Lifting Our Voices: On Militancy and Cultural, Political and Personal Self Defense

brown girls
Five founding members of Lifted Voices: Tasha Viets-VanLear, Delia Galindo, Camille Crawford, Kelly Hayes and Crystal Vance Guerra.

As women and non binary people of color, we live each day of our lives in resistance. We are shuffled through varied humiliations and threats to our well being, and crowded by the noise of politics that rarely take our own social condition or safety into account. A group of us, in the city of Chicago, have chosen to assert ourselves defensively in this environment, in order to lay claim to the dignity, safety and liberation that we have been denied within the context of this society. We do this today by announcing the existence of a new community.

Lifted Voices is a militant direct action and community building organization aimed at the personal, political and cultural self defense of women and non binary people of color.

As women and non binary people of color who have adopted a position of action and defense, without concern for respectability, we realize that some will find our posture of militancy unpalatable. We are not concerned with our popularity amongst those who believe in other methods. Those methods are theirs to pursue and we wish them well in their efforts to secure their own safety and freedom, so long as they are not further perpetuating the devastation of the carceral system. Our praxis is not one that we have developed without thorough consideration of our social and historical position.

It is not merely the inordinate rate of violence that we face that demands a disciplined and unapologetic posture, but the normativity of that violence. We live in a society that finds constant excuses for rape, particularly when it impacts marginalized and criminalized communities.

When men commit acts of misogynistic violence that are widely recognized as depraved or barbaric, we are routinely subjected to endless editorializing about how mental illness is the real issue. It is less psychologically trying for people to reconcile anomalies, and stigmatize mental illness, than it is to admit that some terrible acts are merely louder expressions of our cultural values. Just as the drug trade is treated as evil, rather than the profound manifestation of capitalism that it is, horrific acts of racist and gender based violence are labelled as personal illnesses rather than cultural and societal illnesses.

These efforts at compartmentalization are attempts at societal absolution. The pathologizing of individual acts of violence is grounded in the pursuit of social innocence. But as James Baldwin once wrote, it is at times the “innocence” of a people that constitute the crime.

Racism has led entire communities to participate in mass lynchings during the course of this country’s history, sometimes with their children in tow. The illnesses that perpetuate the kind of gendered barbarism that women and non binary people of color have historically faced have always been a larger social phenomenon, wholly un-unique to our individual circumstances. It is crucial that we remember that murders such as that of Mary Turner were community efforts. The cutting of Turner’s child from her womb as her burned and battered body hanged, and the subsequent stomping death of her infant child by white men was not the act of an individually sick mind, and neither is the commonplace occurrence of rape, intimate partner violence and state violence against women – which includes the incarceration of women like Cierra Finkley and Marissa Alexander, who have taken justifiable violent action in defense of their own lives. This violence stems from cultural ills that are internalized to varying degrees by those who participate in our culture.

In our times, the cultural phenomenon of mass lynchings has been reshaped, but the legacy of collective perpetration remains, and the erasure of sexual violence and our subjugation as women and non binary people of color continues.

In truth, we live in a culture of rape. The reality of that social condition makes many deeply uncomfortable and is therefore minimized. Accountability is unattractive to those who need to interrogate their own misogyny, inaction or complicity. Thus, many frequently either downplay the situation or identify themselves as being part of the solution, without actually supporting our own efforts to create safety.

We believe that militancy is the only posture left to those of us who realize we cannot depend on any of society’s structures, values or priorities to protect us. Those of us who do not wish to compound the tragedies of the prison industrial complex seek to build constructive solutions to issues of violence that impact our communities, but in a society that was built in opposition to our safety and potential for self actualization, where norms that feed our oppression are ubiquitous, we must be realistic about where we stand.

We must confront a truth that forward thinking people often avoid all discussion of: that transformation is not a universally nonviolent process. At times, the reclamation of our safety and dignity – which is a revolutionary act – requires an escalation in our responses to violence. Regardless of our hopes and intentions as builders of community, we have the absolute right to repel harm to our bodies.

Resisting structures that reinforce these harms is likewise a natural right and indeed an imperative for those who wish to experience true freedom and social equity.

We have a natural right to preserve our own safety and well being. Respectability or the perception thereof is irrelevant to this pursuit. As people of color, this society has continually reinforced to us that the only acceptable means of pursuing greater safety is to sit politely in the streets, dressed for prayer, and await our state sanctioned beatings, just as many heroes of the Civil Rights Movement did in order to shock the conscience of white society.

In an era of YouTube snuff videos, the United States is all but unshockable.

We will not pursue safety by laying down and inviting more violence. While we respect the gains made by those who did so, we also respect the personal, political and personal defense posture that was adopted by a number of radical groups. We believe this is the position that our times and our social condition demand.

Oppressors and those who are actively complicit in oppression are not owed any amount of patience.

We believe that any men or white women who consider themselves allies should understand and support our efforts to defend our own lives. White women should be able to appreciate the consequences of living in a culture of rape, and recognize the enhanced dangers that women and non binary people of color face. Men who wish to see us live free of fear and the constant threat of violence should likewise appreciate that this society has consistently failed us, and that we should not have to rely on patriarchal structures to protect us. These structures frequently perpetuate the very violence that threatens us, and we must build beyond them from a position of strength.

The road that lies ahead of us demands an unequivocal and unapologetic resistance to the violence we have and continue to experience. We will challenge any attack on our bodies and liberty as forcefully as possible, and by any means necessary.

We will oppose structural violence by building culture and community and by participating in direct action. We will reject interpersonal violence by force. We will train, we will teach and we will care for one another and for our communities to the best of our ability. We will do all of this in a thoughtful and well organized manner, because we live in times that demand both transformative vision and revolutionary discipline.

We will boldly build forward, with all the fierceness we can collectively draw upon, because it is time to lift our voices, and if necessary, raise our hands in our own defense. Our liberation must be defined and won by us, the affected, and we will stand with those who respect our right to undertake that pursuit.

– Kelly Hayes

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