Everyday Abolition/Abolition Every Day

amplifying our everyday resistance to the prison industrial complex

Audio Interview with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Everyday Abolition | Abolition Everyday Interview with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Leah: Okay. Hi, I’m Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and I’m a writer, and healer, and disability justice organizer, and I co-edited a book called The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities with Ching-In Chen and Jai Dulani, which is a book looking at sexual assault and partner abuse in activist communities, and ways of dealing with it without using the state.

Awesome. So I want to start just by asking you sort of what brought you to doing abolitionist work and to developing an abolitionist politic.

Leah: Totally. I think when I was a baby teenage activist, I started reading—I learned about political prisoners in the United States, I was in Amnesty International in high school and I went to a conference, and I was really shocked because there was a workshop called “Political Prisoners in the US” and I heard about Leonard Peltier and, you know, Mumia Abu-Jamal. And I was like, “oh my god, it’s not just in these terrible third-world countries, it’s in America,” you know. There’s sarcasm in there, by the way, folks. And yeah, I think—so I think I kind of had a generalized political awakening in New York in the 90’s when I was there on scholarship for school and doing a lot of anti-Giuliani and anti-police brutality organizing.

But on a personal level, the story I really want to tell was that—a lot of my really kind of embodied commitment to anti-PIC work happened when I was 21, 22, madly in love with this person who at the time identified as queer and was a person of color, cisgendered guy, who had, you know, done time, really been harassed by police, was on probation when we were going out. You know, after being harassed by the cops, and you know, it was totally a thing where the cops beat him up and then charged him with, you know, assault police and all this kind of stuff. And that was a really core relationship in, you know, my early adulthood, and I was madly in love with this person, it was an incredibly healing relationship, and he also became abusive physically. And for a number of reasons I was just like, “I can’t send him to prison, it’s not even an option.” Both because he was like, “if you send me to prison, terrible things will happen,” and because I was really clear that if I sent him back, I would—you know, it wouldn’t heal him, it wouldn’t change his behavior, it would actually put me more in jeopardy once he got out. And my immigration status was riding on this person as well. And there were just all those reasons that became reasons where I was just like, it’s not going to fix anything and it’s actually going to make things worse for me.

So that’s—that process—and that then very kind of—I mean, when I was 22, one of my favorite quotes was that—it’s not even a quote, but I really believed that, in the revolutionary potential of everybody to transform their behavior, and I still do. And it’s been kind of a lifelong internship on how complicated the conditions can be that actually make people and systems change their behavior. But I was—absolutely believed in the healing power of change, that my partner could transform, that I could transform, and we started on this, you know, we didn’t really know what we were doing process of trying to get safety for me and to help support him in changing his behavior, which didn’t work, but which I learned a lot from. And yeah, I still believe that if I’d sent him to jail, that would have meant sending another working class man of color to jail, I might be dead by now, and it would not have changed his behavior.

Okay. So this kind of leads on from that, which is why it matters to you and why you’re committed to it.

Leah: Yeah. I was just telling Chanelle that I’m really glad that the sound died before because I had a really longwinded explanation and I think it can be more succinct. You know, what I’ll say is I’ve been doing, involved in community accountability/transformative justice work for, god, what is it, 14, 13, 14 years now in different forms, and, you know, there’s been different moments in watching movements develop in creating alternatives to prisons that, you know, keep survivors of violence safe and that help people transform. There’s been moments, you know, especially a couple years ago, where I was like, “oh my god, we’ve got this. We’re at the crest of a wave and the earth’s shifting. And we’re all, we’re doing this,” and I don’t feel that way now in the same way, not in the same way.

