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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Abortion Rights National Protests/Speak-Outs & Webcasts: L.A., SF, NYC

April 11 & 12th: Abortion on Demand & Without Apology

From Stop Patriarchy: Abortion rights are in a state of emergency, and headed for disaster. Already, women in this country who cannot access safe abortions are attempting to self-abort by inserting sharp objects in their vaginas, taking pills, asking their boyfriends to beat them up, and more. Others are being forced to bear children they do not want. This is the future for women everywhere if this war on women is not massively resisted and defeated.

Forcing women to have children against their will is a form of enslavement.

Join Sikivu Hutchinson, Carol Downer and others at the emergency speak-out in Los Angeles on Friday, April 11:

7pm at United University Church
USC Campus, 817 W. 34th St., Los Angeles

AROUND THE COUNTRY, tune into the LIVE national WEBCAST:

Friday April 11, 7-9:30pm EDT
Abortion Rights Emergency WEBCAST
Host a viewing party and tune in wherever you are at

In New York City: Advent Lutheran Church, 93rd & Broadway, 7-9:30 pm

Speakers include:
Dr. Willie Parker, award-winning doctor at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi
Sunsara Taylor, writer for newspaper, leader of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, and initiator of
Merle Hoffman, CEO of Choices Women's Medical Center, which has provided abortions and other health services to women since 1971
Donna Schaper, Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church, on her own abortion and why we must defend this right
Marge Piercy, poet, novelist, memoirist, via video message: "It was a time when falling in love could get you killed."
Louise Bernikow, author, historian, long time activist
Bill Baird, reproductive rights pioneer who was jailed eight times in five states in the 1960s for lecturing on abortion and birth control
David Gunn, Jr., son of first abortion doctor to be assassinated, via video message

Testimony from:
Susan Cahill, owner of the Montana abortion clinic that was destroyed and closed on March 3, 2013 about how this is an attack on all women
Dr. Susan Robinson, one of only four doctors in the U.S. who openly provide late-term abortions; featured in the acclaimed documentary After Tiller
True stories of illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade
More to be announced.

Saturday, April 12th: PROTEST!

2pm: Gather at NW corner of 49th St. & Fifth Avenue
3:00 pm: Procession to St. Patrick's Cathedral and silent protest

In Los Angeles:
1pm: Santa Monica Pier & Ocean Ave.
2:15pm - March through 3rd Street Promenade

Check for protests in other cities or to plan your own.

Silent protests at institutions behind the war on women that raise bloody coat-hangers (representing the fate of women when abortion is illegal) and shackles (representing female enslavement). After an hour, break the shackles and pledge to resist until we defeat and reverse these attacks and win the full liberation of women.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thank God for Abortion: What's At Stake For Black Women

(Artwork by Favianna Rodriguez)

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Thank “God” for abortion. More specifically, thank the Christian god, the vengeful omniscient one that white anti-abortion terrorists ritually invoke to justify the murder, mayhem and fear they inflict on thousands of American women in the name of Jesus.

At each of the two clinics where I gratefully got abortions in the 1990's lone white men were stationed outside with bloody signs of fetal apocalypse. As white men protesting in predominantly black and brown communities their presence was unchallenged, their bodies unhindered by the policing and criminal surveillance that all people of color in the public sphere face. This was the high water mark of Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group which laid the groundwork for the current wave of anti-abortion militancy. Then, as now, mainstream pro-choice activists ceded the moral high ground to the anti-abortion regime, wavering between whether to frame abortion as a matter of personal choice or as an inalienable right. It’s a legacy that has had grave consequences for intersectionality as the “post-feminist” trope of sluttish immoral women recklessly using birth control and abortion has become legion in American political discourse.

As a black atheist already damned to a smokin’ Christian hell it’s gratifying to know that the Christian god has failed to completely prevent women from exercising their basic right to self-determination. But the Christian soldiers, fascists and terrorists of the American right have doubled down with hundreds of new restrictions on birth control, abortion and clinic access which have the most insidious implications for poor and working class women of color. In Texas, Mississippi and Montana, clinic closures, vandalized clinics, restrictions on abortion physicians and providers and the GOP’s refusal to expand Medicaid further jeopardize the socioeconomic sustainability of communities of color. These attacks, concomitant with the Supreme Court’s pending decision on right wing retailer Hobby Lobby’s “religious freedom” challenge to the Affordable Care Act, could gut the rights American women have taken for granted for decades.

