By Thea Lim, cross-posted from Bitch Magazine
A lot of folks have been talking about Courtney Desiree Morris’ article in make/shift, “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements.” I read the whole thing over at the INCITE! blog. Starting from a discussion of Brandon Darby, an FBI informant who infiltrated groups protesting the Republican National Convention in 2009, Morris suggests that left wing movements are easy to infiltrate because they are uncritical of themselves. The uncriticalness that allows informants to infiltrate as long as they can appear devoted to the cause, is what also allows gender violence to go unchecked. Morris’ article provides definite food for thought, in terms of what we will put up with “in service of the movement” that we would never put up with elsewhere.
Maybe it isn’t that informants are difficult to spot but rather that we have collectively ignored the signs that give them away. To save our movements, we need to come to terms with the connections between gender violence, male privilege, and the strategies that informants (and people who just act like them) use to destabilize radical movements. Time and again heterosexual men in radical movements have been allowed to assert their privilege and subordinate others. Despite all that we say to the contrary, the fact is that radical social movements and organizations in the United States have refused to seriously address gender violence  as a threat to the survival of our struggles. We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils—secondary issues—that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues—racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression—are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities. Scratch a misogynist and you’ll find a homophobe. Scratch a little deeper and you might find the makings of a future informant (or someone who just destabilizes movements like informants do).
The article is long and comprehensive, and I thoroughly recommend it. Some other interesting points: Morris cites examples from the memoirs of women activist heroes like Angela Davis, Assata Shakur and Elaine Brown who either refused to join leftist movements (in this case the Black Panther Party) because of the gender violence that went on within them, or experienced such violence. In addition, I appreciated Morris’ examination of how progressive movements unwillingness to genuinely self-analyze foster both gender violence and “isms” like racism:
Race further complicates the ways in which gender violence unfolds in our communities. In “Looking for Common Ground: Relief Work in Post-Katrina New Orleans as an American Parable of Race and Gender Violence,” Rachel Luft explores the disturbing pattern of sexual assault against white female volunteers by white male volunteers doing rebuilding work in the Upper Ninth Ward in 2006. She points out how Common Ground failed to address white men’s assaults on their co-organizers and instead shifted the blame to the surrounding Black community, warning white women activists that they needed to be careful because New Orleans was a dangerous place. Ultimately it proved easier to criminalize Black men from the neighborhood than to acknowledge that white women and transgender organizers were most likely to be assaulted by white men they worked with.
This article made a great deal of sense to me because of my own struggles and disappointments with all of the movements I’ve been a part of. For example, I found my way into radical politics via feminism, but I now totally struggle with feminism’s inability to deal with its “race problem”—let’s just say we have good days and bad days.
Many of us involved in leftist struggles sacrifice a great deal for the struggle. Things like: families of origin, a cushy life, an easy sleep. Or we come to radical politics because we were pushed out or alienated by our home cultures, and leftist politics are like an oasis of acceptance. All of this is to say, there are so many psychological (not political!) reasons for refusing to accept that the movements we build our lives and identities around are flawed. Think about how many times you have heard someone say “But we work so hard!” when they or their organisation is called on their shit. It is worth examining what personal/emotional baggage we are carrying around that stops us from seeing the flaws in our movement clearly, especially if we are contributing to the problem.
But while we’re on the subject of gender violence on the Left, let me recommend this book: The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Partner Abuse Within Activist Communities. From the jacket copy:
Based on the popular ‘zine that had reviewers and fans alike demanding more, The Revolution Starts at Home finally breaks the dangerous silence surrounding the “open secret” of intimate violence—by and toward caretakers, in romantic partnerships, and in friendships—within social justice movements. This watershed collection compiles stories and strategies from survivors and their allies, documenting a decade of community accountability work and delving into the nitty-gritty of creating safety from abuse without relying on the prison industrial complex.Fearless, tough-minded, and ultimately loving, The Revolution Starts at Home offers life-saving alternatives for ensuring survivor safety while building a road toward a revolution where no one is left behind.
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