Wednesday, June 16, 2010

See You in The D!

People's Movement Assemblies on the Road to the US Social Forum in Detroit

It's that time of the year again, but not only is my favorite conference, the Allied Media Conference, coming around... but so is the US Social Forum. This second iteration of the USSF is coming to the AMC's hometown, Detroit, and their back-to-back! So that means basically that some of us are working our asses off right now :-)

It's exciting though, and you should check out the video above about the People's Movement Assembly process that is building toward and will culminate on the last day of the USSF. Yet one more innovation on the road to radical democracy, peoples power... whatever you wanna call it I think you know what I'm talking about ;-)

If you're gonna be in Detroit, come and find me! I'm involved in a bunch of activities through the different collective work I'm a part of and would love to connect... here's where you'll find me (and some other places I wish I could be too!):


FRI (6/18):
10:45a-12:15p - Power of Storytelling (with Secret Survivors)
5:30-8p - StoryTelling and Organizing Project Partners Gathering

SUN (6/20):
10-11:30a - Safe in Our Skin: A Paradigm Shift


WED (6/23):
10a to Noon - Secret Survivors: Using Theater to Break Taboos Surrounding Child Sexual Abuse

1-5p - Politicizing and Transforming Trauma: Somatics, Trauma and Transformative Justice in our Movements, Communities and Lives

THURS (6/24):
11a-Noon - Presentation of our new DVD "Paths to Transformation: Men's Digital Stories to End Child Sexual Abuse" and facilitated conversation about its use, in the Transformative Practices Canopy

Noon-1p - Networking session "How are we cultivating the capacity & commitment of men to challenge male supremacy," in the Transformative Practices Canopy

3-5:30p - Solidarity, not Intervention: Engaging the Iranian Protest Movement (Guest panelist on the possibilities and pitfalls of transnational solidarity activism)

FRI (6/25):
10a-Noon - Building an Intergenerational Movement for Collective Liberation: The Work of Childcare Collectives Across the States... and the Galaxy! (with Regeneración Childcare NYC)

3:30-5p - Challenging Men, Changing Communities: Organizing for Transformative Justice and Against Male Supremacy

SAT (6/26):
10:30a-Noon - Co-hosting a networking and skill-share session for childcare collectives at the Liberation Exploration Station (aka Left Turn Canopy)

Also keep an eye out for these workshops that I won't be able to attend:

* Two from Movement for Justice in El Barrio:
The Zapatista's Other Campaign Breaking Down Borders: Live Cross-Border Dialogue with Mexico
The Zapatista's Other Campaign & The Fight Against Global Displacement

* A workshop led by LA Communities Organizing Liberation (LA COiL, formerly LA Crew), an organization with whom we (Another Politics is Possible) have just collaborated to create a pamphlet they will be distributing at the USSF:
Re-thinking our Vision and Organizing for a Better World

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Challenging Male Supremacy Project

Experiments in Transformative Justice
The Challenging Male Supremacy Project in New York City
by RJ Maccani, Gaurav Jashnani and Alan Greig
Originally published in issue 37 (Jul/Aug '10) of Left Turn (a rough draft was accidently used in the publishing of the magazine; the correct version of the article appears below)

Together with many others, we have come to see male supremacy as a system causing a great deal of violence and harm not only in the world at large, but also within our own radical and Left movements. Whether it’s physical or sexual abuse, talking over others, unsolicited neediness, or shrugging off emotional and logistical work, practices of male supremacy often work to undermine solidarity and community. They harm, traumatize and push people away, placing even more obstacles in our collective path to social transformation.

Male supremacist behavior within our organizing spaces is often allowed to go unchecked because the ‘real struggle’ is thought to be elsewhere, whether in the streets or the halls of government. In addition, some of the most obvious forms of this behavior, such as male sexual violence, can feel especially difficult to address for those of us who recognize that the police and prisons not only fail to prevent this violence but actually produce and reproduce systems of heteropatriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism. Left unaddressed, however, male violence within our communities reinforces the status quo and undermines the belief that a better world is within our collective capacity to create. The joint statement issued back in 2001 as a collaboration by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and Critical Resistance on ‘Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex’ is particularly instructive on this point, urging “all men in social justice movements to take particular responsibility to address and organize around gender violence in their communities as a primary strategy for addressing violence and colonialism. We challenge men to address how their own histories of victimization have hindered their ability to establish gender justice in their communities.”

