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.
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, 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.
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.
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.