“Vulnerability and intimacy are at the core of solidarity” A Conversation With Sierra Ramírez of The Future is Feminist

The Future is Feminist (FiF) is a DC-based organizing collective dedicated to smashing the patriarchy, seizing bodily autonomy for all, fighting for economic justice, and centering the voices of trans and gender non-conforming folks and people of color. The idea behind it was jump-started around the protest actions related to Donald Trump’s inauguration. On January 20, 2017, the collective held a several-hour-long blockade of an entry checkpoint in downtown DC, holding the line for women’s rights and human dignity.

Fast forward to May 2018, FiF is still going strong, committed to solidarity actions, collective healing, and fighting for social justice in our community. Sierra, one of FiF’s organizers, talked to me about FiF’s biggest actions to date, the importance of intimacy in organizing, and the power of standing up for ourselves and each other.

Sierra, can you tell me a little more about the history of the J20 blockade and how FiF first came to life?

There were several blockades planned for the day with the intention to disrupt the inauguration and related festivities. The blockades had various themes, like Black Lives Matter, climate justice, trade justice, and LGBTQIA rights, but there wasn't a blockade that was specifically about feminism as a political lens, in terms of sexism, reproductive justice, etc.

A group of people, some of whom knew each other from school, and some of whom met at the larger spokescouncil meetings that were held before the inauguration, decided to organize an explicitly feminist blockade. So on January 20, we gathered at 4 am, practiced our action, then walked downtown toward the inner loop. Our effort was focused on one particular entrance that we intended to block.

At around 7 am, several people from our group sat down and locked their necks in bike locks that were chained together. This way, they couldn’t be dragged or removed without causing serious injury. Around them was a buffer group, which I was a part of, and then there was a huge group of people that was all around us. We dealt with a lot of confrontation throughout the day from people on the outer edge of the circle — cops as well as some aggressive inauguration attendees wanting to get in. There was some tear gas and people were pushing and shoving to get over us. At many points during the day, the entrance was actually closed, and we stayed for six or seven hours.

It was a great action. After the inauguration, we wanted to keep organizing together, and we talked about what some of the main things that we care about are. This included a wide variety of activities including pro-Palestine actions, anti-police brutality actions, actions against Chief of Police Peter Newsham here in DC, and actions supporting No Justice No Pride (but more on that later).

So are there any core principles FiF is built around?  

There are several things I can say that all of us believe in. We’re anti-capitalist, anti-state violence, anti-racist, and we want to center the voices of marginalized people and people directly impacted by these systems.

What do you feel like is the most important value you personally bring into FiF’s organizing?

I actually kind of really dislike thinking about individuals! I try to approach things in a non-individualistic way and focus on collectivism as opposed to the neoliberal idea of individual leadership- and maybe that’s the kind of value I bring into FiF’s organizing. Because whenever you have this idea of a leader, there’s an implied idea of a follower. And as much as you might want to collectivize the idea of leadership, the focus often gravitates toward strong personalities, or you have a situation where you have a few people doing all the work, neither of which are healthy for the movement.

We’re almost a year and a half from the inauguration. How many people are currently involved in FiF and in what capacity?

Six or eight months after the inauguration, there were a lot of gatherings happening among DC activists, which made it easier to organize and collaborate consistently on projects. Without those spaces, it’s now a little harder to find the time and space to work on things together.

Right now, there are about 3-6 core people active in FiF, and around them are these concentric circles of involvement. About a dozen of people show up every once in a while, and then a larger amount of people only show up to bigger events. We’re currently trying to build that out a little bit more.

You mentioned organizing around No Justice No Pride last June. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

No Justice No Pride is a really amazing initiative that started last year which was anchored by a brilliant organizer, Em Talarico, along with a coalition of trans and queer folks of color. It started as an idea of disrupting Capital Pride, because after many, many attempts, its organizers had been unwilling to think very critically about how the leadership was very white, corporate, and reinforcing all of the things that the original Stonewall Riots were against, like police violence.

Last year’s Pride was physically led by police in uniforms, police who keep abusing their power to harass and attack trans people and people of color. Also included in parade were floats belonging to Wells Fargo (which is one of the main banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as prisons and immigration detention facilities), and Lockheed Martin and other weapons manufacturers. It felt like everything that is wrong in the world was included in the parade and it’s gotten so far away from its original values that folks wanted to disrupt that.

There were three simultaneous blockades — a blockade of the police cordon heading the parade, and blockades of the Wells Fargo and Lockheed Martin floats.

I was part of the Lockheed Martin float blockade. A group of us who are people of color and/or trans or gender non-conforming people were locking down, preventing the float to move forward. We used lockboxes, which are these tubes you put your arms in and lock together to make it really hard to remove you (they’d have to cut you out of them). Around us was a bigger group of people standing between us and a lot of angry white gay men who didn’t want to be confronted about these issues. They were really frustrated about having their day spoiled because we were drawing attention to the bombing of Brown people in the Middle East and the wars against Muslims in the world.

The police cordon in the front was blockaded by folks who work with or support the Movement for Black Lives. They chained themselves together and created this visual of Black people in chains, referencing the violent roots of the police state. The third blockade was in front of the Wells Fargo float and they also used lockboxes. That blockade was bottom-lined mainly by trans, queer and two-spirit Native American folks.  

