Monday, June 25, 2007

Talk from the "Hijacking the Master's Tools" Panel at the Allied Media Conference

Stand up if you’ve ever talked to, pleaded with, yelled at or thanked a printer or copy machine.

Stand up if you’ve ever stolen office supplied or made non-work-related copies at your job.

Stand up if you’ve ever gotten away with something because of your good looks.

Stand up if you secretly (or publicly) dream of making a planetary impact in a very non-globalization way.

Stand up if you’ve ever lent someone a book with out expecting to get it back, because the conversation the book made possible was more important than owning it.

Stand up if you have at least one friend who makes you smarter just by being around.

Stand up if you KNOW that you come from a long history of BADASS women of color, even if you don’t know all of their names yet.

They say the trees hold ancestor spirits. And while not always in a position to knock on wood, I believe that. I believe that we release the energy of Audre Lorde, and June Jordan and Gloria Anzaldua and my grandmother, illegal and urgent with every stolen copy we make. This is our victory, dark lifeblood shaped down into font. They say the trees hold ancestor spirits, so of course they chop them down. But this, our triumph, is instantaneous. Our wisdom shredded thin writing paper cuts into skin can only be dispersed. It can never be destroyed.
Good afternoon! I have been imagining your faces for months, so thank you for being here. This talk is dedicated to our ancestors and elders who created networks of women of color as a means of survival. This is dedicated to all of what it means to stand up. This talk is dedicated to you; this talk is dedicated to us. Receive this offering.
My name is Alexis Pauline Gumbs and 6 years ago I founded a publishing initiative called BrokenBeautiful Press based on a simple insistence that freedom should be free, because freedom, like love and time is something that we make, together. Not something that we own, not something that we can buy or sell, freedom is always in the making. BrokenBeautiful Press achieves its simple mission of making love with you by offering worksheets, teaching tools, interactive anthologies, and flyers and stickers for free download (we suggest you print out our workbooks at work, our stickers are designed to be printed on mailing label paper...waiting to be liberated in a supply closet near you.) We offer a do it yourself couture fashion line that basically encourages you to write all over your clothes in permanent marker, but glamorously, we have an online writing group, a poetry exchange and a fundraising portal where community organizations can offer their collaborative publications in exchange for donations. Of course I encourage to go to and play around, and I encourage those of you have created zines, worksheets and teaching tools to make them available for free download publication through our site, but that is the NEXT step.
What made what I want to call the BrokenBeautiful breakthrough possible is basically two things. One, I happen to have friends who make me smarter just by being around and one of these friends is Serena and two, I with Serena am located in a community activated through the urgency of need to deploy every means, physical, emotional, spiritual, and cybernetic to raise a voice that was being slammed into the ground.
That is to say, before UBUNTU formed in Durham North Carolina to respond to one among many instances of women of color survivors of sexual assault being crucified for speaking our own truths I had no idea how to make a blog, how to post a link into an email, or how to make a pdf available for download, I hadn’t the first clue. I had completely abandoned the idea of a BrokenBeautiful Press website because the result of my many hours wrestling with dreamweaver had left me with a website so embarrassing and hideous that rather than direct people to it I would have preferred to ask people to call me on the telephone and write down in pen the full contents of every single publication we made while I read them out loud. This is how analog I am.
But the mass media and a number of independent defenders of white supremacy and patriarchy were sending a murderous message to me, to the women of color and sex workers in my community and to survivors of gendered violence and oppressed people generally. That message was podcasted, broadcasted, v-casted like airborne poison to still the blood. The message was a reinvokation of the shape of our daily pain. The message was so simple we already had it memorized. We recognized it from the lining of the nightmares of our mothers. And this message was everywhere from the hatemail sent to the family residence of a particular mother, student, dancer, black woman in Durham to the nightly news to Saturday Night Live to the campus newspaper and so-called jokes on t-shirts. The message was unambiguous. The message was not metaphorical. The message was this. If you speak, we will kill you.
