Shifting Political Power Through Organizing

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Julián and Sawyer ask Marguerite Casey Foundation President Dr. Carmen Rojas about her thoughts on how the leaked Supreme Court decision seemingly invalidating abortion rights will impact the state of organizing in the months to come. They also welcome MCF Freedom Scholar Dr. Alisa Bierria of UCLA’s Gender Studies Program to talk about the potential for mass criminalization following the end of Roe.

Follow Dr. Rojas online at @crojasphd and the Marguerite Casey Foundation at @caseygrants. Find out more about Dr. Alisa’s work here.

Keep up with Julián on Twitter at @JulianCastro and Instagram at @JulianCastroTX. Sawyer can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @SawyerHackett. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.

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‘Our America’ is presented in part by the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

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Dr. Carmen Rojas, Julian Castro, Dr. Alisa Bierria, Sawyer Hackett

Julian Castro  00:13

Hey there. I’m Julian Castro.

Sawyer Hackett 

And I’m Sawyer Hackett.

Julian Castro 

And welcome to OUR AMERICA. This week we’re excited to chat with two incredible guests about their work in their respective fields, including Dr. Alisa Bierria. She’s an assistant professor in the Department of Gender Studies at UCLA. She’s also a 2020 MARGUERITE Casey Foundation, Freedom scholar. We’re gonna hear from her in just a bit. But first, we’re really excited to welcome back the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s president and CEO, Dr. Carmen Rojas, to talk about her organization’s ongoing commitment to supporting vulnerable communities. We’re gonna touch on a few issues related to race and the economy. But first, Dr. Rojas, it’s great to see you welcome back to the show.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

It’s wonderful to see you Secretary Castro and Sawyer.

Julian Castro 

what a week it has been, you know, speaking of vulnerable communities, vulnerable people in our country, after the leaked Supreme Court opinion that would end Roe v. Wade, I wanted to talk to you about some of the work that you all are doing at Marguerite Casey in a second, but just wanted to get your reaction. Because this is what everybody has been talking about, it’s going to have just a tremendous impact on the people that you all serve.

Dr. Carmen Rojas

It’s both devastating and not surprising. I feel like we as a nation are entering into a moment where the will of the people is so far disconnected from both the ambitions, and vision of our political and economic leaders. And this is a greatest manifestation of that. I am worried, frankly, for my nieces. For all of the young women in my life, in my community in our communities. I’m thinking a lot about how the fight for abortion, specifically reproductive justice, more broadly, healthcare and more broadly, democratic participation, like there is a way in which we have disconnected these issues from each other, so that we don’t ever have to talk about the ways in which our current economic system and our current political system are failing hundreds of millions of us every day. And you know, this from our past conversations, I’m always an optimist. And I’m always looking to organizing as the main way that we shift political power in this country. And so for us at Marguerite Casey, it’s really doubling down on organizers and communities that have been doing the work where abortion has been tenuous at best, where healthcare access has been tenuous at best, where a right for a woman to choose what happens to her body has been tenuous at best, and supporting those organizers not only to sort of offer a new vision of the world, but to push and put pressure on and fight for a different future. I feel like this is a constant fight.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I think that’s how a lot of folks feel, you know, devastated, frustrated, infuriated, wanting to know what kind of action can be taken right now to codify Roe versus Wade to make sure that the worst impact of the Supreme Court’s action doesn’t come to pass.

Dr. Carmen Rojas

Yeah, absolutely. I do think that there’s this really interesting thing right now, where we have framed and I like I say, we as philanthropy, political, elite, economic elite have framed abortion as a policy issue, and not a political issue. And the right wing in this country has always seen it as a political issue. And so because we have been focused on codified law on the law, we have not built enough political power. And enough of an amplifying force we have not again this like disarticulation of the right of a woman to choose to the prison industrial complex, the right of a woman to have an abortion to economic justice, we’ve disarticulated these things into neat policy buckets in such a way that one that I think for most people, it’s really hard to imagine unless you’ve needed to have an abortion, the impact on your life and two, we are working at an organizing deficit in this moment. The vast majority of resources and philanthropic resources have been poured in to beltway organizations, and not into southern organizing groups, not into local municipal community organizing groups that are bringing people along into the journey of a political project, where freedom is the animating and driving force. So I think for us, we’re just like, frankly, like playing ketchup.

