On this week’s Project Censored show, Eleanor speaks with journalist and activist Morgan Artyukhina for a powerful and vital analysis of the vicious attack on trans rights. Morgan highlights how trans existence is resistance – to the patriarchal capitalist system, and why that necessitates such an extreme backlash from the state. She also frames these struggles inside the class system, how to have conversations with folks on the fence about trans issues, the dangerous ideology of biology, and more. Then, Eleanor speaks with community organizer Kamau Franklin about the fight AND the build, not the fight or the build. Kamau pulls on decades of experience to discuss the creation of autonomous zones inside oppressive systems, the importance of recognizing the twisting of identity for state use, i.e. pedestaling Kamala Harris, but not Assata Shakur, and more.
Video of Interview with Morgan Artyukhina
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Morgan Artyukhina
Eleanor: Thanks everyone for joining us at the Project Censored Radio Show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by Morgan Artyukhina, who’s a journalist and activist based in Washington DC and is involved in struggles against war, racism, evictions, and attacks on the rights of women and L G B T Q people. Morgan, thanks so much for joining us.
Morgan: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
Eleanor: So Morgan, I wanna start off with with kind of a larger picture here. According to the A C L U, there are 474 anti L G B T Q bills right now that have been introduced in state legislatures. And some have failed, some have passed, some are advancing. And this number has more than doubled just since last year in 2022 not least of all so-called education related bills.
What’s going on here? Like why now? And why is it there’s just this windfall of this right now?
Morgan: Yeah. I mean, and it is a really tsunami of legislative attacks and which is just one form of attack too. You know, they’re also the fascist groups and far right militias and stuff who are going out and, you know, kind of acting as these like, you know, foot soldiers of fascism and, and attacking pride groups and drag shows and all that stuff, like separate, you know, From the legislative attacks, although of course it’s not totally separate, these are all part and parcel of like a single massive attack which goes far beyond the borders of trans people and is really kind of against many groups of the working class against the, the fundamental democratic rights of millions and millions of, of of people.
So, but we’ll get, I’ll get to that in, in a little bit, I think, but, As far as like, why now? Why trans people like, you know, I mean, I think there’s a lot of different factors. Part of it is that they’ve been losing the quote unquote culture war, you know, trans people are being more accepted in society.
You know, and there’s a lot more efforts to like, Include trans people and acknowledge that trans people even exist and that, you know, our identities are valid. And and, you know, recognizing that trans women are women, trans men are men, that non-binary people, you know, exist and their identity is, is valid as well.
That third genders beyond, you know, European cultures exist as well and are also valid and have, you know the right to exist too, so, There’s a big effort to push back against that specifically because the existence of trans people and, you know, beyond the gender binary really challenges kind of one of the fundamental tenets of patriarchy and end of class society altogether, which is this bifurcation of humanity into these two categories of either you are responsible for production, you know, which is, and you know, doing stuff. Basically running society, controlling property, inheriting property, you know, and those people are called men. And then you have people who are responsible for the reproductive aspects of society.
Both by, on a biological level you know bearing children and raising children and, and, and, you know, inculcating them with all of those values and also the daily reproductive aspects of housework and, you know, domestic labor and stuff too. All of which is, you know, kind of that category is called women.
And so that’s fundamental for the, for the functioning of patriarchy, for the functioning class society, which are entities that came about at the same time. All for the purpose of facilitating the rule of a ruling class and the inheritance of private property, which. The, is the fundamental basis of the existence of such a ruling class, whether that ruling class is based in slavery or whether it’s based in like a futile relationship or as we see today, we’re based in a capitalist system of production.
You know, it’s the way, precise way that it changes or that it functions is changed shapes and forms over the centuries, but it’s the same fundamental relationship. so trans people push proved the lie. Of that, our existence proves the lie of that. And that’s why a lot of these legislative attacks, and obviously they are myriad in scope a lot of them are based on just negating the recognition that trans people even exists.
It’s based on, they’re not even saying trans people exist, but they’re inferior, you know, in the way that like nobody can deny that black people exist. But the oppression of black people is based on saying, well, they’re inferior to white people. Or, you know, or whatever other non-white people you want you know, thats not the basis of like that attack on them.
But the basis of the attack on trans people is saying trans people don’t exist. Like trans women are just men in drag. Trans men are just women in drag. You know, like it’s based on a fundamental denial of our even existence. So, it’s that’s really kind of, I think it’s a very kind of wide answer I realize, but that is basis I think, of why there is this ingrained hostility and why as we struggle for for liberation, for trans liberation, for L G B T Q, liberation and Women’s Liberation, which are all really the same thing.
You know, we are pressing up against the edges of that system entirely.
Eleanor: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, it was a wide question, so
I guess it warranted a wide answer as well. And you, you did touch upon the class aspect, which I wanna dig into a bit more now because in the conversations about this issue, you don’t really see a lot of class analysis, which I guess is par for the course because you don’t see a lot of class analysis period.
In a lot a lot of the, the issues that we discussed be that climate change or other things. So I wanted to ask, like, you’ve mentioned this before, that this attack against the trans community is a useful tool of the ruling class. Could you dig into that a little bit
more and what you mean by that?
Morgan: Yeah. Well, I think it’s important to note that , transness as a category, just like, just like gender as a category is one that transcends class, right? There are trans people in the ruling class. There are trans people in the middle class, in the working class. That descriptor alone doesn’t tell you, you know, kind of what that location is.
But at the same time, there are a lot more like, as a percentage of like the trans community. Trans people are more likely to be working class than cis people because of the ways that we are marginalized socially and economically. Cause that, and are part of that. So there’s a very real part of maintaining the marginalization of trans people that is based in main, in the way that all working class people have their lives kept unstable.
Because an unstable ruling class or working class is a working class that’s not able to organize as effectively. It’s not able to unite itself as effectively and doesn’t have those resources, you know, to really Be able to fight, especially in the workplace. Trans people face higher levels of unemployment.
They are, you know, hired later, fired sooner. They are paid significantly less. There was a study, I think a year or two ago that found that trans women make on average just 60% of what their cisgender male counterparts make in terms of wages. And that’s not even accounting for differences in in race.
