What happens when we reimagine the uses of science and technology in the name of marginalized groups? Can social justice goals be at once theoretical and practical? How does collaboration vary by culture?
In episode 11 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews digital artist and scholar micha cárdenas about using digital media and technology in the service of social justice, how art can enable survival, and how queer and trans communities of color are imagining and creating more just worlds.
Guest: micha cárdenas
Micha cárdenas is an artist/theorist who creates and studies trans of color movement in digital media, where movement includes migration, performance and mobility.
Micha is an assistant professor of interdisciplinary arts and sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell. She completed her PhD in media arts and practice in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.
She is a member of the artist collective Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0. Her solo and collaborative artworks have been presented in museums, galleries and biennials including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the ZKM in Karlrushe, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, the Centro Cultural del Bosque in Mexico City, the Centro Cultural de Tijuana, the Zero1 Biennial and the California Biennial.
cárdenas was the recipient of the first ever James Tiptree Jr. fellowship.
We chatted about
- Wearable technologies, including micha’s current project UNSTOPPABLE (02:00)
- How micha’s work is driven by a combination of practical and theoretical questions (12:00)
- Hacking and open source movements as inspirations for micha’s work (14:00)
- Why micha works at the intersections of art, activism, and academia (00:00)
- Collaboration as a natural and powerful part of the art process (23:00)
- Imagining otherwise (30:30)
micha’s interdisciplinary approach
I think of my art process as intertwined with my engagement with theory.
The Transborder Migrant Tool
Our goal was both to reduce the number of deaths by dehydration in the US-Mexico border, but also to have this meditation on providing hospitality for migrant people who are often on the receiving end of a great deal of violence.
Cultural interpretations of collaboration
There are much older traditions where art is seen as responding to natural community needs. It’s actually western traditions of aesthetics that separate the observer and separate the artist from social needs and community needs.
One level of my current [collaborative] work on Unstoppable is to think about a world where black trans women can leave the house safely and not have to worry about the likelihood of being murdered…When you have to spend so much of your day thinking “am I going to survive this day?” it gives you little space to imagine the world that you want.
More from micha cárdenas
Projects and people discussed
- Local Autonomy Networks
- Allied Media Conference
- Patrisse Cullors
- Black Lives Matter
- Ricardo Dominguez
- Particle Group
- Science of the Oppressed
- Electronic Disturbance Theater
- Brett Stalbaum
- Amy Sara Carroll
- Tara McPherson
- Kara Keeling
- Gloria Anzaldúa
- Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
- Critical Art Ensemble
- Becoming Dragon
- Yes Lab
- Subrosa cyberfeminist collective
- Edxie Betts
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
Cathy Hannabach (00:03):
Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.
Cathy Hannabach (00:23):
Hello and welcome to episode 11 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast. Today, I’m talking with micha cárdenas, who’s an artist/theorist, who creates and studies trans of color movement in digital media, where movement includes migration, performance and mobility.
Cathy Hannabach (00:39):
Misha is an assistant professor of interdisciplinary arts and sciences at the University of Washington Bothell. micha completed her PhD in Media Arts and Practice in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.
Cathy Hannabach (00:52):
She’s also a member of the Artist’s Collective Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0. And her solo and collaborative artworks have been presented in museums, galleries, and biennials, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, the Centro Cultural de Tijuana, the ZERO1 Biennial and the California Biennial.
Cathy Hannabach (01:18):
micha was also the recipient of the first ever James Tiptree Jr. fellowship. Today, micha is here to talk about using digital media and technology in the service of social justice, how art can enable survival and how queer and trans communities of color are imagining and creating more just worlds.
Cathy Hannabach (01:38):
So thanks so much for being with us, micha.
micha cárdenas (01:41):
Thank you for inviting me, Cathy.
Cathy Hannabach (01:43):
Your work is a fantastic example of what this podcast, the Imagine Otherwise podcast highlights, this combination of art, of activism and academia in the service of social justice. So I am very excited that you’re here and I’m very excited to talk with you about some of your current projects, as well as some of the past work that you’ve done, bringing these three realms together.