All of us were holding the space for as long as we could, giving as much time as possible to negotiators who were trying to get Capital Pride to answer to any of our collectively developed demands, like centering trans women of color, stopping celebration of the police, addressing the neglect of Native communities, restructuring Capital Pride’s board of directors, and cutting ties with harmful corporate sponsors.

Did they respond?

They did — to some of them. The negotiations during the parade took several hours. It was an ongoing dialogue and attempt to get the organizers to understand our points like the fact that uniformed armed police officers are not necessarily something that makes queer Brown people feel safe.

Over the subsequent months, Capital Pride eventually made some changes in their board. But violent and exploitative corporate sponsors still remain part of the event.

All that being said, my experience of the action itself that day was that it seemed to create this really powerful energy and symbolism about connections between radical, revolutionary people who care just as much about police brutality against Black people in this city as we do about drones falling on Muslim people in Syria or Yemen. So it felt deeply local and deeply internationalist at the same time. That solidarity was extended when all of us went over to the blockade at the Wells Fargo float, [highlighting its connection to the destruction of Native American sacred sites] and acknowledging that most of us are settlers here on Piscataway land. It was really powerful.

NJNP’s efforts also wound up spreading. Since the DC’s Pride is on the earlier end of the pride parade season, there was a lot of press and it inspired actions around the country and in other countries as well.

FiF also recently hosted a visioning retreat (open to anyone interested) to figure out its future organizing strategy. What do you feel like was the most important takeaway from that day?

The biggest thing to me is realizing how important it is to create a space for trust to be built, for mutual vulnerability and even intimacy. There’s a lot of trauma in our communities and everybody is trying so hard to be the best person they can be and yet it’s really hard to be in such close proximity to people. Normally, we associate with friends, or we go to work, which we don’t have a choice on, or we interact with family, but outside of that, it’s mostly social media, which can seem like a wall.

In organizing, you’re in close proximity with people who you may want to be friends with but who are not already your friends — people who have different backgrounds and care about lots of different things. And that kind of proximity can be uncomfortable. So there’s a lot of tendency to want to say things exactly right and to perform in exactly the right way, but without an underlying foundation of trust, it’s never going to be good enough. It’s never going to feel real. You can’t dig into the fundamental things causing oppression and violence and transform those things if you don’t have that foundation of trust and vulnerability and intimacy, which I think are at the core of real solidarity.

At the retreat, we got to have some really cool conversations. It was definitely on display for me that this was an opportunity for trust building. It’s important to find these opportunities outside of direct actions where things can be really intense, and just have room to make mistakes, grow, and build interpersonal bonds. When you have that, you can do anything!

We also included a lot of things that may look like “self-care” in the retreat but the concept of self-care itself can be so individualistic. I want to transform that into solidarity care. By that I mean, taking care of yourself or taking care of other people isn’t something that should be happening only outside the movement. We want to create another world together. To get to that world we will need more and more avenues for looking out for each other so that we can heal as we go, and so we can keep showing up wholeheartedly. And, in the retreat for example, that’s why we tried to offer tools and space for different types of fidgeting, body movement, expression, and play. That’s why we feed people who come to our meetings and events. That’s why we make time for genuine personal appreciation. That’s why we tend to organize a little more slowly than what you might have expected. I think that being a revolutionary now isn’t just about risks you’re willing to take or the sacrifices you’re willing to make. But perhaps even more importantly, it’s also about the ways that you give and receive care.  

One of the many things discussed at the retreat was a vision of collective liberation. What does collective liberation look like to you, and how do we make it actionable?

To me, collective liberation is about the radical redistribution of social and political capital. It’s about resources and control being taken out of the hands in which they are in right now and being put into other people’s hands. Some people will have to be willing to let go of some power and some will have to be willing to take some.

We can start to create that by doing prefigurative work (thinking about how we work as well as what we’re working towards). For example, we can think about ways in which it’s easier for some people to get to meetings. People who have more flexible schedules, more time and more energy, or are able-bodied, wind up being present in activist spaces in bigger numbers. One small thing that I’m currently proposing within FiF is that when making a decision about dates and times of meetings, we should give more weight to doodle poll responses from people who are not white or cis. I hope that we can find more simple ways like that that create mechanisms to move power around a little bit.

It might feel slow but the world is really big and we’re trying to completely change it.

What are the upcoming events that FIF is participating in?

We will be tabling at Arts x Action, which is a community event happening on May 26 that I helped organize. It’s a really beautiful event that’s all about community building and healing and not having to go up against the cops. It’s a space where we can just be with each other. We’re bringing together many local organizing groups and artists, many of whom are trans, queer, POC and longtime DC residents, and they will be performing and selling their works there. FiF is hoping to meet some really rad new friends there!


Get connected with The Future is Feminist!

Sierra Ramírez is an organizer with the Future is Feminist. Her work is anchored in postcolonial and marxist feminism, and focuses primarily on solidarity care, strategic reflection, direct action, and getting ready for the revolution.

Daniela Jungova has been interviewing awesome women doing amazing work since 2012. Her interviews have appeared on Femag.cz, Boshemia Blog, and Got a Girl Crush.