My feminism is changing... / by Nicole Rothwell

Protestor at Oct. 2 march in Mexico City. The annual mass demonstration is in honor of the lives lost during the Tlatelolco massacre in '68, and the continue fight for justice and truth. 

Protestor at Oct. 2 march in Mexico City. The annual mass demonstration is in honor of the lives lost during the Tlatelolco massacre in '68, and the continue fight for justice and truth. 

Something has stirred inside me, deep in my gut. As I write at a local café in Xochimilco, I look up across the street at the women's prison, Centro Femenil, and I feel an immense amount of sadness. I think about all the women imprisoned inside. I think of Mexico's corrupt justice system that only solves 2% of crimes, and is known to imprison innocent as scapegoats as well as political prisoners. I think of the United States' criminal injustice system that imprisons immigrants as if they’re criminals in detention centers. That our country is only 5% of the world population but we incarcerate 25% of world prisoners. That the U.S. disproportionately imprisons people of color. I think of all of us women outside of prison, and how we too are prisoners of a violent, patriarchal world that seeks to control, repress, sexually assault and murder us women for being women.


In my first week at the Americas Program we went to a Constituyente Ciudadana where different activists spoke about their causes, organizations, and social movements. Present was Berta Nava the mother of Julio César Ramiréz Nava, one of the Ayotzinapa students murdered by the Mexican state on Sept. 27, 2014. She spoke with conviction, and provoked fury inside me. “We will fight because we don’t want anymore dead children, or mothers crying, searching for their children,” said Berta with her voice and grief filling the room. A few days later, I was asked to do a voice over for an interview that my boss did with Maria Herrera and Maricela Orozco discussing their disappeared sons. This pulled me closer to the pain felt by the mothers of disappeared. In my work here a recurring headline is the violence targeted against women and women human right defenders, or defensoras in Spanish. All of this has compelled me to write the stories of these defensoras to raise their voices and activism, in a world that often silences them.


Over the past few weeks as I've researched, reflected, and written, I've been overcome by emotion. This systematic gendered violence coupled with impunity has led to an epidemic where the targeted are women, and often women at the margins in Mexico: low income, rural, indigenous, LGBTIQ. After reading statistic after statistic, I began to feel a heavy weight on my chest.


In just this past year 2,500 women have been murdered in Mexico. These 2,500 women and many more are not just numbers. They were women with lives, ambitions, family, and who had unknown futures full of potential. I have found inspiration from these women warriors, especially the defensoras who gave their lives fighting for human rights. I began writing Marisela Escobedo's story, a mother whose 16-year old daughter, Rubí, was murdered leaving behind her 6-month old daughter. Marisela relentlessly organized and demanded justice, even investigating the crime herself when authorities didn’t advance the case. Two years after her daughter's murder, Marisela met the same fate being chased down and shot to death at the steps of the capitol while she was holding a peace vigil for Rubí. I want to share an excerpt from a letter that Marisela wrote for her daughter Rubí before her assassination:  


Rubi, where are you? My heart doesn’t grow tired of shouting, but there is no response…The only thing I know for sure is that I love you so much…The more time that passes, the more I miss you. And in my nights of insomnia I look for your face in the stars. But I don't find you. All I see is darkness and sadness.


When I watched the video of Marisela reading these words, I felt so much sorrow and anger for what this family and thousands of other families have needlessly gone through.

"For a compassionate person, the world is their family"

"For a compassionate person, the world is their family"

Being here in Mexico, meeting activists and hearing their stories, and learning about the horrific realities has changed my feminism. I have had nightmares, but the difference is my privilege allows me to wake up to a reality where my voice, activism, and existence doesn't put me in the same level of danger. I'm still a woman in this gendered and violent world, but I'm a woman with race, class, able-bodied, and citizenship privilege among others. The nightmares that these women in Mexico experience is their reality; there is nothing else to wake up to.  


I realize now that my feminism needs to be urgent, and unapologetic. The defensoras have shown me what true courage looks like: being willing to die for justice. If we continue to live in our comfortable, or even apathetic bubbles, while those outside our safe zone are dying then we are not really feminist, and not even human. These defensoras died for their children, for the environment, for their communities, for the rights of women, indigenous, students, LGBTIQ, and more. They didn't want to die, they didn't need to die, and they shouldn’t have. So when I say my feminism needs to be brave enough to die for justice, I mean that none of us should have to die in our struggle for a peaceful and just world.


Then yesterday I woke up, and saw in my newsfeed the video of the young, black female student in a South Carolina classroom being thrown to the ground by a white police officer. And it just doesn't end. As a former educator, this video horrified me. The student had a cell phone, and when she refused to put it away she was asked to leave the classroom. At this point she put her phone away and apologized. Eventually the officer was called. Because it's a crime to want to stay in class, and learn right?


Racial justice and inclusive classroom management trainings should be a requirement in all schools. Teachers should be protecting and empowering their students, not criminalizing them over petty conflicts. I know many educators who get this, but it’s important to recognize that in this new school year this is already the second case highlighted in the media of teachers calling the police on their students of color. This sort of mentality and practice in education only feeds the school to prison pipeline.


The excessive force was disgusting and unjustifiable. An adult using force on young person is not acceptable, and then you add the race and gender dynamic in this situation and it exemplifies the institutionalized racism and sexism of police in the United States. This manifests as violence against people of color, low-income people, young people, women, and especially women of color. I was relieved to hear today that this officer was fired, but he had a previous lawsuit for using excessive force against another young person. He should have already had his badge taken away, and never been near a classroom. I really believe the only reason for his dismissal was that there was video proof, and the use of alternative and social media to pressure justice.


It’s terrifying and unjust that our police officers act with such impunity, that the only way they face justice themselves is if a video goes viral, and even then it’s not a guarantee as in the case of Eric Garner and many others. Then to hear that another female student spoke out against the violence, and she was sent to jail. This is a tactic to repress and silence women speaking out against injustice. 

Demonstrator at the Oct. 2 march in Mexico City.

Demonstrator at the Oct. 2 march in Mexico City.

It’s important to not let gendered violence silence or repress us. We (meaning all humans) must look out for each other, and take care of ourselves to stay safe. We must courageously organize, learn from each other, raise our voices, and support each other to create change and a new world that truly values women’s lives. When we look at the violent reality that exists in Mexico against defensoras, in the United States against (young) people of color, and all over the world in varying forms, then we must feel the pain, share our love, and let this mobilize the fight for feminism. I truly believe that feminism can save this world. I’m learning that for a global feminist revolution, that I have to begin with myself.