Radical Women, Radical Love

In honor of Women’s History Month, I asked some of the women I admire to share their own reflections about women in Chicago’s social justice scene who they would like to celebrate. I am honored and humbled to share this contribution from my friend and ally Aislinn Borsini, the Chicago coordinator for Black Lives Matter.

“One of the most vital ways that we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.” – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress

Over the past year, and specifically, the past seven months, I have grown continually inspired by extraordinary, radical people. What has not been lost on me, throughout this time, is the fact that overwhelmingly, these fierce and motivating individuals are women. The community of resistance that has evolved in Chicago has carved out a unique space which allows individuals to challenge themselves, and one another, intellectually and politically, while remaining mutually supportive. As organizers resist the prison industrial complex, work to dismantle the school to prison pipeline, and stand with young freedom fighters in the streets, intersections in struggle have formed bonds between communities of resistance, and those bonds have only strengthened with time.

In thought, this work requires an analysis of the roots of systemic violence and oppression, and an ability to envision life sustaining alternatives and solutions. In action, it requires both transformative hands and transformative communities. After all, movements are about people working collectively, not individuals working miraculously in their isolated silos.

So at the close of Women’s History Month, I am sharing these words to lift up the names of several women in my community whose work has left me in awe on multiple occasions. Their brilliance, political articulation, passion and grounding inspire not only me, but the many people that cross their paths on a daily basis. The work of social change, or revolution, or of building life sustaining structures, can be taxing, isolating, and thankless in the short term. One can easily lose sight of the larger picture when dealing with the day-to-day frustrations of movement building, but these women, with their fierce revolutionary perspectives, help to keep us on track. Their biting analysis, their mentorship, and their empowered voices both challenge us and illuminate our organizing spaces.

Mariame Kaba

Chicago organizer Mariame Kaba is a force to be reckoned with. Her vision has fueled the creation of spaces where community members of all ages can develop their collective vision, and strategize against injustice. In honoring Dominique Franklin’s life and refusing to allow the tragedy of his death to be silenced or erased, her passion helped lead the eight young We Charge Genocide (WCG) delegates to Geneva, Switzerland to deliver a shadow report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. The report, which charged the Chicago Police Department with genocide, as defined by the UN, served to both lift up Damo’s name and highlight the ongoing state violence committed against young people of color in the City of Chicago.

In a matter of months, Mariame helped guide eight young people from tragedy and loss to empowered resistance on a global stage. In her refusal to allow Damo’s story to be buried between the bricks of the blue wall of silence, Mariame provided a space for his friends and compatriots to gather together and resist in unison. In their collective grief, those who mourned Damo’s loss created a revolutionary moment that mobilized a broader community than anyone could have predicted. Together, Mariame and these young people reminded us what it means to resist while aspiring to transform.

Page May

Page May, one the eight youth delegates who traveled to the United Nations, and the lead author of the WCG shadow report submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture, continually amazes me both with her unrelenting energy and her keen analysis. It is no small thing to lead a crowd, maintain high spirits, politically educate and politically resist, while providing youth voices space to act as centering forces. Somehow I have seen Page do all of this on multiple occasions at multiple actions, with ease, while simultaneously preparing for future events, actions, and planning meetings. She does all of this without shutting down dialogue, without closing off space, and without silencing discussion. Page is intentional in her kindness and in her resistance, and she inspires other women of color, young and old, to be as fearless, as courageous and as brilliant as she is.

Kelly Hayes

Through the brilliant leadership of Kelly Hayes, the Chicago Light Brigade has offered magnificent visual light installations that transform sometimes static environments into dynamic, transformative, creative spaces. From lighted words projected against the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center to light installations on elevated train platforms, her orchestration encourages us all to think outside the box, and aim just a little bit higher. Her analysis inspires us all to join in the conversation, to ask questions, and to become active agents in our own paths of resistance. She inspires us to ask ourselves, “What can we also do to contribute to this counter-hegemony? How can we also be involved?”

In watching Kelly organize a weekend of radical education where young people, primarily young people of color, gathered to learn techniques in sign making, banner construction, and in the same weekend led a light installation in a concert and helped organize a rally, one is only left to ask, “How can I contribute?”

She inspires people to act.

Kristiana Colón

The inimitable Kristiana Colón, whose creativity and wisdom joined a variety of performance and art communities into first time protest actions, helped document in film one of the most important sites of resistance in our recent memories with the uprisings in Ferguson/St.Louis, whose poetry and playwriting provide voice to Black and brown experiences often rendered invisible, motivates us all. She inspires me to reacquaint myself with the radical roots and power of art as a tool of resistance. She has led Black brunch actions, train takeovers and Black Friday protests and she continues to use her talent to provide new and innovative ways to gather in solidarity and demand change. She says she is new to organizing but in truth, each creative act of performance or written prose and poetry held the vein of radical truth telling that permeates all of her work and organizing today. She is a truth to behold.