Through facilitating or supporting various accountability processes, we’ve also learned that men who have caused harm are often easier to reach if they are engaged by people they already trust, and are frequently more likely to be accountable if they can maintain pre-existing relationships or even build new ones. When we address the problem through this lens, it becomes clear that the responses often employed to address male violence—public shaming, physical punishment, exile from spaces or a community, calling the police or just doing nothing—are at best insufficient and at worst actually counterproductive. Demonization, isolation, retaliatory violence or state intervention not only lead to partial or ineffective solutions, but ultimately can be destructive for all those scapegoated and targeted by the prison industrial complex.


The question becomes: how do we create responses to these widespread harms that have the potential to actually build solidarity, create community, and support the healing of those who have been harmed while also challenging the male supremacist context within which the incident occurred? How do we do this without relying on unnecessary violence, exclusion, or state systems? We might call responses that meet these criteria transformative justice, at least to the degree that they seek to not only address the harm but also to transform the convictions and structural conditions that facilitated the harm happening in the first place.

When the three of us first got together, we spent months discussing what we wanted to see and help to create in terms of community responses to violence. The “Transformative Justice Collaborative” model initiated by Generation Five, a Bay Area-based organization focused on ending child sexual abuse, was particularly inspiring to us. All three of us had been involved with work organizing around gender violence or child sexual abuse, and one of us had just co-facilitated a circle process to hold accountable a prominent local activist who had sexually assaulted within the citywide student movement. When we examined the landscape of organizations and collectives developing community-based responses to harm, they were made up predominantly, if not entirely, of cisgender women, transgender and gender non-conforming organizers and activists. We felt that we needed more cisgender men engaged in this work and that we would all need to do some advanced work specifically around male privilege and violence in order to enter future organizing work with more shared analysis, capacity and commitment. In the fall of 2008, we founded the Challenging Male Supremacy Project. We made a conscious decision to use the still somewhat unfamiliar term ‘cisgender’ in doing this work, a term coined by transgender activists used to describe those of us who identify with the sex we were assigned at birth and the gender identity we were raised with.

In an attempt to bring more cis men into this work, as well as to meet an expressed need to challenge male supremacy within various NYC social justice organizing communities, we facilitated our first Study-into-Action from May 2009 to January 2010. For nine months, this group discussed, read and reflected on male supremacy both in our personal as well as our political lives. Facilitating this process for a diverse group of cisgender men from all over the city, we tried to construct spaces and practices of confronting male supremacy in its concrete manifestations, as it intersects with other systems of oppression. For example, in one session we broke into groups to analyze how different racialized masculinities are represented in mainstream media, be it Black, Caribbean, Latino, Asian or white. This was instructive for exploring both how we had related to our own particularly racialized masculinities growing up and how we have been targeted, privileged, or otherwise pigeon-holed in the popular imagination. One of the questions that remained at the end of this session was whether we were seeking to construct new and better masculinities or move beyond and end masculinity.

One novel element of our monthly sessions was our practice of Somatics, an integrative approach to healing and transformation that understands and treats human beings as a complex of mind, body and spirit. With support from Generation Five co-founder and long-time Somatics instructor Staci Haines, who co-facilitated our first session, we tried to adapt Somatics to addressing shared privilege and power (from its more common application to healing from experiences of trauma). We communicated to the group that we incorporated Somatics not simply as a practice of self-help or self-improvement—which is often socially decontextualized and strongly individualistic—but because we feel strongly that we cannot just think and talk our way out of male privilege and male violence. This felt particularly important to us as so much of this violence manifests in relationship to bodies and what we do with and to them. As we shared in the group, we need to work with our whole organisms and transform ourselves at the level of everyday behaviors in order to shift our practices of male privilege.

Building Practice

It became clear over this first cycle of work that there were recurring dynamics that we needed to address and particular skill sets that we needed to develop. One key area involves the development of emotional intelligence and the capacity to provide and seek appropriate support—struggling to replace the norm of cis men who are unable to notice their own or others' emotions and emotional triggers, with one where they reciprocate the support they get and provide support for others in ways that challenge patriarchal social relations.

Another area of focus is developing a profound grasp and consistent practice of consent and moving from a legalistic framework of soliciting permission to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of power. We’ve tried to reframe consent—and particularly the word ‘no’—as something that can make healthier relations possible for all parties, and allow us to maintain connection in the future. At the same time, we’ve strived to question our basic assumptions about sexuality and desire itself, denaturalizing our sexual desires and examining the ways that they’ve been historically and culturally shaped or produced. The third area, finally, is learning to share work that has historically been relegated to women, especially in the home or in formal political settings.

Thus far, we’ve sought to work in these areas through education, skills-building and mobilization with other cis men, and in collaboration with feminist, queer and trans organizers. Part of what the latter has looked like thus far is building solidarity in analysis and practice together. In founding the CMS Project, we’ve joined a patchwork landscape of organizations and collectives in NYC working to eliminate violence against female/queer/trans individuals and communities and/or build alternative forms of safety and accountability beyond the prison industrial complex. We’ve learned from and collaborated with Support New York, a collective who have been doing work around survivor support and community accountability for several years; we’ve also been in touch with members of Reflect, Connect, Move around our shared work on gender violence, while CONNECT—an organization focused on family and gender violence—has shared space and resources with us. We continue to be inspired by Critical Resistance NYC and the People’s Justice Coalition, who are building community-based responses to state violence: the former (as part of a coalition) recently won a campaign to stop construction of a new jail in the Bronx, while the latter is working to foster and support a citywide culture of observing the police as a tactic to deter abuse and brutality on their part.

Before beginning our Study-Into-Action, we also decided to approach some of the groups doing this work and formally partner with them in organizing this project. In the role of Accountability and Support Partners, these organizations gave us feedback on a curriculum outline several months before our first session, helped to shape its structure and content, and met with us halfway through the nine-month program to again give us feedback. The groups included the Safe OUTside the System Collective of the Audre Lorde Project, Sisterfire NYC (a collective affiliated with INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence), Third Root Community Health Center, the Welfare Warriors Project of Queers for Economic Justice, and individual members of the Rock Dove Collective and an emerging queer people-of-color anti-violence group.

As the name suggests, we were hoping to culminate the Study-into-Action with some sort of collective action in support of and useful to one or more of our partners. Lacking a clear opportunity to do so, we instead organized a report back event in March, to which we each invited friends, family and members of our communities. The goals of the event were to organize something collectively between the three of us who facilitated the nine-month program and the nine participants who completed it, to broaden the dialogue and share our commitments with a larger group of people to whom we are actually accountable to in different ways and to create a platform for this dialogue to happen within the context of our accountability and support partner organizations, who also participated in the event, as a way to continue building connection and collaboration. The need for this kind of work was reflected in the packed room of around 100 people who showed up for the report back, representing a rich cross section of the city.

Next Steps

We currently find ourselves in a moment where we are attempting to hold and synthesize all the learning and feedback gained from these experiences with accountability processes, the Study-into-Action and the collective event. Our relationship with Generation Five, with whom we are deepening our understanding of transformative justice and training in Somatics, will continue to be crucial in supporting our next steps following this assessment process.

Presently, we are producing the curriculum developed for the Study-into-Action in order to share it with people from across the country this June in Detroit at the Allied Media Conference and US Social Forum. While in Detroit, we are also looking forward to collaborating with the Story Telling and Organizing Project, an organization that provides a forum and a model for “collecting and sharing stories about everyday people taking action to end interpersonal violence,” and who’s audio stories we used to help ground our discussion on accountability in one of our Study-Into-Action sessions.

Most importantly, we are looking for ways to deepen collaboration with our Accountability and Support Partners locally while continuing to engage and support the Study-into-Action participants and their communities. Whether we remain in our current formation or shift into something else will depend greatly on these two groups’ needs and desires.

In taking on this project, we have learned to embrace the fact that there are real and significant things we stand to lose by undermining male privilege, but that we have honest emotions, healthier relationships, greater dignity and a fuller humanity to gain. Through this work toward transformative justice, it is our hope that we are creating responses to violence and harm that make our vision for a better world—one that offers safety without depending on prisons—not only more likely, but also more credible.

RJ Maccani, Gaurav Jashnani and Alan Greig are founders of the Challenging Male Supremacy Project. You can contact them at cmsprojectnyc [at] A more in-depth exploration of these themes can be found in their contribution to the forthcoming book from South End Press, “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities,” edited by Ching-In Chen, Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.
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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

In the Shadow of the 2010 World Cup

Abahlali baseMjondolo march on City of Cape Town demanding an end to their harrassment by the Anti-Land Invasions Unit

A Quiet Coup
South Africa’s largest social movement under attack

By Toussaint Losier
Originally published in Spanish at Desinformémonos
An earlier version of this article appeared in Left Turn Magazine

At roughly 11:30pm on September 26th, a group of 30 to 40 men – survivors are still unsure about the actual numbers –surrounded the community hall in Kennedy Road shack settlement in Durban, South Africa. Brandishing sticks, machetes, and automatic weapons and echoing the language of the state-sponsored internecine political conflict that tore through South Africa during the last years of apartheid, the mob launched an attack on a meeting of the Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) Youth League taking place inside the hall. In the melee that followed, over a dozen people were injured, with four people left dead and the attackers left in control of the hall.