Cathy Hannabach (02:03):
So let’s start with the present. I know you’re working on a new project called Unstoppable, creating low to no cost bulletproof clothing. Can you tell us a little bit about that project and what it’s designed to do?
micha cárdenas (02:16):
Yeah, absolutely. The project started last summer, in 2015. I had been working for a few years on an earlier project of making safety devices as art. That project was called Local Autonomy Networks and it was using wearable electronic technologies.
micha cárdenas (02:37):
After a few years of working on it, I started to feel like … Well, I mean, I got … I did workshops with the prototypes I made and I got a lot of feedback from communities that was like, “This is cool, but it’s too expensive for us for it to be practical.”
micha cárdenas (02:58):
I’m still planning on working on grants for that previous project and trying to come up with a solution for that expense. But after hearing about that wearable electronics approach being too expensable … I mean, too expensive.
micha cárdenas (03:15):
I was at the Allied Media Conference this past summer and I was talking to Patrisse Cullors about collaborating. She said she wanted to collaborate and she was wearing this T-shirt that said Bulletproof on it. She was just releasing this line of clothes with Damon Turner and Foremost called Bulletproof.
micha cárdenas (03:32):
I just thought, “Well, I could use my DIY methods and try and make that line of clothing actually bulletproof,” and she said that sounded great.
micha cárdenas (03:48):
So I started researching affordable bulletproof materials. It looks like it’s going to be a long project. My last project was four years and I expect this project will be long also, because I’ve been working on it since last summer and I don’t have any really conclusive immediate results. But I have some findings and I’m definitely still researching.
Cathy Hannabach (04:15):
That’s [crosstalk 00:04:16].
micha cárdenas (04:16):
Sorry, should I say more detail about Unstoppable? Sorry, that was vague, wasn’t it?
Cathy Hannabach (04:24):
Yeah. No, no, that’s great. Yeah. Tell us more.
micha cárdenas (04:29):
That was the background, right?
Cathy Hannabach (04:29):
Yes. So continue.
micha cárdenas (04:29):
So then I started researching DIY bulletproof materials. And disturbingly, I found that there are many, many websites on the internet, mostly white supremacist websites and survivalists websites, that have a lot of details about what kind of materials stop what caliber of bullets and how you can make your own DIY bulletproof armor.
Cathy Hannabach (04:57):
micha cárdenas (04:57):
Yeah, it was intense, but I see it as part of my job as a non-black ally to black people and black trans women, that I can take on some of that violence and really dig into those white supremacist websites, in a way that affects me differently than it affects them.
micha cárdenas (05:20):
The first two things that I discovered were that you could stop tires with bullets … stop bullets with tires, sorry, because tires have steel belting in them. So, with enough layers of tire, you can actually stop a bullet.
micha cárdenas (05:39):
The other thing I’ve found in those websites was that you can get Kevlar, which is a bulletproof fabric, when layered enough. You can get it very cheaply at junkyards because it’s used in air bags. And so the immediate part of the project is to mostly just be researching this information and distributing it to people, so that people can use it as they will and hopefully have their own cheap, accessible ways of making bulletproof things.
micha cárdenas (06:07):
So we did a round of testing last summer, which meant I took a bunch of tires and Kevlar that I got from a junkyard and I went to the desert with Chris Head, because he is an artist who’s done a lot of work with guns.
micha cárdenas (06:23):
We shot some tires and some Kevlar. And we found that with enough layers of tire, we could stop a nine millimeter pistol, a bullet from a nine millimeter pistol. We tested that because that is the kind of gun that was used to kill Trayvon Martin.
micha cárdenas (06:42):
Unfortunately, in our testing it took eight layers of tire to stop a nine millimeter bullet, and that’s not very practical for making a dress per se. But it is possible that you could cut up a tire into eight layers and put it in a backpack, which would be a heavy backpack, so it’d probably be worn by an adult and would make at least you less likely to be shot in the back, or to die from being shot in the back.