All of these women have helped create life sustaining communities of resistance bell hooks references in the quote above. Each one of these fierce, dynamic, revolutionary souls have inspired, motivated and encouraged all of us to review the ways in which we too can be agents of change and forces of power. Collectively, their work fuels the goal of revolution making forward by making space for others to join. This is a radical act of love in which they invite us all to take part. I am honored to work and fight alongside each and every one of them. They inspire and fuel my work and enable me to keep going. They let me know, I am not alone.

There are so many more women that are equally as deserving of mention (Sara-Ji, Shannon Wilson, and Sophia Kortchmar – to just name a few) and who inspire not only me but the many others whom come into contact with them. Each one of us, through our acts of resistance, enables others to resist alongside ourselves. Each one of us re-affirms, and for some of us, affirms for the first time, our humanity and right to live on this earth in safe and cared for spaces. While our journey is long, it is vital that we nurture and give gratitude to those of us doing the work of revolution making in a manner with rejects abuse, rejects dogmatism and encourages intellectual rigor in ways which expand dialogue and expand inclusion.

These women, each of them: Mariame, Page, Kelly and Kristiana, all help contribute to creating life sustaining communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.

Pop Up Justice: Art and Protest Outside Rahm Emanuel’s Office

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

When we fight, we do it like we mean it. And that’s what we’ve been doing in Chicago in recent months, as we’ve fought to pass the reparations ordinance for CPD torture survivors. The effort to win financial compensation, free education, and mental healthcare for torture survivors found it’s way to City Hall again on Wednesday, as we staged a pop up art exhibit outside the mayor’s office.

One aspect of the ordinance that community members have rallied around is its demand that the true history of former police Commander Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” be written into the Chicago Public School curriculum. The ordinance would also require the city to in some way memorialize the experiences of those who lived through Burge’s reign of torture at Area Two. It was these provisions that inspired the organizers of this event to build an art exhibition on the fifth floor of City Hall, just outside the mayor’s office, honoring the struggle of the survivors and their allies, and calling upon the mayor to take action.

Burge torture survivor Mark Clements leads a teach-in about the fight for justice for CPD torture survivors. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Burge torture survivor Mark Clements leads a teach-in about the fight for justice for CPD torture survivors. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

The exhibition, of course, had no official permission. We planned the day for weeks, working under the assumption that we would successfully get our supplies inside, set up the display, and hold the space all day. When the event was conceived of, a more confrontational tone had been discussed, as we were very pointedly demanding a finance hearing, so that the ordinance would no longer languish in the committee stage. But our plans shifted somewhat on Monday when we heard some unexpected and welcome news: we would get our hearing.

While we know the campaign will still have tense moments, and may require various stages of escalation before its end, we felt it was important for Wednesday to not simply be an act of protest, but also a learning opportunity and celebration of just how far the movements against police abuse and torture have come in Chicago.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

So we headed into City Hall at 10am Wednesday morning, and after some minor difficulties with the police, we managed to successfully set up our exhibit. Throughout the day, people came through to see the work of local artists like Cairá Lee Conner, Monica Trinidad and Sarah Jane Rhee, and to attend teach-ins led by torture survivors Mark Clements and Darrell Cannon, and people like Sali Vickie Casanova, who have spent years fighting alongside them. We also heard from people like Page May, who has been involved in both the fight for reparations, and the broader struggle against police brutality.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

At 4pm, we rallied with community members who had joined us to close the event. It was a beautiful way to mark where we stand in this fight, and to lift up the work of those who’ve gotten us here, but it was also a moment that reminded the community that this crucial fight will likely only intensify in the weeks to come. As we close in on a potential victory, we are staring down inevitable challenges to the ideas behind this transformative effort, and efforts to chip away at the things that make it so valuable to those of us who want both accountability and change.

At the close of yesterday's event at City Hall. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
At the close of yesterday’s event at City Hall. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

After the event, I headed home, but I spent most of the night unable to sleep. This isn’t a unique phenomenon for me, but it was an especially rough night. Sometimes, at the exact moment that my body is screaming that it needs to slow down, my mind starts moving a mile a minute. This is what anxiety looks like in my world – a fast paced blur of all the ways we could move forward, and all the ways we could fall short. I feel strongly that we will win, but I must admit, it’s all very daunting at times.

When I spoke Wednesday, I said that Chicago was both a battleground and a training ground. As an action oriented organizer who has both skills to share, and so much yet to learn, I stretch myself pretty thin. Like many of us, I often find myself running from one front of struggle to another, providing what assistance I can, and always wondering if I am doing enough.

I have hope, and that helps. I have seen the love, creativity, and power of our communities manifest itself in the streets as we have shown up to push back against police violence. I have seen us put aside differences for the sake of common cause, if not common belief.