You know, as well with black trans women and trans women of color, you know, being even more oppressed in that scope than white trans people are. So, you know, that’s another way that this is kind of racial lines cut across this, these categories too. But even speaking, just, you know, broadly that all trans people are treated in this way.
SO there’s that aspect to it too, but it’s also the same old game of keeping the working class fighting amongst itself. So that we don’t unite, you know I’ll give you just one example, which is the attacks on trans healthcare. If they can take away trans people’s healthcare, they can take away anybody’s healthcare.
And on the level of. Employers. Like that’s a way that they, especially in the United States, because we have this privatized healthcare system, that they can control the working class is by saying, well, your healthcare is tied to your employment, so if you risk your employment, you risk your healthcare.
Right? And so that’s a level of way that they can divide. People in the working class is by saying, well, these trans people are a threat in X, Y, z in ways, you know, by affirming them, by giving them the healthcare they need you are actually, you know, posing a threat to the children or something like that.
And so you should support, this is the ruling class, speaking to other working class people, cisgender people, telling them, well, you should support us denying these people healthcare. Even though it’s an attack on you too because of this other, you know, scaremongering, fearmongering aspect. And so, the obvious answer to that is the same answer that labor has every time people try that the ruling class tries to divide them, which is an injury to one, is an injury to all.
Like I said, if they can deny a trans person healthcare, they can deny a cisgender person healthcare. And I think it’s important to understand the history of labor in the struggles for L G B T Q rights. Because before non-discrimination or anti-discrimination laws and practices became something that like mainstream liberal politicians were interested in.
The main ways that L G B T Q people got these kinds of protections was through the labor movement, labor struggles in the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties. This was where that locus of struggle was. And so you had, you know, People who would have otherwise been or were before homophobic like for example, automotive factory workers uniting in defense of their gay coworkers to get them healthcare, to get them, you know Inclusion and in non-discrimination clauses, both in the union and at their workplace, in their contracts.
You had, the first recognitions of same sex partners was in union contracts. You know, that that was a thing that they fought for. And especially after, after the AIDS epidemic came about, it was getting, you know, protection for those specific types of healthcare too. Again, on the basis of if they can deny you this kind of healthcare, they can deny you any kind of healthcare if they really want to.
You know, so there was that kind of like direct working class recognition and solidarity between working class people there for a long time before it became kind of taken over by these rolling class politicians and they said, well, we’ll fight this battle now. You don’t have to fight that fight, you know, anymore.
That was kind of like the mainstreaming of like gay rights in the nineties and the two thousands was that transition away from, and that’s also part of the. Breaking of the power of labor unions. That happened in the late 20th century too. So there’s a whole lot of things, you know, coming, kind of coming together here.
But that’s kind of like I guess that’s my answer.
Eleanor: Well, that’s, I mean, I’m a, I’m a history nerd and I also, I think history basically tells us where we’re at. Because if you don’t know where you’re coming from, how do you know where you are? It’s like if somebody just drops you in the middle of the forest, if you don’t have the map, which is basically your history, how do you know where you are and where to go from there?
So I think that that’s very important and I appreciate you sharing that. And I wanted to get into into a little bit of, Like, what’s going on with the conversations of people in the working class fighting each other about this issue. And a lot of, I’m a cis woman and a lot of it that I see of other cis women being anti-trans is what a friend of mine calls like, the oppression Olympics.
Like, we wanna, as cis women, we wanna win the oppression Olympics. Like you can’t, as trans women be more oppressed because that’s our thing. We are the more oppressed. And so you can’t be a part of this. cause you don’t know what it’s like to give birth. And I’m like, well that’s a dumb argument because a lot of women, a lot of cis women don’t give birth anyway.
And also just the idea that womanhood should be tied to oppression and pain rather than joy and power and solidarity. And so I’m curious what you. What you see from your perspective and how you feel that these arguments can be pushed back. I don’t wanna say in a nice way because I don’t like being nice, but in a productive way so that we can turn people away from the anti-trans rhetoric into building that solidarity as opposed to, pushing people, getting pulled to that that that anti-trans
side of things.
Morgan: Yeah. The tough thing is that, you know, we can’t always just tell everybody who says those kinds of things to just, you know, F off or whatever. We have to have those conversations, you know, because like you said, people are being misled, like trans, the, it, it’s not a zero sum game.
Like there is no. Right. Or protection given to trans people that weakens anything for cisgender women. Like it is, it’s not. And in fact, it strengthens the position of cisgender women too, because like I said, our oppression is your oppression. I think the way to maybe have this conversation is to really break down what, what we’re talking about, like kind of in a larger scope.
For example, let’s take the example of like sports, because sports is an area where the ruling class and the reactionaries are really able to hammer away at this like biological question, right? Of saying, well, cisgender women are inherently weaker than. Than men, right?
Like, and therefore, you know, these trans women can identify however they want, but there’s like a biological reality that says they’re always gonna be stronger and superior to the cisgender women. So I think a great example of how this is kind of nonsense is what’s happening in the Olympics right now and the attempts to come up with.
Standards by which they can exclude trans women without saying they’re excluding trans women and just being openly discriminatory, they’re trying to base it in like a scientific basis or whatever. Because that’s kind of the basis of that ideology as well, it’s facts, it’s just nature, it’s science.
You can’t argue with this stuff. Ignoring the question of like, who, who wrote that science? You know? So but also like what is the ideology spun off of that science? And so you have all of these cisgender women nearly all of whom are black by the way, being Excluded by their, biological standards for womanhood in the Olympics.
People like Caster Semenya and so many others who are being excluded. And being told you’re not biologically woman enough to compete in the in the women’s categories in the Olympics because you have a certain amount of testosterone in your system. And we judge that. That’s like, you know what I mean?
They’re trying to exclude trans women and wind up attacking cis women and there’s actually no way that you can attack. Trans women on that level without excluding cis women, without excluding an enormous volume of people who are in the middle, intersex people, and so on. So that’s part of it.
I think it’s also worth on the question of like biology. Like I think it’s important for people to– and you talked about history and knowing the history and where we come from, it’s important for people to know that earlier, generations of feminists and women’s liberation activists couched their fight for liberation in a fight against biology.
