Misogyny Fractures Movements: A Call for Community Accountability

Nat
11 min readJul 6, 2020

When I think about all the harm that has been done to me through the years, the dark spaces I struggled through up until very recently…. I think about the healing I so desperately ached for. I think about the time I spent rereading Beyond Survival, aching for the words that would teach me how I could bring about the transformation of my own harm, and how I could do this on my own. Everything I read relied on community. Community to hold survivors, and community to hold those who do harm. Community to bring you resources, let you cry, and community that believes you. That sees you. But what do you do when community doesn’t? What do you do when community has caused harm? What do you do when community turns its back?

I thought I would have to find my own healing, in other ways. When this twitter thread came out, the weight, vindication, and relief that I felt were astounding. Here, in one thread, were things I had been raging about for months. We cannot trust people who hide abusers, who are unaligned, and unprincipled to lead actions that will center safety and move with integrity. As I did jail support and heard story after story of those arrested at FTP4, I felt the guilt of my own silence.

As we make broader calls for abolition, it is our responsibility to model for community what this looks like in practice. In solidarity with all of the survivors coming out now, with those who have done so in the past, and with those who may do so in the future, I am joining this larger call for accountability. Community needs to feel that they have a stake in these processes. We have seen how those who do not prioritize the safety of survivors in their own movements, create actions that do not prioritize the safety of our communities. We cannot continue to feed into the state.

If we are building towards liberation, we must do so intentionally and with transparency. We know that gendered violence harms individuals, but it also warps and fractures movements. We know that the personal IS political. Our elders have named again and again, how misogyny has isolated and alienated black femmes. In sharing the stories of survivors and making space for them to share their stories, we reject the shame and violence that keeps people silenced. We reject the shame and violence that makes people fear accountability. We hold space for the transformation of harm, but know in the meantime, we must take bold steps to prevent more harm from occurring. We need to shift our focus. Transformative justice isn’t just about transforming people who do harm, but about transforming the conditions we live in that allow harm to occur. I do not believe in disposability, but until we are all ready to rally behind survivors, to believe them, and to have conversations about the violence of complicitness, we will not be able to move forward. Until people are ready to own their actions, they will continue to cause harm that divides, and destabilizes our people.

“Stuck in guilt and resentment, he seemed to have no inner guide that would lead him to want to empathize with the person he had harmed, or to own, apologize, or make it right — all the ways we come back into alignment with our integrity when we have acted outside it.”

I’ve always been an abolitionist. I was raised by a family (that wasn’t abolitionist but) that had a huge and deep mistrust of police/law enforcement because of the country they grew up in. I’ve experienced sexual assault numerous times. I’ve been stalked, and almost kidnapped, but I have never, ever, contacted the police. I knew they could never help — they didn’t have the range. When I was trapped by an ex, I knew I couldn’t call the police. They were undocumented. I didn’t want them deported and exposed to violence from ICE, I just wanted to get away, and maybe get the money I spent paying their rent back. When I escaped my kidnapper, I knew I couldn’t call the police. The only words I had to describe the person were “black man” and knew that it would never go further than that. And that’s what drew me to abolition. I knew I had so much to heal from — so much to describe, and no words or praxis to do so. Abolition let me believe in a world where I could maybe, find the safety my body had always yearned for.

When I first met him I was about 2 days out of an abusive relationship and had nothing to stand on. I was destabilized and started obsessively going to events because I couldn’t be home alone. I was doing everything to search for community, a place to be held. When he approached me, the very first thing he brought up were my tattoos and how he knew there was no way my Haitian family would be accepting of me, what I’d done to my body. Which, although true, was the beginning of his patterns of behavior. His specific and calculated search for significantly younger, isolated, alienated, queer black femmes. It was a pattern that I believed to be my fault. That because I was depressed, because of my past abusive relationships, that because I was struggling with navigating my gender, that it was my fault. I was weak to power differentials, confused, and fell into a trap, set by an abuser. But what I came to learn a year later, was that it wasn’t just me. When I sat down and spoke with others, when I heard what they too experienced, I realized that these were the steps of a predator.

This person is not only an abuser, and predator, but weaponizes movements to prey on black femmes. They incite their comrades to silence and delegitimize survivors, to prevent them from speaking out. They weaponize the mantle of abolitionist organizing, to prevent others from speaking out. They conflate requests for accountability with stopping the work, when it, in fact, IS the work. They take credit for and use the labor of people they’ve harmed. They weaponize ableism and emotions to shift narratives and cover harm. They blur the boundaries of their harm, so it becomes intermixed with movement struggles. The conflict between groups becomes muddled until the primary harm is so entangled, it is impossible to isolate. They apologize for the wrong harms and claim they’ve done the work. They prioritize their reputation and use false personas to virtue signal, delegitimizing survivors, and anyone who points out the discrepancies. They sabotage all attempts of accountability that people have graciously tried to facilitate for them.

Is this an apology? Is this your version of accountability?
Is this your version of Accountability? Is this an apology? how do you break a boundary you yourself are even able to name?

I write this for others to see how insidious this behavior is. Not only did it disrupt my life, my safety, my housing, my friendships, my relationships with my own body, and harm my friends — but it also disrupted a movement, and continues to do so. I write this because I know this behavior continues and that as a community, I don’t want us to fail the others, not the way I was failed. Not the way I’ve failed the other survivors.

I write this because of one of the last times I interacted with him, was at the NNJ rally at Speaker Corey Johnson’s home, where he introduced me to a new BAJI intern, an 18-year-old non-binary femme. Where he tells me how they’ve just started using ‘they’ pronouns, and have been pushed out of their high school groups but want to organize and find their people. He pulls them away to meet someone else, saying how he’ll connect us, because they need community.