I have seen it, so I know we are capable of doing whatever must be done in this fight, and in others. But I know I am not the only one who sometimes feels the wear and tear of caring about something that’s steeped in so much pain and need, and propelled by so many hopes that have long deserved realization.

Yes, it’s an ordinance, and I don’t think its passage is somehow going to free us all, but the idea of carving an actual reckoning for police torture into this city’s laws; the idea of making this system answerable, on our terms, and building the truth of its violence into our local culture, is so hopeful. And in the darkest hours of our darkest days, our hope, our relationships, and knowing how far we’ve come – these are the things that carry us.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Village Leadership Academy students listen as organizer Page May talks about the struggle against police violence. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Today, I went to Curie Metro High School to join a conversation with some young people about criminalization. I was grateful that the National Director of BYP 100, Charlene Carruthers, was also in attendance, because, like local organizers Mariame Kaba and Page May, Charlene is a woman of color whose company makes those around her stronger and sharper. Hearing the things I believe in said in her voice made the day feel a little less heavy, and my heart feel a little less tired.

After the talk was over, I wasn’t sure how many young people it really registered with. Their teacher insisted they had been very interested, but I wasn’t sure. Then a young woman came up to me as I was putting on my coat. She told me that what I said about how this system had disarmed our imaginations, and convinced us that we couldn’t do any better, really meant something to her. She said that she believed what I said, about needing to dream beyond the boundaries created by the state. These aren’t my ideas, of course. I was taught to dream beyond this moment by powerful women of color, and I hope that my moments of realization were as heartening to them as my brief conversation with this young woman was for me.

In that moment, I was reminded: we are winning, we are rising, and we are strong. But most importantly, we are dreaming ahead of where we are, and fueling our fight with hope and the knowledge that the world we want is possible, if we fight like we mean it.

(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

A Huge Step Forward in the Fight for Reparations for CPD Torture Survivors

Supporters of Chicago’s proposed Burge Torture Reparations Ordinance scored a huge victory yesterday when Ed Burke, the Chairman of Chicago’s Finance Committee, announced the committee would grant the ordinance a hearing on April 14, 2015.  Over the past few months, activists, community members, and torture survivors have ramped up their campaign to pass the ordinance, emphasizing the demand that the measure be given a finance hearing.  The ordinance has been stalled in the Finance Committee since it was filed in City Council on October 16, 2013, despite having the support of the majority of the City Council.

Outside Rahm Emanuel's house demanding reparations for CPD torture survivors. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Outside Rahm Emanuel’s house demanding reparations for CPD torture survivors. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Over the last three months, multiple organizations, including Amnesty International, BYP 100, The Chicago Light Brigade, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide have held rallies, demonstrations, and marches to demand a public hearing on the ordinance. One such protest involved protestors paying a visit to Rahm Emanuel’s house, carrying a message in lights demanding passage of the ordinance. Another involved an action on the city’s Red Line, in which participants held performances, gave speeches, and connected with passengers about the ordinance on the eve of the recent mayoral election. During that action, and others, Rahm Emanuel was specifically called out for his failure to support the ordinance, but organizers have also continually expressed that all city leaders must be held accountable.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Mariame Kaba, the founder and executive director of Project NIA, has been very involved in recent efforts to escalate the campaign, organizing actions, teach-ins, and coalition building activities to further the efforts of groups like Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, who have been fighting for the torture survivors for decades. “We are looking forward to the day when the reparations ordinance is passed by the City Council so that the survivors of Burge’s torture can receive a measure of justice for their suffering and trauma,” she said yesterday. “Until that time, we will continue to fight for justice with them. We appreciate the hearing and still need Mayor Emanuel to declare his full support for the ordinance.”

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

The Ordinance would serve as a formal apology to the survivors; create a Commission to administer financial compensation to the survivors; create a medical, psychological, and vocational center on the south side of Chicago; provide free enrollment in City Colleges to the survivors; require Chicago Public schools to teach a history lesson about the cases; require the City to fund public memorials about the cases; and set aside $20 million to finance all of this redress – approximately the same amount of money the City has spent to defend Burge, other detectives and former Mayor Richard M. Daley in the Chicago Police torture cases.

The ordinance was drafted to address the racially-motivated torture of over 120 committed by now former Police Commander Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” that occurred over the course of nearly twenty years, from 1972 to 1991. Torture survivors, a number of whom have since become advocates for the wrongly imprisoned, were subjected to electric shocks, mock executions, suffocation, beatings, and threats against their families. Although Burge was convicted in federal court for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the torture cases in 2010, he continues to draw a taxpayer funded pension, while many of his victims remain uncompensated for the trauma they’ve endured. In the words of local organizer Babur Balos, “Some of the people they tortured are still in prison, and others can’t afford medical care, while we pay for Burge’s retirement in Florida. That can’t stand.”

