Prison abolition and reform are compatible “when reform is done in service of abolition."
“State violence and intimate violence are deeply connected.”
In this feature, we ask abolitionists a few questions about their work. This week’s featured activist is Mia Mingus.Mingus is a writer, educator and community organizer for disability justice and transformative justice.
Roberto Sirvent: Can you please tell readers of the Black Agenda Report a little about your background and the work you do?
Mia Mingus:I am a queer disabled korean transracial and transnational adoptee survivor raised on a US territory in the Caribbean (St. Croix, VI). I have been part of social justice work my entire life. As a child I was raised in a small, rural feminist community working to end domestic and sexual violence against women and children. I spent over a decade of my life living in Atlanta, GA, organizing for reproductive justice, queer liberation and racial justice and was part of founding the Disability Justice framework. Much of my work has been focused on disability justice and transfromative justice. I have advocated and written extensively about disability and ableism and the need for our social justice movements to incorporate disability justice and disabled communities in our work for liberation. I am a prison abolitionist working to build the alternatives we will need for a world without prisons, police, the criminal legal system, ICE and the foster care system, just to name a few. I have been organizing for and building transformative justice for over a decade now and specifically have done work to respond to intimate and sexual violence, especially child sexual abuse, which is bound up with all other forms of violence. I have occupied the rare no-man’s land of working to end child sexual abuse without using prisons at a time when most people working to end child sexual abuse are investing in prisons and harsher sentences like never before and those working to end prisons still know nothing to very little about child sexual abuse.
“Our social justice movements need to incorporate disability justice and disabled communities in our work for liberation.”
I am a founding and core member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC) and we work to build and support transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. We are a local group, but receive calls from across the country and beyond beause there are so few people doing this work. We work to build the community infrastructure here in the Bay Area that can support folks to respond to violence within their commuities. We lead and train people to be able to run effective transformative justice (TJ) and community accountability processes. We also work to build individual and collective capacity for TJ through our labs, TJ Studies and creating tools, such as our model of “pods.” We are working to build a Bay Area where evryday people can intervene in and prevent violence, harm and abuse.
Are there any under-reported stories in your community involving prisons, police, or law enforcement that you’d like to share?
Most of our work is off-the-grid and happens outside of systems. We often work within families, relationships, intimate networks and organizations. I think people often downplay or don’t truly believe the epedemic statistics we hear when it comes to intimate and sexual violence such as, it is estimated that 1 in 10 children will be a victim of child sexual abuse before they are 18 (1 in 4 girls, 1 in 6 boys). We hear statistics like these, but I don’t think we fully let them sink in. I would like folks to know that domestic violence and intimate partner abuse are happening all the time and within every community; sexual assault and rape are also happening within every community as well. These cases are rarely reported, especially when it happens inside of our families, and again, it is happening all the time in our families. And most especially when it is children or youth that are being violated and abused. We don’t talk about the fact that these forms of violence are also happening within our movements all the time as well. Just because someone has radical politics doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of violence. This is the work I am most often involved in and most of these stories are confidential and protected because of rape culture and the incredible amount of stigma survivors and harmers face within their communities.
In your specific context, when are goals of reform and abolition compatible with one another? When do they conflict?
I think they are compatable with each other when reform is done in service of abolition, that is to say, when abolition is understood as the long term vision and reform is understood as harm reduction. My work is building alternatives to our current violent systems and I understand that work as being in concert with folks who are working to shut down prisons or fighting for the rights of prisoners, for example. As we build new worlds, we also must not forget that many of our people don’t have the privilege of whether or not they are entangled in the system. Many of our people are bound up with the system whether they like it or not because of the forces of criminalization, capitalism and oppression. I understand reform work as harm reduction work. It is work to reduce the harm our people’s face at the hands of the system—inside of the burning house. We cannot abandon our folks. We must resist and reduce harm as we tear down and build. These things are not in conflict with one another to me, as long as they are coordinated and moraly clear.
It’s a lot more likely for state violence to be at the center of one’s analysis if state violence is at the center of one’s experience. That said, what are the most important insights you’ve learned from the people you work with?