I think about them every day, because that was me. How many times did he have this amazing organizer or doula for me to meet? What about the times I did I show up at a bar, only to find just him, because everyone had already left? Were they ever even there? Did they end up at his apartment after those failed meetings? Did they have to sit and listen to him cry about the difficulties of being an organizer as if they weren’t one as well? Did he mention how important healers were to the movement, how this endless emotional labor was the work you were meant for? Did he lie about how many others he was sleeping with to them too? Did he constantly complain about their age, how this would have been real, if only you were older? If only you were older.

I write this because the key to this behavior is how he uses the movement to prey on people. Not only does he use his role with BAJI, and leverage relationships to find people to prey on, but he also uses his networks to silence survivors under threat of violence. None of this information is new. Community knows about this. I’ve stepped back several times from events or spaces, involving him, BAJI, or We Keep Us Safe, pulling a trusted comrade aside to say why. Each time I’ve been met with quiet whispers of “I heard”, “he did this suspect thing,” or even worse — “me too.” The endless labor of retelling this story, without it making a difference, without it being believed.

I think about all the times I saw this violence play out during my time organizing with No New Jails. Each time, I saw how movement politics and sexualized violence were manipulated. I was often messaged outside of core threads to be told, “Don’t listen to her, she’s just trying to stop the work,” “She’s crazy, other groups have had problems with her in the past, don’t listen” “They’re just saying this because they want to lead the work,” “Why would they ask such disruptive questions,” or “They aren’t even from here.” I thought I was being guided. It wasn’t until I found the others, and I started to speak out that insidious silencing came for me too. All of a sudden a few of my friends started to get those messages. That I was starting a witch hunt. That I couldn’t be trusted. That I was the feds. That I wasn’t a real abolitionist. Did I know the implications of what I was saying? Did I know that If the wrong folks heard, I could cause a black man to end up in jail? How could I be an abolitionist if I was sending black men to jail? The silencing came from all angles. My background was questioned. My work was doubted. I even questioned myself.

The worst part was that the silencing came from people who knew. The silencing came from comrades, assuring me publicly in threads, that we’d never tolerate sexualized violence in NNJ while showing my messages to my abuser, who would text me “What have I ever done to you?”

All of this culminated in my own ultimate silence in January. When I realized the harm that I had experienced was legitimate, and that the misogynoir rampant in our group was, I became more vocal. I began to see the connections between the violence I experienced, and the ways we did work. I saw how this behavior translated into actions that weren’t safe. When it became clear that FTP3 was about to happen, I knew that I wanted to be vocal about not endorsing the action, especially if my abuser and the comrades silencing others to protect him, were in charge of safety. When a comrade dropped in the chat, that one of the organizers was a parole officer, I knew we couldn’t proceed without a conversation, and that by the violent response of those protecting my abuser, that this was a triggering point. I felt ready to be open about my experience and how it was related to what was going on. A meeting was scheduled to discuss this. A meeting that was infiltrated by folks associated with the state who came prepared with personal information to use to attack and silence us all under the heavy threat of intense physical violence. And it worked. I spent months terrified about who I met with, who I spoke with, and who knew where I lived.

When I stepped into jail support a month ago, I could feel how white supremacy and misogyny were warping those spaces. I burnt myself out doing everything I could to make sure those were spaces that would never tolerate those behaviors. After FTP 4, when we were called (antagonistically) to provide support since they neglected to plan fully, I felt the pain of all those who were kettled. Young teens, who were fed to the state, traumatized without warning, or care and houseless people, who were caught up, and beaten were all passing through. Who was thinking about their safety?

But what does accountability even look like? What does it look like for me? What good is an apology, when writing this endangers my safety? What does an apology mean when I spent months begging my comrades, my friends, and even my partners to believe me? Only to see groups move without integrity, with so many negative repercussions. What does accountability mean, when every time we tried, my abuser had already headed off the narrative. Imagine being contacted with no consent, that you were engaging in an accountability process, for the wrong harms, at a date you didn’t agree to, and that your abuser had decided that your support system would consist of people who spent months silencing you.

As abolitionists, we know that no one is disposable. Including this organizer. But as Courtney Desiree Morris said in “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants”:

As angry as gender violence on the Left makes me, I am hopeful. I believe we have the capacity to change and create more justice in our movements. We don’t have to start witch hunts to reveal misogynists and informants. They out themselves every time they refuse to apologize, take ownership of their actions, start conflicts and refuse to work them out through consensus, mistreat their compañ@s. We don’t have to look for them, but when we are presented with their destructive behaviors we have to hold them accountable. Our strategies don’t have to be punitive; people are entitled to their mistakes. But we should expect that people will own those actions and not allow them to become a pattern.

I am writing this to put an end to the endless labor of retelling this story. To remind people that rape culture and misogyny are tied and that my abuser’s tendency to speak over and claim the work of black femmes, doesn’t end there. I’m writing this so that organizations and people who choose to still work with these folks, are forced to make that decision transparently. I’m writing this so that people who make that choice are pushed to address harms that will inevitably come. I’m writing so that organizations working with them can be accountable to themselves and to the community. I’m writing so that community can make a transparent decision about trusting folks who protect abusers. I’m writing this because we as more and more people join us in organizing toward a greater liberation, it is our responsibility to guide them with integrity. We do not live in a post white supremacist world and we are not exempt from internalized misogyny. We have to be accountable to the ways we may perpetuate these systems. If we do not, we will continue to jeopardize the safety of our people, and they are looking to us.

I’m writing this to call my community in. And honestly to call myself in as well. We cannot continue to be silent about things for the sake of the work. We cannot let misogyny continue to push us into urgency that leaves people behind.

--

--

Nat

A black queer full Spectrum Harm Reduction Abolitionist Doula. @natinthehattt