When called to the scene, the local police only took statements from those who now held the hall and arrested eight members of the settlement’s representative governing body, the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC), regardless of whether or not they had been in the settlement the night of the attack. The next morning, the mob that had attacked the community hall returned to the settlement with police and African National Congress (ANC) officials and proceeded to destroy and loot over two dozen shacks, all of them belonging to the elected members of the KRDC.

“We are under attack,” offered a press statement jointly released by the KRDC and AbM a week later. “We have been attacked physically with all kinds of weapons – guns and knives, even a sword. We have been driven from our homes and our community. The police did nothing to stop the attacks despite our calls for help.”

The statement continued: “What happened in Kennedy Road was a coup – a violent replacement of a democratically elected community organization. The ANC have taken over everything that we built in Kennedy Road. We always allowed free political activity in Kennedy and all settlements in which AbM candidates have been elected to leadership. Now we are banned.”

Neoliberal policy

With the African continent’s largest economy and one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, South Africa is considered by most to be a model middle-income developing country. Yet, it is nation wracked by a series of interlocking crises, from the epidemics of rape and HIV/AIDS to those of landlessness and poverty. Much of this has worsened since the mid-1990s, when then President Nelson Mandela voluntarily adopted neoliberal economic policies, in contrast to the ANC’s long held goals of nationalization and socialism. While these macroeconomic policies helped to create a small black middle class, they also contributed to ever growing inequality, with the average black citizen earning an eighth of their white compatriot in 2007. Today, South Africa is considered the most unequal country in the world, ranking lower than Occupied Palestine on the UN’s Human Development Index.

At the same time, South Africa, with its rich history of political struggle and labor militancy, also has one of the world’s highest per capita protest rates. Over the past several years, the country’s largest social movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (Zulu for “people based in shacks”) has led it fair share of these actions. Emerging in 2005 in the Kennedy Road settlement during the course of a dispute over housing with the local ANC city councilor, the shackdwellers movement has grown to include over 10,000 paid up members in more than thirty informal settlements throughout the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

For the first two years of its existence, AbM’s mobilization efforts were met with state violence and political repression. In 2005, for example, police illegally banned their permitted demonstration and then attacked residents of the Foreman Road when they took to the streets. A year later, police arrested the movement’s President and Vice President on their way to a radio interview, beating and torturing them while in custody. In 2007, police shot at their peaceful marches. Later, the Kennedy Road Six, five of whom were elected members of the KRDC, won their release from jail after their hunger strike (all charges against them were later dropped for lack of evidence). Yet, in spite of these obstacles, some of the South Africa’s poorest citizens have built a democratic and non-partisan organization, impressive as much for its grassroots accountability and internal democracy, as its success in ensuring the participation of shackdwellers in the upgrading of their settlements.

Several weeks after the attack in Kennedy Road, this success continued when the South African Constitutional Court ruled in AbM’s favor in striking down the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act. Passed by the province in late 2007, the bill gave the provincial minister the power to compel municipalities and private landowners to evict shackdwellers from occupied land and set the time frame in which these actions would occur. If allowed to stand, the act would have served as a template across the country. While the court only found the section giving the provincial housing minister wide latitude in initiating eviction proceeding against shack settlements, the decision remains a major victory in the poor people’s struggle for land and housing. Still in hiding, AbM’s President S’bu Zikode said the court decision “had far-reaching consequences for all the poor people in the country.”

State impunity

In the weeks that followed this most attack, Kennedy Road residents reported that those who carried them out had been left to patrol the settlements, intimidating them and threatening their leaders. ANC Branch Executive Committee officials replaced the KRDC with their own local governing body. Fearing further violence, key leaders of AbM fled the settlement and went into hiding. In the following months, AbM members who did not leave Kennedy Road have been intimidated and assaulted for not coming to ANC meetings. Few have been able to open cases against ANC members because of the support of the police and senior ANC officials. Several of these officials have publicly spoken of the government’s move to liberate’ the community from AbM and their willingness to “jail people to get development going.” There are now allegations that those who participated in the attack have not only received positions in settlement committee formed after the attacks, but also rewarded with cash from the ANC.

