Misogyny on the Mag Mile: A Turning Point

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After Black, queer women organizers were physically attacked on the Magnificent Mile, we must ask what the next steps of our movement will be–and who will be leading us.

Several prominent Chicago youth organizers—all of them Black women, and the majority of them queer—were physically assaulted on Black Friday during the hugely successful shutdown of the Magnificent Mile in honor of Laquan McDonald.

The religious leaders and community elders who called for the demonstration rallied early in the day at the Water Tower in the Loop. Several youth organizations—BYP100, FLY and Assata’s Daughters—were invited to participate, and appeared in several photo ops with Jesse Jackson Sr. and other public figures, the majority of them men.

As organizers began to address the crowd, several well-known Black elders forced their way to the front, pushed youth organizers back from the mic, and one man actually began elbowing a young, Black, queer woman in the face. Minutes later, when one of the heads of BYP confronted the elder, he swung on a second Black woman, shouting sexist and homophobic slurs, and a small scuffle ensued.

In the wake of the altercation, youth organizers performed their own mic check to address the crowd, then promptly left the march—some to treat injuries, while others simply felt deeply unsafe and disrespected.

The Black, queer women targeted in this attack were the same ones who had been clashing with police in the streets all week, including the night the video of Laquan was released. They were the same organizers who had staged and been arrested in the shutdown of the IACP conference in Chicago last month. They were the youth who have been working tirelessly to lift up the name of Rekia Boyd, and who created a seamless campaign to fire Dante Servin, the officer who killed her. They were the same youth who have been instrumental in organizing for and ultimately winning a trauma center for the South Side, and who led the original Black Friday shutdown of the Magnificent Mile in 2014.

In short, they were badass, Black, queer, young women who have orchestrated and overseen long-term campaigns for Black lives in the city of Chicago with little to no support from the male elders who attacked them.

The incredible turnout for the Black Friday demonstration displayed Chicagoans’ ability to forge direct connections between capitalism, corporate revenue and the squelching of Black life. It undeniably fueled the firing of police superintendent McCarthy, and the calls for further resignations resounding through the city. Yet the media frenzy generated by the video of Laquan McDonald’s murder and its subsequent cover-up meant the sudden appearance of community members, religious leaders, and well-known Black figureheads who have not been in evidence at the countless political demonstrations over the past two years. Large numbers of these were men, significantly older than the organizers who have been leading the fight for Black lives in that time.

The assault of young women activists on the Mag Mile is both tragic and terrifying. When placed in the context of the larger demonstration, and the state of Black organizing in Chicago, the attack raises crucial questions about the next steps of the movement for Black liberation.

Black Lives Matter was founded by young, Black, queer women. This is not up for debate. On both national and local levels, Black, queer women have been on the front lines, while simultaneously organizing strategy, tactics and messaging behind the scenes. It was their groundwork that made the uprising at Mizzou and subsequent campuses around the nation come to fruition. It is their deeply capable organizing that has made the founding of new organizations, the execution of game changing actions, and the sustaining of the struggle for Black lives possible.

This is not accidental. As youth, as women, and as queer people, these revolutionaries stand at the crux of deeply oppressive systems, and carry a unique understanding of the ways racial injustice is dependent on misogyny, homophobia, nationalism, adultism, capitalism, and so much more to maintain its potency. Not only have they shown themselves over generations to be the most fearless warriors for justice, their demands are consistently the most radical, their vision the most clear, their abilities to unite and connect the disparate members of their communities the most well-honed and indispensable.

What is alarming about the attack that happened on the Mag Mile is that it requires us to revisit these facts as though they are revelations, rather than things that should be common knowledge to any individual claiming to be a part of the movement for Black lives. Attacking any young, Black, queer woman—but especially those who have been fighting harder than anyone else in their city for justice on a daily basis—is the equivalent of showing up late to class halfway through the semester and throwing your textbook at the professor.

It’s not surprising, then, that many of the male elders who organized the march, as well as those who took prominent positions in media coverage, posed not merely less radical demands, but ones that actually contradict those advocated for by young, Black, queer women throughout the last year. Calling for vague reforms, and even demanding there be more police of color, not only displays a lack of knowledge of the issues the movement has already rejected, but undermines the nuanced and more fully-formed demands for economic justice and the redistributing of resources that youth organizers have heralded.

There is a long history within Black struggles in the US of purposefully silencing youth, women and queers. From Claudette Colvin—a teen mom who was the first person on record to refuse to give up her seat in Montgomery—being swapped out for a depoliticized Rosa Parks, to Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker and other women being banned from speaking at the famed March on Washington. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were infamously barred from participating in the pride march they were instrumental in founding.

The reoccurring rationale for erasing the contributions of these radical figures is respectability. As movements gain momentum and visibility, the militant voices that spark them often become seen as threats to mainstream acceptance, and the faces of the true leaders too controversial to be beheld by the structures they are railing against.

Is it any coincidence, then, that as national scrutiny falls on Chicago over issues that youth have been drawing our attention to for years, male figureheads felt the need to physically attack young, Black, queer women who have been leading the fight long before there were any cameras to record them?

