What's the Real Deal About the Hampshire CLPP Reproductive Freedom Conference Using Police to Eject Stop Patriarchy From Their Conference Under Threat of Arrest?

May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


For a video explanation of what happened please watch:

On April 12, 2013 eight members of the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org) traveled up to Hampshire college to take part in the annual conference sponsored by the program for Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) called "From Abortion Rights to Social Justice, Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom."

We were motivated to attend by our overall opposition to the war on women, but especially by the extremeness of the attacks on abortion in the last few months. In addition to learning from and connecting with others, we aimed to bring in a program of mass political resistance and struggle to counter the spate of new laws, threats, stigma and restrictions on abortion access throughout the country—starting with the April 25th Student Day of Action for Abortion On Demand and Without Apology and continuing through major plans this summer.

At the same time, StopPatriarchy.org sees the assault on the right to abortion as the "mirror opposite" of the assault and violence against women being mainstreamed through the increasingly degrading, cruel, brutal and humiliating nature of pornography and the massive growth of the global sex industry which has destroyed the lives of millions upon millions of women and very young girls. This is something we were prepared to engage people over. And within all this, some of us were bringing the view of all-the-way revolution, rooting the 40 years of backlash against women's rights as well as the New Jim Crow and other crimes against the people in the system of capitalism-imperialism and advocating for revolution and communism as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian [revcom.us/avakian/index.html].

Differences in Approach Emerge the First Night

The first night of the CLPP conference is an Abortion Speak Out. With her permission, we will share some of the story one of the women with Stop Patriarchy told during the Speak Out. She said, "My abortion story is very simple. I got pregnant, I didn't want a baby, so I had an abortion. That was it. It wasn't sad, it wasn't agonizing, it was my decision and it was the right decision." She expressed anger that abortion is so difficult to access and so stigmatized, stating, "No one should ever be made to feel guilty for getting an abortion! Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators."

While she spoke, a CLPP organizer held up a sign insisting that she "use only 'I' statements." All we could deduce from this was that the organizer didn't like that our friend said woman shouldn't feel guilty. (For a fuller argument on why women should not feel guilty for abortion, see Sunsara Taylor's piece Should a Woman Feel Sad About Her Abortion? Fuck No!)

Not everyone was preoccupied with "I" statements. Several women in the audience, at least one of whom then got up later to tell about her abortion and who was clearly moved and motivated by the approach taken by our friend, came up afterward with deep appreciation.

Registering and Setting Up Our Stop Patriarchy Table

At lunch on the second day we registered, paid for and set up our organizational table in the main conference area along with all the other organization's tables. Immediately, attendees (and folks from other tables) began visiting, picking up literature and buying t-shirts which read "Abortion On Demand & Without Apology!" and stickers which read "Imagine/Create a World Without Rape" and "If You Can't Imagine Sex Without Porn, You're Fucked!"

While that went on, some of us went around with the call for April 25th and got an extremely positive response from attendees. Then we split up to attend various workshops.

Participating in Workshops

Many of us spoke up in the workshops that we attended, and at times this included questioning or challenging some of the assumptions of some of the speakers. More than once we challenged the idea that Obama is "our friend," pointing out that he has conciliated with and demobilized others in the face of the most extreme assault on abortion since Roe v. Wade. We also brought in that he is carrying out crimes against humanity with his use of targeted assassinations through drones and through presiding over the torture in Guantanamo. We argued against relying on the Democrats and in favor of relying on ourselves to bring forward mass political struggle to defeat the total war against abortion and birth control.

While we expressed differences at times with various speakers (and leaders of CLPP), this was all well within the expressed unity and purpose of the conference overall. Even more, the spirit of our participation was to take part in open, principled, and deep examination of how to understand the challenges we are facing and what it truly will take to change the direction of all of society around the assaults on women.

A Dinner Discussion on the Source and Solution to Women's Oppression—And Frustration by Those Looking to Debate Porn

At dinner, Sunsara Taylor and those with the New York Revolution Club among us invited attendees to join a "DIY" (do-it-yourself) workshop at a big round table in the eating area (this is the same area where the organizational tables were set up). The workshop was called, "The Oppression of Women is NOT Human Nature, It is the Nature of the System: Where this Oppression Comes from and the Revolution We Need to End It."

