Thinking about care; remembering Salvador

I’ve been thinking a lot about the article we read on prison abolition– “Free Us All”— and the lessons about care embedded into it. I don’t think it is easy for many to associate radical politics with care, partially because of the connotations associated with the word “radical.” Yet, this is exactly what is happening in the feminist and female-led defense campaigns for incarcerated people in the United States, and in campaigns beyond our borders.

When Saidiya Hartman said that “care is the antidote for violence,” she put prison abolition into a feminist and humanist frame. And Hartman’s idea about care is at the core of our self-reflective assignment. So I think it is important that I start to think about what it means to use care as an antidote to violence.

Right around the time I read Mariame Kaba’s “Free Us All”, I was also learning more about the redevelopment of Salvador, which I talk about in my previous blog post. Yet what I want to develop more is the humanist pushback to the racial violence entrenched into Brazil’s liberal democracy, which I think echoes what Hartman is asking organizers and citizens to do in order to radically change oppressive systems.

Like the feminist organizers who work on participatory defense campaigns within the context of a larger goal (prison abolition in the United States), a group of Afro-Brazilian female organizers are the ones who organize resistance to racist urban policies in Salvador with the longterm goal of affirming their rights to ownership of their land, homes, and livelihoods.

Based on a legacy of Afro-Brazilian female-led organizing in Salvador’s favelas, organizers in Gamboa de Baixo exemplify how feminist politics of care have the capacity to radically change the status quo. On August 24, 2004, it was a large group of mostly women and children that organized a protest in front of the state water company, demanding that the water fees be lowered since many of the homes in Gamboa de Baixo did not even have plumbing. One of the directors of the water company asked to speak to the president—a mother, holding her baby, retorted: “We don’t have a president. We only have residents!” and demanded that the director addressed the whole crowd. This led to an immediate meeting with multiple organizers, and the company resolved to lower fees, conduct an emergency inspection of the neighborhood, and immediately complete the installation of sewage systems and water pipes.

A seemingly small victory in the context of the whole fight, it was black women who used politics of care—demanding care for their families, demanding that all the organizers be heard—that led to a change that informs a long-term goal. In this way, we can see how radical politics of care have a global context within the black struggle for racial equality. Informed by these patterns, I am encouraged to think of more ways that care is the antidote to the very violence that organizers in my own networks are fighting against, and how our organizing can be informed by the lessons I learn from these radically caring campaigns.

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