Happy international women’s day

TW: sexism, racist criminalization, domestic violence, cissexist violence, class warfare

March Eighth has been traditionally celebrated as International Women’s Day in central and eastern Europe as it was originally put forward as a policy by German activist, Clara Zetkin, in 1911. It seems fitting to look at the ways gender intersects with the rest of US politics on this day. There’s so many different ways of doing that that it could be the exclusive subject of this blog and there would still be more to say. I highly recommend checking out Fannie’s Room for more commentary on gender politics in the US (and to a lesser extent, the world at large).

In addition to her excellent commentary, there’s one other argument that I can’t help but feel needs to be made, to pull back what I called “the unreality” of politics in the US on Wednesday: that there are at least three women in the US who are political prisoners.

I’ve written previously about Marissa Alexander, a Black woman who fired a warning shot at her abusive and threatening husband in her home in a state with one of the now notorious “Stand your ground” laws, but has since been sentenced to twenty years in prison (if she had accepted a plea bargain, it would have become three). Joy Reid over at The Grio long ago documented the extremely complex knots the state prosecutor has tied herself up in for publicly avoiding the concurrent Zimmerman case while prosecuting Alexander. This week the petition for her pardon on the White House’s petitions’ page expired without adequate signatures to force a response from the Obama Administration.

On the same day, it was announced that Cece McDonald, another Black woman, who is transgender, had been moved from one Minnesota prison to another. Her claims that she was killed a drunk attacker in self defense after one of his friends smashed a bottle on her face and they had otherwise begun hitting her apparently weren’t heard by the justice system, and so she was imprisoned. Her supporters have treated this transfer as good news, however, as it makes it easier for her family to visit her.

Tanya McDowell at sentencing
(Tanya McDowell as she was being sentenced in March 2012, from here.)

We’re also approaching the one year anniversary of the sentencing of Tanya McDowell, yet another Black woman, who took advantage of the fact that as a homeless person she had no effective address to enroll her son in one of the more favorable school districts in the territory within which they lived. She has been in prison for one year now, with four more to be served.

All three of these women are in prison for acts of either self defense or protecting their friends and family. In Alexander’s case, there are actual laws in the jurisdiction she was in that theoretically should have protected her. For McDonald, there are portions of federal law that should have been applied in order to understand her position. It’s not even clear how the “crime” that McDowell committed even remotely justifies a five year prison sentence.

It seems impossible to understand the events of their convictions and sentencing outside of a context of women’s (especially transgender women’s) testimony being treated as innately suspect and their status as Black individuals “proving” their criminality. In other words, it’s difficult to perceive of them as simply prisoners and not prisoners whose fates are intimately and intractably political in nature.

The United States is a country that doesn’t believe it has political prisoners. But perhaps that’s part of our unreality.

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