Not against biology, but against the ideology of biology. Because the thing is, in biology, there’s no such thing as men and women, right? There is two different body types, broadly speaking, that are necessary for reproduction. And we decided that those would be called men and women and that it would be mutually exclusion, exclusive, and that they would, you know, that all of humanity would be divided.
Indeed, all of creation would be divided into those kinds of things. Now, From a biological point of view, if you wanna talk about science, the reason that these two different aspects of reproductive roles exist is just, that’s the easiest way to generate a very, very wide scope of genetic difference.
If you just, cause it’s possible, there’s a lot of creatures in the world that reproduce asexually. They just, they bud, they split, you know, whatever themselves. And when they do that, they make genetically identical pieces of themselves. You know, the only way that differentiation arises is when there’s a like a random defect or a random change or something that happens on the chemical level.
Having two different sets of reproductive, you know, roles creates an enormous way that these can interact and creates an enormous biological differentiation, which ensures the survival of the species. That’s why that divide has happened on a biological level. Humanity socially decided that these two reproductive roles would have a social function and a social meaning, and that they would be called these things and it would mean these things.
We decided that, so, Pointing to biology really means nothing. Nobody is saying that like, people who are born with penises don’t, don’t still have to reproduce with people who have, you know, uteruses and ovaries and produce, you know, ovum and stuff. Like, nobody’s saying that that is changing, that’s not what’s being challenged at all.
It’s, it’s the social definitions, which includes what they call sex. Like we decided that those meant those things and so it’s, it’s important and, and, and it was decided that those meant those things by men. By men who lived in a patriarchal world by men who believed in patriarchal ideology and saw the world through the lens of they were the ones in charge of the world.
And women have their place, and men have their place. They were the ones who said that, you know? So it’s important to understand where the, the science, the raw observation ends and the interpretation of what you’ve seen begins. Now women’s, as I said in the, the fight against this, these, what they said was bio, our biology is not our destiny.
That was what they said in the sixties and the seventies when they were fighting against these things. And it wasn’t, oh, we’re trying to undo biology. It’s, we’re saying that you’re not gonna define women as biologically inferior, and. A great example of this is Andrea Dworkin. Now Dworkin has her own baggage and stuff.
You know, she was a radical feminist and she had kind of her own perspective on things. And I’m not talking about the her totality of her, you know, beliefs, her politics, but she made a point about trans women specifically saying that trans women should be embraced by the Women’s Liberation Movement because they prove the ultimate lie of biology is destiny.
Right That, that, that trans women are treated socially like women. Even in the act of denying us our womanhood, we are still treated like women. We are silenced, we are spoken over, we are talked over, we are dismissed as crazy, hysterical, whatever. Like, it, it, it’s, it’s, I see this every day. Like this happens to me.
So it’s, and she recognized this too, and, and, and said, trans women are like our ultimate weapon. By embracing them as women, we prove that all of these claims that like women are biologically inferior, mentally unstable, emotionally unstable, not capable of leading, are, you know, destined to do housework, whatever.
Like all of that stuff that men have said about women since time in memorial is a lie. And that was what they were already fighting against was those claims. You know, and somewhere along the line, the, the, a certain group of feminists decided in the seventies that actually we’re not gonna challenge these claims about us.
We’re just gonna say, well, okay, it’s all true. But what if that was good instead of bad? You know, and that’s kind of this weird shift that happened in the feminist movement really after they, it stopped being a mass movement, like you, and think about like late sixties, early seventies, the radical feminist movement, and it was, was kind of the leading edge of a broader, you know, liberal kind of more mainstream feminist movement.
Right? And then you had millions of people in motion and, and there were mass rallies and stuff, and they were fighting for real material demands. This was where, you know, the movement for the, the ultimate triumph of that was abortion. The, the, the mass movement that led to that forced the Supreme Court in late 1972 to make its decision.
Obviously it was introduced in January, 1973 is when it announced, but you know, Roe versus Wade, they did that in response to a mass movement that let them know that they. The, the rule, the working class was not gonna stand for being denied this necessary. Medical procedure. Medical treatment, you know, the, the, the, the, the far right wing reaction to that came about later.
But it was also other things like legal recognition of, you know, spousal abuse or, or spousal rape. You know, it was the right of a woman to open a bank account in her own name. Things like that, you know, it was. It was also inclusion of domestic workers in federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid and and food stamps and stuff.
They had been excluded since the since the New Deal, primarily because that was a, that those roles were primarily staffed by poor black women. That was why they were excluded. So then they become, you know, that was a part of that feminist fight too. So all this stuff, you know, that was, that was people were struggling for by the mid 1970s.
You know, a lot of the mass movements that were, that were fighting for, black liberation for, against the Vietnam War for, for, for gay liberation and all this other stuff, they kind of, kind of died out or lost steam. The feminist movement did the same and so detached from this mass struggle, they kind of became this kind of very insular Groups and retreated into that kind of, like I said, like, well, maybe what the patriarchy says about us is true, but it’s what, what if it was good instead of bad?
What if we decided to celebrate that? You know? And that’s, that’s a retreat from liberation that’s really kind of. Really not too much different from like what you, what you see in far right circles today where you have like the anti-feminist women who are like part of like the alt-right and stuff.
There are all these, you know, women who are kind of like the retreat to tradition and stuff like that. And that’s what they say is what if the patriarchy, what the patriarchy says about us is true, but it was good instead of bad. And we embraced these things instead of fighting for things like liberation and, you know, all of that.
And obviously that’s why they’re also anti-trans and anti L G B T Q
too. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much. So many heads to, to pick up there, but I thank you for all of that information. And I, I’m a little bit curious because now we’ve, we, we’ve, we’ve dug into the, you know, the, the, the cis women and trans women conversation a bit.
I’m also curious inside of the LGBTQ community, cause I was having a conversation with the friend of mine who is a trans man, and he said, but I’m straight. I’m a straight trans man, so I don’t know that I feel like a useful or even legitimate part of like the gay, like the umbrella of the queer gay community.
And I’d never heard anybody put it that way before. I. And I know that there’s also, as somebody who is a, a member of that community as well as a, a bisexual woman. I’ve heard this, I’ve heard, I haven’t heard that argument, but I’ve heard this question of like, so does it belong under our umbrella or is it a part of the larger, you know, like, like women’s rights and you know not part of like the, that specific community.