Sawyer Hackett 

So after this decision was leaked it, you know, there was a lot of lawmakers out there saying things like, you know, elections have consequences, or this is why we need to, you know, vote, hashtag vote blue, and 22. And all of these things that just kind of feel like a slap in the face, especially since, you know, voters delivered Democrats, the House, the Senate and the White House in 2020. You know, we elected Barack Obama in 2012. And we were denied a Supreme Court seat that, you know, may have changed this decision in the face of like these fundamental human rights being undermined, gutted, you know, voting harder doesn’t seem to be an option for us. So, from a movement perspective, from an advocacy perspective, how do you think we should be responding in this moment? Like, where do you think we need to direct the energy most?

Dr. Carmen Rojas  06:09

Yeah, organizing? I do think it’s organizing. I think it’s putting resources into organizations at again, in communities that where this has already been tenuous, or like basic human rights have been tenuous. For decades, forever, and supporting people to do that. I do. It’s so funny. We recently had a board meeting where Cathy Cohen and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor came to talk about their work to our board. And one of the questions that came up was our support of GOTV efforts more broadly, and the limit of GOTV as an organizing strategy. And I worry that if that is the only place where we’re investing resources where philanthropy feels safe to invest resources in this political fight, we’re setting our communities up for mass disappointment. So you’re like, you’re describing it, right? We keep showing up. We keep we can’t cancel student loans, like, yeah, these are things that people that this current administration ran on, and I think it jams us up, I think it jams progressives up, because many of us feel like we’re always doing the cost benefit of criticizing the administration, right? But know that the only way that we can deliver to people, some a bubble of oxygen, this is not even like a freedom struggle, right, like we’re talking about a survival struggle in this moment, is by fighting and criticizing the current administration. And there’s a big gap between what was promised and what is being delivered. There’s a big gap, I think, in our current political system, where if you are a progressive in this country, and believe that, you know, working people should have benefits should get paid enough to have access, you know, to live a life of dignity, where our government, if you believe that our government should be providing all of the basic things, so that people live full and rich lives, like healthcare, like, you know, education, these basic fundamentals, there is no real representation for us. And I worry that we will have two or three generations of young people in this country who disassociate from our current political system. And unfortunately, in this moment, that means that we have conservative capture, we are living in a moment of like White nationalist capture of most of our institutions. It’s not like we’re not in the run up to it. I mean, what’s happening right now, what happened earlier, the reporting that happened earlier this year on Ginni Thomas, and January 6, that’s not disconnected from this, right? Like the fact that like we have a governing institution that is so compromised in this moment, and that we all know about, right? It’s not like a secret that like calling people like we all know what happened. There’s the communication, and that people are still governing and setting the terms by which we live our lives from such a position of corruption and compromise is a real problem and that there is no penalty to the corruption and compromise is like the hardest thing.

Sawyer Hackett

It’s interesting. You mentioned that about young people like not seeing this through like partisan terms. I went to the Supreme Court after the decision was announced the next day and I would say like a good 85% to 90% of the people there were under the age of 25. And like there was chance breaking out like where is Joe Biden and like, they were angry both the Democrats and Republicans and like it seems like our party just has doesn’t want to like capture that energy anymore like it used to, we don’t seem to be on their side as much as we’re saying that like, Hey, sit down we got this like, where did that come from? Where did we lose that disconnect with young people, with our coalitions?