Ultimately, as our movement swells and attention grows, there is a question about how leadership will be shared. One of the greatest successes of the Black Lives Matter movement thus far is its decentralized form of organizing—not a leaderless but a leader-full movement, to quote BLM originator Patrisse Cullors. This structure is the intentional design of young, Black, queer women organizers. Its dismantling or undermining in the name of ego represents not just the sexist dismissal of their hard work, but a disregard for the movement’s early triumphs, and lack of forethought for its future.

And as so many of the leaders and experts that materialized this week before the cameras were nowhere to be found in the campaigns pioneered by youth organizers, one must ask where they will be once the media hubbub has died down.

Will the preachers and pastors who tout “Black love” remember to extend that love to Black women and queers? Will the public intellectuals and talking heads who call for “Black unity” reach out to youth as more than mere tokens? Will the sectors of our communities that chant “stop the violence” intervene when they see youth, women, queers being assaulted by their brothers and sisters?

One thing is for certain: We will always be here, and we will always be at the front—whether we are recognized by our more privileged counterparts or not—no matter what slurs or threats are hurled at us, no matter from what party.

In the words of BYP leader Charlene Carruthers: We started this shit. We gone finish this shit.

Special thanks to Veronica Morris-Moore

23 responses to “Misogyny on the Mag Mile: A Turning Point

  1. If it is known what organization(s) the bashers were with, they need to be called out by name. We shouldn’t inadvertently help cover up their shit, or it’s more likely to continue. At the very least, apologies should be demanded of the leader(s) of these group(s), and that they at the very least reprimand their members who did this. They don’t have to agree with us on any number of things, but this open and violent misogyny and homophobia weakens the movement against cop violence by driving away some of the very most important activists currently in it.

  2. Do these young, Black queer women have names? Herstory makers deserve to be seen for themselves, not as mere labels.

    • The names mentioned are the ones of those who gave their permission to be included. I was not able to contact every individual involved to get their consent.

  3. As a middle-aged white gay man, thank you for this excellent piece. I had no idea that these incidents had happened at the march. It’s even more sad that this article reached me by way of my sister-in-law in Mississippi, not any local source.

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  5. I was out there on the Mag Mile that day and noticed how what got said by the “elder” voices was a heavy moderation of if not erasure of everything we’ve been seeing, saying, demanding and the tenor of younger & LBGTQ voices that have been leading. Was proud of the “success” of the march but, had no idea this scuffle and suppression happened. I did notice a rudderlessness and aimlessness and timidity in the main crowd — there was a potential there that the organizers who got dissed would have been galvanizing and directing. Thanks for letting us know.

  6. Much appreciated.
    And we need to stand up to old men putting their paws on or otherwise bullying women in the moment; and be backed up by sister, brother and ally alike. Thank you for puttin’ the light on it.

    • Part of what was so complicated about this event is that–as many others have pointed out–intergenerational bonds, and opportunities to fight together across our communities, are so crucial. Yet within those moments, sexism and homophobia are inexcusable. Those bonds cannot be forged if they are predetermined by misogyny and male dominance. Our movement is most undermined when we allow the teachings of the exact systems that keep us down to seep into our strategies, values and goals. Elders are necessary, but not if they silence and harass other necessary elements of our community.

  7. I wonder if the issue is not so much “respectability politics” as it is “elite brokerage politics” which the (nameless) male elders are pros at & which some youth organizers themselves embrace (indicated in part by the implied “who owns/gets to speak for the movement/black people” conversation here & elsewhere). That kind of politics has always been about The Black Male Leader who sets The Black Community’s political agenda (the pastors who met with Trump are a case in point). These men, i would venture to say, understood that – as a result of this framework – they could step in & assert their authority w/o suffering repurcussions in that moment & beyond. Their grand arrival was, in a sense, absolutely expected.

    If this assessment is correct, then organizers might want to think really hard about what it means to perpetuate the brokerage model & perhaps consider ditching it altogether.

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  9. Your article is insightful yet alarming. As an elder, the depiction lends to the same ostracizing that has incensed you. Many, including myself, have paved a way for you. We have mentored those who have emerged. It is contradictory to say you don’t have “a” person spearheading a group and then wanting to be recognized when a movement’s metamorphosis expands out of control. The old paradigm has to still be adhered to because media is not going to interview 12 leaders for one blurb. I have originated many things in my lifetime and to be overlooked or disrespected is unacceptable but is expected. Were you doing this for you or the people? I heard that the way elders were addressed also spurred some of the unacceptable responses. People were marching with family members and friends so though some things were usurped, there is a respectful way to notify someone that the originators are in the midst. When thousands of people come together, their must be “branding” of a few figureheads because just because you work from a different paradigm does not mean some will acknowledge the progenitors. This is not just their movement yet the grunge work laid the frame work. When physicality and misogyny dare to raise their ugly heads, who is to be the voice to address the wrong? Come out, come out where ever you are.

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  11. True disclosure is very much about transparency. With out names and public disclosure your accusations come off as an attack on African elders in general. Do not be fearful of confrontation. Take this to the people’s court. Drop it in the streets. Baba Blair

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