And I’m curious to hear what your thoughts are about that argument or if that holds any
water for you. Yeah. I, well, I think, you know, it’s important to, first of all, note that many trans people are also queer. You know, I’m a trans woman. I’m also bisexual too, so like, I’m, you know what I mean? Like, if you wanna create that division, it’s still my concern, you know?
So, so just kind of on that raw level, there’s that, there’s that question. So, I, I think more broadly the issue is how we understand what liberation looks like. And it comes down to what I was talking about earlier in terms of what other forces we’re fighting against. And the, the patriarchal definition of like woman and man isn’t, isn’t just biological.
It’s also like, like I said, social and part of the definition. According to patriarchy of a woman is that she mates with a man. Part of the definition of a man is that he mates with a woman, and so everybody who breaks these rules is fighting against that system in some way. You know, whether it’s because we reject the biological definition of man and woman and saying, well, I was assigned, you know, such and such at birth.
I have such and such genitals, reproductive organs. But you know, you sort of made it this category. But actually, like in my heart of hearts, you know, deep in my soul this is, this is what I, you know, this is who I am in every, in every way. So that breaks that rule. But so does same gender pairing.
Also breaks that rule, you know? So and so does women who get a job, you know, or even more, even broadly, women who wear pants, you know, like this is all according to a certain perspective, gender non-conformity, you know? So it’s, it, it, it’s. It, it, it’s, that’s what I mean. It’s important for us to understand what we’re fighting against.
When you kind of look at it in that way, it becomes very obvious that cisgender women, trans people, gender nonconforming people and cisgender queer people are all fighting the same forces that are oppressing all of us. You know, so I think it’s important to have that, that perspective instead of getting caught up in like, while I’m trans, but straight, oh, I’m like, you know, cis, but queer or, or you know, how whatever kind of mishmash or mix up you wanna make of these different identities.
Like in the end, we’re all fighting the same forces. It just affects each of us differently because we occupy a different like position, but we’re still, you know what I mean? Like, If you imagine we’re all on a ship, right? And the ship gets hit by a tidal wave or something, you know, like the titan, I don’t know, Titanic gets an iceberg or something.
Like different parts of the ship go down at different times, right? You know, part of us are way up in the air, part of us are, you know, deep in the, the third, you know, third class deck you know, deep on, you know what I mean? Like, some of us got knocked, jumped in the water, like, like we’re all experiencing a different thing, but we’re all in the same ship.
So, We all have the same problem, right? We’ve hit the iceberg of patriarchy and and we have the same problem. So, so I think that’s a way to have that conversation with people, and then you can extend that even more broadly to bring in the class perspective too, of, you know, like I said, the ruling class has all of these rules because it was necessary and remains necessary for the owners of private property to know who their heirs are.
So that their heirs can inherit that private property and keep that power. In their family. That was, that was why all of this happened in the first place, was men wanted to keep control of their property. And so they usurped the traditional matrilineal, matri, local, you know, structures of society so that they could keep control of that among men.
And that’s why all these rules came about in the first place. So, That becomes an even broader, you know, topic of we’re all fighting against a ruling class, a property class that is that we will all benefit from the elimination of the basis of that class. The elimination of that private property will really make all of our other problems our individual needs and individual liberations for queer people, for cis women, for trans people, whomever possible.
You know, like, I think, I think the reason we think that they’re different is we get caught up in what the needs are. You know what I mean? Each of us has different needs along that road, but all of them are only possible if we abolish. Like, it all kind of comes down to what’s the cause of why we can’t solve this.
Fundamentally, there’s one single cause, and that is, that is patriarchy and, and the, and, and private property. Absolutely.
Eleanor: And I, and while you were speaking, I was also reminded of Bell Hooks who she wrote the book, the Will to Change, and talked a lot about how men suffer under the patriarchy as well.
And I don’t remember, it’s, it’s been a while since I read the book, but I don’t remember if she. Comments on trans versus cis men, but men in general suffer under the patriarchy. So they have a lot to win as well. Like it’s not just, you know, like the, the, the white dude down the street has a lot to win from the end of patriarchy and white supremacy as well.
So there’s you could, you could widen this even further. And again, like those demarcations really feel like what you’ve been talking about, a way to pit us against each other as opposed to. Really looking at the, at the architects
Morgan: of our oppression. Yeah. I think in that book that’s where she talks about how, like, before men are taught to oppress women, they’re taught to like attack themselves and like, you know, destroy their ability to like ex adequately experience and understand emotions and things like that.
And, you know, gender roles force them into certain patterns of behavior too. So you’re absolutely right. Like it is, it’s not just that, you know. Like we’re the losing ones, but all of these gender roles are constructed and policed in destructive ways. Yeah, absolutely.
Eleanor: And that’s a wonderful book.
If folks are looking for something to read anything Bell Hooks wrote really. But so finally, I know we’re we’re, we’re going a little bit over time here, but I did wanna ask one more question that kind of popped into my head when I saw your necklace because I know as one Jewish woman to another that you also have posted about trans identity in Jewish culture and teachings and history.
And I’m curious because the, this is also an argument that I’ve heard, you know, like the, like the orange and the Passover plate type stuff like inside of religion, there’s no space for the, the, the argument of L G B T Q rights. And of course a lot of, a lot of people in with religious traditions have combated that.
But I’m curious what your position would be, not only for, for people who wanna have those conversations in a religious family. But also for trans folks who might be combating teachings that are oppressive to their
Morgan: identity. Yeah, and I mean, obviously my answer to this is gonna be framed specifically from the point of view of being a Jewish woman.
And and I am like religiously observant and practicing. So I was, before we had this call this morning, I was getting cleaning and, and getting ready for Shabbat tonight. So the I think. I, I mean, it’s, there’s a lot to be said about the ways that. Certain readings of religion, especially, you know, of the the, the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament or, you know, the basic parallels that those have been drawn over in the, in the retellings of those, in the Quran or, or other religions as well.
That there is a. Definite, like we have to acknowledge these are, these are structured religions that came about in a patriarchal world and they, and they reflect that. And and not just, you know, the kind of raw text but also like the people who interpreted those meanings and kind of constructed the ways that we understand those, you know, over the centuries since we’re also almost exclusively men and living in such a world as well.