Dr. Carmen Rojas  10:16

I think at some I mean people always point back to Citizens United right so there’s like that as like an important point. But I actually think before that, right? When we started to see young people, people of color queer people as special interests in this country, and not as citizens in this country whose demands should be heard, responded to and respected. And that is generations in the making, right? That is like, again, a forever problem, a source problem for us. I think in this moment, what feels so hard, is that because of social media, because the way that information moves, it is so visible to us, right that like White supremacist capture and corporate capture are so there’s a depth of alignment, and how that is informing how politicians make decisions that you can’t look away from that, you can’t deny that these two things, these two forces are the same forces with the same interests, which is to hollow out government in their self-interest, to limit opportunity to their self-interest to make sure that anything that is governing is governing for the profit and well-being of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of people who live here. And that again, I am going to always go back to the optimistic belief that you know, organizing is the key, I look at Latin America, right. So like, it’s really stunning to me that in the last, that this is happening now in a context in which majority Catholic nations have voted to expand and to codify abortion as rule. And that didn’t come because people felt like it was like a good thing. Or politicians and policy makers all of a sudden had a change of heart and happened because women and people were organized and have it because people were organized and put pressure and fought for a different reality. And I think that that is, for me, at least the driving force of where I want us as an institution to be working.

Julian Castro  12:23

On speaking of organizing some of the most impressive organizing over the last year or so has been union organizing, oh, Starbucks employs Amazon employees, even that have scored some victories. Even in places where folks might not expect including Texas, the first unionization of Amazon workers up in the northeast, you have spoken a lot and Marguerite Casey emphasizes shifting power, particularly to lower income Americans and people of color people have been disadvantaged. Talk to me about how y’all are doing that, and how you see that in the context of, you know, I would say, an awakening of workers out there.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Yeah. It’s so funny. When I started, I had a conversation with a number of people who wanted to start an amazing organization called More Perfect Union. And the start of the genesis of more perfect union was, you know, there were limited opportunities to tell stories at the intersection of economic justice and racial justice, the ways that people were winning and the harm. So naming both the victims and the victors of our current political and economic system, and more perfect union had a vision of actually putting out into the world stories, not only of the harm being caused by our current economic system, but also to name the victories, like when the victories happened, to make sure that everybody knew that they had happened, that there was a framework and model for organizing people. And so in watching the ways in which an organization like More Perfect Union has been able to capture stories, not only of pain, but also of promise and possibility, and share those with the world like, that is a part of an organizing endeavor, right? It’s like seeding into people’s mind that exploitation isn’t the necessary outcome of work, that there could be all kinds of other you can work and have a rich and full life that you can work and have a life of dignity. And so for me, I’m really so excited by this moment. And frankly, like, this is gonna like this is my conflicting commitment. I am like so excited that this is free from the nonprofit industrial complex, free from philanthropy that like we have supported like more perfect union, but like workers have come together, free from clearly traditional labor unions to say we want a better future, they’ve come together fought for that future, and are resetting the norms, I think for what is possible, mostly because these are workers that for generations have been told that the only outcome for them that the only thing that they’re worried, they’re worthy of is like precarity in the workplace, that the only thing that they’re worthy of is like barely making ends meet, barely being able to pay rent, barely being able to take care of their kids. That’s the only thing and that they knew and wanted and thought for more is, lights up my heart, on the inside, I think we have to hold on and anchor ourselves in this very, very, very sad moment in our country, to these stories of shifting power.

Sawyer Hackett 

It feels like all of the crises that we’ve you know, faced and dealt with over the last couple of years, whether it be the pandemic, the economic shock, the pandemic, the social justice movement, following the death of George Floyd, you know, and now this Roe decision, as well as the other attacks that the Republican Party is launching on critical race theory, you know, defund the police, whatever it may be, they’ve all had this disproportionate impact on communities of color. And it feels like the American people are just starting to wake up to those facts, at the same time that the GOP is cracking down even harder and doubling down on that tactic. What do you think the impact or can you just talk about the impact of what this road decision will have on communities of color and why it disproportionately affects them?

