What is the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home (CBMH)?
Founded in Jan. 2012, the CBMH builds connections between the long-standing movements to free Mumia and other sixties-era political prisoners and those of youth politicized by the events of the last decade and beyond: the Arab Spring, Troy Davis’ execution, Occupy, the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the movements against police violence and prison slavery reinvigorated by the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. The mission of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home is to organize, and build capacity in younger people of color in New York City to ensure the immediate release of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal—who is innocent of all criminal convictions—from Pennsylvania Department of Corrections custody. Additionally, the organization supports all US-held political prisoners and calls for their immediate release. The Campaign also seeks to challenge the system of prison slavery and all institutionalized policies that contribute to its maintenance. Bring Mumia Home – Stop the Frame Up, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
How do Carlito Rovira’s behaviors fit the definition of sexual abuse/harassment/violence?
Sexual harassment: “A more common, form of sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention: unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior.”
Sexual violence: Sexual violence includes using false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments, or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. It can encompass noncontact acts like catcalls and whistles, which can make women feel objectified and victimized. It includes nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images, exposure of genitals, and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex.
Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity.
Why didn’t these revelations about Carlito Rovira emerge immediately after the incidents? What took so long? Why now?
The survivor shared her account of the abuse with other CBMH members in fall 2020. By then Rovira and his enabler had left the organization. The abuser undermined the survivors’ confidence and made her fearful of conflict all the while proclaiming his love for her. In the face of this toxic gaslighting, the survivor experienced confusion, shame, fear of retribution, fear of expulsion from the organization, fear of disrupting the organization. As a result, she kept silent.
Why doesn’t the statement name the victim?
Accusations of sexual abuse within movements are often met with disbelief, dismissal, victim-blaming, reputation slandering, trolling, political isolation, and even worse. The reality of misogynoir further stigmatizes Black women and blames them. The survivor has chosen to remain unnamed in this public statement for her safety.
Why do these accusations have to be made public? Isn’t this just airing dirty laundry?
According to INCITE! “Communities of color, often advocate that women keep silent about sexual and domestic violence in order to maintain a united front against racism.” We reject this logic.
The CBMH is a prefigurative organization–we are building an organization that is accountable to the future we are trying to birth. We are committed to fighting against racism, imperialism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc in our hearts as much as in the larger world. Transparently addressing the way that movement organizations can serve as sites of abuse is part and parcel of our political work. We refuse to remain silent.
The misogyny of the larger society is reproduced in social movements. Revolutionary organizations have not been immune from abuse of power, craven opportunism, political underdevelopment, and an uncritical embrace of patriarchy and sexism. According to INCITE!: “Despite all that we say to the contrary, the fact is that radical social movements and organizations in the United States have refused to seriously address gender violence  as a threat to the survival of our struggles. We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils—secondary issues—that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues—racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression—are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities.”
Is this she say/he say? Is there evidence for these allegations?
The allegations detailed in the CBMH statement are based on evidence–screenshots; photographs and testimony from the survivor. During the course of the investigation that the organization launched several additional survivors of the same abuser have shared their stories of violence and abuse privately, but are unwilling to go public for various reasons. The widespread pattern of abuse is an open secret.
After internal political education, therapy, and social support for the survivor and a thorough examination of how our internal structure emboldened the abuser, we are confident in the truth of these allegations.
Is this “just” a misunderstanding? A relationship gone sour? Why did/didn’t the survivor _____ (fill in the blank)
People using their status and authority to take advantage of vulnerable people is commonplace in the larger society and in movement spaces, unfortunately. Such behavior should never be normalized or tolerated. The allegations, however, are specific and meet the definition of sexual assault:
“Sexual assault includes rape, incest, and other forms of unwanted sexual behavior, such as kissing or touching. It can include behavior which does not involve touching, such as forcing someone to watch pornography or watch someone masturbate” (Read more).
Survivors sometimes fend off unwanted advances from people they have a longtime connection to, in complex ways due to feelings of disempowerment, confusion, and misplaced loyalty that are manipulated by the abuser’s gaslighting. The fact that accuser’s actions are picked apart and their allegations are disbelieved in the vast majority of cases has led a huge number of survivors to suffer silently. These survivors\’ stories are all over the archives and they are the walking wounded in our movements.
Accusations like these just serve the state. Isn’t this just COINTELPRO?
