We cannot live without our lives.
–Banner held by Combahee River Collective members protesting the sexual assault and murder of twelve Black women in the Boston area in the first six months of 1979.
The body count of stigmatized, criminalized, incarcerated, legally eliminated, socially dead, expendable and disposable, sexually violated, tortured, missing and murdered Indigenous girls, girls and women of color, queer and trans youth of color, continues to climb. The growing murder-suicide rates, statistics of missing and murdered Indigenous and Black women, should no longer surprise or overwhelm us but incite us to urgent action and theorization in line with radical women of color feminist movements mobilizing to end gendered and racialized violence endemic to the carceral state. A feeling of mortal urgency hounds us everywhere, every day, all the time, all at once in white settler societies like ours; it surrounds, envelops, and blankets us, most often lulling us into a deep, depressed, dreamless stupor rendering us hopeless and immobilized. Many of us have already lost the battle. How many Black and Indigenous girls and women have had their lives cut short by interpersonal, intimate, state and state-sponsored violence since the Black socialist lesbian feminist Combahee River Collective first held up that banner boldly declaring “We cannot live without our lives” and initiated a self-help and anti-violence community mobilization in the late 1970s? At other times, when not killed-off, bought-off, coopted, or placated by the carceral state and its so-called ‘kinder and gentler’ politics of recognition and reconciliation and its non-profit, professionalized social service apparatuses, we channel the pent-up sum of our intergenerational rage into ‘dreaming big’ and ‘making power’ within our families, intimate relations, and communities. The mortal urgency lies in us staying dormant and continuing to patiently over-rely on the carceral state to guarantee the health of our lands and waterways, our human and civil rights, our bodily integrity, our safety and security, our health and well-being, our children’s futures rather than aligning ourselves with radical Black feminist, Indigenous decolonial, and prison abolitionist movements. We fail to listen and actively disengage with these (re)emergent and resurgent movements that resist the liberal and neoliberal state’s politics of recognition, visibility, and inclusion at our own peril. Five hundred years after the advent of colonial genocide and chattel slavery, the stakes are as high as ever. As Ntozake Shange declares, “We all have immediate cause.”