Re-building the Anti-Violence Movement

By Patrisia Mac?as Rojas Oct 10, 2000

Related Article: The Color of Violence Against Women by Angela Davis

Those of us present at the Color of Violence: Violence Against Women of Color conference at the University of California, Santa Cruz on April 29 and 30 witnessed something truly remarkable and potentially revolutionary. Over 1,500 Native American, African American, Latina, Asian, and other women–and a few men–came together from all over the country and the world to redefine anti-violence resistance. The response was so overwhelming that another 2,000 women had to be turned away.

The Color of Violence marked the first national event in which a multi-racial, multi-ethnic progressive group of activists, students, academics, and service providers met to discuss and plan alternative ways to address violence in the lives of women of color.

Like other radical feminists of color, Andrea Smith, a Native American graduate student at U.C. Santa Cruz and the conference coordinator, was fed up with the professionalization of the anti-violence movement and its marginalization of women of color. A longtime rape crisis activist, she was critical of the movement’s increasingly apolitical, social service orientation.

Smith staged the event with the purpose of highlighting the issue of violence against women of color and repoliticizing the anti-violence movement. "This has the potential to be revolutionary because it focuses on the larger picture–institutional, state, and economic violence–and also confronts personal violence within communities of color with grassroots political strategies. There’s a tendency within the anti-violence movement to see the police, prisons, and the entire criminal justice system as the solution to sexual/domestic violence in a way that isn’t critical of their roles in perpetrating violence against communities of color."

The conference brought together activists organizing against military violence in the Philippines, New Zealand, Okinawa, South Korea, and Mexico with those organizing against sexual/domestic violence in the U.S. The workshops and panels covered a broad range of key issues, including: Law Enforcement and Violence Against Women of Color, Militarism and Violence, Violence Against Women of Color in the Global Economy, Organizing Against Violence in Communities of Color, and Challenging the Depoliticization of the Anti-Violence Movement. Some of the presenters were Beth Richie, Gail Small, Urvashi Vaid, Maria Jimenez, Haunani Trask, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Renee Saucedo, Luana Ross, and Kimberle Crenshaw.

There were also cultural performances and workshops, most notably, a one-woman show by Deborah Edwards entitled "From Whores to Matriarchs: Black Women Survivors on the Edge." However, Smith says the event was never intended to be "just a conference." The original idea was to hold a planning meeting to start an organization that linked sexual and domestic violence against women of color to broader forms of economic and political violence in communities of color that have been exacerbated by globalization. Even as the conference took on a life of its own, Smith kept a focus on building an organization. A lunchtime planning meeting brought together women who are committed to launching a national organization dedicated to ending violence against women of color. A founding conference for the new organization is scheduled for the Fall of 2001 in Chicago.

Says Smith, "The success of the conference gives me hope that it is possible to do organizing in a different way. I saw this as a sign that women of color are ready to take some serious power and make some real change."