Want to give a shout out to the Jones tribe – what's up, y'all?
Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna, Aiyana Stanley Jones, Penny Proud, Ilana Nettles, Pearl Underwood, Renisha McBride – these are all women who have been killed by the state. There are thousands more who are missing, disappeared, murdered or simply forgotten.
Black Lives Matter often gets framed as a movement that aims to save the lives of black men. And it is true that black men are disproportionately impacted by incarceration, disproportionately impacted by police murder. But we are here, too. Black women are the fastest-growing population and prisons and jails in this country.
There's more than 1 million women who are behind bars or under the control of the criminal justice system. Why, you ask. There's many reasons. The war on drugs – 40 percent of women who are incarcerated are there for drug crimes. Thirty-four percent are there for nonviolent offenses, most of which include crimes of survival – writing bad checks, burglary.
More than 92 percent of women in California prisons were abused at some point in their lives. Many women who are behind bars have experienced violence or trauma at the hands of men, mostly intimate partners. Now, when we talk about the state of violence against women and girls, we can't forget that women of color are over-represented.
Black women, for example, are 30 percent of our prison population but we're only 13 percent of our nation's population. Latino women – 16 percent of our prison population and yet only 11 percent of the population of our nation. And let us not forget the many, many, many indigenous women who have been disappeared, who are holding their families together on a shoestring – if that.
And when we talk about women – and especially women of color and specifically black women – you should know that it is us that is holding together the tatters of a broken economy and a broken democracy. We carry the burden of inequality, of poverty, lack of access to healthcare resources. We carry that on our backs and we certainly carry that in our wombs. And that's why when we centralize – we make central the experiences of women and girls, particularly women of color, specifically black women – we can build a better life for all of us.
At BLM, we ask ourselves all the time – what does gender justice look like in our homes, in our workplaces, in our places of worship, in our schools, in our board rooms, in our media, but most importantly what does it look like in our movements? Because our movements are the place that we express the world that we want to see.
How do we change a world where the average life expectancy of a black trans woman is 35 years old? How do we do that? How do we change a world where a 7-year-old can be shot and killed on her grandmother's couch during a botched police raid being filmed for television? How do we change that world?
Well, together with all of the brilliant minds in this room and the brilliance all over the country, women – girls – who are leading this movement, bringing our ideas, bringing our experiences, bringing our passion but most importantly bringing our commitment to changing humanity, when we bring that to the forefront we have much more of a possibility to get to that world that we want to see.
Now in my other life, outside of Black Lives Matter – and I promise you there is one – I work with domestic workers at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. [applause] Domestic workers are predominantly women of color, immigrant women who care for the people that we care for the most. It is domestic workers who make sure that our homes are clean, that our children are fed and cared for, that our elderly family members are loved, that our family and our friends with chronic illnesses or disabilities can live independent, autonomous lives.
And yet domestic workers to this day – to this day – are not covered under federal labor protections. So you know – over time and sick pay? The people who care for the people we care for the most aren't being cared for. Now in our work we fight – not just for wages, not just for benefits, not just for the things that workers need – but we fight for the right of everyone to live in dignity and respect. We fight for the right of everyone to live with dignity and respect.
The way that we talk about our work is that we are three-dimensional beings that deserve to be nourished, deserve to be loved, deserve to be our whole selves, everywhere we go, everywhere we are. And so in our organizing, we can't just organize around one axis. We have to organize domestic workers as workers, as women, as mothers, as partners, sisters, daughters and aunties.
And so as we're thinking about how we build a movement of 1 billion rising – you like how I did that? Yeah. [laughing] As we build a movement of 1 billion rising, rising up to make visible those who have been disappeared, rising up to ensure that all of us have the quality of life that we deserve as human beings, we do need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to reflect the world that we want to see? Are we just saying all women? Or are we taking into account the specific experiences of each of us, a mosaic that could make a beautiful, beautiful movement. Are we making sure that the voices that are silenced have a megaphone to project their voices? Are we making sure that we're looking at the wholeness of who we are?
That is our task. That is our fight. That is our struggle. And we seek to bring together what seem to be disparate activities. One billion rising together with the economic justice movement, together with the gender justice movement, together with the environmental justice movement, together with the movement for indigenous sovereignty, together with the movement for black liberation, together with the movement for citizenship. But humanity – not papers – humanity.