I think that, you know, my friend Patty Berne, who co-founded Sins Invalid, which is a queer and trans folks of color disability justice organization, she said, you know, movements move in 25-year waves, cycles. And there’s—it’s not a straight shot. There’s peaks and valleys in those 25-year cycles. And there’s moments when you feel like we’re winning, and there’s moments when there’s lulls, where you’re like, “oh, we get to see the ways that we actually still have to figure stuff out.” So this is all to say that three years ago, I was like, “oh my god, we’re totally gonna make a world without prisons tomorrow, and so many people are doing transformative justice work, and we’re experimenting, and there’s gonna be collectives everywhere, and we’re all… Yay!” And the last year or two, I’m like, “yeah. There’s successful stuff, and also it’s not that heated moment of ‘fuck yeah, we got this.’” I’m so glad I can swear on this, by the way. And I’ve heard a lot of people actually being like, “fuck transformative justice, fuck community accountability. It’s a mess, it’s hard, you know, it throws survivors under the bus.” Or it’s just too much, or it didn’t work, or, you know, the perpetrator was manipulative. And I totally get that and I think that’s really real, and it’s legit, and it’s really important to listen to, and also what I keep coming back to is, “So, what’s your alternative?” You know, really, what’s your alternative. Because I keep coming back to: we can’t go back to prisons. We just can’t.

And you know, I don’t wanna—there’s so much literature and speaking and organizing out there about how fucked-up prisons are. But you know, just the little bits I see, you know, things like, you know, the fact that there’s, what, six to eight women in a cage in all the state prisons in California, or the thing I just read yesterday where a lot of state prisons are moving to… You know, if you’re in prison, you won’t even see a doctor ever. They’re just gonna Skype them in, right, and they’re also gonna Skype in your family. I mean, it really just is very clear that the forces that we’re against wanna create a prison planet, and they wanna lock up as many of us as possible, and they want a prison plantation complex. And I absolutely get it when survivors are just like, “fuck it. The community is not there to hold me. This is one of many shitty solutions. I’m gonna try to send my perpetrator to jail.” I get that. And I get that sometimes we are making the best decisions we can out of some crappy ones. And at the same time, organizationally, I’m just like, well, if what we’re doing in TJ is not working, we have to keep figuring out what does work. And we have to keep learning from our mistakes. And some of that has to do with bringing—and I think this is gonna be a nice segue to your next question, maybe—is where I feel like there’s intersections with transformative justice and healing justice and disability justice, because, you know, a large part of what I keep hearing is, “this is exhausting. It’s too much.” And I’m like, right, well, as a disabled person, who’s chronically ill and who deals with fatigue all the time, and who works cross-disability with other disabled people who are working on crip time, where we do not work the way able-bodied people do in terms of pace, I think that one of the places that I think transformative justice needs to learn from is the disability justice movement in terms of what we’ve been saying about, you know, sustainability in movements  and creating—I mean, Cara Page, you know, amazing black queer healer, just amazing human being, she said something three years ago at the US Social Forum at the Healing Justice meet-up that has stuck with me ever since, where she said, “if our movements themselves are not healing, there is no point.” And I feel—and that might—and I was about to say, that might seem real lofty, but actually—but I mean, what I’m gonna say is that if in doing transformative justice work, we don’t do it at a pace that doesn’t destroy us, then we’re not gonna succeed. You know? And there’s so much that’s going on, there are people who are like, “we gotta fix this now,” and sometimes there’s real, real safety concerns where you feel like, we gotta do this right now, and there’s urgency, and I get that. But also—you know, if it’s that kind of adrenal rush of emergency and you’re trying to fix someone’s patterns that have been entrenched for years, and there’s manipulation, and there’s drama, and there’s all kinds of things going on, then it’s sure not gonna work. And then we’re gonna be left there being like, “well, it’s all fucked, and it’s hopeless.” And I refuse to accept that. It was not always hopeless for survivors of violence, and I refuse to accept that it will always be hopeless for survivors of violence, that’s bullshit.

This is why I think that survivors come up with some of the most creative, holistic, and effective strategies for responding to violence without the state—which does segue into my next question. Which is, what kinds of emergent strategies are you seeing around transformative justice and prison abolition?

