From the November-December 2014 issue of News & Letters
Chicago—Feminist activists Miriame Kaba, who helped run the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, and Emily Thuma headlined “Lessons in Self-Defense: Women’s Prisons, Gendered Violence and Antiracist Feminisms in the 1970s and ’80s” at DePaul University on Oct. 16. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and the annual month of resistance to mass incarceration, police terror, repression and the criminalization of a generation.
Thuma and Kaba focused on reviving a strong movement against the imprisonment of women who have defended themselves against violence—who have injured or killed men who raped and/or abused them. They presented as a model the defense of women of color in the 1970s, like the campaigns for Joanne Little, Inez Garcia and Yvonne Wanrow, all prosecuted for killing men who had attacked them or their children. (All three spoke for themselves in News & Letters.)
The speakers see the case of Marissa Alexander—who was wrongly convicted of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot at the ceiling as her husband tried to attack her after he threatened to kill her—as a possible catalyst for today. He had been arrested twice for domestic violence and had put Alexander in the hospital. If her appeal fails, she is threatened with a minimum sentence of 60 years in prison.
Each speaker recalled when feminists had organized to create the first safe places for women, women’s shelters and rape crisis centers. Governments took over control and replaced movement volunteers with bureaucratically delivered services, all of which can disappear whenever budgets are cut.
Thuma, professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of California, Irvine, is a long-time activist in feminist anti-violence. Kaba has fought violence through organizing and education. Both called for demolishing the present prison system, while encouraging the audience to reflect on the question and come up with alternatives.
It is a shame that this opposition to violence against women did not also at least reference the unsuccessful but inspiring movement to stop the execution of Iranian Reyhaneh Jabbari, hanged for killing the man who tried to rape her. That would have helped the audience understand the international dimension of this kind of violence against women.
To help, or for more information, go to: FreeMarissaNow.org.