How are we weaving the quilt that will warm the hearts of all of us? That is the question that we're facing.
In order to make the lives of women and girls matter, we have to do things like fight to end the war on drugs. [applause] We have to fight for rehabilitation and restorative justice rather than putting people in cages. [applause] We have to fight unjust trade policies that displace women from their families and homes and their land. [applause]
We have to fight to make sure that men see themselves as a part of this movement. [applause] We have to dig deep to figure out, how do we create a masculinity that is not toxic? [applause] How do we create a transformative masculinity that allows men to be their full selves without denigrating women? [applause]
We have to fight to make sure that our economic systems don't privilege some over others. [applause] I love my city. We have to fight to make sure that development privileges and prioritizes the people who are pushed to the margins of our society. [applause]
We got a lot on our hands. We got a lot on our hands. We have to fight to end the violence against trans people and gender non-conforming people. [applause] We have to fight to make sure that when we talk about reproductive rights were also talking about reproductive rights as the right to live a full life, the right to grow up without fear of harm. [applause]
Now this isn't the way that we talk about our movements today. In fact, maybe some of you, when I leave the stage, will say, "You didn't mention my issue." Sorry about that, but therein lies the problem. There is not one issue that impacts women and girls more than another. They're all our issues and as I said before, our fight is to make sure that we are weaving a quilt that can warm the hearts of all of us.
Now the question we ask ourselves at NDWA and at BLM is what could be possible if we believe that freedom could be achieved in our lifetime? What would we do? How would we act? What would we risk? What would we test? That's a question for all of us. At BLM, we're working to make sure that we have the political homes necessary to hold the complexity of who we are, so that we can once again weave back together our society as it should be.
If we're going to fight the rising tide of fascism – I said it [applause] – if we are to fight the rising tide of fascism – and that is where we're going in this country – it will take all of us to have the courage to do things differently than we've done them before. It will take all of us to take the lessons that we have learned, some of us for decades and decades of trying to free ourselves, and it will require that we bring those lessons forward but that we are not stuck in the cell of history.
We have an opportunity to create our future and to live it. You all are taking the first step in that today.
I need everybody to raise the right hand. As you raise your hand, I want you to pledge – promise me – that you're going to do something today to learn about a movement you didn't know much about before. I want you to pledge to me today that you'll do a little more listening and a little less talking. I want you to pledge to me today that you will give your time, your energy, your heart, your love – not just to this brilliant, brilliant gathering but to the movement to save our lives.
Do y'all pledge? Um, I'm not sure. Do y'all pledge? [Audience: Yes!]
That was a beautiful thing. Put your hand on your heart. Now, with your hand on your heart I want you to promise yourself that you will bring your full self everywhere that you go. I want you to pledge that you will be vulnerable with one other person. I want you to pledge that you will look into the eyes of a child and see the present and commit yourself to changing it. For those of you who are parents, I want you to pledge that you will teach your sons about feminism – the all-inclusive feminism, please. And I want you to pledge that you will spend this year in particular doing everything you can to remove the barriers that face us.
We're going to be in trouble in November, y'all, if we don't get it all the way together. I'm not going to tell you who to vote for but I will tell you that we have a lot at stake. And it's more than paid sick days or paid family leave. What's at stake is a secure world, not a militarized world. That is somebody's agenda. But a secure and independent and interconnected world – that's at stake. The other thing that's at stake is our ability to make decisions for ourselves about how and when we want to start families or if we want to start them at all. What's at stake is whether or not social movements that are growing in this country will be able to continue to operate above ground.
I don't mean to be alarming, but I've been called a terrorist more times than I'd like to admit. What's at stake is that the people who are risking their very lives for a better future for all of us are also under attack. So we got to ask ourselves, what are we willing to risk? What are we willing to test? How much more are we willing to love so that we can bring forward this world, not just that we want to see but that we need so desperately.
Let us be guided by the mantra that none of us are free until all of us are free.
Neither the Catt Center nor Iowa State University is affiliated with any individual in the Archives or any political party. Inclusion in the Archives is not an endorsement by the center or the university.