Leah: Totally. Well this—again, forgive me, this might sound really fucking woo-woo. You know, like in my own life, I—when I was 12, my mother who was very complicated and abusive and also a genius said to me, you know, “I see two paths for you: I see you as a writer and I see you as a healer.” And it’s really interesting because I’ve been working with this healing justice collective for the past two-and-a-half years, the Badass Visionary Healers of Oaklandia, California, Ohlone territories. And I kept kinda being like, “why am I doing this? You know, I’m not really a healer, you know, what’s a healer? Ah, I should be doing more TJ work.” And then I was like, “of course they’re related.” Right? And I think that one thing that gets left out, or we forget about, or that gets thrown out under the bus that’s really interesting is that transformative justice is supposed to be about healing. You know. It’s supposed to be about radical ideas of healing for the survivor of violence, and it’s also supposed to be about healing the perpetrator. And it’s about using a really different worldview of what healing is then gets talked about a lot. And a lot of times we just forget about that. And so, I had this “Duh! Eureka! Aha!” moment of, of course healing justice and transformative justice have things to say to each other. And I mean, there’s a lot of things that I could say about that. I mean, one is that I think that—so, in terms of my own healing justice work, I’m an intuitive counselor, and I do a lot of, you know, what some people might call priestess work, just in terms of doing divination, and working with people who are at life crossroads, and—which is a pretty stigmatized form of healing, you know, and—but which is something that I’m really helpful to offer to my community, and it grows out of my own spiritual practice.

And one thing that I’ve been talking about with other folks who are on a witch-nepantlera-bruja, different forms of radical spirituality track, is… You know, transformative justice—and you know, if you’re doing TJ and you’re an atheist, that’s great—but I had this “Aha!” moment with a friend who’s a witch recently, where we were like, transformative justice sometimes could really use some ritual and some prayer. You know. We could actually really stand to get the gods on our side—we could really stand to do some medicine work, to do some prayer to the gods and goddesses of transformation. ‘Cuz we actually really need those forces out there. Whatever the ones we call ‘em, whatever the ones in your spiritual traditions: make this shit work. ‘Cuz it’s hard work. But those spirits are really powerful. They are fucking powerful, alright. And also, you know, that’s one aspect of it, you know. And I think of—you know, and I wanna be careful because sometimes when you talk about prayer, people think, oh, you just mean that stuff that’s in The Secret­, like you can just imagine that you’re rich, and you get a million dollars. And that’s crap. You can’t imagine your way—you cannot just think about it, and capitalism’s dead. But the idea of prayer being just really focused about what you want and putting energy towards it—hell, that’s grant writing, that’s organizing, that’s so many things. Right? And it’s also just prayer, and spirit, and doing magic, and doing ritual. And so I think about bringing those tools in as some of our processes, when it’s appropriate, could be real helpful. I also think that, you know—and this could be helpful for people who aren’t even particularly spiritual—but there’s an enormous need for cleansing and healing. Even if you’re working on a process that goes real well, you know, standing at the gates of life and death and working with someone who’s survived rape and violence, and working with someone who is like, “Shit, I fucked up real bad, and I really hurt somebody.” And being in that space, you could stand to maybe run into the ocean and ask, you know, the ocean goddesses to cleanse that shit off of you after a process. You know. You could stand to—for our own health—to be able to take some of the intense emotional stuff we’re carrying and putting back.

That’s gorgeous.

Leah: Thank you. So that’s an emergent strategy I’ve been thinking a lot about. Which I’m sure people will be like, “well, you’re fucking crazy,” but I am fucking crazy. So that’s easy. [laughs] And, yeah. So… do you have a question?

No, that was it. I mean, I think, I wonder if that leads into, if you want to talk a little bit more about what that looks like just in an everyday way for you, kind of in terms of how does your perspective on PIC abolition and strategies—how does that manifest in just the way you live your life every day?

Leah: Yeah. That’s the ten million dollar question. Well, I think I might have to come back to this, but I’ll give it a shot because we’re here. I mean, I think that a lot of it in my organizing whether it’s with Mangos with Chili, which is the two-spirit, trans and queer people of color arts organization that Cherry Galette and myself founded seven years ago, to working with the Badass Visionary Healers, to just, you know, being in community, I think it’s really motivated me to be and live in a place—and that sounds really pat, but it’s not—I’ll say it: to be and live in a place, and to organize and live in my communities in a way where one of my central values is that none of us are disposable. And that, you know, when we have conflict, when things are hard, you know, when we fuck each other over, that’s real, and also, we have no choice but to work it out. You know.