“Historically, sexual violence has been hidden within social movements or alleged to discredit them. Movement leaders may be the subject of false accusations to undercut their influence, or accusations against leaders may be kept quiet so as not to jeopardize their status.” https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2016/06/27/when-police-kill-a-black-man-with-a-rape-conviction-should-women-still-protest
As activists engaged in freeing veterans of the most revolutionary organizations of the 1960s and 70s, we are well aware of the devastating impact of state political repression on individuals and organizations. The state has a history of using internal dissent and allegations of misconduct [some of which they have fomented through infiltration or other means] to disrupt and destroy radical organizations. This reality cannot be used as a rationale to sweep all sorts of corrosive internal violence under the rug under the guise of maintaining a united front and not showing any weakness. In reality, the weakness is not the revelation of abuse that may be seized upon by the state to undermine the organization or movement as a whole. The weakness is the proclivity to protect the abuser (which often multiplies their impact as they continue their behavior unchecked) and discard the victim.
Abusers gain cover by invoking COINTELPRO and using it to discredit the accusation. Yet these kinds of behaviors (sexual assault and violence) are firmly within the toolkit of COINTELPRO. “What the FBI gets is that when there are people in activist spaces who are committed to taking power and who understand power as domination, our movements will never realize their potential to remake this world anew. If our energies are absorbed recuperating from the messes that informants (and people who just act like them) create, we will never be able to focus on the real work of getting free and building the kinds of life-affirming, people-centered communities that we want to live in.”
Eradicating sexual violence in social movements is one way of dislodging the tentacles of the state.
Aren’t these “illegal” actions? Why not pursue charges in court or “legal” redress?
We are abolitionists who reject carceral frameworks to address harms perpetrated by abusers. We believe in the power of the people’s accountability and the sanitizing power of truth. Most of all we believe in building movements for change that are safe spaces for women and others.
The CBMH is addressing the sexual assault of one of our members in a systemic manner by outing the abuser and by partnering with other organizations that have silently or publicly been wrestling with the same issues, to host a tribunal. We are also undergoing internal processes to ensure that we have safety practices and preventive measures in place to prevent this from happening again in the future. We believe that abolition requires us to create safer environments for the most vulnerable among us.
Our approach is in line with the public ways that other organizations and individuals have sought to address sexual abuse and violence in movement spaces such as convening tribunals; adopting policy statements and protocols of conduct; and blogging/testimonials.
This “collective response to violence” aligns with the Critical Resistance-Incite! Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison-Industrial Complex which calls on movements seeking to end violence to: “Develop community-based responses to violence that do not rely on the criminal justice system and that have mechanisms to ensure safety and accountability for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Transformative practices emerging from local communities should be documented and disseminated to promote collective responses to violence.”
Has Carlito Rovira been informed of this or engaged at this point?
We have not sought repair from the abuser nor sought to engage them in any process of public redress at this point. We understand that other organizations and individuals are pursuing this path.
We have chosen to usurp the “blame the victim” frameworks which make Black women’s claim of violation disbelieved and discarded. Our focus has been on supporting the survivor, revamping our organizational culture, and strengthening our political analysis. Knowledge of this claim of abuse has already percolated in the movement and the accused is well aware that his abuse has been unveiled.
How has the Campaign changed in the wake of this incident?
The CBMH has undergone a long period of political discussions, soul searching, and self-criticism. Carlito Rovira’s long history of movement work as a member of the Young Lords and his current commitments as a movement artist created the very deferential attitude that shielded his actions from close scrutiny. The trust that members had in him made us respond to external criticisms of him with closed ranks rather than open inquiry. Small numbers and shifting commitment levels allowed him to be central in the organization in ways that concentrated his power. These are individual failings and political weaknesses that we are working to address.
We have engaged a mediator to revamp our internal communication; we have reformulated the mentorship structure; we have engaged in political education around sexual abuse and violence; and we have supported the victim in receiving counseling services. We are fundraising and applying for grants currently to continue to engage mediators to create institutionalized protocols to ensure that the conditions of abuse are not recreated in our organizational structures. Political education will be ongoing about the connection between sexual violence, racism, and colonialism. None is a “distraction” from our political work to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and abolish prisons. This is part of our commitment to building a better world.
What are the next steps?
The CBMH is organizing a future event on October 16, 2021, to discuss sexual abuse in social movements. It will feature needed conversations about violence and toxicity within our movements.
Where can I go to read more about sexual violence?
Women of color live in the dangerous intersections of sexism, racism, and other oppressions. Within the mainstream anti-violence movement in the U.S., women of color who survive sexual or domestic abuse are often told that they must pit themselves against their communities, often portrayed stereotypically as violent, to begin the healing process. Communities of color, meanwhile, often advocate that women keep silent about sexual and domestic violence in order to maintain a united front against racism. Therefore we must adopt anti-violence strategies that are mindful of the larger structures of violence that shape the world we live in. That is, strategies designed to combat violence within communities (sexual/domestic violence) must be linked to strategies that combat violence directed against communities (i.e. police brutality, prisons, racism, economic exploitation, etc.). Read more.