CLPP 2012: Colonized Spaces, Criminalized Bodies


At this year’s Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program Conference, “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice” at Hampshire College  I attended a really engaging workshop that addressed the vital intersections created by the ongoing legacies of colonialism. The aim was to address the impacts of aggressive over-policing of communities of color and criminalization of poor people, immigrants, and sexual minorities. This workshop did something that many workshops at reproductive justice conferences try desperately to accomplish – an intersectional approach to seemingly disparate issues.

The anchoring theme was the notion that the very presence and existence of certain bodies is certain spaces are criminalized. This criminalization is done via our institutions: legal, medical, political social, cultural.

Katie McKay Bryson, the moderator of the workshop and Acting Director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College began the session by reminding us that cycles of violence affect us all and that the legacy of colonization runs deep here in the United States.

Robyn Maynard, writer, radio producer and community organizer that works with a sex workers rights organization, Stella in Montreal spoke first and began the conversation by reminding us that policed spaces and laws are often discriminately applied to already marginalized populations (queer, trans, immigrant, indigenous). She offered the example of regular raids conducted by Canadian law enforcement with the goal of eliminating and exposing systems of sex trafficking. The result of the raids, however caught migrant workers and indigenous women and placed them in detention. Paradoxically, in Canada, sex work is legal, but but most related and surrounding activities, such as public communication for the purpose of prostitution, brothels and procuring are illegal.  To really understand the ways that raids, done in the name of eliminating sex trafficking, Robyn suggested this documentary, “Hit and Run” from a Thai organization called Empower.

Next spoke Coya White Hat Artichoker who is a proud enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and a member of the First Nations Two Spirit Collective. Coya began her remarks by defining the concept of sovereignty, which she framed as “the ability to determine your land resources, border and community.” In Coya’s assessment, the issues of colonization and criminalization is about the connection between her people’s political and social recognition being tied to their ability to claim land. Coya, deftly tied the issue of colonization to issues of violence against women. Native/ First Nations women experience egregious and statistically exceptional amounts of violence. This violence, and its continuation cannot be isolated from the violence that is and was inherent to the colonial project. This report, Maze of Injustice, from Amnesty International documented these statistics and the prevalence of violence against Native women.

Angel C. Fabian spoke next, and connected immigrant rights, violence in communities of color and the legacy of colonization. Angel is a Zapoteco/Xicano, immigrant activist and community organizer and a member of the  First Nations Two Spirit Collective. He reminded us of the broader economic realities created by corporate globalization that affects migration patterns. He lifted up the effects of economic forces, like the resources and policies of the IMF and transnational corporations that operate outside of boundaries and borders, in terms of trade, but affect poverty and environmental conditions that push people to migrate and immigrate.

Each of the panelists spoke about the power of community networks to address these issues. And I highly recommend clicking through the links in this post and learning about these organizations and the work that these organizers are doing in the face of incredible odds and long, seemingly interminable histories of violence and criminalization.

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