And I think one thing that I feel that I’ve been writing about for the past, you know, thirteen years, actually, is the ways in which in oppressed communities, what happens when we hurt each other and what happens when we fuck each other over. Either—often without—unintentionally. And you know, really digging into those processes of people being defensive and people within our communities finding each other, and being like, “oh my god, you’re also fill-in-the-blank! it’s home! it’s family! it’s gonna be perfect!” And then the devastating—the brilliant projects that come out of that, and then the devastating loss that happens when we hurt each other. And that is a cycle that is omnipresent, and that is not just quote-unquote “personal” which is a real femmephobic way of rejecting something that’s really important. It actually affects the ways in which we’re able to build movements and organize. You know. I mean. You know something that happened, that I’ve seen happening a lot recently is people using the language of transformative justice and accountability around stuff that’s not about rape and assault, but about, “you hurt me!” and it’s like, okay, if someone cheated on you, I don’t know, I mean, community accountability’s hard enough to do if somebody raped somebody. I mean maybe—maybe everyone’s just hurt, but I’m like, “okay,” and also…  It’s a continuum, right? It’s a continuum of what harm feels like and how we know how to respond to it, with defensiveness, or vengeance, or “fuck you forever, I’m gonna exile you.” So… And I think that, you know, what many of us know how to do, what we’ve learned how to do to survive, is that when somebody hurts us, particularly someone who we were like, “you’re kin, you’re the same identity as me, you’ll never hurt me. Oh, you hurt me? OK, well, then I’m gonna throw you off the bus forever.” Right? Is to do that. Is to protect ourselves from that hurt from being let down like, “I’m never gonna talk to you again. You’re just a complete ass. I thought you were amazing, and I thought you were a great leader. And, oh you did that? Well, you’re the worst person I’ve ever met.” And that’s devastating. And you know, on so many levels. I mean, some of those rejections have been what’s pushed me to feel suicidal sometimes. Is just feeling loved and then having my face ripped off when I fucked up, and it’s made me try and think, not always successfully, about when I’m really angry at somebody, to really own the power that I have and to think about, you know, my actions actually have impact, actually have a lot of power.

And one of the first things I learned from elders, indigenous and African elders when I moved to Toronto in ’96 with the idea of, you know, the white supremacist capitalist colonialist ableist patriarchy does take away our power in real ways, but we all always have power, and when we think we don’t have power, that’s when we actually really hurt other people that we care about, and that’s where abuse comes from, and that’s how destructive dynamics within organizations and communities come from. So I try and live with all of that. And you know some things, some kind of 2.0 things I’ve come to are that, you know, for years I was motivated from a place of survival, of I will work things out with people forever, it’s life and death, everyone has to be best friends forever, and now I’m like, there’s some relationships in my life that have gone through transition, that were and are incredibly important to me, where I’m like, you know, we might not be friends in this lifetime. And I’m still figuring out how we can still maybe have access intimacy with each other, even if one person felt really hurt and we can’t be in the same room. Maybe we can. Maybe we can work on it. But even if we’re not best friends, I’m still not throwing you under the bus, I still have your back, I’m still gonna be there for you if something happens. And, you know, if—to the degree that that person will let me, and vice versa. And I just think somewhere in that nexus of knowing that we’re not disposable and also knowing that we aren’t necessarily all gonna be best friends forever without conflict, that there’s a middle path of being there for each other, and being there for each other when we politically disagree, being there for each other when it’s like, hey, we had that big fight two years ago and we’re not gonna be best friends anymore, but I’m still gonna be there for you for your medical bills this way. That’s where—in a way that may not make a lot of sense to people, that’s where my commitment to abolitionism come from. Because it’s that urge to exile and throw people under the bus that leads to prisons, you know? And we just can’t. We can’t do it. I mean, I believe in containment. I believe in consequence. I believe in all those things. But I also believe we have to be really careful, and like the Allied Media Conference says, we have to focus on our own power, not our powerlessness. We have to look at what builds it.

OK. So, I think, I feel like we’ve answered a lot of these questions. I guess—

Leah: I mean I could talk about that guy a little bit.

The supports that have made it possible?

Leah: Yeah.

OK. So, what kind of supports have you set up that have made it possible for you to resist the state and the PIC in your life?

