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Why Misogynists Make Great Informants

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Found this greatly informative article over at Truthout via Kasama Project.  It should be recommended reading for anyone within the left and social movements in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Maybe it isn’t that informants are difficult to spot but rather that we have collectively ignored the signs that give them away. To save our movements, we need to come to terms with the connections between gender violence, male privilege, and the strategies that informants (and people who just act like them) use to destabilize radical movements. Time and again heterosexual men in radical movements have been allowed to assert their privilege and subordinate others. Despite all that we say to the contrary, the fact is that radical social movements and organizations in the United States have refused to seriously address gender violence as a threat to the survival of our struggles. We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils—secondary issues—that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues—racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression—are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities. Scratch a misogynist and you’ll find a homophobe. Scratch a little deeper and you might find the makings of a future informant (or someone who just destabilizes movements like informants do).

Maybe if organizers made collective accountability around gender violence a central part of our practices we could neutralize people who are working on behalf of the state to undermine our struggles. I’m not talking about witch hunts; I’m talking about organizing in such a way that we nip a potential Brandon Darby in the bud before he can hurt more people. Informants are hard to spot, but my guess is that where there is smoke there is fire, and someone who creates chaos wherever he goes is either an informant or an irresponsible, unaccountable time bomb who can be unintentionally as effective at undermining social-justice organizing as an informant. Ultimately they both do the work of the state and need to be held accountable.

The state has already understood a fact that the Left has struggled to accept: misogynists make great informants. Before or regardless of whether they are ever recruited by the state to disrupt a movement or destabilize an organization, they’ve likely become well versed in practices of disruptive behavior. They require almost no training and can start the work immediately. What’s more paralyzing to our work than when women and/or queer folks leave our movements because they have been repeatedly lied to, humiliated, physically/verbally/emotionally/sexually abused? Or when you have to postpone conversations about the work so that you can devote group meetings to addressing an individual member’s most recent offense? Or when that person spreads misinformation, creating confusion and friction among radical groups? Nothing slows down movement building like a misogynist.

A queer, radical, feminist ethic of accountability would challenge us to recognize how gender violence is reproduced in our communities, relationships, and organizing practices. Although there are many ways to do this, I want to suggest that there are three key steps that we can take to begin. First, we must support women and queer people in our movements who have experienced interpersonal violence and engage in a collective process of healing. Second, we must initiate a collective dialogue about how we want our communities to look and how to make them safe for everyone. Third, we must develop a model for collective accountability that truly treats the personal as political and helps us to begin practicing justice in our communities. When we allow women/queer organizers to leave activist spaces and protect people whose violence provoked their departure, we are saying we value these de facto state agents who disrupt the work more than we value people whose labor builds and sustains movements.

The author, Courtney Desiree Morris, has acknowledged her debt to a wonderful Zine that we all should read as well, Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities, edited by Ching-In Chen, Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

A short excerpt from the zine points out:

Partner abuse in activist communities has been an open secret for a long time. I read Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power and saw how partner abuse inside the Black Panthers helped, along with COINTELPRO, to destablize the movement. Anthologies like Naming the Violence documented the lived realities of abusive relationships inside 1970s and 80s radical lesbian communities. Other feminist of color writers and activists like Angela Davis, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, Elizabeth Martinez, Aurora Levins Morales and many others have documented the complicated realities of abusers within movements. Arab-American feminist scholar Joanna Kadi write about how the feminist movement had looked at abuse as political, but only on a man/woman basis, and explored the incredible implications of looking at what abuse means when we look at race, class, disability, age, and gender and sexuality.

I am amazed at the concrete tools we have created out of our own genius. Take these tools into your own lives and see where they fit. Make and share your own. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and out of our own genius knowledge we will figure out how to make a revolution that leaves out none of us.

So check out the article and the zine; they’re great brain food.  Also, we shouldn’t get it misconstrued: we shouldn’t tackle misogyny and male supremacy because it leads to great informants, but because, as Morris states, “To paraphrase bell hooks, where there is a will to dominate there can be no justice, because we will inevitably continue reproducing the same kinds of injustice we claim to be struggling against. It is time for our movements to undergo a radical change from the inside out.”

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