CW: This article discusses police brutality, gender-based violence and sexual assault.
On Wednesday, March 28, Vassar’s Women’s Center hosted an event titled “Roadmap for Revolutionaries: Resistance for All.” Executive Director and Publisher of Feminist Press at City University of New York Jamia Wilson was the event’s main speaker.
The primary topic of the event was social rights movements that have continued in the wake of the Women’s March and the March for Our Lives. The lecture specifically focused on how a successful movement requires momentum and how it maintains that spark in order to continually fight for social change.
Student interns in the Women’s Center played a pivotal role in planning the event. Director for Campus Life LGBTQ and Gender Resources Jodie Castanza commented, “I have been so proud to work with the Women’s Center Interns and to support them as they led peer conversations, planned programs and events, and culminated in bringing Jamia Wilson to campus for a presentation. They are incredible leaders, and I learn from and with them every day.”
Women’s Center Intern and main organizer of the event Darci Siegel ’20 also expected this event to be inspirational for Vassar’s activist community. She said, “As we have explored the meaning of feminism, and intersectional feminism on our campus, we have found that characteristics of global feminism are often absent from the conversation. Global feminist ideals and theories are an important part of this work and must be included in the conversation as we continue to reckon with the past, present, and future embodiments of feminism at Vassar. Because of [Wilson]’s lived experiences as someone who comes from a family of activists and as someone who has spent a lot of time abroad, we felt like she could speak to how we could apply feminist theories to the activist within the Vassar student.”
Wilson opened her speech by saying, “I would give you a bit of my personal stories and how different stories are connected to other stories, have raised up the new attitude in my family, and have led to me to see what I can report as an activist and writer. That is righteous solidarity and that is collaboration. Those are the two things that I want to talk about.”
Quoting feminist activist Audre Lorde’s words, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Wilson argued that, in the context of social rights movements, it is impossible to rely on any single tactic.
She also emphasized the importance of confidence in social rights movements, noting, “I was thinking about how, in every movement, every moment and the tools that we have in it should be trusted in order to know what is right for us and for community.”
Wilson told personal stories about older feminists who discouraged her from practicing certain tactics because in their experience, such approaches had not worked. For example, Wilson wanted to use social media to bring people’s attention to the march, but some of her older mentors thought it would only create a distraction.
However, times have changed and social media is now one of the most powerful means to create conversation. Furthermore, according to Wilson, the influence of social media is becoming more significant, as platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are inextricably interconnected with culture. She explained, “Cultural engagement actually infuses all campaigns and actions with possibilities and opportunities.”
Wilson also spoke about growing up in South Carolina in a family deeply engaged in civil rights movements. Her grandfather worked passionately to advocate for Black rights. Her father was also devoted to ameliorating poor economic conditions in Black communities.
Wilson said she was also influenced by her mother, who experienced the Orangeburg massacre on Feb. 8, 1968. On that day, more than 100 students gathered on the South Carolina State University campus in order to protest racial segregation in the city of Orangeburg. South Carolina highway patrol officers responded with violence and shot at the crowd; three protesters were killed and 27 others were injured (Smithsonian, “In 1968, Three Students Were Killed by Police. Today, Few Remember the Orangeburg Massacre,” 02.07.2018).
What Wilson’s mother remembered and recounted about the tragedy was the intensity of the police brutality, especially toward Black women. She and other Black women were battered, particularly on their reproductive body parts, and she still suffers from the physical effects of the violence. Wilson said, “It was from her that I learned about harassment and violence that is based on gender superiority.” She added, “I did not get here based on my own ability; I got here because there was a lineage, people who made sacrifices in order for me get more free so I can have a better education and be able to speak my voice more freely.”
Wilson also recounted the case of Joan Little, another relative. Little is an African American woman who was tried in 1974 for the murder of a white prison guard who had attempted to rape her. The case became a crucial point in the United States’ legal history, since she was the first woman to be acquitted in a murder trial on the grounds of self-defense. The trial focused national attention on the issues of the validity of capital punishment and racial and sexual inequality in the criminal justice system (CBS News, “Joan Little’s 1975 murder trial: a milestone on several fronts,” 08.14.2015).
Wilson pointed out that Little’s bravery in revealing truths and protecting her rights inspired grassroot movements for Black women’s rights and raised questions about biases inherent in the criminal justice system. Wilson acknowledged that her cultural background, as well as her personal life and the events experienced by her family members, has been influential in her career as an activist.
“I learned throughout my life that struggle is not new, but we must continue to show up because that is how we stay new and do not burn out,” Wilson said toward the end of her speech. “People who are against us want us to burn out. They want us to sit and in fight, caught up in the spiral of constant disagreement in the group, and won’t be able to stand up and face the problem. And that is not okay. We simply don’t have time for in-fighting. We don’t have time to debate about whether traditional tools or technological tactics is better.” She added, “I’m calling you to keep standing up. On days when you feel it is too much, believe into yourself and your community and ask to be lifted up because you deserve it and a sustainability of our movement depends on it.”
Siegel concluded, “We hope that by engaging in conversations about [Wilson]’s experiences and the theory and ideology of Global Feminism and various methods of activism on our campus, we will lift the voices of marginalized identities and increase the mindfulness of various experiences moving forward in our work, leisure and campus movements.”