micha cárdenas (07:11):
That brings the issue not just to … I was really inspired by Black Lives Matter and Patrisse Cullors’ work and Patrisse Cullors’ idea of asking me what would technology for black lives be, really got me started on this project.
micha cárdenas (07:26):
But also thinking about people shot in the back, it’s very common that migrant people crossing the border get shot in the back by the border patrol. So, I think there’s a lot of people around the world that are subject to gun violence and I just hope to make more widespread and more accessible bulletproof clothing and bulletproof accessories.
micha cárdenas (07:50):
We also tested Kevlar, but the Kevlar that we tested didn’t stop anything. I don’t know if that’s because we didn’t have enough. We only had two sheets of Kevlar and folded it so it would made eight layers, but I think we might actually need eight sheets of Kevlar, or even 15 sheets, I read on a different website.
Cathy Hannabach (08:15):
It sounds like a lot of fascinating combination of research and then an experimentation, right? So kind of finding how other people have figured out, on a really material level, what actually stops a bullet.
Cathy Hannabach (08:34):
And then testing it out and seeing kind of what practical application does this have? Particularly for the communities that you’re designing this work for, which in many ways are not the communities that, as you pointed out the white supremacist websites are concerned with, quite the opposite.
Cathy Hannabach (08:52):
So kind of appropriating this technology that is largely only accessible to police, to the state, to the military and kind of appropriating it to save precisely the communities that those state institutions seem to be increasingly intent on killing.
micha cárdenas (09:13):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you can get a bulletproof vest for $80. I’m really trying to make this much cheaper than that. And yeah, it is definitely a departure for me, in that it’s not very digitally focused, but I have had a long interest in science and biology.
micha cárdenas (09:38):
Ricardo Dominguez and the particle group, they talked about this idea of science of the oppressed when they were working on their nanotech research and researching the dangers of nanotechnologies.
micha cárdenas (09:53):
I was really inspired by that idea of science of the oppressed and thinking about how science is so often driven by corporate interests, driven by very big funders, and instead to think about how we could reimagine science in the interest of oppressed and marginalized people.
micha cárdenas (10:11):
So then instead of just creating weapons, we might be able to create safety and make safety more affordable. Because there’s a lot of expensive safety solutions.
micha cárdenas (10:22):
There’s a designer in Bogota, Colombia who makes really expensive but effective bulletproof couture, so bulletproof jackets that look very nice, that you wouldn’t even know are bulletproof.
micha cárdenas (10:36):
And there’s certainly a big industry of safety technologies to make rich people safer, but I don’t want to contribute to that. I’m trying to do something different.
Cathy Hannabach (10:48):
So this actually kind of dovetails nicely into something I wanted to talk about, which is working in multiple mediums. You mentioned your long history of work in digital media art and technology.
Cathy Hannabach (11:02):
Here you are, working in kind of a combination of fashion design and weapons manufacturing or anti-weapons manufacturing. I don’t know if those industries are described differently, but it’s a different medium for you.
Cathy Hannabach (11:18):
What is that like? Do you find that your previous work and current work in digital technologies, particularly with wearables, do you find that informing your work with Unstoppable and maybe vice versa?
micha cárdenas (11:32):
Yeah, I mean, I think that … I feel like my work could be framed as conceptual art or post-conceptual art. I mean, so I was trained as an artist at UC San Diego in their MFA program and they have a very conceptually based department.
micha cárdenas (11:53):
Ricardo Dominguez of Electronic Disturbance Theater was my MFA advisor and he also works in a very conceptual way. So that means to me, that instead of my process being driven by materials, it’s really driven by questions and this kind of ongoing …
micha cárdenas (12:12):
That’s part of why I think about my art process also as intertwined with my engagements with theory, like reading and writing because I don’t feel like they’re separate.
micha cárdenas (12:26):
I feel like I have questions that are partly theoretical and partly very practical, like what material is going to stop this bullet? Or a larger question of, how can I make safety for queer and trans people of color something that’s affordable or how can we use technology to enhance the work already being done by movements like the Prison Abolitionist Movement and Transformative Justice Movement [inaudible 00:12:56] community-based responses to violence?
micha cárdenas (13:00):
So it’s really the questions that drive my work. And I’ve been fascinated by digital media for a long time. I think I worked in that medium largely because I just had those skills. I did my undergrad degree in computer science. I wanted to be a hacker from a young age. A lot of my life is thanks to the movie Hackers, I have to say.
