Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2017-04-26
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

Talking with prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba
by Yasmin Nair, Windy City Times
2016-05-11

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


To anyone who knows her, prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba is a force of nature. On any given day, she might be in court in the morning, supporting a teenager facing incarceration, then leading a community discussion on the history of Black radical organizing, and then giving a presentation on young women and the juvenile justice system in the evening.

Kaba is also a prominent social media presence, mostly on Twitter where her sly, snarky and often pointed critiques of social policy around incarceration have earned her a massive following. All this has happened with very few pictures of her: She loathes being photographed, and does not part easily with photos of herself.

One night, as I prepared to drop exhausted into my own bed, I tweeted her, asking how she did it all. "Insomnia" was the answer.

Mariame Kaba moved to Chicago from her beloved native city of New York in 1995. After 21 years, and having become a fixture in the city's social justice and prison abolition movements, Kaba is now moving back to New York, leaving behind large cadres of activists actively mourning her departure. Even casual conversations with her friends and co-organisers indicate a real, palpable sense of loss.

It is easy to lionize Kaba, whose energy and dedication to the cause of prison abolition has mobilized and sustained several organizations like Project NIA, which she founded, and Chicago Freedom School, which she was instrumental in forming. She has also been involved with groups like Young Women's Empowerment Project, and several of the activists in Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project, and Assata's Daughters, all key players in the recent overthrow of Anita Alavarez, originally began working with her when they were teenagers. Her reach and influence is long-standing and extends to many seemingly disparate parts of the city. She has also frequently served as advisor to groups like Gender JUST ( with which I am involved ), helping them to find resources and become and stay sustainable. Her list of accomplishments and awards is long.

But to simply focus on Kaba as an individual is to miss the larger and very queer context in which her work has come about and, in very specific ways, made possible.

When Kaba first came here, the term "prison abolition" was barely heard or even understood as a point of discussion on either the local or the national level. Today, phrases like "prison industrial complex" ( PIC ) and "incarceration" are used by mainstream presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Even Republican candidates have begun to call for reform of the incarceration system.

But reform is not what Kaba or her fellow activists are after. What they want is full-scale abolition, the end of the prison system and the establishment of practices that take community needs into account. In practical terms: Where the conventional system might throw everyone into prison, usually for long periods or even forever, systems like Transformative and Restorative Justice ( TJ and RJ ) call for both perpetrators and victims to receive support as they work towards establishing a different set of priorities to achieve "justice," including forms of personal restitution.

TJ and RJ are only beginning to gain attention and while there is a lot of calling for reform, abolition itself might still be a long way away. But in the years since 1995, Chicago has become the national epicenter of a movement of resistance to the PIC and police brutality.

The Laquan McDonald shooting was only one of many flashpoints in a contentious election between then incumbent cook county state's attorney Anita Alvarez and challenger Kim Foxx. In the month leading up to the election, Alvarez was clearly slated to win. But a coalition of queer and mostly Black activists from groups like Assata's Daughters, Black Youth Project, and Black Lives Matter coordinated a stunning effort across the city. They distributed hundreds of flyers with the hashtag #ByeAnita everywhere, and achieved banner drops to drive home the point. Versions of the banner included one with the words, "Blood on the ballot."

The current push to end the PIC among mostly queer radicals did not come out of the blue.

Speaking with Windy City Times about her activist work, Kaba spoke about her early experiences in the domestic violence sector. In New York, she had been volunteering for rape crisis centers and domestic violence organizations like Sanctuary for Families. Once in Chicago, she looked for similar opportunities, and found work at Friends of Battered Women and Children ( now renamed Between Friends ).

"I initially thought I wanted to end gender-based violence," she said, and continued, "I felt interpersonal violence was what I wanted to work against." But as she continued her work, it dawned on her that the domestic violence sector was "mostly in the business of managing. The point was not to eradicate but manage the problem. There was no cause analysis."

As an example, she pointed to her experience in New York City: "I was the coordinator of an emergency shelters in Brooklyn. Even the rules put in place—about the time they could come in for their curfew, for instance—were all about taking away their ability to be agents of their own lives, even as we were giving people safety for the short term. But we were turning our wheels, we were very individualistic," without looking more closely at systemic problems.

Kaba's increasing discomfort and eventual resistance to such a system meant that she felt more alienated and was, as she put it with a laugh, eventually "exiled out of the traditional domestic violence/sexual assault" field.

The year 2000 saw the founding of INCITE!, an anti-PIC group out of California. INCITE!'s second conference was in Chicago, in 2002, and here Kaba became a key organizer, alongside colleagues and local activists like Kristin Millikan and Prudence Browne. The event included critiques of the PIC and the domestic violence industry.

In Chicago, Kaba continued working on these issues with an expanding group of activists like Shira Hassan, Lewis Wallace, Sabrina Hampton, and Megan Selby. Black and Pink, an abolitionist group which works directly with LGBTQ prisoners, founded a chapter in the city.

Kaba was also constantly organizing teaching collectives, where people would gather to read and understand the history of Black radical organizing, the kind of work done mostly by Black women and which remains relatively unacknowledged ( many of the resources can be found on her blog Prison Culture ). Page May, who would go on to become a leading figure in the #ByeAnita campaign and a co-founder of Assata's Daughters, first met Kaba during one such collective.

