On May 10, over a dozen feminists protested Kristian Williams’ appearance at the Law & Disorder Conference (L&D) in Portland, Oregon. We challenged Williams’ continued harassment of a local abuse survivor, her supporters, and other political organizers. We did so because this harassment is not isolated; intimate violence and patriarchal power relations are pervasive in radical communities. We shut down Williams’ speech. Subsequently, video footage of the protest has circulated widely, but the political reasons for our disruption have traveled less far.
Williams’ supporters claim that he was protested “not for something he did, but […] for his perspective” — in other words, because of Williams’ article “The Politics of Denunciation.” This is only partially correct. We protested because it was vital to challenge Williams and his cadre’s anti-feminist behavior and politic. The article was produced to shield Williams’ close political associates from criticism, and to justify Williams’ prior work against survivors and feminist political organizers. Even without detailed knowledge of Portland happenings, many readers recognized “The Politics of Denunciation” as aiming to shut survivors out of the radical community. Providing some background to the article is necessary.
In early 2013, feminist organizers from radical communities up and down the West Coast hosted a panel in Portland, Patriarchy and the Movement. During the discussion session, a survivor and long-time organizer, and her support team, brought up the behavior of a well-regarded male organizer, Peter Little. Little had joined her abuser’s accountability process and used it to undermine and spread misogynistic lies about the survivor (see: Survivor Support Team Statement ). For over a year prior to PatM, the survivor and her team attempted to handle this matter discreetly by approaching Little’s political associates. At the event, as a member of the survivor support team concluded her remarks, one of Little’s comrades read a prepared statement (edited by Williams) that, while ostensibly of a broad political nature, reframed the survivor’s criticism as “personal attacks” unworthy of discussion. Neither Williams’ nor his political circles stopped there, but after the event continued to harass the survivor and other women organizers, including PatM event organizers.
In this context, Williams’ article mischaracterizes and marginalizes opponents rather than fostering discussion. Williams has never been interested in dialogue; he undertook hostile efforts against the survivor without attempting to hear anything from her perspective. Following the PatM event, Williams still wouldn’t hear her perspective or answer to any critics, exclaiming “Can we not talk about this?” when the issue came up. “The Politics of Denunciation” was just another escalation, with Williams trying to legitimize the anti-survivor tactics used in Portland and provide rhetorical cover for treating survivors like enemies.
(1) It is never appropriate to use situations of abuse instrumentally, as a weapon against political opponents;
(2) Survivors feeling failed by a leftist “accountability” process is not grounds for ostracizing and punishing them;
(3) Survivors’ decisions to speak out about the mistreatment they receive after being failed by such processes should likewise not be punished; and
(4) Women and survivors who call attention to patriarchy in our movement should be listened to, believed and respected, not scrutinized and vilified. Characterizing women and survivors as political liabilities does not represent any sort of feminist politics.
These beliefs put us in clear conflict with sectors of the radical community. The rupture in our community began with Peter Little’s hijacking of an “accountability” process to harm a survivor, but Williams widened this breach.Williams’ role in editing the anti-survivor statement read aloud at PatM (a fact which he concealed in “Denunciation”) and subsequent characterization of those critical of Peter Little as “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” creates a hostile climate for the identified survivor as well as other survivors. Williams, Little and company have expended incredible energy not only discrediting a single abuse survivor, but offering resources to discredit other survivors who come forward in the future.
We realize that confronting Williams silenced his voice. Alright. Such confrontation is resistance. Williams has used his resources and prestige to endanger survivors and women. Williams’ attendance at L&D was a slap in the face to those who have, since PatM, been lied about and harassed by Williams and his closest associates. We protested Williams because, despite his anti-police work, he engages in political repression against those who speak uncomfortable truths about his associates. It is reprehensible to vilify a survivor, and even more so to use one’s power as a movement author to lie about that vilification and one’s part in it. It is unprincipled to claim that these differences are about minor political disagreements, rather than about preconditions for collective work or even co-existence within a community. In asserting our place, loudly and confrontationally if needed, we carve out space to exist and to struggle.