Cathy Hannabach (13:34):
micha cárdenas (13:36):
And yeah, I feel like my work is still informed in certain ways by digital media because it’s really informed by kind of open source methodologies of being driven by curiosity. Like the Hackers movie, the cover says, “Their only crime was curiosity.” I just re-watched it the other day.
micha cárdenas (14:01):
People talk about a definition of hacking being something like just the application of curiosity and ingenuity towards technology. So that could be really broad kind of way of construing hacking. And I think the open source movement’s ideas of, one, doing it yourself and two, just making information accessible to people is really shaping Unstoppable.
micha cárdenas (14:29):
So it’s those methods that are a big part of the project and just trying to have more people realize that they could do things to protect themselves.
micha cárdenas (14:43):
Multiple trans women last year died from knife and stabbing attacks. And I mean, it’s not a perfect solution, but if you do something like put a baking sheet in your backpack, you might have some more protection or something to protect yourself with. That’s also old … not even open source, but just learning from other trans women.
micha cárdenas (15:07):
I saw Reina Gossett speaking on a panel at the Insight Conference and she talked about how Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera used to talk about, “Just put a brick in your purse and that might help when you need it.” So, also just learning from other histories.
Cathy Hannabach (15:27):
Nice. You mentioned the Electronic Disturbance Theater and Ricardo Dominguez and the kind of work that they’ve done. I know that you worked with Ricardo and several of the other members of the team, to work on the Transborder Immigrant Tool several years ago. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about what that tool is and what it did?
micha cárdenas (15:50):
Yes. So the Transborder Immigrant Tool was a project that was based around the question could sub-$20 phones or less than $20 phones be turned into life-saving devices?
micha cárdenas (16:09):
This thinking about recycled materials is also very much there and Unstoppable, right? Like, how could we take the materials that are discarded by the auto industry, that are causing a lot of environmental destruction, and turn them into lifesaving devices instead?
micha cárdenas (16:23):
So with the Transborder Immigrant Tool, it was a kind of a combination of our different interests. And what we did was we made an app for … a JTOME app. So at the time it was for really cheap Nextel phones, that you could get on eBay for 20 bucks, that had GPS in them. And we mapped out water caches in the US-Mexico border, that were put there by humanitarian aid groups like the Border Angels and Water Stations Inc.
micha cárdenas (16:54):
So with this phone app, when you turned on these phones, you would be directed to water and you would also have the option of hearing poetic sustenance. So our goal was both to reduce the number of deaths from dehydration in the US-Mexico border, but also to try to have this meditation on ways of providing hospitality for migrant people who are commonly just on the receiving end of a great deal of violence.
micha cárdenas (17:31):
There were two sets of poetry, but the one that we intended for the phone that was written by Amy Sara Carroll was a way of encoding desert survival information. So a poem about what does a cactus look like that has drinkable water versus what does a cactus look like that’s poisonous or a poem about how to identify north by the way that certain flowers face.
Cathy Hannabach (17:55):
Nice. I love the invocation of poetic sustenance to this kind of … and it’s combination with material sustenance in the form of water and kind of recognizing that surviving isn’t the only thing. There’s also thriving, that precisely migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, but also migrants kind of more broadly are often denied.