On a personal note, I want to remind everyone who is as excited about this news as I am that this fight is far from over. Efforts to pass the ordinance may require continued escalation. Those of us who have joined this fight in recent months are exceedingly grateful to everyone who has lifted up this cause over the years, allowing this potentially transformative moment to take shape. I’m also more grateful than I can say for the efforts of everyone who has stepped up and thrown down to ensure that some measure of justice is done here. The cycle of violence and brutality must be broken, and this ordinance is a very important step.

Overall, this fight has reminded me just how powerful we are when our communities come together in common cause. I am heartened and strengthened by the courage and dedication of everyone I have been building and planning with, and by the unwavering love this community has shown in the face of police violence. Many of us have suffered at the hands of police, to varying degrees, and the fight waged by these survivors has reinforced to us all that police violence cannot break us, because love is always stronger than hate. We hope to see you tomorrow at City Hall, where we will be staging a pop up art exhibit about police torture, and resistance efforts, outside the mayor’s office. The exhibit begins at noon. At 4pm, we will rally in that space, celebrate how far we’ve come, and push forward with our demands. We will need each other in the coming weeks. Because now, more than ever, victory is in sight. Let’s get there together.

Resistance in Chicago: This Isn’t Improv

I’m looking forward to taking a personal day from organizing tomorrow, but I’m also grateful for my hectic schedule. Politicians always rely on Chicago winters to dull the momentum of movements, but that hasn’t happened this year. We have held it down through the cold, snow and rain, and we are roaring into the spring. And while I urge everyone to be mindful of their differing capacities and need for self care, I also urge my friends and allies to give it all they’ve got right now, and hit the streets with a vengeance in the coming weeks. The neoliberal politicians who have deemed us disposable, while balancing the books on the backs of the most vulnerable, are now, themselves, vulnerable. They have violated our rights and attacked our ability to organize as workers. They  have caused the deaths of our neighbors and they have looted our public services. We’ve felt this, month after month, and we have resisted. That resistance has brought us to this critical moment.

In other words, this isn’t improv.

We have been building, fighting, and planning for years. We have invested countless hours, put our bodies on the line, and we have proven that we will not be broken.  We have chipped away at the power and security of the opposition, and we are on the verge of great things.

This moment that finds our enemies weak and weary demands that we land every punch possible, and that we swing hard.

This is about more than one enemy, even though I would celebrate Emanuel’s fall quite joyfully. All eyes are on Chicago. We are showing the next mayor, whoever he may be, and those who devalue our lives and rights around the country, that there are consequences for their actions. We are also reminding liberals everywhere that they cannot afford to throw radicals under the bus, because the change we need requires nothing less than the power and force of movements.

We’re all tired. Our fights have been long and hard, and there have been many nights where I’ve ended my day at my computer with tears in my eyes, not knowing what to do with it all. In an unfair world, love and compassion take a toll. But in recent months, those tears have just as often been joyful and reverent, because I have had the privilege of working alongside some of the people who have built forward day after day. Regardless of the outcome of this election, we are standing in strength because of them.

In my very first piece on this page, I said we were on the cusp of change. I believe that now more than ever, but what that change looks like is up to us.

It’s spring and Chicago is rising. I am grateful to be here you with you all, and I will attend every rally I can, and offer up every skill and resource at my disposal. I will raise my voice and dig my heels in, because it’s time.

I’ll see you in the streets, and outside the mayor’s office next week.

And They Were Celebrated

Helping to organize last night’s Women to Celebrate event did my heart so much good. This is an incredibly hectic month in the Chicago organizing scene, but I am so grateful that we were able to create a space where we could collectively pause, lift up the names of some wonderful changemakers, and embrace the joy of a beautiful moment. All of the honorees were announced with introductions that had been crowd sourced from their communities, so that their accomplishments and loveable qualities were being summarized by people who knew and admired them. I’m going to share a few of those bios here, for those of you who weren’t there to experience the moment in person, and for those who would like to take a look back at a wonderful night.

Fresh Roberson (AKA Chef Fresh)

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Chef Fresh lives and loves at the intersection of healing justice, food justice, transformative justice, and disability justice. Chef Fresh strives to make nutritious food accessible to all—and their “community-based edible activism” sustains movements and communities, especially communities of color, queer and trans people, elders, and youth. Chef Fresh has cooked for social justice organizations, such as INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans People of Color Against Violence, Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP), Chicago Dyke March, FIERCE, and so many countless others. Fresh sustains Chicago prison abolition efforts, groups, movements with healing foods and suppers that celebrate all bodies/identities. This work is extremely physical and incredibly labor and time-intensive—and Chef Fresh donates hours and hours of their time to critical causes and projects. Fresh also provides weekly meals for various non-profits and programs dedicated to increasing food access for youth and elders and is the Chef in Residence for Peterson Garden Project’s Fearless Food Kitchen and Fresh 82 Kitchen.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Jennifer Viets (introduced by her son, Ethan)

I have a lot of theories about what makes a person radical. Whether it be what you eat, where you work, or your gender, race, and sexuality politics… but it’s hard for me to think of anything more revolutionary then raising three black kids on your own for 25 years in the city of Chicago.