So, There’s, there is that, and that’s, that’s a very real thing. And I mean, you know, you, you can definitely see that in Judaism. And then there’s things that are plainly misogynistic and, and transphobic and homophobic in in the Torah, in in the Tal mud in, in. You know, all of those, those texts, and that’s real and, and, you know, has been the cause of no shortage, of, of, of pain and exclusion and and all of that.
So, you know, we have to acknowledge, acknowledge that that exists. But I think especially, especially in Judaism, you know, we have this tradition of challenging the text and interpreting the text and reinterpreting it and. And looking at it in new ways. And I really love this effort that has come out of a queer yeshiva called svara which has.
Produced. It’s the trans, it’s called the Trans Halakhah Project. And it is really the first time that trans people have been directly involved in the interpretation of Jewish law of Halakah. And they recently within the last couple of weeks, published these 10 about about trans questions, you know, and and I think they’re really worth Reading through, like as trans people or even as cis people because it’s the trans people have been for a long time kind of forced to kind of find ways to understand where we fit.
You know, especially like as trans women, there are various Interpretations of our identities that have us, you know, on the one hand, qualifying as, you know, men to sit on a minion, but on the other hand also like, you know, being required to, you know, observe you know, mis vote for women too. So it’s, it, it, it, it can kind of go both ways, but it’s always been kind of reading between the lines.
You know, there’s also this I question of the, in the talmud there are basically like between six and eight genders actually discussed. You know, in there From a very, very specific perspective of, you know, the questions of biological reproduction. How do you understand the basic fact that like people beyond cisgender women and cisgender men exist with whatever identity or biological, like a lot of it is addressing intersex people, but also, you know, people that you could read as trans too.
Like, it’s, it’s kind of a weird conversation, but that exists, you know, too. And so that, that’s an, that, that’s a thing that’s happening. Out there too. So I would definitely encourage people to check out that, like to fill out trans or the Trans Halakah project. And and there there are, are writings from trans people trans Jews as well, understanding those things.
But like as far as how to like have that conversation with people, I don’t really, I don’t know. I feel like if you’re having this argument on the level of like philosophy, you might have already lost the battle. But. You know what I mean? Like, like I’m just saying like, if, if, if somebody was like gonna be transphobic until I presented them, you know, with some, you know, mishna that says such and such, you know what I mean?
Like miraj, that that, you know, it’s gonna change their mind. I would not, I don’t know how much I would really trust that situation, you know what I mean? But I, I, that’s kind of what I mean like for, for people who are curious to, to understand like how is a way to kind of read this. Patriarchal originating religion in a way that is trans-affirming, that is affirming of, you know, builds on these efforts of women to read into, you know, this patriarchal religious history in a way that is more affirming and more empowering, you know, of women.
You know, like, like these are all kind of things that we’ve struggled with for a long time. And the. Just as with everything else, the struggle for trans people is, you know, really building on the, on this, on this larger struggle by other people, oppressed by the institution of gender as well. Yeah,
And, and thank you for sharing those those sources. Yeah, I mean, I, I was curious because I think that it’s kind of one of those, like meet people where they’re at things and you know, just like we, we oftentimes say like, Hey Jews, you know, sit down and talk to your family about Zionism and you can do so by using Jewish teachings and like Jewish texts.
And so, you know, it’s kind of like that use the tools that people are familiar with to, to build the, to build the house, so to speak. Mm-hmm. But Morgan, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us. Where can people follow your work or if you have any other suggestions on other resources to that you’d like to share?
Morgan: Yeah. People can find me on Twitter. My just by my name or my at is Lavender n Red with the letter N. They can find my writing all over the internet. I write a lot for Liberation News these days, which is the newspaper of the party for Socialism and liberation, of which I am also a member.
So. But a lot of other places too, so yeah, and I would definitely encourage, you know, don’t just read me, you know, I would encourage people to, to check out a lot of, a lot of cool sources. I mentioned like the transit lockup project. If you’re, if you’re Jewish can be good. But there are a lot of other.
Resources out there as well. There is the socialist feminist magazine breaking the chains which writes a lot about women and, and trans people and the joint depressions we face from a socialist feminist perspective. So that’s, you know, just one among many resources out there.
Eleanor: Okay. Awesome.
Morgan: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Video of Interview with Kamau Franklin
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Kamau Franklin
Eleanor: All right, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us, the Project Censored Radio Show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by Kamau Franklin, who is the founder of Community Movement Builders Inc. And has been a dedicated community organizer for over 30 years, beginning in New York City and now based in Atlanta.
For 18 of those years, Kamau was a leading member of a national grassroots organization dedicated to the ideas of self-determination and the teachings of Malcolm X. Kamau has coordinated and led community cop watch programs, liberation and Freedom Schools for Youth electoral and policy campaigns, large scale community gardens, organizing collectives and alternatives to incarceration programs.
Kamau was also an attorney for 10 years in New York with his own practice in criminal civil rights and transactional law Kamau . Thanks so much for joining us.
Kamau: for having me. I appreciate it.
Eleanor: So I wanna just dive right into the thick of things here and let, and let the bread crumbs fall where they may, because there is a lot of talk about fighting fighting, racism, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, fascism, and of course, Rightly so, these forces must be fought.
And at the same time, there is far less talk I feel about building the future that we want to see the futures that we deserve. You know, there’s a lot of arguing amongst ourselves about which ism would be the best to use as a foundation after capitalism. While not as often doing the work of building those alternatives.
And as someone who has spent so much time building those alternatives I’d like to start off here with first asking you. How should we approach this split, this constant push and pull of building versus fighting?
Kamau: Well I think we should see a build-in fight strategy as something that goes together as opposed to something that we need to actually have splits and fights about.
Because I think you don’t really get, in my estimation, the masses of people involved. Unless they can see what exactly it is that you’re talking about. Well, somewhat what, what you’re talking about when it comes to another alternative besides capitalism. So what is the so-called new economy? What does socialism look like in practice?
What is it that we can do to develop alternatives to capitalism so that people can see. Communal ways of working together and organizing together flatter line structures. Our ability to, to, to build things that can help support folks and move people forward well, at the same time, being truly honest and saying, you know, whatever these model projects are if they become to a level where they threaten capitalism and you’re not challenging it.