Following this logic, police would continue to target KRDC members, arresting 13 in total and charging them with murder and aggravated assault. At each of their bail hearings, the local ANC officials have mobilized busloads of their members, who physically threatening AbM’s supporters and demand that the ‘Kennedy Road 13’ not get bail. For more than two months, the ‘13’ had their bail hearing postponed for lack of evidence. It was only after, the Bishop of Rubin Phillip of the local Anglican diocese and other church leaders denounced their continued detention as a “complete travesty of justice” that all but five were released from prison on bail. It was only on May 14th, roughly eight months since the arrest, that the court gave the case docket to the defense attorney for the accused, including the five members still in prison, political prisoners awaiting a political trial. The trail is set to begin on July 12, a day after the 2010 World Cup tournament ends in South Africa.

While ANC officials have sought to criminalize their actions, AbM has consistently identified violence, assaults and harassment directed against them as politically motivated. This perspective has proved even more prescient as the ANC recent success in the April 2009 KwaZulu-Natal provincial elections have made it possible for local ANC officials to eliminate what they have long taken to be a potential political threat. With many of their leaders not prison still in hiding, AbM members can still not operate openly in Kennedy Road, but continues to organize in secret inside and meet every Sunday outside of it. AbM President S’bu Zikode, who was made homeless by the attacks on Kennedy Road, offered these thoughts during a university lecture entitled “Democracy on Brink of Collapse” given in October 2009: “To some leaders democracy means that they are the only ones who must exercise authority over others. For some government officials democracy means accepting anything that is said about ordinary men and women.”

“With the attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo in Kennedy Road,” he maintained, “we have now seen that this technocratic thinking will be supported with violence when ordinary men and women insist on their right to speak and to be heard on the matters that concern their daily lives. On the one side there is a consultant with a laptop. On the other side there is a drunk young man with a bush knife or a gun. As much as they might look very different they serve the same system – a system in which ordinary men and women must be good boys and girls and know that their place is not to think and speak for themselves.”

This need for ordinary men and women to think and speak for themselves is ever more pressing as South Africa prepares for the 2010 World Cup. Across the country, the government has spent millions constructing or refurbishing sports stadiums for the matches that will be played in June and July, while millions remain without access to adequate housing, potable water, and other basic services. Rather than fulfilling the promise of employment and equitable development, the World Cup has thus far provided a shot in the arm of city planners and real estate speculators who have sought to bar informal trading from Central Business Districts and clear ever-growing shack settlements to the peripheries of the city. Yet AbM has maintained its opposition to this version of democracy. In spite of a heavy police presence, several thousand members and their supporters marched in downtown Durban on March 22nd, calling not only for housing, but also human rights and justice. On May 14, as a delegation from the London Coalition Against Poverty delivered a message of solidarity to the South Africa High Commission, echoing AbM’s calls the outstanding charges against its members to be dropped and for an independent commission to investigate the attacks in Kennedy Road. Having already built up international solidarity through trips to Britain and the United States, AbM members traveled to Italy in late May to meet with other social movements, draw attention to the plight of African migrants workers in Italy, and to explain what the World Cup means for the poor in South Africa.

To make good on this goal, a branch of AbM in the Western Cape province (AbM WC) recently announced the launch of their ‘Right to the City’ campaign to develop a program of action for the World Cup. Already the province has a backlog of over 400,000 people in need of housing. In May 2009, members of this branch assisted backyard dwellers, those renting a shack on someone else’s property, to occupy prime government land in Cape Town. In response, the city’s Anti-Land Invasion police unit illegally evicted them from the land, confiscating their materials, and assaulted and arrested those it perceived to be leading the occupation. It was only after filing a court injunction against further evictions and launching other protests, including a road blockade, were those in need able to claim the land.

In the days leading up to the World Cup, AbM WC is once again demanding that the government provide quality houses for the poor inside the city, rather than tin shacks on the city’s outskirts, as has become the norm in the province’s capital of Cape Town. In addition to boycotting the World Cup, AbM WC has vowed to build shacks outside the city’s soccer stadium just before cup’s first match to draw the attention of the rest of country and the international community of needs of the poor. Unlike the attacks in Kennedy Road, how the government responds to the actions of South Africa’s militant poor will be on display for the world to see.

For more information, visit the websites of Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Together with the Rural Network and the Landless Peoples Movement, these organizations make up the Poor Peoples Alliance.

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