Cathy Hannabach (18:23):
So this kind of interesting combination of conceptualizing art and poetry in this case, as necessary for thriving, as necessary for surviving just as much so as water, even if it can’t replace it, and kind of bringing those things together.
micha cárdenas (18:41):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Yeah. Amy cited many times, Audre Lorde’s Poetry is Not a Luxury and I absolutely agree.
Cathy Hannabach (18:51):
Nice. So your work in general, both on your current projects and these past projects, is a fantastic example of the kind of richness that happens when you bring art, activism and academia together in the service of social justice.
Cathy Hannabach (19:06):
So why do you work at the intersections of those three mediums? You’re a professor, you’re a scholar, you’re a theorist, obviously you’re also an artist and an activist. So why do you bring those different realms together? What does that do for you?
micha cárdenas (19:19):
Hmm, that’s a really good question. I mean, I feel lucky to have really found a good kind of role model or mentor in Ricardo Dominguez. I met him when I was doing mostly media activism against the war in Iraq. And it seemed like he had figured out how to do art and activism and get paid for it and work with technology.
micha cárdenas (20:06):
Those were just all things that I was really passionate about, but I didn’t know that I could combine them until really meeting him and seeing his example that these things could be combined.
micha cárdenas (20:18):
So they were all things that I had been passionate about from a young age, technology and activism and philosophy and theory, but I also feel lucky that … So in academia ,I also found other examples of doing that. My dissertation chairs like Tara McPherson and Kara Keeling, I think also really interestingly combine the study of technology and social justice.
micha cárdenas (20:58):
I mean, part of why I’m at Bothell now, so I teach at UW Bothell because they have a really interdisciplinary program. And so there’s really a broader consensus or broader … not consensus, but a broader understanding emerging that there’s a lot of rich possibility that comes from interdisciplinarity.
micha cárdenas (21:23):
We could look at older models, where these things were not separate. I don’t know, like DaVinci. But also, even older models like Gloria Anzaldua talks about how for the Nahua people that she identifies with the indigenous communities that she identifies with, that for them art was never separate from the needs of the community and for the needs like healing. So there’s much older traditions, where art is just seen naturally as an extension of … as responding to community needs.
micha cárdenas (22:18):
It’s actually more like Western traditions of aesthetics that would separate the observer and separate the artist from social needs and community needs.
micha cárdenas (22:33):
So I really identify with those older histories and I found a lot of inspiration from Gloria Anzaldua also. Maybe the biggest example to me, of any author that’s really inspired my work. Because if you just look at Borderlands, her book La Frontera Borderlands, it’s a combination of poetry, of personal history, gender theory, queer theory, and immigration studies, and yeah. So, yeah. So I’ve just felt lucky that I’ve had models like her to follow.
Cathy Hannabach (23:16):
That sounds great. So a lot of your work is deeply collaborative. I mean many of the projects you’ve talked about thus far, as well as some we haven’t got a chance to talk about yet. And you have this long history of working in collaboration with different communities, with different individuals, with different organizations.
Cathy Hannabach (23:38):
I’d love to hear more about that process of collaboration. Who are some of your favorite projects or people or communities to collaborate with and why? And also maybe kind of how have you found the process of collaboration itself?
Cathy Hannabach (23:52):
Have you found instances where maybe you’re working on projects with people who have a different vision of it than you or different experiences? How do those kind of differences shape the collaborative project?
micha cárdenas (24:07):
Thanks. I have done a lot of collaboration. I think that it would go back to open source methodologies or learning from the free software movement. And I definitely participated in the free software movement and in the MediaJustice movement before coming to be an artist.
micha cárdenas (24:31):
So there was a lot of collaboration there that I learned in the alter-globalization movement, just about the power of collectivity. And then a lot of my artistic inspirations were groups and collaborations like, well the Electronic Disturbance Theater who I work with now, but also the Critical Art Ensemble before them. Hmm. Other groups, like even Ubermorgen.
micha cárdenas (25:18):
Yeah. So I was inspired by other art groups or The Yes Men or RTMark. There were a lot of art activist groups that really inspired me. Or the subRosa Collective, the cyber feminist collective.
