INCITE! Conference Tackles Violence Against Communities and Women

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Color of Violence

 By Nadine Naber 

Between March 26 and 29, 1,600 radical women, gender non-conforming and trans people of color gathered in Chicago for the fourth “Color of Violence” conference, organized by INCITE!. COV4 commemorated the 15-year anniversary of INCITE!, a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing. For 15 years, INCITE! has been engaging in grassroots organizing projects, critical conversations, national actions, transnational campaigns and community building strategies to end colonial, racial and gender-based violence against women of color, trans and queer people of color, and our communities. COV4 highlighted emerging strategies and new frameworks that focus on ending violence without relying on policing, mass incarceration, restrictive legislation and other systems of violence and control. 

COV4 was a platform for furthering our conversations about (1) how anti-violence movements must centralize an analysis of state violence and how racial-class justice movements must centralize an analysis of sexual violence in order to account for realities that disenfranchised women of color and transgender people of color experience and (2) how state violence shapes and impacts interpersonal violence.

For instance, Andrea Ritchie’s opening plenary speech reminded us that sexual violence is a weapon of policing rooted in colonial domination and chattel slavery. She also explained that “sexual misconduct and rape by law enforcement agents is the second most frequently reported form of police violence after excessive force” and that “2 in 5 women of color report sexual harassment by police [,]. . . 9 out of 10 trans women of color had faced extortion of sex by law enforcement agents[,]. . . and young women of color, low income women, lesbian and trans women, and women who are – or are perceived to be – involved in the drug or sex trades are particularly targeted for sexual violence by police.” Along similar lines, other plenary speeches, workshops and breakout rooms addressed sexual violence as a tool of Israeli settler-colonialism, anti-immigrant violence, the military industrial complex, violence against people with disabilities and the continued colonization of Native American land. Participants also worked together on movement strategies related to media and cultural work, transgender solidarity, healing and well-being, transformative justice and beyond.

Many participants challenged activists within racial justice and de-colonizing anti-violence movements to build alternatives that allow us to take care of each other and actively work towards ending violence “inside our homes, our relationships, our communities . . . inside of our political groups, collectives, organizations and movements?” As plenary speaker Mia Mingus put it, “[I]t is easy to hate a white police officer, but what do we do when the violence and abuse is coming from people who look like us? People we rely on? People we love? Our inability to respond well to intimate violence and abuse continues to undermine our other political work.” Reflecting on the need for alternatives, Renee Gossett reminded us that “when we’re trying to be included in a culture that never wanted us to be in the first place, we don’t get to talk about our lives. We don’t get to talk about sex work, we don’t get to talk about being disabled, we don’t get to talk about prison, or homelessness, or living with HIV. . . . [B]y taking care of each other, we are already doing the work that state doesn’t want us to do.” Renee’s closing words reflected a sentiment repeated throughout COV4:  “I believe this moment invites all of us not just to think about what we want to dismantle and organize against, but also what we want to defend: the ways we laugh, and love, and study together. The ways we come together to make meaning. Our radical, irrespectable,[1] undesirable, irresistible sociability.” 

COV4 inspired new and growing solidarities. The interaction between Palestinian Rasmea Odeh and Angela Davis left a lasting effect on many attendees and pointed to the possibilities for transnational women of color organizing. Rasmea Odeh is a Palestinian American community leader who asserts she was sexually tortured by the Israeli government in 1969. On November 10, 2014, she was found guilty of one count of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization. During her recent sentencing hearing in March 2015, federal authorities continued to brand this community advocate and torture survivor a “terrorist.” Odeh was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment, followed by deportation, but her sentence has been stayed pending appeal. At COV4, Rasmea recounted her experience of incarceration in U.S. jail and the ways she organized with U.S. women of color prisoners, built alliances and shared struggles and strategies. Mapping connections between the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex, Davis affirmed that Palestinian solidarity is the South African anti-apartheid movement of our times and urged conference participants to support the campaign to free Rasmea.

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A scholar-activist herself, Nadine Naber is Associate Professor of Asian American Studies and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She writes about Arab and Arab American feminism as well as Arab American activism and is a member of the Rasmea Odeh Defense Committee.

[1] Note: This is the word used in the speech.


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