From 2013-2017, the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign to free Marissa Alexander was underway. People all over the U.S. and the world mobilized to free this Black mother of three who was facing 20 — and then 60 — years of prison for defending her life from her abusive husband.
The campaign had a nexus of local support emerging from the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (now known as Love & Protect), which organized many impactful projects including fundraisers and a #FreeMarissa store that raised tens of thousands of dollars for Marissa’s Legal Defense Fund.
In 2015, members of the national and Chicago campaign organized a defense campaign workshop for the Color of Violence 4 conference, organized by INCITE!. There, they met members of the Stand With Nan-Hui defense campaign to free Nan-Hui Jo, a Korean mother and survivor of domestic violence who was targeted by prosecutors and imprisoned in ICE detention. The group then connected with members of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), a grassroots advocacy organization that had been organizing for the freedom of people in women’s prisons for over 20 years. This collective of organizers exchanged stories about the promises and challenges of defense campaigns, and ideas about the intersections of criminalization and surviving domestic and sexual violence. Naming themselves Survived & Punished (S&P), the group met officially in Chicago in March 2016 to develop a national organizing plan.
(More details about these connections can be found in the article, Free Marissa Now and Stand With Nan-Hui: A Conversation About Parallel Struggles, and in the S&P defense campaign toolkit.)
S&P currently has three affiliate collectives in California statewide, New York City, and Chicago. The collectives organize autonomously, but stay connected and coordinated. We are all volunteers.
California S&P is a collective of about 15 people who are survivors (including survivors who are formerly incarcerated), community organizers, attorneys, victim advocates, policy experts, and scholars. We are building relationships with survivors who are incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, the biggest women’s prison in the U.S. As part of this process, S&P partnered with TGI Justice Project and CCWP in 2018 to launch a survey to hundreds of survivors in women’s and men’s prisons in California.
NYC S&P is a grassroots prison abolition organization, dedicated to freeing criminalized survivors of gender violence held in prisons in New York. Currently, NYC S&P is focused on #FreeThemNY campaign, calling on Governor Cuomo to immediately use his clemency powers to free people from prisons.
Love & Protect, formerly known as Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, is a volunteer-led and volunteer-run grassroots effort. Members are individuals working through an abolitionist framework. L&P’s current work includes acting as a defense committee and/or providing other types of support for women incarcerated for defending themselves against violence. This includes teach-ins, letter writing campaigns, court support, Twitter town halls and general awareness raising.
S&P affiliates in California and New York have launched campaigns demanding the mass commutations of survivors, many of whom have life and life without parole sentences. California S&P also supports CCWP’s campaign to end of Life Without Parole sentencing in California. Chicago partners are exploring grassroots strategies to decrease massive sentences of incarcerated survivors, helping to free them from prison.
Our national collective organizes national strategy convenings and affiliates also organize local community events such as letter writing parties, film screenings, art exhibits, and community panels.
| What is S&P’s organizing vision?
Survived & Punished is a prison abolition organization. We believe that prisons, detention centers, all forms of law enforcement, and punitive prosecution are rooted in systems of violence, including racial, anti-trans/queer, sexual, and domestic violence. Our work specifically focuses on criminalized survivors to raise awareness about the integrated relationship between systems of punishment and the pervasiveness of gender violence. We aim to initiate mass defense projects that will free all survivors, which would require the abolition of prisons and other systems of punishment.
| What are the “politics of exceptionalism”?
The “politics of exceptionalism” occurs when people advocate for the freedom of an individual only because they are considered exceptional to other imprisoned people — for example, the perfect survivor, the perfect immigrant, etc. S&P does not get down like that. When we support individual defense campaigns, or when we call for the freedom of “survivors” in particular, we promote a “politics of relationality,” or strategies that help people engage the broader crisis of criminalization, and help create a public context for others to talk about their own experiences of surviving violence and being punished for that survival. As Cece McDonald — a black trans woman who is an abolitionist leader, was imprisoned for self-defense, and whose freedom was supported by the #FreeCeCe grassroots defense campaign — has said,
“I want people to not just hear me, but to live through me, to live through this experience to give themselves a platform.”
Defense campaigns that S&P members have supported illustrate how the particular ways that an individual survivor is targeted reflect the broader systemic pattern of the criminalization of survival that impacts thousands of people. We use strategies — such as fact sheets, social media, legislative advocacy, direct action, workshop curricula, etc — that highlight individual stories to clarify the specific harms of criminalization, catalyze collective learning, connect and build relationships with others whose stories resonate, and expand the call for everyone’s freedom.