Pro-death, anti-abortion public policy and protest are a form of race, class and gender warfare disguised as religious morality crusades to “protect” innocent “babies”. Challenging the abortion as “black genocide” billboard campaign mounted by right wing foundations a few years ago, reproductive justice activist Loretta Ross said, “We decided to have abortions. We invited Margaret Sanger to place clinics in black neighborhoods. We are part of the civil and human rights movement. We protected the future of black children, not our opponents.” Despite their high levels of religiosity, a solid majority of African Americans support safe and legal access to abortion. And African American women have the highest rate of abortion amongst all groups of American women. The reasons are not mysterious—black women are disproportionately poor, under-employed, single and living in highly segregated communities with limited health care access which have borne the brunt of the economic depression. Due to slavery and the violent legacy of Jim Crow, black women have a history of coercive control over their reproduction. Thus abortion is an essential right in a white supremacist capitalist economy that neither supports nor values women of color and their children.

For black women, the radical push for abortion on demand is not an abstract concept. Abortion on demand cannot be separated from the conditions of racial apartheid that black women find themselves in, especially vis-à-vis the wealth gap and the criminal justice system. Nationwide, unemployment rates amongst African American women have skyrocketed, as have sentencing rates for non-violent offenses committed by African American women. Unlike white women, there is never a presumption of innocence or extension of “feminine” protection for black women who defend themselves against abusive partners (as the egregious sentencing and imprisonment of Marissa Alexander demonstrates), engage in sex work or consume/sell illegal drugs. Unlike white women, black women who do so are rarely deemed misguided, victimized or troubled but simply criminal; bad mothers, bad bitches, bad “hos” and everything in between. The intersectional work of the National Association for Pregnant Women has been critical to challenging the disproportionate criminalization of women of color for drug-related fetal homicide and fetal endangerment offenses.

Given the dire nature of these public, highly politicized assaults, there has been a shift in the tenor of discussions on abortion in my high school classes. Several years ago, religious-based anti-abortion pushback dominated. Male and female students routinely condemned abortion as a sin. Many trotted out the refrain that a “baby” shouldn’t be made to suffer or pay for a woman’s “mistakes.” Now there is more vocal support for abortion as a necessary life choice. Some girls of color express their desire to remain childless, pointing to the burdens child care and caregiving have placed on the lives and ambitions of their female relatives and friends.

But most of my students would be hard-pressed to attend a pro-choice rally or protest precisely because abortion is still identified in the mainstream as a single issue “white woman’s” cause, divorced from a more overarching reproductive and economic justice context. At the same time, pro-choice sanitization of abortion discourse, promoted by liberal politicians and religious progressives, continues to obscure the mortal danger posed by a teetering Supreme Court and near daily attacks on reproductive health care. As the organization Stop Patriarchy notes, “For far too long, pro-choice people have hoped that the Democrats or the courts would somehow stop this fascist assault on women. Too many people have remained passive, or funneled all their energies into supporting politicians who have openly promised to seek ‘common ground’ with forces who are fighting for female enslavement. Seeking ‘common ground’ has really meant ceding ground to this whole onslaught. There can be no common ground with those who are fighting for female enslavement. The fight over abortion has never been about babies it has been about control over women.” A crucial part of the fight is framing abortion for Millennials who believe same sex marriage and sex education are “morally acceptable” but view abortion as morally questionable. Despite their increased secularity, Millennials are still just as conflicted about abortion as older generations. Many believe that abortion is simply a matter of personal “choice”, rather than a moral right. This disconnect has not only been fostered by decades of high profile Religious Right campaigns against abortion but by “left wing” appeasement/equivocation—both sides clamoring to be on the right side of an imaginary God.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Women's History Month Events: WLP & Aishah S. Simmons