Capitalism was going to attack them anyway, capitalism is gonna cut off if, even if you’re building out cooperatives, capitalism will cut off access to resources access to supply chains and the rest of it just to show and improve that. There’s no other model besides capitalism. Capitalism will come after your so-called leaders or workers and have charges brought up against them or bring things up about them.
Just so they can prove or show that anything outside of capitalism does not work, that any alternative ideas are those of, of the edges and should not be listened to. And that the, the only thing that we can do is further participate in this system. So we have to understand that build and fight is a real thing.
It’s not build or fight that those things go together. And, and part of those discussions that we’re having, Or really discussions that delay our efforts at moving forward and organizing together. And we should, we need to put those to decide and really get some work done. Yeah,
absolutely. And there’s a, kind of a similar juxtaposition was the idea of autonomy within a capitalist framework something that community Movement builders refers to as the Liberated Zones theory. And indeed that’s something that we’ve seen at play, whether that’s the Zapatistas or in Rojava, the idea of creating liberated space within an entirely oppressive global capitalist framework.
But how does that work in your mind when we talk about larger issues such as. You know, police brutality, universal healthcare, colonialism, imperialism, or, or climate change.
I think the same thing applies as in you, as long as we are not confusing the fact that you’re trying to build spaces that we have some self-determination over or some control over, like confusing those spaces for the ultimate objectives, then I think those spaces are good to create and a much larger level.
You know, you mentioned the Zapatistas, look at Cuba and Nicaragua. The Soviet Union of the past, in some ways, those could be considered loosely put, liberated territory. Right? And some of those places had vast resources at hand. Obviously they had governmental structures. They had infrastructure. But still because the capitalist orbit is so vast and so strong that capitalism was able to in some ways and in some cases, defeat those, some of those places and or isolate them.
So as long as we understand that even creating autonomous zones or liberated territory or part of a larger thinking about how we fight back against capitalism, because we need to create spaces where people can somewhat feel safe to organize. Can do some organizing, can have access to resources, can conduct things like mutual aid.
We can have cop watches. We have to be able to show people our ability to be transformative in our actions and work. Otherwise, they’re just not gonna pay us any attention. Otherwise. It’s just rhetoric form. And as we are doing it, I, at least in my estimation, we’re also building the potential. People power to again, go after state capitalism to fight back.
Whether or not that’s through demonstrations, whether or not that’s through rallies, whether or not that’s through more direct action oriented approaches. Those are the things that we have to build towards. And having places and or organizations that are big enough to help fight back is what we have to create.
We’ve, we can’t settle on thinking. Just because we, i.e. protest the state that the state is gonna fall beneath us, right? The state is equally able to subdue, protest and or larger militant action at this particular stage as it is anything. And so as we, again, we’re fighting this state, we have to think about what gives us some level of support now for everyday people to feel like they can see what the future holds.
If they partake, if they’re, if they see something that they’re getting out of it, they see different structures that they can participate in and start to have some control over their lives and some power over their lives.
Eleanor: Yeah. Absolutely. And I I’m curious too, within that same vein, the role of political education, because there’s this feeling that like, okay, we have to build we have to build as we’re, as we’re fighting.
But there’s, and I’m sure you’ve seen this much more than I have, but the, the. People falling into these systems of oppression because they have not they have not researched or looked into alternatives. And so you end up going into the old capitalist programming. So can you talk about like the, the role of political education while also making it accessible so that you’re not like walking into a community space and being like, here are a bunch of books everyone has to read before we get started?
Kamau: Think community, I mean, a political education is completely undervalued in terms of the work that we do. Because it’s you know, and again, there are people who have been politicized, who have felt us. There are people who have been politicized. Who have at times informed on us or become part of the state right apparatus.
However, without the basis of political education, you have no possibilities of challenge challenging the state. Because what happens, again, even when we talk about things like cooperatives, if there’s not a political education aspect to it and people just start to see it as a moneymaking enterprise. Or if you talk about the role of direct action and demonstrations and people sometimes will be in electoral politics.
If you’re gonna use these tactics, then you have to understand your limitations and how they further movement as opposed to how they may divert movement or take away from it. And only through the idea of studying not only the capitalist history of what’s taken place, but the alternatives and the other movement organizations and revolutionary movements that have happened before us here within the United States, of course and around the world.
How those movements have been international, how those movements in, in some cases have been Pan-Africanist. How those movements in some cases obviously have been anti-imperialist, how they’ve been, some of who directly socialists and or communist, even anarchist movements in the sense of building flatlined structures and having autonomous ways of acting and diversity of tactics.
All of those things matter today in terms of fighting back. Particularly Western capitalism and American capitalism, which is undergoing some changes as we speak. And the question is, will we as, as sort of the alternative to what’s happening in capitalism, be able in some ways to take advantage of that and to build while that’s happening.
Will we continue to fall victims of it and be used by those systems to continue to use us as sort of outsiders through our community as they continue to come down on us and then divert our community back into the capitalist orbit and or the mainstream sort of propaganda establishment orbit. Only through political education where we begin to learn and see the tactics and strategies of the capitalist, how they’re used against us, what we have to do to avoid those tricks of the trade, what we have to do to stay unified and understand that under under no circumstances can we give in to the capitalist hegemony, cause if we do.
Then we will be falling five or 10 paces back once again and again, falling back into a space where we feel like we’re always rebuilding and rebuilding. Rebuilding, as opposed building off on top of something else that was already done and learning from those mistakes and doing it better next time.
Eleanor: Yeah. And I know that C M V P has, has been, and also since you live in Atlanta, has been involved with the Stop Cop City project, and I wanna discuss a little bit about that as well, because, you know, you were, you were talking about how like the tactics of, of the state and and, and I’m curious, do you feel like things are ramping up?
Is this just kind of a repetition of what we saw with, you know, the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, or, or do you feel that as US hegemony is, is kind of flailing, you know, the empire is falling very destructively and slowly. But do you think that this is a new frontier that we’re experiencing here, or this is, is this is kind of a repetition of what we’ve seen in the past?