Windy City Times asked Kaba what might have attracted so many queer people to her work. She pointed out that such work had already been happening, with groups like Queer to the Left, Women and Girls Collective, and Gender JUST. All these critiqued the expansion of the PIC in different ways, even if not under the rubric of prison abolition. But, she added, "Queerness is also a way in which you are marginalized and have to reshape your identity," and the work around prison abolition calls forth people who understand the damage the PIC does to individuals and groups.

There's also a historical connection, in terms of direct action, something that queers engaged in relentlessly during the height of the AIDS crisis. Kaba pointed out that, "Direct action is more accepted in this generation; blockades and banner drops make sense to them."

Those who have worked with Kaba attest to her ability to not just organize but create extensive and effective networks of support. Hannah Baptiste, a member of Assata's Daughters recalled meeting Kaba four years ago, after moving here from Washingon D.C: "I had the impression that organizing in radical communities was about creating Community with a capital C, that everyone had to be friends with each other to make anything happen. But here in Chicago, with Mariame at the helm, organizing was based in being accountable to each other in terms of the lenses of the issues, rather than friendship. It was important to see a black woman who was undoubtedly leading so much of the organizing force but not through a cult of personality, which often looks like vying for attention."

As for why so many queers were attracted to the work, Baptiste said that "Mariame laid this amazing groundwork that allowed folks to come into their own, with queer or radical politics, in a way that helps other folks deepen and broaden their analysis. Organizing around prison abolition and queer organizing work are rooted in the same creative impetus to radically reimagine a different way of doing things. It's a world with queer radical sensibilities, and Mariame made space for everyone, wherever they're at."

Ann Russo, associate professor in women and gender studies at DePaul concurred on the matter of Kaba's ability to bring a range of people into organizing. The two first met in 2004, in the context of domestic violence and sexual assault organizing, around the time both were becoming disillusioned about the nature of that work.

"Ever since I've known her, Mariame's always been there doing that work with organizations like Broadway Youth Center and Young Women's Action Team, and has always been actively engaged in supporting and collaborating with youth around these issues. So it's not surprising that she has helped create a large cadre of people who are now doing so much radical work: she's deep rooted in their organizations. In terms of queer folks she is always someone who didn't care what people thought, and was always challenging homophobia and transphobia."

Given her key role in Chicago organizing, what happens when Kaba finally moves away in mid-May? Russo says that the work will continue precisely because her model has been to demonstrate how to organize for maximum impact: "She doesn't take over what she asks you to do, she just expects you to do it. She's always challenging the idea that 'no one is doing it.' Instead, she just asks, how do we do this; it's about the creation of resources and a focus on strategies."

Baptiste is similarly optimistic: "I think that the place that Chicago is in right now, is one with very strong robust networks, because Mariame has been in chicago for 20-30 years and she has set those networks in motion. We will be just fine, if a little sadder."


facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email




Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Plaintiff Seeks to Unseal Video of California 'Prop 8' Marriage Equality Trial 2017-04-28 - WASHINGTON — Today, the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer ( LGBTQ ) civil ...


Gay News

Current, former military faculty members alarmed by nominee for Army Secretary 2017-04-28 - In response to President Donald Trump's recent nomination of Tennessee State Senator Mark Green as Secretary of the Army, 21 current and former ...


Gay News

Lawmakers reintroduce Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act 2017-04-28 - WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin ( D-WI ) and Patty Murray ( D-WA ), along with Congressman Mark Pocan ( D-WI ...


Gay News

Board takes away Hastert's pension 2017-04-27 - On April 26, Illinois' General Assembly Retirement System's board of trustees voted to discontinue pension payments to former U.S. House Speaker Hastert. ...


Gay News

Considering Trump's first 100 days 2017-04-26 - The idea of reflecting upon a president's "first 100 days in office" started with President Franklin Roosevelt. According to The Washington Post, Roosevelt ...


Gay News

Undocumented and unafraid: Chicagoan speaks out against ICE raids 2017-04-26 - On April 19, the Chicago City Council overwhelmingly passed a measure that would allow the city's undocumented community the opportunity to obtain municipal ...


Gay News

LGBT religious freedom panel to be held at Notre Dame 2017-04-26 - A LGBT religious freedom panel, "Reconciling Religious Freedom and Civil Rights," will precede a visit by Vice President Mike Pence. WHAT: The Gay ...


Gay News

May 1 Workers' Day actions in Chicago 2017-04-26 - May 1—International Workers' Day—will be a national day of action with large marches expected around the country. In Chicago, a coalition of organizations ...


Gay News

National roundup: Idaho trans suit, skydiver case, Aaron Hernandez 2017-04-25 - Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit challenging Idaho's refusal to allow transgender people to correct the gender on their birth certificates, according to ...


Gay News

World news: Nigerian arrests, lesbians attacked, Chechnya items 2017-04-25 - Nigerian prosecutors have charged 53 men with conspiracy to organize a gay wedding and related crimes punishable by up to 14 years in ...


 



Copyright © 2017 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 


Sponsor

Sponsor

About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.