Leah: Yeah. I mean again, I feel like this is where I’m gonna tell a long-ass story for the millionth time. But, you know, I had a friend recently where I realized they actually had a lot more money than I did in the bank. And I totally had feelings around that, where I was like, “you know..” And they were like, “yeah, you know, I’m not disabled, I’m white, I’ve been able to hold a steady job.” That’s how you—you know—that’s… They come from a more or less middle-class background, and I’m like, “Right. I have never been able to hold a steady job, I have no savings.” I feel lucky to be a disabled person who can work to the degree that I do, because a lot of my friends with disabilities—they can’t. They can’t work as much as I do. They can’t travel. They don’t… You know? All of that kind of thing. And they’re poorer than I am, by a lot.

So I had this first moment of oh god, how do I get that money? And then I was like, you know… I’m not saying I don’t want that money. But it made me think about when we’re talking about resources, how it’s really easy to start undervaluing alternative resources. And I was thinking, you know, I don’t have $60,000 in the bank, but I do have a lot of friends, a lot of time, and a lot of trade. And I think that that is some stuff that really—you know, not just living collectively, but living collectively with people who

are other queer and trans folks of color, who are developing a disability justice allyship, who are taking the time to actually build relationships with each other. And I think, you know, in the collective house I live in, but also in my different kin networks and my friendships, I think, you know, I think it’s so simple, it’s so obvious and it’s undervalued, it’s actually valuing the time it takes to just hang out with people and develop relationships. That’s what helps me resist the PIC. Because there is a lot of kind of quasi-community that falls apart because it’s like, “oh my god, we share this intense experience! We share this identity! We share this!” But you actually haven’t just been like yeah, we’re gonna go to the laundromat and chew the fat, and, you know, put the time in just with each other.

With the Badass Visionary Healers, we’ve been meeting for two, two and a half years now, and it’s funny because I think to some people—we feel like we’ve done quite a bit, and we’re still here. But you know, I know with a lot of movement building, a lot of organizations, it would be like, “oh! We’re meeting! And we have to do this project and have this outcome. And this obvious…” And you know, all of our meetings, we meet twice a month, at least the first hour and a half is us cooking together and doing an extended check-in, a lot of which is us talking about our sex lives. And that’s on purpose. That’s not just a cute thing, and that’s not just like, “oh, you guys are having a good time.” Because if we actually don’t build deep with each other, we’re not gonna build strong enough to be able to withstand things that come up. And to actually pull off the really grandiose plans we have. So that was kind of on purpose and also accidental. But you know we had a couple gathering, and it was great, but there were some dynamics in there that I think would have been really challenging, and we all just kind of moved together to deal with them, and it wasn’t a thing. And then afterwards, we were like, we built slow and deep enough so that we actually could just move together. And we had that deep trust with each other. That was really grounded, that wasn’t just like, “oh my god, we’re so great, we’ll never fight.” It’s like yeah, we’ve had conflict, and we’ve pissed each other off, and we worked through it. And that builds in some safety, and that makes me feel like these are the people who I know for real will have my back, and in a lot of communities that I’m a part of that I love, I don’t see people just putting in the time to be like, “let’s just hang out, let’s watch TV,” and that’s because a lot of movements and communities are so focused on an able-bodied emergency production narrative of “must produce, must produce, must produce, must do this thing.” And it’s like, yeah, sure. And also you’re not gonna really change your cultures, you know, external culture or our own cultures, unless you actually take the time. It’s just gonna look good on paper, but it’s not actually gonna hold up. So, I mean that trickles out.

I think about the block that I live on, which is in the North Oakland flatlands, and you know, we have this map of our block, of, we went around when folks first moved in two years ago. Folks went around and introduced themselves to everybody. And you know, we’re in the North Oakland flatlands, we’re in a neighborhood that’s historically—I mean, we’re three blocks away from the birth, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. You know, that streetlight that’s in the beginning of the movie Panther that Huey Newton gets put in, that’s around the corner from my block. I drive past it every day. And we’re a neighborhood that historically in the 60’s, black folks who were living in West Oakland who wanted to move up a little bit, become lower middle-class, moved to, and it was a neighborhood that was black, Latino, East Asian, Native, queers, and then you had students of all colors, who were involved in the student movement living in the neighborhood, so super-fertile history. And now, you know, there’s… [laughs] There’s this realtor nearby who made a video saying that, oh, this is NOBE: North Oakland Berkeley Emeryville! It’s an undiscovered gem! And which—my roommates who work at an organization called Phat Beets that’s a people of color-centered food justice organization and farmer’s market around the block, they made a spoof video. Because she made a little map, being like, “here’s all the cute things!” And they were on it. And they were like, “you didn’t put any of the black businesses on it, and we don’t want to be on this. And this is not NOBE, this is people’s neighborhood.”