NO ONE can be more revolutionary than a mother. And no one gets less credit. Ma, for all those tantrums at the grocery stores, and you having to leave work to argue with the teachers at my schools. For the late night phone calls dragging you to another police station, for the breakdowns in our house when I heard another friend was in jail or another black boy was killed. For letting me go on all those trips, and for driving me to all those actions. For all those nights you sat at home wondering if your little boy was still breathing.

For you being there for me when no one else was, and for always watching over me as I danced on the edge of darkness and madness this world drove me to. Thank you, I love you, and I can’t think of anyone who deserves this award more.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Carrie Kaufman

Carrie Kaufman is a program coordinator and mentor at Access Living, an educator with the PIC teaching collective, and a fierce advocate for disability justice. In a word, Carrie is colorful, both in personality and style. I am blown away by the support and mentorship she offers to the movement- she holds together the work, supports the people around her beautifully, and does so with a level of kindness I find beyond admirable.
Veronica Morris-Moore

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Veronica Morris Moore is a fighter. She has taken fierce action on behalf of her community, time and again, in the name of those who have been needlessly lost, and in defense of the lives of those yet living. The fight she and her fellow organizers have waged on the South Side, in pursuit of a much needed trauma center, has inspired activists around the city, and the ground they have gained proves yet again that direct action gets the goods. We are all in her debt, and in awe of her courage.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Dorothy Burge

Dorothy Burge is a member of Black People Against Police Torture and an instrumental member of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), who has struggled for justice for the Burge torture survivors and their family members for decades.  This past year alone, even in the face of the devastating loss of her husband, she has presented at teach ins and town halls and participated in a sit-in at City Hall in support of the Burge torture reparations ordinance, including giving a rousing rallying cry for justice at the Rally for Reparations this past Valentine’s Day.  She is also a radical educator who has taught scores of students about racist police violence in Chicago and persistently engages them to get involved in the struggle for justice.  She is one of the most giving and loving people we know who is cherished by many in many movements for justice.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)


Shirien is a Palestinian American from Chicago who organizes relentlessly for the liberation of her people, including an end to the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.  She has been instrumental in building for the long-haul with the dynamic student movement – Students for Justice in Palestine, both locally and nationally.  There are so many reasons to celebrate Shirien, so here are a few – in her extensive organizing, she consistently builds up the leadership of other young women and of queer and trans folks; connects the fight for Palestinian liberation with other struggles for social justice; and brings immense humility, kindness, joy, and even pandas, to all that she does.  And consistent with that principled humility, Shiriens also shared that she intends to dedicate her award tonight to the Palestinian community leader facing sentencing tomorrow in a trial of political repression, the beloved Rasmea Odeh.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Maya Schenwar

Maya Schenwar is and has been many things: a reporter, an editor, an activist, a member of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, and a self-proclaimed “collector of socks and stuffed monsters.” She’s been a workplace organizer and is now a boss – she’s one of the reasons Truthout, the independent news site where she is editor-in-chief, is unionized. In 2014 she became an author, with the release of “Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better.” If you’ve read the book you also know she’s two other things. She’s a sister, who unflinchingly describes the reality of seeing (and often, not seeing) her sister incarcerated. And she’s an optimist, who believes in the power of transformative justice and who tells us about the growing alternatives to our prison nation.

Jakya Hobbs

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

This young woman is one of the youngest organizers sitting in this room. But just because she is small, that doesn’t mean she can’t make huge change. At only 12 years old, Jakya has accomplished more than most Chicagoans have in their entire lives, and she isn’t about to stop. While she maintained impeccable grades and the vibrant social life of a middle schooler, Jakya has tackled problems bigger than herself like police torture and the prison industrial complex. She co-organized the Reclaim MLK March to protest the school-to-prison pipeline. She’s led numerous Know Your Rights Workshops for students of color with the hopes that they won’t fall victim to police brutality. Just recently, Jakya emotionally spoke at the Stephon Watts vigil about the inconceivable pain of losing your loved one at the hand of the police. Needless to say, Jakya has redefined cool for her classmates. She does not shy away from hard conversations, the hard problems, and the hard world. Jakya Hobbs is a model for us all.

(Image: Molly Crabapple)
(Image: Molly Crabapple)

Shared Gifts

When we contacted our honorees to let them know that they were being recognized, we were told by a number of women that they could think of someone more deserving. For that reason, we chose to give each honoree two prints of this image that was created by Molly Crabapple for this occasion. Our hope is that they will keep the first and pass the second along to one of those deserving women and femmes who wasn’t on this year’s list. If you receive one of these from an honoree, know that We Charge Genocide celebrates you as well, just as well celebrate all of the wonderful work happening in our powerful communities of resistance.

