amplifying our everyday resistance to the prison industrial complex
micha cárdenas in collaboration with workshop participants in the “Movements that Keep Us Safe” workshop at AMC2013
How do we find the movements that make our communities safe, that make us strong and connected, the movements that open the doors into other realities, free of violence? How do our body’s physical movements create and shape social movements? They do so by creating action, by holding memories, by communicating through gesture, and how else? The following series of images are from a workshop at the 2013 Allied Media Conference as part of the project Local Autonomy Networks. In the workshop, participants engaged in a discussion about
how to create community based responses to violence, using Theater of the Oppressed, dance and performance. Workshop participants created images with their bodies to demonstrate prison abolitionist strategies for safety that do not rely on police or prisons to keep communities safe, but instead recognize police and prisons as a form of violence. In the three-hour workshop, people worked in groups with people from their own cities and developed images with their bodies to express what safety looks like in their bodies, to show what kinds of violence they face and to communicate how people in communities can support each other in the face of violence. In the workshop we discussed forms of violence including sexual, racialized, gendered and ableist violence. One of the goals of the workshop was to foster conversations within communities about how to build community based responses to violence. Another goal was to allow people to perform their visions of safety, collectively developing those visions and embodying them, trying them on, feeling them.
What follows are images from the workshop and my poetic responses to them. I don’t want to try to accurately describe what is in the image, because I think the images convey more than words, so I am choosing to respond instead. This is a kind of performance photo prison abolitionist tarot reading. I also think that my interpretations are not necessarily right, but are just my responses to them. I would love for other people to add their own interpretations in the comments section and allow this process of dialog to continue.
Participants were asked to create images of violence they experience or community based responses to that violence, and I think this image incorporates both. While the two people in the center are engaged in a conflict that seems to be escalating into violence, they each also have support from their community members. Still, the support seems tenuous, holding on by a finger, looking sideways, spread out instead of holding together…
This image shows some of the ways technology can be used against violence, yet it seems to be ineffective. While a physical act of gendered violence is about to occur, three observers try to help indirectly, which doesn’t seem like it will prevent the violence. One takes notes or sends a text message or uses an alert app like Circle of 6. Two others make phone calls on their cell phones. The image seems to be a commentary on ways that bystanders try to intervene that don’t actually prevent harm, but instead allow it to happen.
While one person struggles on the floor, seemingly looking for something lost or needed, two other people struggle to create a connection across distance. Still, another struggles to walk, move, blocking her face from the sun, while another walks away while looking back. From the outside, one person observes all of these struggles. Sometimes violence looks like being disconnected from community, lacking a community structure of support, struggling alone, reaching out for help, trying to get somewhere safer, or watching others struggle and not feeling able to help.
A conflict in mediation. Two people in conflict, one holds their hand out asking for something, the other holds their hand up to say “no”, blocking, rejecting. The mediator sits in the middle, hands outstretched to either side, trying to listen, to take both people’s needs and desires into account. Each person in the conflict has a support person who has their back. The support people try to provide both strength and calm through the conflict. This shows one form of community based responses to violence, when someone feels they have been harmed and wants the other person to make amends, if communication with that person is difficult, at times a mediator is necessary and support teams can help the people in the conflict.
Femme solidarity! One femme puts on her lipstick in a coy pose, while another holds her arms up and out in joy and affection! The person putting on her lipstick has three people who have her back, supporting her, smiling at her. Often femme political actions are not considered political, or not considered radical. Often the act of putting on lipstick is put down in queer spaces as an act of complicity with heteronormativity or capitalism. We can see this kind of discrediting and exclusion of queer femme expression as a kind of violence, and a way to counteract that violence is to work for the inclusion of femmes in queer communities. Another part of femme politics is emotional labor or emotional support or emotional skill building, and that is also performed in this image. A central part of building community based responses to violence that allow us to not rely on police or prisons for safety is building relationships of trust with other people so you can rely on them when you need help to be safe. This image shows the importance of building emotional bonds in order to prevent violence and build feelings of safety.
Building together, struggling together. In this image, it’s not clear who is experiencing violence, if anyone in particular is. Yet the message of this image is clear, that building prison abolitionist structures for preventing violence is a community struggle that everyone needs to participate in. In this image, two people join together to help pull another person along, perhaps aiding her movement in traveling or in getting out of a bad situation. At the same time, that person is intertwined with another person who she is also providing support to, maybe bringing her along, or also getting her out of an unsafe place. That person’s leg is being held down, is this the aggressor, or is this person providing stability in the process of change? On the other end of the photo, a person holds their arms outstretched, providing affectionate support, or are they pleading not to leave? The image shows the importance and difficulty of supporting others while acting for your own safety. It also makes visible the ways that everyone can participate in a community process of ending violence, and how their actions are intertwined with the liberation of others, how each person’s actions have effects in a chain with reverberations throughout a community. The image speaks to me about cycles of violence and safety, through childhood and adult relationships, and of the way that complex structures to create political change emerge out of individual acts, like linking your arm inside another person’s arm.
I want to thank all of the workshop participants for their bravery and their brilliance in creating these images and the Allied Media Conference organizers and Movement/Movement track coordinators for providing this space for us. Also, I want to thank the Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya, a Mayan women’s theater group in Chiapas Mexico who taught me this exercise at the 2010 Art and Resistance summer course with the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics.