utopia

To prepare for the upcoming BCRW conference The Scholar and Feminist 2013: Utopia, we are highlighting the diverse and accomplished contributers who will be challenging us to imagine the impossible through bold presentations and participatory workshops. This is our second round of introductions (check out the first round here), highlighting the work of four Utopia contributors who write, remix, advocate, and teach to change the status quo.

Pop Culture Pirate Elisa Kreisinger creates video remixes by “slicing up familiar shows to create alternative narratives that expose and transform mainstream cultural messages.” By reconstructing footage into mashups with queer and feminist themes, Elisa sees herself as “writing for TV with TV.” You can read an interview with Elisa in The Atlantic or check out the Pop Culture Pirate website, which has a complete listing of her projects, like the above video queering the popular TV show Mad Men. Elisa and Francesca Coppa of Transformative Works will be leading a workshop on Talking Back to Culture Through Feminist Remix at Utopia.

In the afternoon session of Utopia, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) Executive Director Valery Jean will lead a workshop on Addressing Poverty. FUREE is “a Brooklyn-based multiracial organization made up of almost exclusively women of color. We organize low-income families to build power to change the system so that all people’s work is valued and all of us have the right and economic means to decide and live out our own destinies.” Read more about FUREE’s mission in a Village Voice interview with Valery.

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Women in the Labor Movement: Campus Activism

UNION-WOMEN-AJCWith any history of activism, there is a history of oppression to go with it.

In recent years, Columbia University has been the site of a series of ongoing labor disputes–disputes so outrageous, in fact, that the situation called for some old- fashioned grassroots organizing. Last fall, I helped start a student activist group, Student-Worker Solidarity (SWS), when the Barnard College desk attendants and clerical workers fought a long battle to secure a fair work contract with an increasingly corporate administration. This semester, SWS is spearheading a campaign to support the Faculty House dining hall workers, mostly immigrants and people of color who have seen little-to-no wage increases in the past decade, are systematically laid off during academic breaks, and are the victims of wage theft. As one shop leader declared to the crowd at our last rally, “we are slave laborers…we have been sitting on the back of the bus for too long. We demand to come forward.”

The most impressive aspect of my experience with SWS, other than seeing the power that my peers have to organize, has been seeing the workers of our University organize themselves. Yet as a feminist and a member of the BCRW, I couldn’t help but notice that at our initial general body meetings and at the first speak-outs we organized, white male student voices were heard through the megaphone far more than were the voices  of my female classmates. The BCRW, of course, through its focus on domestic workers in a recent issue of the Scholar & the Feminist and its panel at the 40th Anniversary Conference featuring the seminal organizer Ai-jen Poo, has been a longtime supporter of turning up the volume of women’s voices in the labor movement. And at a panel discussion last fall, Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110, spoke to the gender discrimination female workers at Columbia once faced. In an effort not to backpedal on those gains, concerned women in SWS instated a “progressive” manner in which a facilitator at a meeting could call on members; we actively encouraged women to move to the forefront at public events; and we held a feminist caucus to discuss the gender dynamics in our group.

I can easily say that my education outside the classroom has infinitely surpassed the knowledge I’ve acquired within an academic setting. And from my brief experience in organizing, I believe it’s absolutely crucial that my female peers continually assert ourselves not only within the gleaming gates of our women’s college, but on the soapbox and at the megaphone as well. I’m happy to report that through our constant efforts, we’ve successfully achieved that.

La lucha continúa.

Introducing A Few of the Contributers for The Scholar and Feminist 2013: Utopia

To prepare for the upcoming BCRW conference The Scholar and Feminist 2013: Utopia, we are thrilled to highlight the the diverse and accomplished contributers who will be engaging, educating, and challenging us to imagine the impossible through bold presentations and participatory workshops. Today, we highlight the work of four such contributors who are confronting the status quo through art, activism, publications, and performance.

Las Brown Berets by Melanie Cervantes

Dignidad Rebelde is the Oakland-based graphic arts collaboration of Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza. The project “translates stories of struggle and resistance into artwork that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it,” producing pieces “grounded in Third World and indigenous movements that build people’s power to transform the conditions of fragmentation, displacement and loss of culture.” Melanie will be a presenter at Utopia, speaking on “Building Utopia: Stitching the Lessons from Stories and Visions of Women in our Lives” in a morning keynote address.

Writer and activist Reina Gossett will lead the Prison Abolition workshop at Utopia. Reina has collaborated with BCRW as a contributing writer on the S&F Online New Queer Agenda with her piece “Reclaiming Our Lineage: Organized Queer, Gender-Nonconforming, and Transgender Resistance to Police Violence” and as the moderator of our October 2012 panel, Staking Our Claim: Trans Women’s Literature in the 21st Century. Her tumblr “The Spirit Was…” features great writing and links about trans and anti-violence activism. Continue reading