As we were about to get started, a group of about four people came over to take part in what they thought was going to be a discussion/debate about pornography and the sex industry. Taylor apologized for what appeared to have been a misunderstanding among our own group as to what the topic was going to be. She explained that while the workshop would encompass some discussion of porn, it wasn't going to focus on it and made clear they were welcome to stay or they could schedule another time to talk about porn specifically. A man in that group seemed annoyed and held up a copy of the Stop Patriarchy Call to Action (which condemns porn), saying, "I just think if you are going to have a discussion of sex work you ought to have some sex workers present."

As they walked away, a woman in that group said loudly, "Did we just get kicked out of a discussion we were invited to be part of?" Taylor responded one more time, "To be clear, we made a mistake among our group and didn't communicate clearly and I apologize that you were given the impression we were holding a discussion on porn." She repeated the title of the actual workshop and made clear again that they were invited to join in or we would schedule something later that focuses on porn.

That group walked away and the DIY workshop commenced.

An Argument Over Porn and the Sex Industry at the Stop Patriarchy Table

While most of the folks in our contingent turned our attention to the workshop Taylor was conducting, the group that had come to argue about pornography and "sex work" went over to the Stop Patriarchy table and got in an argument there instead. As far as the two Stop Patriarchy organizers who were at the table, this was not only fine—it was welcome.

The pro-porn group brought to bear their personal experiences with the "sex industry," with sexual violence, and with sexual practices including bondage, domination, and sado-masochism (BDSM). Our people kept posing that we are not in the business of policing individual's consensual sexual behavior, but we do insist that sexuality is not something that is formed for anyone in a vacuum. We live in a world that is saturated with violence against and domination of women, a world that sexualizes degradation and humiliation and we are not surprised that those ideas get reflected in people's genuinely felt sexual desires. Including by people who have been victims of sexual violence and by people who in some ways may be seeking to oppose sexual violence and oppression. But, you don't have the "right" to market yourself as a sexual commodity outside of a world that gives rise to the idea of women's bodies as commodities, as things to be used, tortured, degraded and hurt for the sexual pleasure of men. And in that kind of world, this real world that is bigger than any individual and which is what shapes and influences individual's impulses, is littered with the bodies of literally millions upon millions upon millions of women and very young girls who have been kidnapped, pimped, beaten, tortured, sold by starving families, drugged and tricked, and repeatedly raped and sold and then discarded as nothing more than unthinking flesh.

If men have the "right" to buy women's bodies and subordination, if men have the "right" to purchase and get off on images depicting the objectification and humiliation and torture of women, then women will never have the right to walk the earth free of being viewed as nothing more than despised objects and free from the ever-present threat of being attacked, raped, tortured, pimped, and in millions of other ways dehumanized and degraded (including through the widespread humiliation in the mainstream culture: rape jokes, dehumanizing ads, woman-hating music, and much more).

This conversation went on for a while and while it was passionate, our people were calm, substantive and principled. They repeatedly refocused things on the need to liberate the half of humanity that has been in chains for thousands of years (women) and look at all these phenomenon from that vantage, not from one's own narrow experience.

Our two members from StopPatriarchy also repeatedly clarified our position. The pro-porn group kept accusing us of shaming, blaming, stigmatizing and seeking to criminalize women in the sex industry and we drew their attention to our Call to Action which makes clear:

"Our purpose is NOT to lobby for new legislation to ban pornography ("decency laws" have always served to further repress homosexuality, boundary-challenging art, and scientific sex education). We oppose the criminalization of women in the sex industry. Our mission is to challenge the new generation in particular to reject this culture of rape and pornography, to resist the shaming of women who have sex and/or abortions, to wage fierce cultural and political resistance to wake others up, and to bring forward a liberating culture that celebrates the full equality and liberation of women."

Eventually this pro-porn group got frustrated and walked away. Our members thought that was the end of it.

