So as you all have heard by now, we (Beja & Charlie) have decided to step away from HAVOQ. This is not something done easily or lightly, but rather for many personal and political reasons. We are not under the impression that stepping away from HAVOQ excuses us from continuing to reflect and challenge oppressive dynamics we have internalized.
Part of Charlie’s thought in proposing this workgroup to HAVOQ near the end of 2011 was to build off of HAVOQ’s work around borders / bodies / policing / queerness / anti capitalism, rather than the other option he had considered, which was creating a whole new group. Beja had joined HAVOQ a few months earlier because of its awesome body of analysis and its centering of queerness in political work, and signed on as a bottomliner of this workgroup due to not having an affinity to the other current projects of HAVOQ but with a desire to create a political home there. Despite our best intentions, we made many mistakes along the way this past year and a half. Yes, mistakes are inevitable in social change work, but we wanted to take a moment to draw out some of the particularly large mistakes in hopes that we all may learn from them so as to not repeat them.
First and foremost, both of us took on leadership within HAVOQ before investing the time necessary to build deep relationships with other core members and without having adequately learned the dynamics of HAVOQ’s history & organizational culture. In retrospect, it’s likely that we were allowed, even encouraged, to take on such a role due in part to the ongoing internal fragmentation and internalized privilege culture already manifesting within HAVOQ. Additionally, we mistook the lack of participation from core HAVOQ members as resulting from their lack of capacity rather than from concerns about how our project fit into the larger group. These factors allowed assumptions to be made about the level of shared understanding and support within HAVOQ of our intentions for the project, including but not limited to our role within HAVOQ’s traditional leadership structure and organizing model and whether or not members of the group were in support of the project having a home within HAVOQ. Because of these assumptions, expressed support / involvement from some members and our part in a larger culture of conflict avoidance, not enough meaningful dialogue was had organization wide about the project prior to it starting or as it evolved. We also didn’t prioritize building a relationship with each other, which meant that we weren’t aligned in our vision as co-organizers until almost 8 months into the project, which meant that weren’t having difficult conversations with each other soon enough. As a result of all of this, almost a year passed before we fully heard the critiques from both POC and white members and by then a large amount of distrust and organizational damage had already been done.
Given all of the above, which we can’t undo nor seek to hide from, we are left with the decision about how to best move forward with integrity and continue doing work that we feel is important and necessary. Though we have both chosen to leave HAVOQ, we are grateful for the lessons we have learned this year and we don’t wish to discount the ongoing work that is happening within HAVOQ to address issues of privilege and power & we support those who feel it is their place to stay engaged in those conversations. Please contact liberatinghavoq [at] gmail.com to find out more about this process and ways to plug in.
As for what moving forward with this project will look like… We have spent time reflecting on our original intentions for starting this project. For Charlie, some of these included a desire to explicitly queer the prison abolition and solidarity work that was happening in the bay, to provide material support to POC & front line led prison groups and also to offer an easy / entry access point to prison abolition work for less politicized &/or mainstream LGBT folks. For Beja, there was a desire to engage in conversations and build analysis that tied prisons and criminalization into a broader lens of systemic race / class / gender oppression in part due to her conflicted personal experiences related to the PIC. And, after much discussion with each other and community members, we have decided to recommit to these original intentions.
We recognize that we have benefited from HAVOQ’s years of work (deepening a queer analysis of criminalization / building a base and reputation / etc) and that if we wish to continue the project we have started, which we do, then we need to try to make a clean break / fresh start, affording folks who are a part of this project because of their relationship to HAVOQ the opportunity to step away as well. For penpals, we leave it to each of you to decide how to move forward with your relationship. For many of those we’ve spoken to, ending or pausing these intimate and powerful connections is not something that feels appropriate. If you feel that you should stop writing, or if you wish to use your own address in order to separate from this project, please communicate this directly to your penpal and update us about this for our records. You can also be in touch for support on deciding how/what to communicate to your penpal.
If you wish to continue in any way with this project, given where it’s at and where it’s been, please send us an email to “opt-in” by May 17, 2013 to flyingoverwalls [at] gmail.com. Otherwise, we will be removing current members from our list. Our ‘prisonabqueer’ googlegroup will become an announce-only list – a way for our penpals and other interested folks to stay current on our work, get event announcements and get notified when they have new mail. We will also be creating an organizers list for folks who want to help shape / steer the group, create study group curriculum, plan events, do outreach, and be a more involved part of the conversation. Please contact us if you wish to join that group. We do not know exactly what this will look like, but there are a few things that we know for sure. One is that we will be prioritizing the development of a trusting, privilege-aware and conflict-ready culture amongst those involved in the project. Another is that we will be having initial conversations with Black & Pink to explore to possibility of turning this project into a B&P SF Bay Area chapter. We will also likely be supporting local solidarity efforts for the upcoming Pelican Bay Hunger Strikes.
Finally, though we all feel individually committed to continued support of TGI Justice Project, we recognize that organizational support for TGIJP was something that was done specifically under the banner of HAVOQ. We wish to honor the amazing self-leadership that is happening at TGIJP and encourage folks to continue to support them, no matter your organizational affiliation. If you wish to continue TGIJP support work as an individual, please contact Janetta directly at janetta [at] tgijp.org to get on her email list. She is hosting mail clinics every Tuesday evening for at least the next month or so.
Charlie & Beja