Honoree Ann Meredith presented her second print to Simone, who performed at the event. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Honoree Ann Meredith presented her second print to Simone, who performed at the event. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Trauma Center Now: Why We Shut Down Michigan Avenue

Guest post: Chicago activists Veronica Morris Moore and Victoria Crider reflect on their participation in a direct action that shut down Michigan Avenue on March 5, 2015.

(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)
(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)

Veronica Morris Moore, Fearless Leading by the Youth

As I  try to compile a list of reasons why I was apart of the civil disobedience direct action that blocked northbound traffic on the magnificent mile Thursday night, all I can immediately think of is why not. But for the purpose of this statement I’ll try to stick to reasons that are unique and relative to my role in the Trauma Center Campaign.

The main reason I volunteered my body for the human chain that blocked northbound traffic on Michigan Avenue is because I am committed to pressuring the University of Chicago to reopen its level 1 trauma center at the UChicago’s medical facility. Since Fearless Leading by the Youth began the fight to restore this vital service in our community, all our efforts have been met with is traditional racist excuses. UofC spokespeople say, “the service will be a significant burden that will undercut other services already provided to the community”. For me, a black queer youth (under 25), this is unacceptable.

(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)
(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)

Another reason I participated in blocking traffic is because disenfranchisement is real and the University of Chicago needs to be called out for it.  Too often filthy rich institutions, UChicago for instance, racially alienate poor people of color by avoiding issues that overwhelmingly impact black communities. The devastating amount of black lives that are lost along the 10 mile journey from the south side  to seek trauma care, and the pain black families live with, are significant burdens that undercuts our right to life as black people and the quality of our black families and communities we exist in. A trauma center would be less than 1% of the 4.5 billion dollar goal for the University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact. What I understand when they, Sharon O’keefe specifically, hide behind the financial undertaking of a trauma center is that to Sharon O’keefe and company black lives don’t matter.

(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)
(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)

For me, the Trauma Center Campaign is about fighting for a fundamental way greedy white America, and all who benefit from, embody and reinvent white supremacy and structural racism, can be accountable (pay the fuck up) for the legacy of terrorism that seeks to kill black life and liberation. The University of Chicago and all of its elusive glory continues to grow and develop in my community without responding to the demands and real life needs of my community, the black community. I will not stop, nor will the Trauma Center Campaign ease up from, exposing the anti-black position Sharon O’keefe has taken as a health provider in my community.

Victoria Crider, Fearless Leading by the Youth

My nerves were on fire and the knot in my stomach tightened as the bus parked on Pearson street. The atmosphere changed quickly from giddy and silly to focused and excited as we filed out of the bus, lock boxes on our arms and banners in our hands. Bystanders eyes were focused on us chanting “Trauma Center Now!” as we arrived to the corner of Michigan and Pearson. Five seconds later the light flashed from green to red and the rushing of the streets, the locking of the chains, the securing of the lock boxes happened in literally 10 seconds.

Whose streets? Our streets!

(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)
(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)

We stood with our arms in lock boxes chanting to the top of our lungs “Trauma Center Now!” as those who weren’t apart of the chain carried coffins, banners, signs. and helped us hold the street down. Onlookers recorded us, listened to us. After 30 minutes the police showed up to the scene and pushed everyone onto the sidewalk. Those of us in the lock boxes held our ground continuously chanting. Veronica kept her calm as she was in dialogue with the police officers letting them know that we weren’t leaving. After some threats from the officers we sat down making our point of staying very clear.

After the police announced to us that we were under arrest we disengaged from the lock boxes and stood with our hands up. The cold metal of the hand cuffed wrapped around my wrists and one by one we were led to the patty wagon. After some disorganization from the police officers we were all placed in the patty wagon and the door was slammed shut.

Who shut shit down? WE SHUT SHIT DOWN!

(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)
(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)

My time in jail wasn’t a wholly negative experience. I became closer to the amazing women I shared a cell with. We occupied the long hours with stories, laughing, remixing Flawless, discussing aspects of the campaign, fantasizing about food, and just having fun. The police officers were patronizingly nice. Veronica and I believe their consideration – giving us water, letting us go to the cleaner (for lack of a better word) bathroom, and not yelling at us as they did another inmate – was limited to our group, and probably had something to do with the fact that most of our arrestees were white and female. We all took a minute to sober to the thought that jail is usually a much darker experience.

For those that did not share a cell with us, Joe and Woody, jail was just that: worse. But that’s not my story to tell.