Dr. Carmen Rojas  16:39

I think that there’s something really interesting that happened in the summer of 2020, where we saw a whole lot of White people sort of awaken, right? A lot of people of color knew their communities were being targeted by police, a lot of communities of color knew that there was like an imbalance in the criminal punishment system. A lot of White, a lot of people of color knew that police were meant to manage them and not make them safe, and had like, figured something out. And I’m not saying this is true for all people of color. But a good number of people of color, didn’t know these things. And in the summer of 2020, a whole lot of White people could not turn away from these things. And I think that in this moment, if on the foreign art institutional side, there’s like a confluence of White nationalism and corporations, I will say in civil society, we have an opportunity to actually grapple with what it means to have a movement that is organized around racial and economic justice around race and class. And I think that that is the biggest fear of conservatives in this country of White nationalist forces in this country, is that White people, everyday white people who will have been uncomfortable finding their space and racial justice movement or and economic justice movement, could not turn away from and were brought in to a fight. And I think that that’s why they’re cracking down. I do think we need a multi racial justice movement. So like, I want to start with that. Because I worry that at least in my field, one of the things that’s happening is that we are so heavily focused on racial representation, that we are not talking about class, that we’re not talking about political formation and ideology. We’re not talking about commitments, right? Like  and there’s like a gap in that. And we need White people like just in the sheer numbers of the universe of this country, we need like White people to move along with us if we are going to build the country that we want. When it comes to this decision. I think disproportionately women of color. And Black and Latino women specifically, have had historically limited access to adequate health care, adequate access to a safe abortion to safe reproductive care period, right. Like the story, the number of stories that have come out in the last decade talking about Black women’s experiences, specifically in the medical care system are horrifying. We shouldn’t be ashamed. If that is true, I think that this is a policing of that and frankly, like, I don’t see this as disconnected from the work to expand the criminal punishment system, and we are already seeing women being sent to prison for miscarriages. We are seeing women being sent to prison and penalized for having an abortion right like that is and has been happening for protecting themselves right like women are and women of color specifically, are being punished. So it’s not only the lack of the access, it’s the punishment. And I feel like there is a real need to articulate these things to connect these things in a meaningful way that it’s not just that I don’t have access to the care, I need that I don’t have autonomy over my body. It’s also that the state actually only wants to work for us when it means it’s going to punish and imprison us. And we don’t make that connection publicly, in ways I think would be helpful.

Julian Castro  20:28

Dr. Carmen Rojas, thank you so much for joining us, again. It’s always wonderful to chat with you, especially during these times, that are really testing the values that we believe in. And you’re always a great reminder of where we ought to be and offer a wonderful perspective on these issues, and doing great work. My last I didn’t say my last question was you testified for Congress recently, on some of these issues? How did that go?

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

You know, it was really fascinating. Secretary Castro, when like, as the former HUD secretary, I’m sure you’re like, you’re well aware of the what feels like such an important and critical space, and like the performance art of political testimony.

Julian Castro 

Sawyer has stories about not my finest days with those tangling with those congressional reps.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Yeah, this is where like, I am never nervous about our being a 501 C-three organization in this space, because it feels wholly nonpartisan, wanting to name like, the ways in which I feel like our political leaders right now are not equipped, or interested or invested in addressing the issues that are facing everyday people. And so on one side, it was an entire commitment to undermining the rights of working people. People were like, oh, yeah, we want working people of color to have all the things but never did anybody say wages, like people are like, oh, no, wait to the, how can wages increasing minimum wage? How would that help? And I’m like, well, that seems absurd, because I didn’t see it, like the most important way. And then on the other side, a lack of ambition and dreaming to actually solve problems, right? Like the most ambitious thing that was proposal that was brought up, was giving every American access to $15,000 to buy a home, like a tax credit. And I was like, where in America can you buy, tell me where that places? And that is saying that that is ambition set ambitious said that that is a thing, felt so wildly inadequate, given that in the streets of my city, people working people, poor people have to live in tents. Like, you can’t do that, we need a regime of public housing we need to reimagine social housing in this country. And that that, to say that whenever I said that, I felt like people I could feel like the tightening up in a room was so that was what that part of the performance art was like, the most surprising thing to me, was how the capture, frankly, of our political institutions, by folks who really don’t seem to know what is happening in rural and urban and white communities and communities of color. They don’t seem so wholly disconnected. More work for us. More work for us Secretary

Julian Castro 

Never ends for you, I’m sure. Thanks for joining us. Thanks for your perspective. And we hope to talk to you again soon.

Dr. Carmen Rojas  24:00

Yes, same, same. Thank you.

Sawyer Hackett 

Thanks, Carmen.

Julian Castro 

We’ll stick with us after the break. We’re going to talk about some of these issues and a larger discussion on race in America with Dr. Alisa Bierria, who is a 2020 Marguerite Casey Foundation freedom scholar and an assistant professor in the Department of Gender Studies at UCLA.

Julian Castro 

Welcome back to our America. Dr. Alisa Bierria is 2020 Marguerite Casey Foundation freedom scholar and she’s also an assistant professor in the Department of Gender Studies at UCLA an ad advocate and organizer within the feminist anti-violence movement for more than 20 years. Dr. Bierria has co-founded and co-led several national organizations including survived and punished, which advocates for the decriminalization of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Her forthcoming manuscript is titled, missing in action, agency, race, and invention. Welcome to our America. Dr. Bierria.

Dr. Alisa Bierria

Thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure and honor to join you all today.

Julian Castro 

Well, I want to start with the subject that we have been talking about nonstop. And the nation really has been talking about nonstop since the leak of the draft opinion that would end Roe versus Wade, you do a lot of work in this general field of interest. And I mean, I guess first just could you give me your take on this? And what it’s going to mean, especially for the most vulnerable people out there, people of color, low-income individuals? I mean, what is this going to mean?

Dr. Alisa Bierria  26:10

Absolutely. Well, the end of abortion rights, which is what I’m seeing happening, right? I think is part of a broader attitude by this government that ultimately sees women’s lives as disposable and trans people’s lives as disposable. And that’s especially women and trans people of color. You know, the rhetoric of the pro-life movement, they say they care about the lives of children. But they are also the same people who support cutting public resources for children, and the same ones who support the criminalization of children. I was part of a national defense campaign to free […], who at that time was 14-year-old black girl in Ohio, who killed her father in self-defense because he was physically and sexually abusive. And she tried to call the police, before she did that. And they turned her away. She tried to reach out to Child Protective Services, and they didn’t intervene. And so then she had to save her own life. And she ended up facing, you know, charging murder charges, devastating the rest of her life, due to organizing. I’m so glad that Carmen talks so much about organizing beforehand. It’s we were able to free her eventually. But without an organizing intervention, it would not have happened. And so I think that when we are watching this culture of disposability unfold, and it’s been unfolding for a long time, I think that understanding the full force of it is really critical. And the intersections of it between reproductive Violence and sexual and domestic violence and criminal punishment, is also going to be really critical. And community organizing is really the only way to get us out of this mess

Sawyer Hackett  28:12

So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the use of language and the weaponization of language around gender and race. You know, and Justice Alito’s opinion that was released a few days ago, his conception of abortion providers, as Abortionists struck me as counter to like any sort of legal thinking around these issues. But it seems it’s part of this concerted effort by the right to like, you know, demonized, and weaponize the use of words to then go after things like contraceptives and marriage and all these other issues. How do you think, you know, the lay person unfamiliar with like the complexities of racial and gender constructions should take away from how Republicans talk about race and gender through the use of words?

Dr. Alisa Bierria 

I mean, I think that the politics of discourses is really important. And, you know, I know that the abortion rights movement has been using discourse that is more accessible, like abortion is women’s health care, for example. And I think that the push away from that, you know, from the side that wants to criminalize abortion, I think it reveals a core truth that they don’t really care about women’s health care. It’s just a point that I really want to make real clearly because I just I don’t think that their claim that this is for the safety of children is anywhere near the neighborhood of good faith. So I agree with you that language and discourse is important. It’s important as organizers to make sure that it’s as accessible as possible that people really understand the ways that the issues impact their everyday lives. And it’s also important to criticize the ways in which the discourse the rhetoric from the right reinforces racism and sexism and reinforces the normalization of disposability.

