Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Open Letter: To the Civil Liberties & Public Policy program

An Open Letter to the Civil Liberties & Public Policy (CLPP) program and the Hampshire Community

from Sunsara Taylor 
and members of who attended the CLPP Conference:

We are outraged at the illegitimate, immoral and dangerous decision made by CLPP organizers, including CLPP Director Mia Sullivan, to use police to eject us from your conference under threat of arrest simply for peacefully advocating an anti-pornography position to those who approached us at our own organizational table on Saturday, April 13, 2013.

This action on your part violates the most basic and essential standards of any movement against oppression.  The police are the armed enforcers of a highly oppressive and repressive state.  There is a long and brutal history of the role of the police – from the murder and wrongful imprisonment of Black Panther Party members in the 1960s to the more recent coordinated brutality inflicted on Occupy protesters across the country – in attempting to crush, punish, and demoralize those who would lift their heads to fight against oppression.  No one who calls on the police to suppress and physically threaten others who are fighting against oppression can legitimately claim to be doing anything other than the work of this highly oppressive, violent, and repressive state.

We demand that you repudiate this decision 
and that you invite us back to have an open forum to put forward our views which were forcibly suppressed to the Hampshire community.  This is all the more critical given the dire situation with women’s right to abortion so imperiled, which is the primary reason we were motivated to attend your conference in the first place.

We cleared our calendars and traveled to your conference, “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice, Building the Movement for Social Justice,” due to our intense alarm over – and desire to connect with others concerned about – the stunning escalation of assault on abortion rights as a key front of the overall war on women.  As you know, 2013 is set to be the third year of record restrictions on abortion. In the weeks just prior to your conference, several states passed the most extreme restrictions on abortion seen to date – including a law in North Dakota that would criminalize any abortion after six weeks (long before the majority of women even know they are pregnant!).

We came with an announcement of April 25th as a National Campus Day of Action for Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!  Our aim with this was to unite with students and others to wear stickers, speak out and raise awareness about the right to abortion on this day and to build for massive struggle throughout the summer to defend this essential right.

On another level, we aimed to share with people our approach of situating the struggle for abortion in the context of the broader war against women, including the increasingly violent, degrading and mainstream nature of pornography and the sex industry.  Within all of this, some within our group were eager to get into the common source of the many forms of oppression in the system of capitalism-imperialism and the need for all-the-way genuine communist revolution, as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian, to get rid of this system and bring into being a far better, fully liberated world.

It came as no surprise to us that, starting with the first evening when one of our group told the story of her abortion as part of the Abortion Speak Out and continuing through the many workshops we attended, we encountered people with divergent responses to ours, including among your organizers.  Some loved our desire to challenge feelings of shame and guilt that many women are made to feel about their abortions, others disagreed.  Some appreciated our insistence that Obama is responsible for conciliating with the most severe spate of restrictions on abortion since Roe v. Wade and that he is a war criminal for reviewing “kill lists” every week to decide who will be murdered by drone, assassinating U.S. citizens, and continuing torture at Guantanamo; others insisted that Obama is “our friend.”  Some loved our opposition to porn and began wearing our stickers (“If you can’t imagine sex without porn, you’re fucked!”), while others were curious about this and got into thoughtful discussion and still others strongly disagreed.  Numerous other examples could be given.

We welcomed this.  Isn’t one of the purposes of a conference on social justice to provide the opportunity for people to hear different approaches as they are put forward by people who share a commitment to defending the lives and rights of oppressed people?  In fact, we had been commenting among ourselves about how positive our experience at the conference had been, how many welcomed our views and how important it was to engage the differences.

All this added to our shock when Mia Sullivan and other CLPP organizers showed up at our organization’s official registered table with police, demanding that we leave under threat of arrest on the evening of Saturday, April 13th.

Our “crime”?  A few people had come to our table to defend pornography and the sex industry and we got into a passionate, yet substantive and principled debate with them over our understanding of how these institutions enslave and degrade women.  Despite the fact that they were free to leave at any time, they instead complained to organizers that they felt our presence made the conference no longer a “safe space.”  Even more outrageously, CLPP organizers never investigated what had happened with us or anyone else who had witnessed the exchange.  They never tried to facilitate dialogue or participation of people with divergent views.  Instead, they showed up immediately with police and insisted we leave.  (For a more detailed account, please read this blog post.

A few questions:

  • Is it the official position of CLPP that you have to support pornography and the “sex industry” –  or at least muzzle any principled opposition to it – in order to participate in your conference? If so, where is this stated?
  • Is “safe space” to mean that participants should be protected – through the force of the state – from encountering ideas that differ from their own?
  • Later, official student organizers of the CLPP conference defended the use of police by insisting that “people had been complaining about you since the first night of the conference.”  If this is true, why did no one from CLPP ever raise these concerns directly to us?  Why was it that the first we heard of any complaints was with the arrival of police insisting we leave?  If this was not the case, will you go on record to counter these rumors?
  • These same student CLPP organizers also insisted to us that the campus police “aren’t real police” and “aren’t part of the state” and weren’t really threatening us with arrest.  Will you clarify to your students (as the campus police did to us) that the campus police are indeed “real police” and were threatening to imprison us at the Amherst Police Precinct, with the additional threat of further time in jail for our alleged “violation”?


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!

It is for all these reasons that we call on the CLPP organizers to repudiate this outrageous and unprincipled use of police force to suppress peacefully expressed political views.  We also call on CLPP and the Hampshire community to open up a forum for to put forward our views, unimpeded and free of police threat, to students and others organizing against oppression.

We call on others, particularly alum of Hampshire and its “Sister Colleges,” to send letters to CLPP to protest this action and to call on CLPP to provide an open forum for to put forward our views to the Hampshire community.


Sunsara Taylor and members of who attended the CLPP Conference

[Send a message to CLPP that you oppose their use of police force to suppress peacefully expressed anti-porn views. CLICK HERE]

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posted by Sunsara Taylor at 2:27 PM


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