BCRW’s Scholar & Feminist conference on Utopia featured a workshop with the activist and writer Reina Gossett, contributor to Captive Genders: Trans Embodiement & The Prison Industrial Complex whose work at New York’s Sylvia Rivera Law Project centers on providing services to low-income queer and transgender people. If the packed-to-the-brim classroom was any indication of the pertinence of the issue at hand, the workshop on Prison Abolition attempted to cover both issues and solutions to incarceration in the United States today. As it currently stands, the U.S. incarcerates more people than another other nation in the world. With the criminalization of poverty, police brutality, and spiking stop-and-frisk rates in neighborhoods just outside Morningside Heights, where Barnard is located, the incarcerated population is only continuing to grow.
As an activist, Reina is unafraid of proclaiming her conviction that prisons should be abolished. After a few group activities in which workshop participants identified what made them feel safe and what principles officials use when enforcing the law and punishing people, Reina directed our attention to a video featuring Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. From there, the discussion focused on specific problems that transgender and queer people face in prison.
BCRW’s 2013 Scholar and Feminist Conference on “Utopia” created a space for its attendees to take our desires seriously and to imagine better outcomes. A broad array of topics were covered, from poverty, to media and pop culture, to food justice. I attended the workshop on the latter, entitled “Beyond Food Fights: Re-Imagining Food Justice,” facilitated by Pamela Phillips and Gwen Beetham. Earlier that day I had attended the prison abolition workshop and my mind was already swimming in ideas about what a prison-free world would look like. In the Prison Abolition workshop, facilitator Reina Gosset contextualized the prison industrial complex within a larger framework of racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia, pointing out how interrelated forms of oppression often are.
Food justice is no different. Our food systems are embedded within a capitalist “corporatocracy,” as one workshop attendee phrased it. Although food production and distribution happens on such a large scale, food remains extremely personal, a source of pleasure and nourishment to the bodies who consume it. Thus, the fight for food justice is one for self and community care in the face of political and economic institutions driven by capitalism.
Although solutions were an important part of the discussion we had (it was a conference on utopia, after all), we spent a good part of the workshop just unpacking what the various problems are that obstruct food justice. From the rights of laborers who grow the food all the way to the nutrition of food going into people’s mouths, we touched on almost every aspect of the food industry that needs changing. Gwen discussed how our taxes subsidize the production of corn, wheat, soy and rice, grains which flood our diets, while more nutritious vegetables are referred to as “specialty crops” and remain more expensive and difficult to access.