Julian Castro  30:11

You know, many people have pointed out, as you do the hypocrisy here, this whole movement that called itself pro-life and champion, the unborn, but is hardly ever willing to lift a finger to invest in children. I found it ironic that Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, who spearheaded the effort to pass one of the most restrictive abortion laws, ever, over the last few months in Texas, announced that he would challenge a 1982 Supreme Court decision called Plyler versus Doe, which held that the children of undocumented immigrants could avail themselves of public-school education. And here’s the governor say, no, you know, we want to take that back. At the same time, he leads a state that invests comparatively little in children’s health care, and in so many other ways, undervalues life.

Dr. Alisa Bierria 

Exactly. I mean, these are the same folks who oppose policies to avoid unwanted pregnancies, right? So they want to criminalize eventually birth control, they certainly have blocked wide access to birth control. So I think every single time they talk about children, I think someone has to be right there, showing them how their policies, you know, systematically create, you know, conditions of violence and exploitation for children all the time. I also wanted to talk a little bit more about the link between the criminalization of abortion and the criminalization of surviving sexual and domestic violence, which the latter is more my area. Here in California, a woman named Ador Perez had a stillbirth in 2017 and she was prosecuted for manslaughter because the prosecutor said they found drugs in her system. They appear to have no proof that this is what caused the stillbirth. This is in the blue state of California. And but it was enough to put her through hell, prosecute her and sentenced her to 11 years in prison for the crime of having a stillbirth. So and that was back in 2017. And so this thing about criminalizing women and other people who get pregnant for miscarriages and stillbirths, and abortion and you know, other choices in the context of one’s reproductive autonomy has it certainly predates 2022 and 2017. It has a long history that goes back to slavery, right, Dorothy Roberts wrote a book, she’s Black feminist law, Professor Dorothy Roberts wrote a brilliant book called Killing the black body, where she talks about how enslaved black women were beaten, if they were pregnant, the person who would beat that woman dug a hole in the ground, so that he could lay her face down so that the beating would not damage the fetus inside because that fetus was more property. And, you know, I just, I think that, that looking at the ways in which racialized punishment is part of the story, of the criminalization of abortion, and the criminalization of the, you know, the audacity to, you know, survive domestic and sexual violence is just such a, it’s like the heartbeat of the debate.

Sawyer Hackett  34:11

I think it’s been pointed out, since the decision that, you know, abortion isn’t going to go away if roe goes away, and that, especially people of means are going to be able to seek reproductive care, you know, they’re gonna be able to get on a plane and go to another state that may have it or go to another country that may have it. Can you talk a little bit more about how these sorts of laws disproportionately end up criminalizing black and brown communities? And how we can make sure that people who are fighting back on this issue who care about this issue, but may not be, you know, steeped in it as much as you are? How we can sort of convey that to the public?

Dr. Alisa Bierria 

Yeah. Well, it’s just the fact that whenever states enact restrictions to abortion, the people who are most affected are the ones with the fewest resources right there. You know, one statistic in Texas, women of color are 59% of the population, but the but they are 74% of the people who are receiving abortions. And you see that kind of disproportionality again and again, across the states. There are some theories about why that is. It’s also true for low-income women. They’re disproportionately vulnerable to the criminalization of abortion. They’re also women of color, black women and poor women are also disproportionately vulnerable to criminalization. Just full stop just period. Right. And so they have a higher, higher proportion rates and jails and prisons. They’re more policed in the streets, in their homes, and so on. And so, you know, […], wrote an excellent article for The New Republic. And she reminded reminding us that we live in a much more powerful police state than we did in 1973, when Roe was decided, and she’s absolutely right, the rate of incarceration of women and trans people, particularly Black women, and trans people, has increased exponentially. 9073 predates Homeland Security. So it predates the ways in which, you know, the particular ways in which the criminalization of immigrants has increased exponentially. 73 predates the crime bill of 94. And so you know, all of those laws that make it much easier to put people in cages, it’s, you know, that didn’t that was that didn’t exist when Roe was last or when Roe was decided. And so now that row is being dismantled quickly, where it’s being dismantled in the context of a larger, more punitive, much more frightening police state. And in the current in the shadow of the systemic, you know, in that 40 years, the dismantling of social welfare. And so people, women of color, and poor women, and poor trans and queer People are much more vulnerable in many ways than they were before Roe was decided. So it’s, yeah, it’s very concerning.