Some of the most important things I have learned are that state violence and intimate violence are deeply connected to and bound up with one another. As many women of color’s experiences teach us, it is that we will never end intimate and sexual violence by using state violence. We must work to end both, together.
I have also learned that too many people in our movements have sharp anaysis and understandings about state violence, but very little analysis and understandings about intimate and sexual violence. We can spend days and weeks talking about things such as gentrification, colonization, war and militarization, police brutality, displacement, prisons and mass incaceration, but then cannot tolerate talking about intimate and sexual violence for one hour. I work all the time with survivors (and harmers) within our movements who say they can turn to fellow activists and organizers when it comes to housing rights or deportation, but had no one they coulld turn to when it came to sexual assault, rape or child abuse. We need to do better at building up our capacities to be able to understand and respond to intimate and sexual violence because the sad truth is that many of us know what to do when it comes to resisting a dangerous policy, but few of us know what to do when someone is being bullied or abused by someone in our community.
What recent successes would you like to highlight?
We have recently just completed our 4th Transformative Justice Study with about 50 participants and a planning and facilitation team of 9. The TJ Study is a series of 6 sessions every other Saturday where we teach people about transformative justice. It is a chance to build their individual and collective capacities to be able to respond to, intervene in and prevent violence within our own communities. We provide the Study at no cost for participants and provide free onsite childcare, free food and free reading packets. (The BATJC is a community group and not a non-profit, so no one is paid.)
This year, we asked participants to attend the Study with folks they would call on to respond to violence in their everyday lives (i.e. people from their “pods”), so that they were not only building their knowledge and skills individually, but also collectively as well. We have found that this is a more sustainable and effective way of building skills within our intimate networks.
The TJ Study is a hugh undertaking and a ton of work—truly a labor of love. It has grown exponentially, as our first Study had 12 people. This is a huge success, not only because we were able to educate and connect approximately 50 people in the Bay Area to be able to address violence with their communities, but also because we were able to have it be filled almost entirely with pods, which has been a dream for a while now and is only possible because of our years of organizing.
Are there any new articles or other publications you’d recommend to readers of the Black Agenda Report?
I would recommend that everyone lear about “pods” and work to map their pods (and ecourage other people in their lives to do the same.) Building our pods is a concrete way we can build the conditions that support transformative justice in our communities. It is also a way we can reach children where they already are and we can build pods for our children as well.
Pods and Pod Mapping: https://batjc.wordpress.com/pods-and-pod-mapping-worksheet/
What can readers of the Black Agenda Report do to help?
People can donate to the BATJC to support our work or attend our events and build this work with us. You can also educate yourself and those in your life about Transformative Justice, by visiting our resource page, which is filled with a ton of useful readings. Preparation is one of the most important things we can invest in when it comes to TJ, rather than waiting until after violence happens. You can visit our website: https://batjc.wordpress.com
In the face of so much state violence today, what gives you hope?
Every single person I work with gives me hope. All the people who beileve that something more is possible beyond more violence, abuse and trauma give me hope. The survivors that I work with who don’t want their harmers to be thrown in cages or to experience more violence—they give me hope because they do not have to have to choose this path and often the things they have experienced would easily justify any punishment, and yet, they choose a transformative path, rather than a punitive one. That gives me incredible hope and I consider it to be an honor to be entrusted with that work. When I work with harmers who have done terrible things and who willingly want to take accountability for them and make amends, that gives me tremendous hope. I have seen that there are many more people out there who want healing, true accountability, transformation and possibility—many more than we think, than we are told. Steadily and purposefully, we are breaking generational cycles of violence and ultimately that gives me hope because those are the kinds of stories I want to be able to leave for future generations: stories of how we walked through the fire together and came out the other side, transformed for the better.
Roberto Sirventis Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He also serves as the Outreach and Mentoring Coordinator for the Political Theology Network. He’s currently writing a book with fellow BAR contributor Danny Haiphong called American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News—From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.
Please join the conversation on Black Agenda Report's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/blackagendareport
Or, you can comment by emailing us at [email protected]