(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)
(Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)

After the police fingerprinted us, took our mug shots, and I guess finally finished processing us they let us free a few at a time. In that moment, reclaiming my freedom was almost as great a feeling as the triumph of carrying out a complex action like blocking Michigan Avenue. Being able to go where I wanted, to do what I wanted, to hug those that waited in the lobby of the station for us, and to eat a lot of fried shrimp and fries – I can only describe it as being restored. Although this brief loss of liberty was made bearable by the great people I was surrounded with, jail is still jail. But I’d do it all again to emphasize the need for trauma care.

The arrestees, after their release. (Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)
The arrestees, after their release. (Photo: Minku / @minkumedia)

Community Shout Out: Women Who Build Movements

This week, I asked some of the powerful movement builders I know and work with to contribute to a piece about who they would like to celebrate on International Women’s Day. Their responses were both beautiful and heartening.

Last May, Fearless Leading by the Youth and other members of the Trauma Care Coalition staged a week of action around their demand for a South Side trauma center. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
Last May, Fearless Leading by the Youth and other members of the Trauma Care Coalition staged a week of action around their demand for a South Side trauma center. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Veronica Morris Moore and Victoria Crider, Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY)

No one goes harder for their community than Veronica Morris Moore and Victoria Crider, lead organizers at Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) on the South Side of Chicago. These two women are at the forefront of the trauma center campaign, a coalition that uses nonviolent direct action tactics to convince the University of Chicago Hospital to reopen a level one trauma center on the South Side of Chicago. Constantly coming up with new ways to ambush the University, Veronica and Victoria don’t just call attention to the South Side trauma desert; their tactics have caused the University of Chicago―one of the most powerful institutions in the world―to respond to the demands of youth of color. In 2014 U of C raised the age of the pediatric trauma center to 18, and at the end of January hospital administrators began a feasibility study to bring a trauma center back.

None of this would be possible if Veronica didn’t fearlessly lead a group of south side youth chanting for a trauma center into the forest preserve in rural Illinois, where U of C was courting their donors; none of this would be possible if Victoria hadn’t testified in front of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board saying that it would be ludicrous to turn perfectly good hospital rooms into luxury suites while right outside folks are getting shot and can’t get the trauma care they need. None of this would have been possible if these two ladies didn’t put their bodies, voices, and freedom on the line, stopping traffic, locking themselves together, going to jail. I have had the immense privilege of fighting beside and learning from these women for the past few years, and when the history books are written I know future activists will be learning from them.

– Christina Pillsbury, Chicago healthcare activist

Rousemary Vega, Education Activist and Founder of Bad Ass Moms

Rousemary Vega is the type of young woman who is ready to go on a moment’s notice when it comes to justice. She fought hard to keep her children’s school open. When it was closed, she didn’t pick up her broken dreams and walk away. She was galvanized to work for other kids and their schools. I am so fortunate to know Rousemary and the moms who are the backbone of a movement for educational justice.

– Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union

Greta Holmes, Anti-death Penalty Activist

When I sat down to write something about Greta Holmes, I had a number of experiences to draw upon. Time I had heard her speak at Campaign to End the Death Penalty conventions, prison holiday card writing potlucks, our mutual friend Darby Tillis’ wake- ever present there was Greta speaking truth to power, remaining steadfast for justice, and offering her compassion in times of need. She grew up in an African-American family intensely committed to working for social justice. The principles of fighting against injustice run deep within her.

A social worker by profession, Greta became involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in her youth and has remained in the fight to this day. Greta has been and continues to be an intrinsic part of the CEDP. She served on their Board of Directors for many years- every time being elected by an overwhelming majority vote. She held our trust, and still does. She should be commended for her commitment to the abolitionist community.

When the Burge tortures came to light, she was one of the first that suggested the group become involved and reach out to survivors and rally the community. We can learn a lot from her example; she still has much to teach young abolitionists like myself and those to come. With women like Greta on our side, I believe that we will win.

– Brit Schulte, Organizer with F.U.R.I.E.

Mika Munoz, Writer and Community Organizer

Many of us know Mika Munoz as a benevolent, fierce femme that works ruthlessly long & labourous hours as a union pipe-fitter yet somehow manages to churn out powerful pieces of writing for zines & blogs, perform breathtaking, radical burlesque for your grassroots fundraising event until 2am, drive everyone home even if it’s means crossing the entire city, and still look flawless the entire time. But for many of us that are close to Mika, we bear witness to her extraordinarily difficult struggle as a proud Latina woman in trades, facing appalling amounts of sexism and white supremacy on a daily basis as she strives to fight the gender gap in the building trades.

Mika Munoz is a fierce, 28-year-old queer Latina with deep roots in community organizing around immigration reform, organizing with the Chicago Dyke March collective for two years, and co-founding Ella’s Daughters, a loose network of women activists and organizers who deeply respect, admire and strive to work in Ella Baker’s legacy. She is currently a collective member of Brown & Proud Press and often works 12-hour days, 5-7 days a week as a third year pipe-fitter. Mika’s background in organizing and resilience in the workplace has been incredibly inspiring and demands reverence. Mika’s ability to hold our communities together through unwavering mediation, an emphasis on accountability and addressing interpersonal conflict head-on, and relentless mutual aid is often unseen, yet incredibly invaluable. Gracias y muchos besos, Mika.

– Monica Trinidad, Brown and Proud Press

Sophia Kortchmar, Organizer with We Charge Genocide

Often times, the work we carry as organizers goes unseen: The coordination, the check-in emails, the check-ins, the holding of space for reflection and discussion. Though essential, Sophia Kortchmar does this work with a humble persistence. Whether it’s welcoming me to the neighborhood or pushing me to appreciate the importance of shared reflection and processing, Sophia has patiently and lovingly supported my personal growth as an organizer. For all that she does, for the movement and the people involved, I want to say thank you. You inspire me to be more open, generous, and patient. You support all of us to be more powerful and fierce. I thank you. I see you. I appreciate you.

– Page May, Organizer with We Charge Genocide

Sabrina Morey, Housing Activist

“Celebrity Occupier.” “Radical Squatter.” These are names that tell part of a story. But, Sabrina Morey is more than the houses she reclaims, or her renown on the bullhorn. Sabrina Morey’s story has parts that are harder to consume than those for many social justice fighters, but these are parts of her strength too. The skills and deep commitments of a person whose life involves intimate struggle against structural violence in all its forms, are critically important to collective struggle. Survival isn’t one of the tools in Sabrina’s “organizer’s toolbox”, it’s the box that forges those tools, wielded with the urgency of someone who knows that people are struggling for the barest necessities, including the need to feel loved.

Sabrina brings much to the movement, and everyone who knows her and her brilliant daughters, Destiny and Keosha, are better for that relationship. We must also remember that deep solidarity means that we remember to ask, as another dear comrade  put it recently: “What’s happening with you? What do you need?” Sabrina asks this without  judgment born out of ideas about how the world should be, but a commitment to leave no one behind in a world that we must all survive together. Sabina has the limitless vision of someone who knows what it is to have nothing, badly needed to reclaim and rebuild the world as it never was. Cheers to Sabrina the liberator!

– Holly Krig, Organizer with Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration

Sarah Jane Rhee, Movement Photographer

What does it mean to bear witness?

Vision, intention

Sight, seer

Sarah Ji

Each of her photos a testament to the radical traditions in action, a historian of the moment of the movements that are shaping the now. As someone who is often following her home from afar, Sarah’s photography allows me to feel home from afar as well. Every time I see a new photo of hers I give thanks for and to Sarah Ji for allowing me to witness the fierce and beautiful people who remind me why I am doing what I am doing and to keep focused. The love and fire embraced in her art catalyze. Sarah’s photos are transformative and inspire transformation. Thank you for everything to bring into this world.

– Crystal Vance Guerra

Rasmea Oden at the "Chicago March Against World Silence on Gaza Massacre," August 10, 2014. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee) Rasmea Oden at the “Chicago March Against World Silence on Gaza Massacre,” August 10, 2014. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Rasmea Odeh, Palestinian Activist and Torture Survivor

Today I would like to honor Rasmea Odeh. Rasmea Odeh is a 67-year-old Palestinian community leader who has worked with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) on the southside of Chicago since 2004. Rasmea is currently the associate director of the AAAN. She also established the Arab Women’s Committee that has helped hundreds of immigrant women who came into the United States. She is a cornerstone for the Arab and Muslim community in Chicago and an inspiration to any organizer in this city who has a passion for social justice here and in Palestine.

– Agnieszka Karoluk, Early childhood educator and graduate student at UIC

Jeannette Hanson and Helen Morley, The Mental Health Movement

On a chilly night in 2012, when The Mental Health Movement was holding its second nonstop vigil outside a shuttered clinic, Helen Morley, Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, and myself all piled into Matt’s car to try to get a bit of sleep. Helen, a patient who had been fighting the closure of her clinic, quickly drifted off to sleep in the front passenger seat. We could hear her, mumbling as she slept. After a moment, we realized that she was muttering a protest chant: “We’re going to beat back the Rahm attack. We’re going to beat, beat back…” With our spirits lifted by Helen’s beautiful love of community and resistance, Matt and I giggled softly, and closed our own eyes to sleep.

I will always cherish that memory.

As a member of the Mental Health Movement, Helen warned the city multiple times that closing half the city’s publicly funded mental health clinics would cost lives, including hers. But as far as Rahm Emanuel is concerned, those who live in the margins can die in the margins. It doesn’t affect his bottom line, and he has not felt their loss. But we have.

Helen and Jeanette, you are no longer here, but we carry you with us. This week, your friends made national news confronting the mayor who closed your clinics. Your community is still demanding accountability and the restoration of services. Your names are spoken, and your strength is with us.

– Kelly Hayes, Organizer with the Chicago Light Brigade and We Charge Genocide