Anyway, I’m giving this all as context to say that we’re on a block that still has a lot of black families that have been there for a really long time, and then white gentrifiers, and then people who are somewhere in the middle. We’re a bunch of queer and trans brown folks, mostly not black, mostly Latino and South Asian, who, you know, some of whom are from the Bay and most of whom are from Southern California who moved up, you know, and we’re in this moment, right? And… But we spend a lot of time doing what is often seen as undervalued, feminized work. We spend a lot of time cooking. We spend a lot of time eating together. We spend a lot of time hanging out on our stoop. We spend a lot of time saying hi to our neighbors, for real. We spend a lot of time loaning and borrowing tools and—and we’re not just the only ones doing it. There’s lots of families on the block who have been doing that for awhile. The white families tend to, of course, be more nervous, and they want us all to move, but too bad. But I think what that means is that when there’s a shout, or when there was smoke coming out from the back of the house, it’s a block where everybody came out and was like, OK, let’s deal with this, let’s see what’s going on, and people’s first response wasn’t to talk to the police, you know? I don’t know, but I feel like if there was someone beating up somebody on the block that a lot of us would leave the house and come out together on the block and be like, “you’ve got a circle of twelve people around you, you know. And we really don’t want to call OPD, because OPD is useless and murderous.” Straight up. I mean that’s just who they are. You know, I would call them if my car got stolen, just to file the report so that maybe they’ll find it, but that’s about it. So I mean I feel like I just share that because I feel like the building of relationships is something that is such a femme and such a feminized organizing skill, and so often in a masculinized organizing context it just seems like it’s, “oh, you’re just hanging out, that’s nothing.” And it’s like, no, actually, you know? And the block I lived on before this was in Berkeley, you know, couple of white and black families, lots of white people with money. We were this house in bad shape with a lot of queers. And no one really spoke to each other. I mean we spoke to a couple of houses, but you know, we didn’t have that relationship. And when—and you know, it was really different. Because when, you know, our house was broken into like six times in six weeks, because people were broke, and they needed money, and they were like, “oh, you’re nine people, nine laptops, great.” You know, our neighbors’ response wasn’t to come out, or look out for each other, or whatever, our white neighbors’ were like, “oh yeah, we’re on this local neighborhood listing,” which is completely racist, and they were like “yeah, call the cops, and have the cops do a safety audit,” and all this stuff, and it was really different, you know. And these were all people who actively were also hoping that we would leave the block as soon as possible, you know, because between the blackness and the brownness and the loud sex, you know, it just wasn’t really going that well. Yeah, so, did that answer your question?

Yeah. [laughs] A beautiful note to end on.

Leah: [laughs] Thank you.

Anything else to say before we finish?

Leah: Let me think about that. I mean, just—just not to give up, and to really—I think one of the spiritual practices I keep coming back to is, I find a deep comfort in faith in the unpredictability of life. And I wanna break down what I mean by that for a bit. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, not exactly in these words, “we are standing… We’re basically all standing on the edge of a beach, and there’s just a never-ending sea of shit coming at us. Never-ending waves of shit, you know, and it’s just not gonna stop until we’re dead. So we can freak out, or we can learn how to kinda surf with the shit.” He really doesn’t say this in the book, I’m just gonna let you know that right now. [laughs] I mean for me, in my life, there’s been lots of times where, you know, as someone who’s an incest survivor, who’s survived a lot of family violence, who, you know, doesn’t have biological parents she’s close to, you know, who’s been on her own for a long time and has been just trying to survive, you know, living, chronically ill, you know, just dealing with disability, a lot of instability, I had a lot of—for most of my adult life, I just was like, “I just need things to be stable.” I would figure out a solution, and I’d be like, “great! you know, it’s this girlfriend, it’s this job.” And then of course things would change, and I’d be like, “oh my god, my survival is completely threatened.” Which, you know, it was. And also there’s something more than that, and I would just be like, “fuck you, change! You know, stop changing! Fuck it!” And you know—

Good luck with that.

