Freedom Fighters

Feminist Thought, Politics, News & Notable

Freedom fighting, creation and imagination my favorite topics to mull. Last night I was  awake past my bedtime, and a trip down the rabbit hole known as the Internet led me to this great find.

It’s a podcast in two main parts. The first features Angela Davis and Grace Lee Boggs speaking at the Empowering Women of Color Conference. The second features an excerpt from Daniel Rasmussen’s book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt.

The cast is from 2012, but conversations about freedom are always timely.

Shout out to Renina Jarmon for the recommendation.

Ask questions

Abolition & Justice, Education, Text Talk

As a graduate student, one of my favorite topics of discussion and research was inquiry. Asking questions, conducting investigations, and building knowledge through exploration are powerful tools for thinking and learning. As I continued in my studies, I learned of critical inquiry, which expands the idea of questioning to include a political or sociocultural lens. Developing conscientização, or critical awareness/awakening, is akin to taking the red pill. You start to ask sociopolitical questions and suddenly  you are hard-pressed to see anything as flat, uncomplicated or devoid of nuance. This isn’t a negative thing, but it makes for interesting conversations.

The Meaning of FreedomI mention all of this to introduce a quote by Angela Davis. I’m currently reading The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues,  a compilation of speeches she delivered between 1994 and 2009. One thing I appreciate about Dr. Davis’ work is her constant admonition to reflect upon, reconsider, and rethink long-held ideas about “normalcy.” In her speech titled Race, Power and Prisons Since 9/11, she discusses the embodiment of evil and its requisite opposite good, xenophobia, militarism and the ever-expanding punishment industry. Although this is the context for the excerpt below, it’s a salient word, and useful for all serious thinkers reflecting on the world.

Things are never as simple as they appear to be. It is incumbent on us to think, to question, to be critical, and to recognize that if we do not interrogate that which we most take for granted, if we are not willing to question the anchoring ground of our ideas, opinions and attitudes, then we will never move forward.
~Angela Davis

Today at lunch…

Feminist Thought, Personal Narrative

I mentioned my plans to transition out of K-12 and into reading/writing/teaching about women’s issues. I highlighted rape culture and sexual violence and fibroids by name, although my net is cast a bit wider than these. The woman who inquired about my goals made the raised eyebrow/pulled down lips/impressed face and nodded. “Wow. Good for you. What got you moving in that direction?”

Who knows?

It brings to mind a similar question asked of Angela Davis. In a lecture recorded as The Prison Industrial Complex, she discussed her activist beginnings: “What made you decide to become an activist? What was that pivotal event in your life? And for years and years I thought about it.” She went on to mention the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, and how she initially believed that to be the catalyst. Upon further reflection, she realized that wasn’t it:

Finally, after struggling with this for years, I decided that there really was no particular moment when I decided to become an activist. As a matter of fact, I grew up with the idea that in order to live in segregated circumstances… my parents basically taught us that we had to be critical of the way things were. Otherwise, we could not affirm our own humanity. And that we had to dedicate our lives to the kind of transformation that would make this a better world to live in for all of us. And so I’ve learned that wherever I am, whatever I happen to be doing at the moment, I have to fulfill that commitment that has informed my life.

Now, I don’t have years invested in feminist activism and advocacy, so it’s not like I have a long history to consider. Despite my brief affiliation, I’m hard pressed to supply a satisfying answer. In fact, today was my first encounter with the question; I’ve simply never thought about why. So I sputtered. In fact, I’m writing now, more as a think-aloud, than to offer a definitive answer.

I think it’s a series of dots that are just now being connected. For instance, I’ve practiced Nichiren Buddhism for 13 years now. Studying and practicing a life philosophy grounded in human potential and equality leans one ever toward more progressive and compassionate ways of knowing and being. Encountering Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy in graduate school 5 years ago is another dot. A huge one really. Unlike the constant flow of the water of Buddhism, reading Freire and studying critical inquiry pedagogy caused a fiery, seismic shift.

Then there was the class that wasn’t. The University of Georgia offered a course on Black women’s narratives. I attended the first day, but enrollment was low, and the class didn’t make. The professor showed Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on the Danger of the Single Story – which became seed as much as dot – and I eventually ordered all the books on her syllabus. I started my own class really, and began reading (and writing) when I could. Dot.

A series of shares in the Red Clay Writing Project’s Summer Institute led me to brainstorm a study on teenage rape narratives, and I wrote and studied my own as a pilot. Dot. An article here or there would move me to anger, tears, or elation. Dot. And suddenly, here we are. At the beginning, still. And like any other journey, each day is an opportunity for another step.


Decarceration and Excarceration. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Abolition & Justice

Well, I would like to see, as Fay Honey Knopp, who was an abolitionist during the ’70s and the ’80s and one of the co-authors of a wonderful book called Instead of Prisons: An Abolitionist Handbook, you know, I would like to see an emphasis on decarceration, an emphasis on excarceration.
             Angela Davis on Democracy Now, October, 2010

I’m back in school. Quite honestly, as a lifelong learner, I’ve never left. As soon as I graduated, I created a syllabus of resources on black feminist thought, narrative inquiry and transformative learning and began reading. Studying these topics was nurturing and in many ways, freeing.

Love and curiosity have led me to study mass incarceration and abolition. My new syllabus is growing. A recurring name on it? Angela Davis. I’ve been listening to her speeches, taking notes on terms, people, events I should add to my resource list.

Decarceration and excarceration are each one point of a five-point model of attrition, elaborated in Instead of Prisons (1976). The attrition model is part of a long-range strategy for abolition. The overarching goal: to dismantle the prison system. Attrition, employed as a purposeful, intentional strategy, would “diminish the function and power of prisons in our society.”

The Attrition Model

  • Moratorium on new prison construction
  • Decarcerate
  • Excarcerate
  • Restraint of the few, via the “least restrictive and most humane option for the shortest period of time.”
  • Build a caring community in which support services are privileged over punitive options

Incarcerate means to confine or imprison. In contrast, decarcerate means to release. How can we begin to free some of the 2.3 million people behind bars? The authors suggest a realistic approach to the decarceration of inmates, including reduction in sentences, expanded opportunities for parole, creative restitution to victims, and decriminalization of some behaviors (applied retroactively).

Excarceration simply means avoid incarceration. In other words, what if prison ceased to be the first/ only/ mandatory response to certain behaviors? After all, what gets labeled crime is fluid. And the placement of various criminal behaviors along a continuum is somewhat arbitrary (more on that to come). What, other than jail, might be a response to undesirable behavior?

Thought Experiment
Are you open to decarceration? Would you be okay with nonviolent criminals being released before the end of their sentences? Why or why not?  If you say maybe, under what circumstances might you agree?