CLPP Student Organizers and Mia Sullivan Arrive with Campus Police

Apparently, however, this group didn't just walk away. They went to the CLPP organizers and told them they felt that the conference was no longer a "safe space" because of our presence at it.

Soon, a couple of CLPP student organizers appeared at the Stop Patriarchy table followed almost immediately by CLPP Director Mia Sullivan and Campus Police. They told our people at the table that they had to pack up the table and leave immediately or be arrested. The only explanation they gave was that "students had complained that we had made the conference no longer a safe space for them."

To repeat and be very clear: the first time our organizers were told to leave the police were already there. Neither the CLPP student organizers nor Mia Sullivan asked our organizers about what had transpired. They did not ask others who had witnessed the exchange. They did not seek to find a way to discuss and resolve any potential problems or facilitate the principled continued participation among people with divergent viewpoints at their conference. They simply came over and told our organizers to pack up and leave or be arrested.

After this happened, one of our organizers spoke for a few minutes with one of the CLPP student organizers, clarifying once again that we stand firmly against criminalizing or shaming people in the sex industry. For a moment, our organizer thought this was part of a process of working through what had been a misunderstanding. But Mia Sullivan, who had been standing nearby this whole time with police, intervened again making clear that nothing was up for investigation or discussion and insisting once again that we leave or be arrested.

When the rest of us noticed police and CLPP organizers surrounding our table and came over to inquire what was going on, Mia Sullivan refused to explain, simply stating, "I have already told one of your other organizers and I am not going to explain myself." The police then made clear that the rest of us would also be arrested if we didn't immediately leave.

The police and Mia Sullivan hovered over us as we packed up our table and carried the boxes to our car. Campus police stood with our people in the darkened parking lot until we loaded our car and took pictures of our license plate.

A Violation of CLPP's Own Principles

Even by the conference's own principles we never violated anyone's "safe space." It says very clearly in the pamphlet "creating conference community: a guide to a Healthy Conference Experience" put out by CLPP, in the section on "safety":

"Protocol: ask for consent to continue conversations that were begun earlier, allow the space for people to leave a situation that is triggering, and be conscious of how our questions or comments might be marginalizing or tokenizing."

At every point people were free to "leave [the] situation"! The pro-porn group had approached our table, we didn't go up to them. They had our Call to Action in hand. They had at least read enough of it to know that we oppose porn and they had come specifically to argue with us about that.

Is "safe space" to mean that people should be protected from ideas that differ from their own?

Who could possibly have respect for a group that, when approached, didn't even defend what they stood for?

It also states in CLPP's "Conference Community" pamphlet that:

"We want all participants to know that Hampshire College Campus Police officers will be around campus during the conference weekend. These officers are available to de-escalate situations if opponents of our social justice causes become disruptive over the weekend. We recognize that our communities have different histories with law enforcement and have worked with the officers to raise awareness around these issues."

First, it is outrageous that anyone can call themselves a movement for social justice and rely on police and the force of the highly repressive, oppressive and violent state that rules over the people. There is a long and well-documented history of police and other state agencies fomenting divisions, setting people up, and outright assassinating and wrongly imprisoning fighters for liberation. Calling police on others in the movement is doing the work of the state.

Second, these officers were not called out against "opponents of our social justice causes," unless CLPP has some unspoken official policy of upholding and defending the porn industry and the sexual enslavement of women!

Stop Patriarchy did not violate any principles or standards of CLPP as officially set forward. And, as people with a well-documented track record of fighting on the front lines against the various fronts of the war on women—traveling to Charlotte and to other places where abortion clinics were under siege, spearheading for two years in a row an abortion rights presence in both DC and Bay Area on the anniversaries of Roe v. Wade, protesting at St. Patrick's Cathedral when Timothy Dolan who is based there) led the attacks on birth control, taking over the original Hooters Restaurant and various porn stores in Times Square, joining in the outpourings against rape and sexual violence and much, much more—we could hardly be called "opponents... of social justice causes." (Unless—again—upholding porn and the sexual enslavement of women is an unspoken official policy of CLPP!)