But thank the Lorde we are not first. And by the Lorde, here and elsewhere I mean Audre Lorde. Thank the Lorde we come from a badass tradition of women who said silence is already a form of death SO IT IS BETTER TO SPEAK, remembering we were never meant to survive. Because remember or find out for the first time that Kitchen Table: Radical Women of Color Press was not founded because Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Merle Woo, Gloria Hull and others wanted something to add to their CV’s. These women created a publishing movement because 12 black women were murdered in Boston within three months and both the police and the mainstream black community tried to say their deaths were inconsequential on the grounds that they may have been prostitutes. Let me be clear, the tradition of radical women of color publishing that comes to us in the forms of anthologies like this Bridge Called My Back and INCITE’s the Color of Violence more recently is NOT an academic surplus (though let me also be clear I am committed to siphoning off every resource from Duke University that they mistakenly give me access to)...the tradition of radical women of color publishing was created not out of professional privilege but out of what it means to be a women of color in public responding to massive routine and state sanctioned violence and facing death every time we speak.
So when UBUNTU hustles together to make a booklet about how to support survivors of sexual violence and BrokenBeautiful Press makes it available for pdf download so that you can print it out at you job and pass it out in your community, we are acting on the precedent that the Boston-based Combahee River Collective (a group of radical black lesbian socialist feminists) set when they made 12,000 copies of a pamphlet called “Six Women Why Did they Die?” and had it reprinted in a national feminist magazine. Because (1) you know they didn’t pay for all those copies so as usual, we inherit the hustle, and two they knew that women of color living outside of Boston needed their analysis, and their boldness as much as they did themselves.
We live in this precedent. I don’t know about Serena, but I personally have cried countless tears of joy because of those women of color, survivors of sexual assault, some of who are in the audience who said “I am a women of color survivor in Texas, thank you for posting the journal of healing that you made. I am thinking about starting my own healing writing circle for survivors here,” or “I can’t come to the National Day of Truthtelling” but I’m lighting candles on my altar because I am with you,” or “I wrote this poem about my process of healing” or just “Thank you. I hear you.” I would have asked those of you who have already viewed or sent comments to the BrokenBeautiful Press and UBUNTU websites or emailed us to stand up in the beginning with the other stand up statements, but I probably would have started crying and been completely useless for at least the 10 minutes of this talk.
The bottom line is that as UBUNTU and BrokenBeautiful Press we engage in web-enabled grass-roots publishing for the obvious reason: connection across space and time. We are committed to remaining tapped in to the legacies of struggle that we know about and those which we are still discovering and we are committed to using every means necessary to remind ourselves and you that we are a movement, we have each other. Our bravery in the face of repression is not sustained by our justified anger; it is sustained by the energy of our ancestors and our love for each other. I am not arguing for the internet as the new cooler, better way to be an activist, because just like the telegram the internet has it’s own limitations...and we are doing the same thing with blogs and web-rings and carnivals that our predecessors were doing with newspaper clippings in letters sent through the postal service in between conferences. I would never say that the internet is the place where the “real” radical girls hang out; because I myself am so analog it’s not funny. I don’t even know how to send a text message.... let alone make a podcast, but I am learning because I believe that sharing skills, fears, insight, and tricks with all of you is the only way to achieve sustainable revolution. I have decided that nothing, not hatemail, not 1000 miles, not the fact that I can’t connect to the internet in my home, not my ridiculous workload and low-tech sensibilities, I have decided that nothing will keep us apart.
So although BrokenBeautiful Press is nothing but a highly coordinated constellation of free blogs, I insist that what we are doing is more than blogging in concert. I insist that this is more.

We are planting trees.


maia said...

wow. thanks for this piece. hope you are doing well. maia

adriennemaree said...

you amaze me lady friend!!

Anonymous said...

Just came to this post while looking up info about the Combahee River Collective. And I wanted to say thank you for writing and sharing this piece and thank you for the work you are doing. Perhaps I'll see you at this year's Allied Media Conference? (I'm doing a presentation on facilitating prisoners' access to media, whether it be zines, alternative publications, the internet, whatever, but just getting their stories and voices out from behind the walls!)

lex said...

anonymous! your work is right on time...i'm definitely excited to meet you at the AMC.
and to learn your name :)