Leah: Yeah, right? So—but I mean I think that in my intuitive practice, one thing that a lot of folks who come to me talk about, or that we talk about, is just that as trauma survivors and as survivors of so much violence, we have a deep need for things to just calm the fuck down, and you know, that’s real. And also if we just—they’re not gonna all the way. Life doesn’t stop changing. So, often our response is just to freak out when that happens, and to be like, “Oh my god, I hate this.” And that’s legit. And what is also, I’m working on learning how to embrace as legit, is that there’s so much we don’t know yet. You know. When we get stuck, when we’re like, “we’re trying to create a world without prisons and transformative justice was seeming really great for a couple years but now it’s just a stressful, you know, minefield,” there’s so much we don’t know yet. You know, all this stuff that we’re creating, this was a twinkle in people’s eyes ten years ago, five years ago, four years ago. There’s so much stuff we have yet to imagine. Our imaginations are so powerful. There’s somebody right now who’s gonna go to sleep and have a dream of something really amazing that’s gonna  change everything. And we have that to depend on. Even if it’s not something you can look in the bank, and say, “oh, I’ve got X amount of, you know, RSPs or whatever,” it’s like, we can count on change. We can count on brilliant, wild ideas that have never been seen before, that are also sometimes really old that are coming back. And I think that we just have to remember that when we lose faith. Yeah.

Amazing. Thank you.

Leah: Thanks Chanelle.


Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a queer disabled cis femme mixed Sri Lankan writer, organizer, performer, educator and badass visionary healer. The author of the Lambda Award winning Love Cake and Consensual Genocide, she is also the co-editor of The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities, with Ching-In Chen and Jai Dulani. Her writing has been widely anthologized. With Cherry Galette, she co-founded Mangos With Chili, the floating cabaret of queer and trans people of color performance, which is on its fourth North American tour this fall (check our Facebook for details.)  She co-coordinated the Creating Safer Communities and Growing Safer Communities tracks at the 2010 and 2011 Allied Media Conference- spaces where folks doing transformative justice/community accountability work in North America came together. Currently, she is a member of the BadAss Visionary Healers, aka the Healing Babes for Justice (http://badassvisionaryhealers.wordpress.com/) , a healing justice collectivebased in Oakland, CA. She is also figuring out how to bring healing together with disability justice with Two Spirit, queer and trans people of color performance art with transformative justice, and concluding it’s all the same damn thing.  Her memoir, Dirty River, will be published in 2014.  brownstargirl.org

On June 11, check out the next Mangos With Chili show “Free: Two-Spirit, Queer and Trans People of Color and Two Spirit Visions of Freedom” here!

(massive thank you’s to Jed Walsh for transcription)

3 comments on “Audio Interview with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

  1. where i say ” I think when I was a baby teenage activist, I started reading—I learned about political prisoners in the United States, I was in Amnesty International in high school and I went to a conference, and I was really shocked because there was a workshop called “Political Prisoners in the US” and I heard about Leonard Peltier and, you know, Mumia Abu-Jamal. And I was like, “oh my god, it’s not just in these terrible third-world countries, it’s in America,” you know. There’s sarcasm in there, by the way, folks. ”

    i’m worried that even though i have a disclaimer after, people will take the “terrible third world piece” literally. because you can’t hear the tone and intonation in the transcript. and that’s not what i meant, that literally global south countries are terrible. what I was trying to get across was that the system wants us to believe that political prisoners and injustice only happen in the Global South, that american prisons and criminal legal systems are fine. if I was to rephrase, it would be something like:

    ” When I was a baby teenage activist,I learned about political prisoners in the United States, and that radicalized me. I was in Amnesty International in high school and I went to a conference, and there was a workshop called “Political Prisoners in the US” and that was where I learned about Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal. And this woke me up to the understanding that people of color in the United States who were fighting for social justice were imprisoned by the State for their activities.”

  2. szybka porzyczka
    March 29, 2014

    I do trust all of the ideas you’ve offered to your post.
    They’re really convincing and will definitely work.
    Still, the posts are very brief for novices. May you please
    lengthen them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.

  3. Jed Walsh
    June 21, 2014

    I love this interview so freaking much.

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