Jamie Magnusson, former CWSE Acting Head and current RFR Principal Investigator, gave a speech at this year’s University of Toronto December 6th memorial about the criminalization of women. Transcript below.
Jamie Magnusson, Associate Professor
Adult Education and Community Development
December 6 National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence
University of Toronto
Friday mornings I wake up before the sun rises and make my way to All Saints Community Centre at the corner of Sherbourne and Dundas. Working with a street peer, we walk the area around George Street where we’re likely to find women coming off a long night of work to let them know about a free breakfast in the All Saints kitchen for women-identified sex trade workers. We offer them drug kits, snack bars, condoms, and in the cold weather, socks and underwear. As I walk along George Street I take in the dilapitated rows of boarded up and fenced off houses while Jane (pseudonym) explains to me about the speculative real estate market that’s intensifying the problems around housing insecurity that she’s experienced all her life.
“More and more of us are forced out of housing so that developers can buy up lucrative real estate to build condos. Before they start the development, the developers have to pre-sell a certain percentage of units, and the people buying them up never live in them! They just wait until the price of the units are driven up, then they flip them.”
She didn’t have to explain to me how poor people are forced out of housing to pave the way for this kind of speculative real estate frenzy. Austerity programs organized through neoliberal politics disinvest from public infrastracture developed through years of class struggle around wealth redistribution. As public housing, health, and civic infrastructure erode, the poor, faced with paying 80% of their precariously obtained income on rent, are dispossessed of housing, opening up opportunities for stock market driven speculative investment.
Jane (the peer worker) turned to sex trade work because for her it made more money and leveraged more autonomy than selling her labour in the casualized and precarized labour market. However, these kinds of business activities that evade the disciplining of the labour market are either criminalized or regulated, both undesirable and violent options in the case of sex trade work.
The everyday violences I am encountering are organized through global financialized capitalism mediated by stock market logic that innovates predatory accumulation by trading on “investment risk”. The burgeoning financial sector has developed strategies of risk management that rely on speculative forms of control over what constitutes ‘a safe life’. The ‘safe life’ is constituted in relation to ‘the unsafe life’. The dynamics of differential accumulation based on ‘risk’ requires the production of lives that are ‘not safe’. Increasingly, women, particularly working class, racialized and indigenous women, inhabit these spaces that are ‘not safe’. And then we are criminilized for inhabiting these spaces.
Decriminalization and abolition of the prison state is a key goal around which to mobilize. This issue is also very critical with respect to another area of my work and activism, namely LBT women and the criminalization of women deemed to be sexual and gender deviants.
At a recent conference in Curacao, LBT women lead workshops where there was discussion about how state violence and its programs of criminalizing women deemed sexual and gender deviants are shaped not only by capitalism, but also how the state was formed through colonial violence, heteronormative patriarchy, and racism. Fed by a rich history of revolution and social movements LBT women in this region are mobilizing an anti-violence movement that is multifaceted. This conference, which included women organizers from across the Caribbean, was strategically linked to Curacao’s first Pride Week, an event that the state attempted to stifle by shutting down the Pride March, but in the end could not contain nor control.
These social movements are fed by everyday, on the ground activities organized through women’s centres, refugee centres, LGBT centres, women’s health centres, Aboriginal Centres, and so on. The activities begin simply by building a collective and then taking action.
In 1983 Selma James wrote: “nobody’s fight is marginal. If you want to change the world, the best place to start is where you are.”
What are the social movements that are relevant? Begin by examining where you are.
Idle No More, Occupy, Bad Date Coalition, Food Justice, Take Back the Street, The Trans March, Anti-Poverty Coalition, or build your own collective … Let’s do this! Let’s take action.