micha cárdenas (25:31):
So, yeah. So collaboration was something that I was inspired by and I started doing early in my career. I mean, it’s often a challenge to be doing that in academia because academia has been traditionally so focused on individual work and on really making sure you’re writing a monograph and publishing things individually.
micha cárdenas (26:01):
Although, I guess that’s less true in the sciences. It’s more assumed that you would be publishing with a team, but there’s still the PI or principal investigator or the lead writer on scientific publications.
micha cárdenas (26:14):
Electronic Disturbance Theater, I was working with Ricardo at UCSD, so it was kind of a natural collaboration that he asked me if I wanted to work on a project, the Transborder Immigrant Tool that he was already working on with Brett and Amy.
micha cárdenas (26:39):
I worked on that for a few years. But then after that, I wanted to on a project that was more with communities that I identified with and more for communities that I identified with.
micha cárdenas (26:50):
So I started working on Local Autonomy Networks, which was a project about creating mesh networked clothing and accessories and building community based responses to violence, starting with wearable electronics as kind of prototypes of networks. And then building from there, more low tech networks like cell phone networks or just even in-body communication.
micha cárdenas (27:15):
So with that project, I worked for a few years with different community or based organizations, who were working with queer and trans youth of color specifically.
micha cárdenas (27:25):
I wanted to do that because it was true at the time and it’s still true, that trans women of color are the number one target of violence and murder amongst LGBT people. So, it seemed natural to me to focus my energy on collaborating with them and not to try to bring some outside solution to them, but to actually involve the communities that I’m trying to provide more safety to. Try to involve those communities in the process.
micha cárdenas (28:00):
Because I think it’s a often problematic situation, that artists sometimes will come up with a solution for a problem for a community without consulting that community. And then without working with the community, you make sure the solution’s implemented.
micha cárdenas (28:17):
I tried to do a little better than that with auto nets. I feel like I could do better and I’m still going to keep working on auto nets to keep building out those solutions.
micha cárdenas (28:26):
So with Unstoppable, the collaboration … Also, as I said before, I see my work as kind of a long, theoretical process or basically a long thought experiment or a long philosophical process.
micha cárdenas (28:49):
We could think about art and philosophy both as these very long conversations that have happened over many thousands of years. So I think of my own work as a small part in that conversation and trying to learn from each project and do something different or better the next time.
micha cárdenas (29:08):
So with Unstoppable, I was like, “Okay, actually among trans women of color, black trans women are actually the number one target of violence more specifically, and that fact is very rarely addressed.” So, inspired by Black Lives Matter, I wanted to focus more specifically on black trans women and working on ways of preventing their murders.
micha cárdenas (29:32):
I was fortunate that Patrisse approached me and was like, “Let’s collaborate.” So I just responded to that call from the universe and was like, “Yes, let’s do it.”
Cathy Hannabach (29:41):
The end results are pretty amazing.
micha cárdenas (29:46):
Thanks. Yeah. We’re working on it. And so collaborating with Edz made sense because she’s a black trans woman and a powerful organizer and artist in LA.
micha cárdenas (29:59):
Chris I had worked with previously on Becoming Dragon and he wrote a lot of the code for Becoming Dragon, which was a previous project of mine.
micha cárdenas (30:10):
I knew that he was really into guns. For his MFA project, he made a 3D printed gun before those were more common things and wasn’t allowed to bring it on campus. So, I knew that he would have the knowledge to be able to test things safely.
Cathy Hannabach (30:29):
So this actually brings me to my favorite question that I get to ask all the guests on the show. This podcast is called Imagine Otherwise, and one of the things that I talk with guests about is their version of a better world. That world that they’re working towards when they make their art, when they teach their classes, when they publish their books, when they create whatever it is that they create in the world. So I’ll ask you, what’s the world you’re working towards? What do you want?
micha cárdenas (30:58):
Hmm, that’s a really great question.
