Black Lives Matter on International Women’s Day
We must bring the movement to those who are most marginalized, says Black Lives Matter – Canada co-founder janaya khan
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
International Women’s Day and the Day Without A Woman are happening in cities around the world on Wednesday, March the 8th. If possible, women are being asked by organizers to avoid working, shopping, and all women are being encouraged to wear red. But the challenges facing women worldwide are the same and yet, oh, so different. That’s where intersectionality comes in. The idea of the overlap of various social identities, and how it contributes to the systemic oppression, and discrimination experienced by that individual.
To discuss this further, plus, the Day Without A Woman, we’re joined today by Janaya Khan, who is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Toronto. She’s known as the future within the Black Lives Matter movement. She is a black, queer, gendered non-conforming activist, and she’s also a social justice educator coming to us today from Los Angeles.
Janaya, thank you so much for joining us, here on The Real News.
JANAYA KHAN: Cool. Thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: Janaya, we spoke with Margaret Prescott earlier, who is one of the coordinators of the rally protests happening in Los Angeles on March the 8th for International Women’s Day. And she was explaining to us how International Women’s Day and the Day Without A Woman came together. Not necessarily spontaneously but they were sort of separate entities, and then found each other for this shared date of resistance for women. Can you elaborate on that for us for a bit?
JANAYA KHAN: Yeah. I think the premise for organizing on the left right now is ‘now is the time.’ And the Women’s March had millions of people participate in it worldwide and it really was around an act of resistance against the current administration. Sexism in general, but certainly having an open misogyny in the White House.
And when you have millions of people coming together and hundreds of thousands and thousands in every city, in every major city, in America, I think you need to do something with that momentum. And it makes sense strategically to plug into things that have already been happening, that are already in existence. So, I think that plays a huge role. And then also if you’re considering that there’s been an active attack on immigrants in this country, and way back in 2006, when the Bush administration was suggesting some really cruel measures on immigrants in America a lot of people resisted, and part of that action looked like A Day Without Immigrants.
And so, we’re seeing the culmination of these two movements, and it has everything to do with this moment that we’re in right now and resistance against the Trump administration.
KIM BROWN: Talk to us about Black Lives Matter, because you are the co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Toronto, and where your movement’s position is on this broader women’s platform.
JANAYA KHAN: Well, I mean, here’s the thing. We’ve been organizing collectively for three years, and many of us were organizers even before Black Lives Matter came to be, and I think at this stage where we’re looking at coalition-building and we’re looking at how to plug in in ways that are responsible -– we did that with No DAPL, you know, with the action against the Dakota Access Pipeline – and we’re trying to get into different types of environmental justice work.
While that’s happening, it’s important to note that black women make up the vast majority of membership in Black Lives Matter, so any type of issue that has been a feminist issue has been one that has deep roots in our movement. And so, when we saw the Women’s March happening, there was certainly a lot of questions. There was some pushback from the other side in terms of, well, is racial justice a women’s issue? And we believe feminism absolutely looks at racial justice, and I think that that wasn’t a consolidated thing in the beginning of, and in the conceptualizing of, the Women’s March.
Now, we gradually saw that change, and as we saw that change, there was more buy-in from Black Lives Matter, more support. We provided a lot of infrastructural support on what their message box should be, and there was a lot of local buy-in, as well, in different cities that were happening across the nation.
And so now when you’re looking at something like an International Women’s Strike and A Day Without A Woman, I think there’s going to be active participation from Black Lives Matter members across the nation in supporting this endeavor. And I think there’s also going to be a lot of critical think pieces that are coming out as these cultural shifts happen around how to constantly be more inclusive.
KIM BROWN: I want you to expand on that also, Janaya, because the idea of the Women’s March, part of the criticisms that it received, as you very well pointed out, was that it was attended overwhelmingly by white women. And there were black women and women of color who contributed to help organize it, but the issues of women of color were certainly not center. They were sort of umbrella’d under this issue of women’s issues.
But when we talk about intersectionality, the issues of a queer woman, or a black woman, or a Muslim woman, or a trans woman, these issues become very individualized. And they become something that has to be taken in addition to the overarching issues and challenges that face women because women, in those categories, have even more challenges than just a woman, so to speak.
So, talk to us about that, and why it is important to center the issues of beyond “just woman”.
JANAYA KHAN: Mm-hmm. Well, I think while things are called A Day Without A Woman, and the International Women’s Strike, and a myriad of other things, the practice behind it is feminism. And feminism must be defined by its actions, first and foremost. And so, part of feminism is looking at who are the most marginalized, and how do we capacity-build in order to get them into positions of leadership?
And I think it’s been a really revelatory time actually around movements, because the objectives shouldn’t be to recruit people into the movement, necessarily, and I think that’s been the question that we’ve been asking as organizers. We’ve been saying, “how do we get these people into the movement, instead of bringing the movement to them?” and I think that’s what needs to shift and change when we’re talking about who are the most marginalized.
Inclusivity and intersectionality are essential for success. They’re essential when you’re considering decolonization. But what’s clear is this: if we’re talking about equal pay, for example, and that is the objective in feminism, or in the Women’s March, or in the International Women’s Strike, and there’s not consideration for the fact that black women get paid less than Latina women, and also white women, then we’re not actually talking about feminism.
There needs to be the consideration for these intersecting identities. Is a black woman seen as a woman first or as a black person first? Right? And these are questions that we really shouldn’t still be contending with in 2017. But we are.
So, first things first. Any time that these cultural shifts are happening, that is a win. The fact that we’re talking about feminism, about equity, about women empowerment, that’s a win. But when we’re recreating and reframing colonial structures, when we’re re-imagining oppressive ways to exist, that’s really more convenient for, let’s say, a white woman, or a cisgender woman, we’re actually doing the work of the system for it. We’re not actually challenging it in a way that’s transformative, and I think that needs to be our primary objective.
So, the main thing that needs to shift in our movement time now is we need to stop asking how do we bring these most marginalized people to the centre, when in fact they’re just trying to survive, and reframe how do we bring them movement to those who are most marginalized?
KIM BROWN: And, Janaya, how does this continue to present itself in terms of strategy and action? Obviously, the gathering of the women, the International Women’s Strike, is an action. All the movements surrounding Black Lives Matter have certainly been actions. And we have seen this play out into policy changes and shifts, but Donald Trump being elected president of the United States sort of is a game changer. So, how do you strategize and organize in the age of Trump with success?
JANAYA KHAN: Yeah. I think we need to get out of this mindset that we need to last through the next four years to ensure that we don’t get eight years, and actually we need to start organizing for the next 50 years.
You know, there’s a difference between organizing in that there is mobilization and then there is actual organizing. So, what we’ve seen in the past few years with Black Lives Matter, for example, is a lot of very necessary mobilization tactics. And there were a lot of cultural shifts that happen when black people are taking up space, and we’re talking about LGBTQ issues, when we’re talking about wage gaps, and we’re talking about under-employment and unemployment.
So, these are some cultural shifts that happen, but really there’s been a standing question, I think, in the last few months, which is where is Black Lives Matter? And we’re exactly where we need to be. We’re organizing, we’re coalition-building, we’re looking at what the end game is for the Trump administration in all of these Executive Orders and in the mess that’s being created. We’re not swayed by one presidential-like speech because it didn’t devolve into open bigotry and misogyny. So, our end games are far longer and far greater, and I think on the left we need to really look at the next 50 years as opposed to organizing for the next four.
KIM BROWN: Janaya, not so much relating to the march on the 8th, I just wanted to ask about Black Lives Matter, and the movement, like I said, in the age of Trump. Jeff Sessions is now Attorney General. Jeff Sessions has been openly hostile throughout his career towards civil rights, as displayed by the letter written by the late Coretta Scott King, insisting that he not be confirmed for a federal judgeship, let alone 30 years later being confirmed as Attorney General.