Kamau: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think it’s built off of the past. I think some of the strategies of past of demonizing organizers and activists. Of demonizing people, particularly who use militant tactics of calling people outsiders when they come to do work from other places. I think all of those are strategies and tactics of the past of using overwhelming police force.
But I do think they’re being designed and implemented in different ways. And I e in Atlanta, one of the ways that we are trying to counter, which wasn’t the case during the sixties, COINTELPRO is actually for Atlanta, which considers itself a black mecca is having black. Establishment petite bourgeois, middle class politicians and business people who actually are the front folks for building cop city and how that creates the class dynamic within the community that we must confront.
And so some of those aspects are new, but the tricks of the trade of protecting the American empire and protecting capitalism. Over the demands and needs of the people that’s as old as the beginning of the United States itself. So that’s something that we have to see is something that’s going to be here, that something is going to impact us, and we have to see about making sure that we fight back against those strategies and tactics by implementing not only things again that we’ve learned from the past.
But also learning new ways in which we fight back against that. You know, I, you know, this may not be the, the form necessarily where this discussion will will happen in let’s say in a long form way, but within the black community, the idea of the class confrontation is something that. Needs to be dealt with, particularly by organizers and activists and people who consider themselves radicals.
Because when we rely on the represent representation politics that have been here for the last 30 years, and we think that that’s progress, every time that happens, we fall backwards, backwards, backwards. And so we have to think through those things, through that struggle and move forward with a politic.
That means it tells us when someone is tied to like an Obama figure tied to the capitalist empire and keeping that empire going. Then those folks have to be called out for who they are, and it doesn’t make a difference what they look like.
Eleanor: Yeah, absolutely. And, and, and you speaking about that reminded me of a, this was years ago, obviously, because he’s, he’s, he’s dead now.
But there, I remember John Lewis came out outside the Capitol building. There was a Black Lives Matter protest that had marched all the way through DC and made it to the Capitol building and had gone through barricades that they had set up at the Capitol building. And there were, you know, like four or five Capitol Police and that’s it.
And people were just walking up to the doors. And then John Lewis came. Came out as if like, you know, sent out and started speaking. And there were a lot of arguments that were happening amongst the crowd there. And of course, as a white person, I was not stepping into this conversation, but the conversation was that like, let’s keep walking or let’s step back.
And ultimately people stepped back and I just kept thinking like, oh man, we could have like, kept going into the capitol. And what would, what would that have looked like? I mean, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been. Pretty in a lot of ways. But what would’ve happened, and, and I’m curious your thoughts here, like how, I mean, th these, these conversations seem to be happening a lot, and I’m curious, first of all, how you feel about these conversations and also how you feel that folks who are not black can either participate or how we should best support the, you know, the more, the more radical strategies here.
Kamau: I mean, I think these conversations in, in terms of participating some of them are happening, but some of them just don’t happen to the level of there’s a respect for elders. Right. And, and sometimes rightfully so. But sometimes, as you mentioned, the idea of having elders, spokespeople Actually is done to dilute the militancy of a struggle.
And so when people refer to a John Lewis as opposed to Kwame Ture ie Stokely Carmichael , then you can see which side of the dividing line they’re trying to set up. Right. When people refer to a Mar a Martin Luther King, let’s say of the 1963 genre as opposed to 1967 and 1968, You can see what type of the dividing line that they’re on when they refer Malcolm and they take out the politics of Malcolm and try to talk about Malcolm strictly after leaving the nation, but without talking about his anti-imperialist poli politics, which followed him in which developed after the nation without talking about his revolutionary nationalism stance.
Trying to fit him into the idea of a civil rights leader. Then again, you can see that and you can see that happening over and over again with different political leaders and how folks are either looked at and or how they’re ignored. Asada Shakur is ignored in terms of, of larger history of movement, politics, but there are other more civil rightsy people, let’s say a Harris of today, which is lifted up to us as somebody that we should emulate or who, who represents.
Some political progress for us as a people. And so we have to understand that there are dividing lines and like the conversation before the question before, it’s only through political education and reading and understanding that history that you begin to see when someone is putting forth folks who they tell you who are your heroes, where really they’re meant to stop your movement from taking a militant stance.
They’re meant to stop your movement and having an analysis of capitalism, they’re meant to stop your movement from having an analysis of imperialism. And so those things we must, must confront and talk about. And I think there’s, you know, there’s, there’s a place where everybody, obviously in certain discussions and I, you know, when, when we speak about folks other than black folks there are communities to organize, there are people to work with, there are collaborations to be made between all of our communities.
This is an effort that affects all of us, right? And there may be different approaches or places that we all may need to be, but we have to be in communication. We have to strategize together. We have to be comrades. We have to figure out how we work together, because otherwise, again, our movements get separated.
Otherwise all of us do things which are that we may think may be the smart thing to say, but until you check with an ally on, Hey, I wanted to say something like this about a leader in the black community. How should I say that? And somebody might be able just to help you out with the wording or framing or to make sure you don’t say something idiotic that you hope to make, that you think.
You’re saying it’s gonna be radical or revolutionary, but it’s like, it’s not gonna come off like that if you say that. So, so I think we need to continually, when we’re in community, support that community and help support each other, particularly again, if we are all claiming to have these left politics at this stage.
Is, does is it, it’s hard for me to see why we need to have discussions. On the difference between Troskey and Lenin as being far more important than the discussions around how do we, with the, the overlapping of politics that we have, how do we fight together to, to fight back against capitalism and imperialism?
Eleanor: Yeah, absolutely. And I touched upon earlier this arguing about which ism is going to be the best. It’s kind of like we’re arguing about what to do after Capitalism falls. Before capitalism falls, and it’s like, guys, we, we have a lot of work to do. And this armchair arguing of your ism versus that ism and it causes so much splintering, right?
It’s like, you know, you’ve got socialists saying, I refuse to work with anarchists and anarchists saying I refuse to work with socialists. And a lot of that I feel has a lot to do with the, the programming and the misunderstanding of those terms as well, which feeds back into the conversation about political education.
And you know, when you say the word socialist as well, particularly anarchist, the ideas that flow in people’s heads are probably, Not at all what you mean. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And so that can, that can also be a, a, a, a.
Kamau: Yeah. I would say, you know probably over the last 15 years, maybe even longer than that of my work with folks who.