Julian Castro 

Dr. Bierria. One of the things that you put out recently was a report titled defending self-defense tell us about that.

Dr. Alisa Bierria 

I’m so proud of the research report that survived and punished produce, survive and punishes a national organization, as you mentioned earlier, that advocates for the decriminalization of survivors of domestic and sexual violence, we have been analyzing what researchers have called the abuse to prison pipeline. For years, the numbers of women or people in women’s prisons, the numbers of them, who are survivors of sexual and domestic violence are huge. They range anywhere from 60%, all the way up to 99%. So the vast majority of them have survived sexual and domestic violence. And so that has led researchers to coined the term abuse to prison pipeline. One of the reasons why survivors are targeted for prosecution and arrest and incarceration is because they defend themselves. It’s so fascinating. Marissa Alexander was part of the research team. You may remember Marissa Alexander; she was she had defended herself from her abusive husband. She’s in Florida, and she had tried to invoke stand your ground immunity from prosecution. But the court denied her that immunity. She was subsequently prosecuted and convicted, sentenced to 20 years mandatory minimum, she caused no injuries. It was a single bullet, she got 20 years. She has since successfully appealed that that trial, but not before, you know, years of pain and punishment that she had to endure. So anyways, Marissa was part of the research team for this research report. And she said that self-defense within the criminal punishment system is rendered inconceivable, particularly for Black survivors and other racialized survivors. And so, part of the patterns that we are seeing is that if survivors transgress, like expect, you know, gendered norms or you know, expectations of women, to not use violence to defend themselves, and for that matter to not seek abortions, the punishment for that transgression Is prison is incarceration and often, years and years, as I said, a Ador Perez got 11 years of prison if you can imagine. And, you know, there’s another study that shows that for survivors who are prosecuted for domestic homicide who don’t conform to quote the perfect victim myths. So, for example, showing that they were good wives or showing that they were good mothers as constructed by the dominant culture, those survivors are much more likely to receive a guilty verdict. So yeah, the report goes into why that is and what survivors have to say about it.

Julian Castro  40:38

Before we go, I want to ask you, I mean, you’re a Marguerite Casey Foundation freedom scholar. Talk to me about what is that, what is the program that you are part of in 2020?

Dr. Alisa Bierria 

It is an opportunity that I could have never anticipated. The freedom scholars Award was established in 2020 by the Marguerite Casey Foundation and the Group Health Foundation. And it provides an unrestricted award of $250,000 to leaders in academia whose research and ideas encourage us to imagine how we can radically improve democracy and realize social justice across a variety of areas. Dr. Carmen Rojas had said earlier in the earlier part of the show that she was glad that some of the organizing wasn’t situated and within the nonprofit industrial complex, because that industry tends to control how organizing is done, and it does so to its own detriment, in terms of its goals, in terms of its political goals, not in terms of its institutional goals of staying afloat, right? And those things always need to be disentangled. Right. And so when I was in Seattle, 20 or so years ago, running an anti-rape organization, it was really difficult to find funding for an organization that was both anti-rape and supporting survivors of rape, but also critical of prisons and policing. And so now 20 years ahead, just receiving $250,000 to do the same kind of work that I was doing 20 years ago. It’s just it’s really overwhelming, such an honor. So that’s the freedom scholars.

Julian Castro  42:30

Well, thank you for sharing part of the result of that work and perspective with us. Dr. Alisa Bierria, a pleasure to have you on.

Dr. Alisa Bierria 

Wonderful. Thank you so wonderful to meet with y’all and talk with you.

Sawyer Hackett 

So thanks again to Dr. Carmen Rojas and Dr. Alisa Bierria for joining us this episode. As always, folks can leave us a voicemail sharing the stories you care most about at 833-453-6662. As always subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts.


OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.

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