From The Feminist Wire

On Friday, March 7, 2014, TFW Associate Editor Aishah Shahidah Simmons gave a presentation on the importance of naming and ending sexual violence with approximately 50 African-American and Latino students from Washington Prep High School and Duke Ellington Continuation School’s Women of Color in the U.S. class in South Los Angeles. This International Women’s Day (IWD) presentation was conceived and organized by TFW’s Contributing Editor Sikivu Hutchinson who is an award-winning author, senior intergroup specialist for the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, and founder of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP), a high school feminist mentoring program. While WLP’s focus is on girls, this IWD presentation was mixed gender because sexual violence impacts everyone directly and/or

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Brother’s Keepers & #WhiteMenMarching

By Sikivu Hutchinson

According to GOP Congressman Paul Ryan, an insidious “inner city culture” has prevented “generations” of “inner city” men from seeking jobs. Evoking the ghost of the GOP past, present and future, shiftless lazy black men with no work ethic are to blame for the high rates of unemployment in the U.S.’ "ghettoes". Ryan’s comments were no doubt a desperate attempt to stay relevant and on message after not receiving an invitation to be grand dragon (marshal) of the “nationwide” White Man March.

A few weeks before Ryan trotted out his Black Pathology 101 thesis, President Obama announced that the administration would spearhead a “Brother’s Keeper” initiative to address the dire socioeconomic conditions confronting young men of color. A central focus of the initiative is improving college-going rates for African American and Latino young men, who lag behind women of color in college admissions. Another is reducing black and Latino mass incarceration. In launching a White House initiative, some liberal-progressive pundits were ecstatic that Obama deigned to depart from his usual bootstraps script on sagging pants and black personal responsibility. Nonetheless, his meager prescriptions rely heavily on privatization and the philanthropy of a few high profile corporations and nonprofit foundations. This thin gruel dovetails with the neoliberal trend of public education, symbolized by the administration’s emphasis on charters and granting teachers merit pay for high test scores.

Obama’s eleventh hour revelation about the ills of prison pipelining versus college pipelining also coincides with shrill national rhetoric about the declining value of a college degree. Naysayers pontificate about the astronomical costs of college tuition versus the shrinking job market and the glut of over-educated, debt-ridden Millennials with “worthless” liberal arts degrees. The problem with these critiques is that most of them come from conservative white pundits who believe universities have devolved into cesspits of liberal “fascism”. These privileged elites care nothing about the challenges faced by college-educated youth of color in a world where white men with criminal records often have a greater shot at a job than black men without them.

During a recent Men of Color College forum at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles, speakers from diverse walks of life spoke about the critical role college played in their personal growth, educational development, and marketability. The forum was part of a Young Male Scholars pilot (sponsored by the L.A. County Human Relations Commission) whose first phase targets African American male 9th and 10th graders for college preparation. At this particular campus, black students, despite being 23% of the school’s overall population, are only 4% of those enrolled in Advanced Placement classes. Black males have the lowest four year college-going rates at the school yet pack its probation population. Most of these youth will be first generation college students. While the forum panelists acknowledged that college was no magic bullet for getting a job, all stressed that it provided a valuable foundation for habits of mind, study skills, and networking. They also emphasized that mentors were crucial to their success. USC graduate, community organizer and senior human relations consultant Fidel Rodriguez discussed his journey from incarceration to activism, identifying the Autobiography of Malcolm X as pivotal to shaping his political consciousness. Verdel, a Crenshaw High graduate who was offered a football scholarship to USC in his senior year, expressed regret about squandering the opportunity due to of his gangbanging. He advised the youth in the audience not to be deterred by low expectations. Morehouse College graduate Corey Nash, a former foster care youth, credited the encouragement he received at King-Drew Medical Magnet to pursue prestigious scholarships and opportunities that he otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. The nurturing care and culturally responsive reinforcement provided by the staff and faculty of the predominantly African American King-Drew has made it a model for achievement. Activist and microbiology researcher Brandon Bell talked about his mother’s guidance and being pushed to apply to Princeton by persistent mentors at King-Drew. Bell and panelist Theo Rogers do coordinated outreach for young parents in the Crenshaw District of South L.A. through Bell's organization Wisdom From the Field.