Cathy Hannabach (31:02):
It’s big, I know.
micha cárdenas (31:04):
It’s big. It’s big. That’s why it’s good. Yeah, good question. I would say there’s many different levels.
micha cárdenas (31:16):
One level of my current work on Unstoppable is just to think about a world where black trans women can leave the house safely and not have to worry about the likelihood of being murdered.
micha cárdenas (31:35):
I feel like one of the best things about Unstoppable has been to really make visible and make perceptible that danger that I felt as a trans woman and that so many trans women feel, and that I imagine that so many black people must feel. That on a daily basis, we have to think about our physical safety.
micha cárdenas (32:05):
When you have to spend so much of your day thinking, “Am I going to survive this day?,” it gives you very little space to imagine the world that you want or to imagine even, what do you want for your own life? Because you have to think about if you’re going to get your work or if you’re going to get through school and going to get home and survive.
micha cárdenas (32:25):
So the first level would be that this community of trans women of color could feel safer on a daily basis, and that black people could feel safer on a daily basis and be less afraid of being murdered by police. Because it’s hard to think about safety when the people that are supposed to be keeping you safe are the ones that are endangering your life.
micha cárdenas (32:59):
But in a larger sense, I see that project as part of a project of prison abolition. Angela Davis has talked about how, if we think about what a world without prisons looks like, that world looks totally different than our world. Because right now we have this idea that, if there’s a person who has problematic behavior, we can throw that person away.
micha cárdenas (33:26):
That ideology in the U.S. results in millions of people, mostly black people being, put into a form of contemporary slavery, where they are doing unpaid labor in prisons across the U.S.
micha cárdenas (33:41):
But it also I think permeates to our daily lives, where many people interacting with others think that, if this person is acting in a way that is problematic for me, I’m going to throw them away. That might mean murdering them or it might mean just isolating them and cutting them out of collectives and communities.
micha cárdenas (34:07):
So I think that working towards a world without prisons really means re-imagining our whole social structure.
micha cárdenas (34:20):
There’s many levels to your question, which is part of why I like it and I think it’s good. I also see prison abolition as a small part of a larger project of decolonization.
micha cárdenas (34:35):
When I am doing talks in person, I always try to start the talk by acknowledging the original people of the land. And since I’m in Seattle today, I’m in Duwamish territory. I’m not sure which territory you’re in, but we live in this condition of colonization, which resulted from the murder of millions of indigenous people and I think we have a lot of work to go to undo that process.
micha cárdenas (35:14):
That is a very big, very long process. In the Americas, it’s been 500 years of colonization. So it’ll take a long time to undo it. And I think we can think about prisons alongside other institutions of colonization, like schools and universities and museums and the gender binary system and the Western medical system and the whole Western ideology or ontology, that we are separate individuals that are separate from each other and separate from nature.
micha cárdenas (35:57):
Indigenous worldviews and ontologies offer relational ontologies, that give us a totally different picture of the universe, where we are connected to nature and our wellbeing is inseparable from the wellbeing of nature.
micha cárdenas (36:17):
I also think that that world, a decolonized world is unimaginable to me. So it’s hard for me to say what the world I want even looks like, but I can at least give some words to start describing it. Unfortunately, a lot of other people are thinking about what that world looks like too.
Cathy Hannabach (36:39):
That’s a fantastic answer and it’s exactly the reason why I started this podcast, is to get those voices, those different versions of a different world, a better world, the different sets of worlds. I think of the Zapatista saying, “We seek a world in which many worlds are possible.” So I love this question and I love asking people and kind of collecting people’s answers. So thank you very much.
micha cárdenas (37:06):
Thank you so much. Yeah, Zapatistas are definitely a part of that project of decolonization and have been a long inspiration of mine. Thank you so much for your questions.
Cathy Hannabach (37:19):
Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Editing for this episode was done by Julie Lenard. Be sure to check out our website at imagineotherwise.com to listen to full episodes, read show notes, and see links to the people, books and projects discussed on the show. You can also subscribe to us on iTunes.