Pittsburgh Rising to the Challenge!
Andrea Smith, thank you. We are taking you seriously, and we have been for so long. You have so clearly outlined another living document for social change.
We write you this letter with love and care and beauty in our hearts and accountability on our minds.
We are a multi-racial and multi-ethnic group of survivors, Reproductive Justice activists, prison abolitionists, anti-war advocates, immigrants, queer people, mothers, elders, young people and a wide array of community members in Pittsburgh who have been organizing locally in conjunction with One Billion Rising.
We all have different levels of experience organizing for a more just and peaceful world. Some of our elders are in their 70s and have committed their lives to this cause. For others OBR was their first grassroots organizing experience with young women of color leading at the forefront.
OBR Pgh 2013 sparked new organizing, awareness and resistance to gender-based violence and centralized the value of the lives and endless contributions of people of color. One Billion Rising inspired us to focus more on gender based violence and allowed us to connect and extend the work of New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice. The exciting new campaign, Let’s Get Free – The Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, coalesced through this event which profoundly moved and rejuvenated so many of us here in Pittsburgh.
We want to continue to move in that step and walk with integrity. We do not want to end our work; we want to shift the paradigm through which we do our work. This year we organize One Billion Been Rising for Justice Pittsburgh recognizing the long herstory of indigenous and women of color resisting gender based violence and modeling the transformative leadership and vision of young women of color.
As we organize for OBBR 2014 we know that it is critical for us to understand why we would or would not continue to participate in this day of action. Members of our organizing group expressed deep conflict with moving forward and whether or not our participation meant that we were not being in solidarity with our sisters like Lauren Chief Elk, and the many folks who have written open critiques of Eve Ensler.
We continue to consider your critiques. As we organize against gender based violence, we believe that in order for the goals of the movement to be realized a change in leadership is needed. We want to publicly state that Eve Ensler is not our leader and we do not identify with neo-colonial white feminism. We deplore the objectification of the bodies of Black and Brown women, the appropriation and instrumentalization of Black suffering, and the ultimate expression of the white savior complex that her article Congo Stigmata represents. We do stand in solidarity with the indigenous and women of color who have courageously come forward to share how white colonial feminism as practiced by Eve Ensler and manifested in OBR has harmed and continues to harm them.
As we reflect on this we ask the question- What does solidarity look like?
We are changing the name of our action to “One Billion Been Rising” to recognize whose shoulders we stand upon; our ancestors and the many people who have been, working in a multitude of ways to end gender based violence, (as in before Eve and White Feminism). We see the visibility and international recognition of the OBR movement as an extension of the privilege Eve Ensler holds as the face of the V-Day campaign. We carry the legacy of the many voices heard/unheard, dismissed and omitted that have served to articulate the experiences of violence that trans/women of color face in this world.
We are choosing to use the tools that we gained while organizing OBR 2013 as a means to use the elevated platform to create a wider visibility of the ideas, issues and strategies that so many feminists of color have been cultivating over the years. It is our work that is the fuel for OBR. It is our stories, resilience, tenacity and innovation that inspire the shift from a culture of violence to one of peace, equity, and freedom. We would do ourselves a disservice by refusing to acknowledge that it is through the grace of the many women whose stories, including our own, that Eve Ensler has used as currency in this work, that we know the power of possibility in the face of great despair. We act as self-determined people and take our right to define ourselves, for ourselves into our own hands.
We will continue to examine the intersections of gender-based violence with other forms of violence: Poverty, Displacement, Prisons, Anti-Black Racism, White Supremacy, Ableism, Heterosexism, Settler Colonialism, Trans-phobia, State Violence, etc. as a commitment to challenging the hegemonic and problematic representations offered by the OBR movement.
In addition to our own images, propaganda and literature for our action, we are designing a series of posters based on Andrea Smith’s platform. We have taught many new people how to screen print through The Neighborhood Print Shop at the Braddock Carnegie Library. A skill that is valuable in spreading information/ideas independently of media outlets that remain largely inaccessible. We also have created our own media, conducted our own documentation and continue to work collaboratively to create visibility of our work and of the critiques raised around OBR in a transparent manner.
The Abolitionist movement has taught us that no one is disposable. Not even the most appropriating, self-righteous white feminist who should have known better. We will aid in efforts to hold this conversation in our community by participating in the web discussion No One is Disposable: Everyday Practices of Prison Abolition hosted by Reina Gossett and Dean Spade. We will also continue to think deeply about how we respond to the complicated nature of working for justice while healing from hundreds of years of being traumatized by white supremacy and Western Imperialism. We will work towards not relying upon institutions of the State- like the prison industrial complex that perpetuate violence in our communities as a means for us to achieve justice or non-violent legal recourse for offenses. Rather we will envision what our alternatives have been and can be and work within our communities to create viable solutions.
“Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable. “
—Aurora Levins Morales, Medicine Stories: History, Culture and the Politics of Integrity
We are inspired by the brilliance of Aurora Levins Morales. And we know we can easily become pitted against each other, it takes more transformative love and energy to change and grow together.
Solidarity is vulnerable.
Solidarity is a work in progress.
Solidarity is coming from the inside of our chests so deep that we know our survival depends on the liberation of all us.
We are inspired by people across the globe committed to ending gender-based violence. And who do so every day by leading programs, projects and campaigns that educate, support and provide essential services to women and girls. We are inspired by the relationships being built in our own community as well. If all the women across the world were to have conversations about their responsibility to one another what would happen? How do we learn from our elder movements who have tried this and try again? What new ideas are springing forth from the young people in our communities?
We ask you to share your vision with us as we work towards this reality.
We are committed.
Pittsburgh is rising to the challenge.
With collective liberation, gratitude and respect in our hearts,
One Billion Been Rising for Justice – Pittsburgh