Third, the police were not used to "de-escalate [the] situation." Quite the opposite; the "situation" had ended. It was calling in the police and using them to suppress and expel, under threat of arrest, a differing political view that was peacefully expressed, that was the "escalating."

Sunday Morning—One Last Attempt to Participate

On Sunday morning, Stop Patriarchy decided to go back to the campus in the hope of participating in the final sessions of the CLPP conference. We did this both because we felt that the use of police against us set a terrible precedent that had to be opposed, and because we wanted to reconnect with the people we'd met to make the April 25th day of action as powerful as possible.

Our time back at the conference was short. Within minutes of our arrival, CLPP organizers (including, once again Mia Sullivan) appeared with campus police (more of them this time) and threatened us with arrest if we did not leave immediately. One of the officers grabbed Sunsara Taylor by the arm even as she was already walking towards the exit. He only stopped, from what we could tell, because two of the people with her started yelling at them to take their hands off her and many students were around witnessing all this with alarm.

We had handed out some copies of the statement that we had printed up at our hotel protesting the use of police to eject us from the conference and very quickly were escorted by police back to our van.

By coincidence, one of the CLPP student organizers who emceed a portion of a plenary session and been present at one point as police were forcing us to leave walked past our van as we were approaching it. One of us called out to her, "How does it feel to call the police on revolutionaries? Does it make you feel powerful? Does it make you feel good?"

She looked squarely at us and said, "You people are foul."

We found this shocking and asked what exactly she thought we'd done.

She insisted that the police had only been called only after we refused student organizers' requests that we leave. This, as we've addressed, is untrue. She also claimed that "people had been complaining to us about you since you arrived." This is something that, if true, neither corresponded to the overall extremely favorable response we had been getting from those we were interacting with nor was it (if true) ever raised to us by CLPP organizers. But her claims and the disgust with which she addressed us did make us wonder what exactly is being claimed about us among other CLPP organizers.

But "You Made Someone Cry"

One of the accusations that has come at us since the conference is that "we made someone cry" during the argument at our table.

While it is true that someone cried, two things must be said.

First, "making someone cry" is not a criminal offense.

Second, it is wrong to assume that just because someone cried that Stop Patriarchy had done something wrong. How could a movement possibly confront the oppression and enslavement of women—how widespread it is throughout the whole world and how deeply it wounds people into their most intimate and personal places—without it sometimes calling forth very deep emotions? There had been many instances throughout the conference—including during the Abortion Speak Out as well as other instances—where people were in tears. Should the organizers of the Speak Out therefore be arrested? Of course not!

Stop Patriarchy makes a principle of not blaming or shaming people for their experiences or desires and this was the approach taken by those at our table. This is not, however, a guarantee that no one will ever be upset. Always, we give people space to disengage if don't feel comfortable pursuing a discussion further. This, too, was the case during this discussion, everyone was free to walk away from our table at any time.

One Final Irony

As we put it in our open letter to the CLPP organizers and Hampshire community:

"Finally, it is a bitter irony that your conference included numerous workshops on 'state violence,' 'racial justice,' and the 'prison industrial complex' yet one of the people you called the police on is a young Black man who has been Stopped & Frisked growing up in Brooklyn more times than he can remember. This young man decided to put his body on the line and face up to a year in jail when he joined in the campaign of mass civil disobedience against Stop & Frisk last year together with Carl Dix, Cornel West, and dozens of others. It is a further bitter irony that your conference held workshops and gave voice extensively to concerns about making the conference welcoming and safe for LGBT people, yet one of the people you called the police on is a transgender person who has (owing to the obvious dangers which face transgender people particularly at the hands of police and in jail) has judiciously calculated which political activities to take part in specifically to avoid the risk of arrest. Neither of these people imagined that a conference on 'Abortion Rights' and 'Social Justice' would be the place where they faced the greatest threat of being imprisoned!"

Join Us in Protesting This Outrageous Action By CLPP

Please join us in demanding an apology from CLPP and that they open up a forum to StopPatriarchy to come back up and present our views to the Hampshire community free from threat or suppression. Send a message through our website: stoppatriarchy.org/opposesuppression.

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