Every year on International Women’s Day, I celebrate the women in my life who I’m lucky enough to call family and friends. Since I already wrote that tribute post on Hinamatsuri instead, I wanted to focus on the women I admire who are abolitionists, organizers, and artists. These four women I admire have greatly influenced my own politics, values, and writings over the years, and even though I don’t know them, I would not be the person I am today without their leadership.
I’ve written about Angela Y. Davis in detail in the past as her abolition work is one of the main reasons why I want to dismantle the carceral state today. She is incredibly brave and inspiring because she knows exactly what she believes and isn’t afraid to challenge commonly held believes, especially those about criminal justice, incarceration, and the military. I wrote a short essay about her for my Writing for Social Change class last year and this paragraph specifically illustrates why she is such an important figure in my life and activism work:
In a 2014 interview with Socialism and Democracy, Davis delves deeper into the system by discussing how prisons not only employ Black and Brown bodies for little to no payment, but also devastate the population of incarcerated minorities forever. Davis writes, “In fact, we needed to rethink the role of imprisonment and carceral strategies more generally with the aim of recognizing the damage that prisons have done throughout our histories…but more effective means of responding to the myriad of social problems – the lack of jobs, housing, education, health care, etc. – that jails and prisons attempt unsuccessfully to address,” (Davis 22-23). Although prisons were forcibly built by and filled with Black civilians since their creation, the boom of what is now known as mass incarceration, didn’t occur until the 1970s when Nixon declared his ‘war on drugs,’ which sent hundreds of thousands of Black men and women to jail for the same substances that were used in white suburbs. Ronald Reagan was the mastermind behind the largest increase of incarcerated inmates when he led a political witch hunt against communities of color in his expanded drug war. George H. Bush’s militarization of the police, racist dog whistles, and segregationist policies further deepened the cycle of incarceration to the private prison model that’s swept up a majority of Black citizens, to Davis’ dismay. Studies show that although the U.S. boasts 5% of the world’s population, it locks up about 25% of the world’s prisoners. Black people also make up only 13% of the U.S. population, but 38% of its incarcerated people.
Assata Olugbala Shakur (of the given name JoAnne Byron and married name JoAnne Chesimard) was shot and tortured by New Jersey State Troopers and unjustly imprisoned before the FBI labeled her one of America’s Most Wanted Terrorists in the early 1970s. I didn’t learn anything about Assata when I was in school (similar to that of Fred Hampton), which is a travesty since she is a brilliant organizer, writer, and revolutionary with the Black Liberation Army. Assata is extraordinarily brave, smart, courageous, passionate, and full of life and love for her people. I’m thankful that even though the FBI and the failed states of America tried to execute her, Assata is alive and well today and willing to share her life’s story with the rest of us.
When I first discovered poetry as a medium in which I could possibly find a home, Olivia Gatwood’s pieces were the ones that centered me (my favorite of hers). Each poem taught me that writing doesn’t have to be dull or impossible to decode; it can be fun and devastating as long as the author is their most authentic self. She pours her heart out into every piece without holding back and that’s why her pieces are so touching to large audiences. I’m always trying to create language that would make Olivia proud because I can only hope that my poetry chapbooks will make their way onto shelves next to hers in the future.
Haunani-Kay Trask is one of several of Hawaiʻi’s most well known kanaka maoli activists who was on the front lines of many sovereignty struggles. She grew in notoriety for her on campus clashes with University of Hawaii administration and a specific haole student who accused her of reverse racism (which we all know does not exist). However, Trask is mostly regarded highly in the Hawaiian community, especially among younger leaders in the Mauna Kea movement. Although age and time have slowed her down, Trask is still a giant in the lāhui whose organizing and academic work will live on throughout generations.