The forum comes on the heels of stringent new Los Angeles Unified School District graduation requirements that take effect with the class of 2017. In order to graduate, the current ninth grade class will have to take A-G (i.e., college prep) classes and earn a C or better. However, African American and Latino students have traditionally had less access to A-G courses as well as the highly qualified teachers capable of providing students with rigorous culturally responsive instruction. Without sweeping changes within the District, many students of color will struggle to meet these new requirements and wind up being pushed out. According to UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, only 14% of Latino students and 17% of African American students completed the A-G course sequence in 2011. A-G completion rates for English Language Learners were also abysmally low at 7%. Unless the District makes a concerted effort to train and staff highly qualified teachers at high-need schools, implement K-8 interventions, confront racist adult perceptions about the potential of black students, and promote a culture of high expectations for African American and Latino students the roll-out will only deepen the race/class disparities in Los Angeles. And in a climate where the rhetoric of the GOP and corporate Democrats echo each other no amount of “brother’s keeping” will redress that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Aishah Shahidah Simmons Speaks on Sexual Violence in South L.A.

From The Feminist Wire

On Friday, March 7, 2014, TFW Associate Editor Aishah Shahidah Simmons gave a presentation on the importance of naming and ending sexual violence with approximately 50 African-American and Latino students from Washington Prep High School and Duke Ellington Continuation School’s Women of Color in the U.S. class in South Los Angeles. This International Women’s Day (IWD) presentation was conceived and organized by TFW’s Contributing Editor Sikivu Hutchinson who is an award-winning author, senior intergroup specialist for the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, and founder of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP), a high school feminist mentoring program. While WLP’s focus is on girls, this IWD presentation was mixed gender because sexual violence impacts everyone directly and/or indirectly.

During her presentation, Simmons screened an excerpt of her internationally acclaimed, award-winning film NO! The RapeDocumentary, shared parts of her own incest and rape survivor herstory, and talked about some of the issues covered in the film. They included: rape as a community issue that reinforces interlocking systems of oppression; the role of religion in violence against women; media stereotypes about Black women; and Black men as pro-feminist allies in the anti-sexual violence movement...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Praise of Black Women Teachers

A Photo-documentary project

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The savior teacher from central casting—bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, eternally resourceful, bane of all the gossips, slackers and just-collecting-a-paycheck curmudgeons that dam up in the mythic faculty lunch rooms of teacher films—is always blindingly white, a thorn in the side of school administration, an unrepentant rebel who the surly
ghetto denizens he/she teaches wind up loving unconditionally. At the predominantly black schools I attended up until high school we could always sniff those teachers out a mile away, contemptuous of their missionary stagecraft. The majority of the teachers who motivated us, who challenged us to think deeply and critically, inspiring us to push past the racist, sexist expectations of the dominant culture, were black teachers. I grew up around a community of teachers—primarily my mother’s friends and colleagues—who were nothing like the earnest white tourists depicted in films like Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, Fame and countless other paeans to the redemptive power of maverick white teacher geniuses. As a junior high school student in Watts in the 1950s my mother, Yvonne Divans Hutchinson, pledged to become a teacher in her community after a white male substitute imperially told her class that they were lucky he’d deigned to come down to the “ghetto”. She stayed in South Central Los Angeles and went on to be a nationally acclaimed teacher-leader whose pedagogy has been widely documented and emulated. But exemplary black teachers’ day-to-day dedication to community, critical rigor, and nurturing the intellectual curiosity of black children is rarely highlighted in mainstream representations of teaching practice.

