Who is (not) at the table?
“Both outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have served to obscure our participation.”
The Combahee River Collective made space for black feminists to describe the ways their work in a larger movement was hidden and disrespected. What are some of the things that “obscure” (literally darken) or hide the labor of certain groups within our contemporary movements for social justice and transformation?
Sister Warrior Fabiola Sandoval who works with LA INCITE among other radical collaborations says:
Who is missing from many of the social justice organizing tables in the communities I belong in:
Older monolingual immigrant women, young mothers, young women of color from local high schools, and young children. For the most part it is those of us that are very well versed in social justice circles and predominantly college educated are the actively present attempting to make changes, dialogue, and in community heal when we do gather. Then, those of us that do what we do for the love of change and healing and are privileged to be equipped with the language navigating these communities pretty comfortably are doing so tired from over extending ourselves collaborating in many other projects. And I wonder and ask myself how can we bring light these obscure communities we don’t reach thriving from our own obscure exhaustion?
At the SisterFire L.A. event Amaya and I sat in the crowd observing the artists at Mount St. Mary’s College, my alma mater. A Catholic women’s college that did not allow for queer groups to form and also didn’t dispense birth control information when I was student over five years ago. It was powerful and reaffirming to be among many queer women of color artists gulping the fierceness surrounding our sexuality and autonomy at my traditional alma mater, with Amaya by my side. Filmmakers, poets, spoken word artists, comedians and singers beheld that tiny auditorium.
Around that corner is my day job and many immigrant women that live in the Figueroa Corridor community that could never even make the time to gather around the arts in the way I was. Yet, in my bag were my own writings that are mostly for my own sanity and not to showcase to the world, not the face-to-face world at least. The few writings that have had the privilege to be brought to life in writing. Most words ferment getting stuck in my mind and tongue never making life because of insecurity, day-to-day full-time work, motherhood, and activism.
As I swallowed the energy around me, Amaya decided to take off her overall dress and remain with her undertights and blouse walking around even more confidently. She brought smiles to many faces around us. Her fearlessness juxtaposed by my inhibitions with my own words was humbling. A couple women around me shared their admiration for Amaya’s “outrageous” prancing in undertights. The youngest person in that room did a grandiose thing, that only a couple of us captured. Unintentional inquisitiveness sparked a giggle, a lesson for me, and admiration. In this very safe and healing circle, beauty is embedded in each corner, child, and surrounding communities. We have to look with such keeness to capture these obscurities.
Noemi Martinez founder of Hermana Resist offers the following guidelines for creating inclusive community:
Noemi Martinez is a writer, and organizer and a single mom.
How to Build a Community
that involves single parents, or steps to take so that I won’t be part of your community
first, what is your definition of a community?
- realize that parents are people. Realize that parents are people. Realize that parents are the same people you knew before.
- realize that parents can be activists, but they are also parents. They have different things on their mind. Single parents often have things such as food, rent, money, health on their mind. Unlike the single person, they are usually thinking of their child(ren) when they think about these things. Sometimes a single parent (take me for example) cannot concentrate on the latest protest, though important as it may be, because I may be thinking of what will my next job be, and the addition of subtraction of money in my head.
- to build a community, parents and children should be welcome and not feel they can’t attend a meeting/event because of their baby(ies).
- don’t roll your eyes when someone brings up childcare.
- realize the different situations of a single parent and a family that has 2 parents. If you don’t realize the difference, start asking questions.
- since when does your community involvement only concern the childless, or those that can leave their kids with someone else, the other parent, a spouse/ or friend. Yes, in theory, the children can be left with babysitters. Who need to be paid.
- ever think why parents stop being involved in community events and meetings?
- if single parents don’t feel you or the community cares about what it means to be a parent, a single parent, they won’t seek you out for help. This is not community. This is not a welcomed community.
- parenting and being a role model to kids in your community is important because they will be the activists of tomorrow.
- ask yourself why access to cultural events, planning and meetings for single parents is not important enough for you to have thought of before.
- why is motherhood and heavens forbid, single parenthood a step back in the eyes of activists and feminists? If the choice to terminate a pregnancy is radical, why isn’t the choice in being a mother radical?
- why don’t single parents attend your conferences, trainings, meetings, skill shares? Do you care that single parents don’t attend your events? Are you really thankful that snotty, bratty kids are not around to ruin your Utopian experience?
- don’t you want the next generation to care about the same things you care about? When will this happen?
- radical SINGLE parenting, heck, single parenting is so so fucking DIFFERENT than a family with 2 parents. SO SO DIFFERENT.
- racism almost always comes into play for single mothers of color.
- what new skills and influences will single parents give their children if the community doesn’t think it’s important for them to be involved? Luckily for me, I am awesome in all respects and will/am teaching my kids all about alternative media; non gendered play; violence in cartoons; baking vegan goodies; single mom awesomeness who uses a hammer are always the hero; that we will survive; writing; sewing; crafts… and so forth.
These questions and concerns, I believe, will never be resolved. But these are some of the reasons the single parents in your communities might not be receptive to your call for actions. Retreat, re-access, prioritize is the common measures taken by single parents when they see the resistance to others caring about their concerns.
Stacey Milbern is a poet and a disability rights organizer.
Stacey Milbern responded to this prompt with an open letter:
Thank you for your letter. I am in constant amazement of how every word that drips from your pen is poetically prophetic and so real to your experience… but you already knew I was a fangirl, right? : )
Dancing is a central part of how you see the world and interact with your body. Since I didn’t think I interacted with my body in the way that you do with yours, I was really curious to how movement/dance related to your experience as a disabled queer woman of color, let alone all the other stories, identities, communities that shape you…like how did you take something we are told everyday is ugly and shameful and reclaim it as yours, let alone get in a place where you can be so unabashedly beautiful?
It has been quite an experience to learn to love my body in a way that’s not just political, but on the personal level, too. It’s so hard talking about this because I feel like mainstream media has branded any kind of conversation like this to be about white teenage girls’ self-esteem…it sucks out experiences of colonization and oppression, it turns conversations about community liberation into ones about just liking yourself, and completely ignores their [dominant culture media] role in all this. Talking about bodies also makes me angry, because like you said, there are whole disciplines, campaigns and movements that are supposed to be about us but then completely miss how our bodies are central to our experiences. If they only knew how much my body plays a role in the way I navigate the world, in my activism, in my love…but maybe they never can? The fact that they can even overlook or completely miss something so powerful as the body is evidence of how our movements and our studies mirror mainstream society and not the experiences of people living on/at the intersections of complex identities and experiences with various overlapping, intersecting –isms?
Part of me is glad though. Maybe this is meant for only us to know. Maybe this is too powerful for them. Maybe it would lose its value if everyone knew it, if dominant culture or assimilationist social movements had the opportunity to co-opt and appropriate it. Right now the way we interact with our bodies is a secret to be shared in letters, between the flexes of arms, legs, and spins in your dances, and in deep connection to the foremothers. What do you think?
Anyways. I love you so much. So thankful to be connected to you.
With you always.
So how do we make sure our events, meetings, gatherings are accessible to everyone we are accountable to? Click here to see an ongoing list of strategies for accessibility.
What about you? Who is missing from the table you are dismantling?
What are some of the forces within and outside of our movements that make this happen?