Identified as anarchists and that includes anarchists who’ve been former Black Panther party members to black box anarchists to some of the most strategic organizers I know who are anarchists who have more resources than we have. And I’m always like, you know, my, my running joke is like supposed to be an anarchist.
You’re not gonna say that well organized, but. I, I think people do a disservice to, even if they don’t consider themselves as, I don’t like, I’m not considering myself an anarchist, although I think I have some anarchist tendencies. People do a disservice in not either understanding or appreciating the type of work that anarchist formations do today.
That, again, other formations, whether they’re socialist or communist but they’re on the left. Do not engage in to their detriment, to be honest. So I think there’s a lot of things that can be learned from anarchist structures work habits abilities to, to sort of have these flatline structures and to understand diversity of tactics, but to be engaged in work beyond.
And I’m not, you know, I’m not saying anarchist students exclusively by any means, but to be engaged and work beyond strictly. Having these discussions and debates around who is the, the best sort of hero of our, of our past generations and stuff like that. Again, I’m not saying they exclusively do it the best.
But I, at least in my knowledge and my work habits I’ve always noticed this over the last 15 or 20 years, a particular astuteness and numbers around anarchists who were willing to throw down and do certain kinds of work. Again, it’s I, I do believe in, in certain. Types of structures and, and governance that maybe more so than some anarchists do, but I’m always appreciative of the work, the way in which folks work and the way in which folks have been accomplishing things over the last few years. So,
Eleanor: well, it’s always nice to hear somebody who appreciates, appreciates the nuances as much as I do. So, and, and, and, and kind of with that, I wanted to, to dig a little bit back into community movement builders because of the, the. The, the fantastic work that y’all do and you know, everything from community gardens to safety patrols and cop watch.
And you know, I, I can’t remember where I read it, if it was in revolutionary suicide or another book, but talking about what really made the Black Panthers threatening was not that they were walking around with guns, even though that’s what. You know, the, the popular white supremacist ideologies would have us believe it’s that they were teaching folks and they were gardening and they were feeding people, and that was really dangerous.
And so I’m curious, could you talk a little bit about, more about C M B and also how you kind of maneuver those, the, the lashing out from the system that that we’ve seen in the past as well as today?
Kamau: couple of things on that is, you know, a nonprofit word is place-based organizing, right?
Which means being in the community and, and I think one of the things that folks forget about the Panthers that you just brought up is that they were part of that community, SNC. Was part of the community when SNC did grassroots organizing. They lived in the homes of people they were organizing with.
They developed Freedom Schools, right? In partnership with people in the community. The Panthers developed liberation schools in partnership with people in the community. And so when we look back at sort of our historical precedence in terms of who we thought was doing good work and why these organizations were destroyed, right?
They didn’t just fall apart, they didn’t just melt away. They didn’t just have one bad fight and that was the end of ’em, right? These organizations were systematically went after by the federal government with the point group being the Federal Bureau of Investigation because of their effectiveness of potentially moving.
Black people on the ground. Right. And that’s what we take from that. And that’s what we learn is that you have to be in community. So our office is not downtown, someplace away from the neighborhood. Our community house is in the community that we want to most organize with during this time period.
And like you said, it’s everything from Mutual Aid, what we call our liberation program to developing cooperatives. To having a stability fund so we can help people stay in their homes, to doing the safety walks, to cop watches to do in the community gardening. All of that is impacted by the, the fact that we are there in the community and we do it with the mix of political education because without any of that, we will surely fail.
and position ourselves potentially as some church group, which we always have to make sure that they don’t think we are, because the first people are so conditioned, the first word on their mouth goes, what church y’all belong to? It’s like, no, no, no, no, no, we’re not a church. I mean, we, we preach at the, at the, at the helm of the Revolutionary Spirit, but that, that’s as churchy as we get.
So we think that only comes through, obviously, again, the political education that we all try to go through, that we all do with each other and that we do with the community. And like you said, you’ve mentioned before, like political education takes many different forms. It’s everything from books, it’s everything from videos, it’s everything from having collective conversations.
It’s art, it’s it’s culture, it’s all of that stuff mixed in here and different people. Are reached by different things, right? So some people, we’ve had conversations in the community where we directly say, what is capitalism? What is socialism? And there’ll be other days where we might do something and it’s more like, why don’t we have food that is developed or grown here in this community?
Why is this place considered a food desert? Let’s walk through all of that. And so, You never know which white grabs people. What’s gonna make people sort of decide that they can now figure out, or they’ve, you know, in some ways they already is a tinge there. Like for most, most people who are poor and oppressed, they understand it no matter how.
Always have the language for it as, as, as someone who’s read a lot might have, but they understand it. For them, it’s the big thing is around. A, what’s going to where should I put my time? Is there anything that makes me want to put my time into working against this as opposed to just relaxing or as opposed to having to work two or three jobs or as opposed to taking care of my kids or as opposed to just hanging out and, and having some fun.
Because I need to, I need that time. Cause I know tomorrow I gotta work a 10 hour shift, right? So we have to put ourselves in a position to be like, you know, another way to spend your time is fighting back against the very oppression that leaves us so tired, drained, and feeling that we can’t participate and control our own lives.
And how do we do that? How do we make that fun sometimes? How do we make it interesting? How do we make it feel like it’s something that’s gonna get resources to you so that you see the need and the desire to participate in it?
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, the making it fun as my sister from
Eleanor: another Mister Emma, Emma Goldman put it, I don’t want a revolution where I can’t dance.
Kamau: Yes, exactly. We believe in dancing. Yes, we do.
Eleanor: Kamau thank you so much for taking the time to, to sit down. Where can folks learn more about what you do and connect with you?
Kamau: The best place is Community Movement builders.org. They can find out about all of our work, how they can get involved with our work.
We are on all the different social media platforms as community movement builders. And then they can find out about different events things coming up. We do have a conference, a black organizing conference coming up in late June, and they can go to the website and find out about that. We also have a affiliate group for community movement builders for folks who are not black.
If they wanted to join and help and support our work, they can go and find out about that. So go to the website, there’s an firstname.lastname@example.org email address, and they can write us there to also get more interaction and find out how to get involved.
Eleanor: Thank you so much.
Kamau: Thank you. I appreciate being with you.