My early classroom experiences were shaped by African American instructors like my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Haley and my eleventh grade English teacher Ms. Brown. Haley electrified her students’ imaginations, employing playfully inventive strategies to connect literature, science and history to real life. Brown, a Chaucer devotee, buttonholed me when I was slacking off in her world literature class and told me there was no way she would let me fail. Growing up, the most commanding film portrayal of a black woman in the classroom that I can recall was the 1980s TV movie on Chicago teaching legend Marva Collins. Even now the Collins’ film is one of the few that spotlights a black woman protagonist without a “sympathetic” white filter. Analyzing nearly sixty years of teacher portrayals in American film, SUNY professor Barbara Breyerbach only identifies six African American teachers who appear as lead characters. Indeed, most national news stories on the “art” of teaching and educational redemption revolve around white missionaries and their studied heroism. According to these narratives the most prized, innovative teachers are those that come from the temporary inner city workforce generated by Teach for America and hot credentialing programs at elite universities. Whenever black women appear in these narratives they are bit players, world weary administrators or burnt out scolds hewing to an “antiquated” pre-information technology vision of the classroom. On the other hand, black women teachers are supposedly “blessed” with the natural ability to exude strength and compassion with children of color because of their caregiving skills. Their teaching is not perceived as an intellectual, scholarly craft demanding rigor and discipline but as an occupation, an extension of their "maternal instincts". As bell hooks writes in Teaching to Transgress:

It was always assumed by everyone else that I would be a teacher. In the apartheid South black girls from working class backgrounds had three career choices. We could marry. We could work as maids. We could become school teachers. And since, according to the sexist thinking of the time, men did not really desire ‘smart’ women, it was assumed that signs of intelligence sealed one’s fate. From grade school on, I was destined to become a teacher.

According to acclaimed educator Michele Foster, “During the three decades following emancipation and the first six decades of the twentieth century, teaching, along with the ministry, was one of the few occupations open to college-educated blacks. ‘The only thing a Negro can do is teach or preach,’ people would say.” (xvii). As a student in segregated Montgomery Alabama in the 1950s, civil rights activist Claudette Colvin recalled the impact of her black female English teacher, “We were supposed to be an English literature class but Miss Nesbitt used literature to teach life. She said she didn’t have time to teach us like a regular English teacher…Instead she taught us the world through literature…(she) made us see that we had a history too—that our story didn’t begin by being captured and chained and thrown onto a boat. She would say, ‘why do we still celebrate Independence Day when we are still in slavery?” Black students are politicized in the classrooms of the best black teachers. They are critically and actively taught self-love and cultural identity in a toxic environment.

Currently, African Americans are only 8% of the teacher workforce, while black students represent 16% of the school population. In an educational climate that has become more racially polarized and segregated white women now comprise 63% of the teacher workforce. Discrimination, high stakes tests, poor working conditions, rampant charterization and a lack of institutional and cultural support all contribute to high turnover for K-12 teachers of color. The overall decline of unionization (many charter schools are non-union), coupled with strategic attacks on teachers’ unions, have also fueled turnover and undermined job security. Nonetheless, in a culture in which black youth are routinely criminalized, becoming an activist black teacher is a political act. The national assault on black youth signified by mass incarceration, racist discipline policies, Eurocentric curricula and diminishing college preparation makes the craft of culturally responsive pedagogy all the more urgent. As my mother argues in Desiree Pointer Mason’s book Teacher Practice: Sharing Wisdom, Opening Doors:

Being part of traditionally oppressed groups I think it is incumbent upon me as a teacher to give kids a sense of themselves, not only as people but as a part of this society…especially our children being Black and Brown, being involved in situations where their dignity or intelligence is called into question. To understand those things that militate against them as well as those they can take advantage of…they have to take those little black and white marks (on the page) into themselves, internalize them and add them to their own development as human beings…We always have as part of our reading or contemplation of any material…the whole idea of taking it beyond just what it says on the page into ‘what does it mean?’ Why does it matter and what can I take away from this that can contribute to my growth?

So "In Praise of Black Women Teachers" is a pushback to this narrative of the black “school marm” as Aunt Jemima. Decades after my mother encountered the missionary teacher’s amazement “that (you), though black, can read and write and think” this mentality still informs many teachers’ views of black students. If you have an inspirational African American female teacher that you’d like to recommend for this project please contact

Sikivu Hutchinson is founder of the Women’s Leadership Project and author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.