This week we’re very excited to bring you a conversation with Mariame Kaba.
Mariame is an organizer, educator and curator. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, transformative justice and supporting youth leadership development. After over 20 years of living and organizing in Chicago, she moved back to her hometown of New York City in May 2016.
In this episode we talk to Mariame about where her interest in US Communist Party came from and talk about some of the figures, cases, positions and formations within and around CPUSA that have historical significance for her and that drew Black women into party membership particularly in the first half of the 20th century before McCarthyism really took hold. In particular Mariame talks about the CPUSA’s many examples of mass participatory defense work.
We also talk about her work around clemency with FreeThemNY. We talk a little bit about Survived and Punished and Mariame’s interest in undermining the ways that the prison industrial complex violently enforces gender
We end by taking a little time talking about what it means to call a protest “direct action,” and discussing recent discourses in the mainstream around “civility” in relation to protests deemed too provocative by the political class.
About our guest:
Mariame Kaba is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a vision to end youth incarceration. Prior to starting NIA, she worked as a program officer for education and youth development at the Steans Family Foundation where I focused on grantmaking and program evaluation.
She co-founded multiple organizations and projects over the years including the Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander and the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT) among others. She has also served on numerous nonprofit boards.
She has extensive experience working on issues of racial justice, gender justice, transformative/restorative justice and multiple forms of violence. She has been active in the anti-violence against women and girls movement since 1989. Her experience includes coordinating emergency shelter services at Sanctuary for Families in New York City, serving as the co-chair of the Women of Color Committee at the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, working as the prevention and education manager at Friends of Battered Women and their Children (now called Between Friends), serving on the founding advisory board of the Women and Girls Collective Action Network (WGCAN), and being a member of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. She co-founded and currently organizes with the Survived and Punished collective and is a founding member of the Just Practice Collaborative.
She served as a member of the editorial board of Violence Against Women: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal from January 2003 to December 2008. She is the co-editor (along with Michelle VanNatta) of a special issue of the journal about teen girls’ experiences of and resistance to violence published in December 2007. She has written and co-authored reports, articles, essays, curricula, zines, and more. She is currently an active board member of the Black Scholar. She runs the blog Prison Culture. In 2018, she co-authored the guidebook “Lifting As They Climbed” and published a children’s book titled “Missing Daddy.”
She was a member and co-founder of We Charge Genocide, an inter-generational effort which documented police brutality and violence in Chicago and sent youth organizers to Geneva, Switzerland to present their report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. She is an advisory board member of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, a group (along with Project NIA and WCG) that worked to get the Chicago City Council to pass a reparations law providing restitution to the victims of Jon Burge, a police commander who tortured more than 200 criminal suspects, most of them black men, from the 1970s through the early 1990s.
She is a founding advisory board member of the Chicago Community Bond Fund. The CCBF pays bond for people charged with crimes in Cook County, Illinois. Through a revolving fund, CCBF supports individuals whose communities cannot afford to pay the bonds themselves and who have been impacted by structural violence. She is also a member of Critical Resistance’s community advisory board. Critical Resistance’s vision is the creation of genuinely healthy, stable communities that respond to harm without relying on imprisonment and punishment.
She was a 2016-2017 Soros Justice Fellow where she extended and expanded my work to end the criminalization of survivors of violence.
Currently she is a researcher in residence on Race, Gender, Sexuality and Criminalization at the Social Justice Institute of the Barnard Center for Research on Women through September 2020. She is co-leading a new initiative called Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action with Andrea J. Ritchie. Combining participatory research, data analysis, and systemic advocacy, Andrea and Mariame will work in partnership with local campaigns to identify primary pathways, policing practices, charges, and points of intervention to address the growing criminalization and incarceration of women and LGBTQ people of color for public order, survival, drug, child welfare and self-defense related offenses. Research will be disseminated in accessible formats for use by organizers, advocates, policymakers, media makers, and philanthropic partners working to interrupt criminalization at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. This initiative will also host convenings of researchers, organizers, advocates, policymakers, and philanthropic partners on key topics relating to violence and criminalization, and support partners in developing and implementing campaigns designed to interrupt criminalization of women, girls, trans and GNC people of color.
She has a long history in the fields of education and youth development, having taught high school and college students in New York and Chicago. She has taught sociology and Black studies courses at Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, and Columbia University. She has developed and facilitated many workshops and presented at events. She was a founding board member of the Education for Liberation Network.
She studied sociology at McGill University, City College of New York, and Northwestern University. She has received several honors and awards for my work over the years. She am occasionally available to consult on various topics.