And there’s even been some speculation that Jeff Sessions could even designate Black Lives Matter a domestic terrorist organization, or give it some sort of nefarious labeling that would make it more of a target of law enforcement than it already is now.
Tell us how the movement is trying to deal with that. And I also want you to tell us about what Black Lives Matter is doing in Toronto, which, you know, unfortunately, a lot of Americans, at least – I know we have a lot of Canadian viewers – but, you know, that level of reciprocity about Canada knowing what’s going on in America, American knowing what’s going on in Canada is not always equal. So, talk to us about those things, if you could.
JANAYA KHAN: Sure. You know, with Jeff Sessions, I think it’s a really important thing to note that in 1986, you could quantify and qualify what racism was, right? Based on voting history, based on things that were articulated, the ideologies that we placed ourselves in alignment with, you could qualify and quantify what racism is. And now in 2017, no one is racist.
To call anyone a racist or to name racism in any way, is immediately argued against, it’s immediately de-legitimized. Arguably, it’s not actually a strategic claim in very particular contexts. Which is very alarming, the fact that language has become so meaningless in a way that the Republican Party can refer to Democrats as ‘Nazis’, and talking about race makes you a racist. So, I think that’s the backdrop that we’re in right now.
And now you have the actual Attorney General as Jeff Sessions, who’s made it very clear that protest is going to be heavily criminalized, that they’re also actively sees actively supporting for-profit prisons. And this is what’s key: what these two things represent to Black Lives Matter is the manufacturing of criminals, and that’s really what we’re seeing. The black protester is criminal. The black person is criminal. And when you create a space, like a for-profit industry or prison, you need bodies to fill it, and there needs to be the manufacturing of criminals in this way.
So, while that’s happening, you also have law enforcement being treated as some marginalized group. And we’re seeing that again and again and again with Trump. We’re seeing that again and again and again with the Trump administration calls itself ‘a law and order administration’. There are all of these Blue Lives Matter bills being sort of brought to the forefront and are being actively debated as if the police are some sort of vulnerable targeting group, and that is in fact not the case.
The police are a political institution with a lot of political immunity, massively over-inflated budgets, one of the only fully-functioning unions that exist, and they’re a military operation. And we need to treat them as such. And so, there’s an incredible amount of backing that’s going around and going behind police by Jeff Sessions, and we’re also seeing the evoking of potential, federally-driven and created police force. And we know that has everything to do with Black Lives Matter and the work that Black Lives Matter has done.
Jeff Sessions has also gone so far as to say that we might be one of the groups that are going to be targeted when it comes to different interrogation tactics and a particular type of surveillance. So, we know that we’re on the radar of Jeff Sessions. We know that we’re going to be used as scapegoats, essentially, to legitimize a further militarizing of the police. And part of our actions and strategies within Black Lives Matter is, again, understanding what the end game is here.
And it’s really the advancement and the expansion of a police state under the guise of reform. Now, we need to understand that reform is all about improvement. Well, how do you improve the prison-industrial complex? You militarize it even further, and you inflate its budgets even further. You give more authority to police officers, and we’ve seen Jeff Sessions also do that. The Trump administration promised that in one of their Executive Orders.
And the other thing that’s happening, which we should all be terrified of, is the fact that Sessions is rolling back on policy protections, through the Department of Justice, to investigate civil rights violations within the police departments. How, then, can anyone for any reason hold police accountable?
And so, we need to be looking at abolitionist theories and movements right now, and that’s really where Black Lives Matter is, as well. We don’t believe that people deserve to die for being in a mental health crisis. We don’t believe that people deserve to die because they have priors. We don’t believe that people deserve to die at the hands of the police with no recourse to hold them accountable.
And that is really what the administration is saying and what Attorney General Jeff Sessions is saying: we don’t actually care about civil rights, and we definitely do not care about those people where civil rights are meant to protect.
KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Janaya…