May 10 2019

Black Mamas Day Bailout

Miami-Stand Up
South Florida is seemingly idyllic. It’s a region that has some of this country’s best nightlife and beaches, but South Florida is also ground zero for so many of this nation’s most pressing issues including: climate collapse, mass incarceration, displacement and migration at rates unlike many other locations in the world. During a recent chat with Helen Peña-Smicker, the founder of the collective (F)empower, she tells me that “the state of Florida alone incarcerates more people than any other country on the planet and spends $55,000 to jail children and only $7,000 to educate them.” Started in the summer of 2017, (F)empower is an intersectional, dynamic girl gang committed to liberation, art, and community action. While the group began as a zine, in its current iteration, (F)empower is leveraging social media and programming to push forth their agenda to “elevate femme energy for a more balanced world.” Read on to learn more about The Black Mama’s Bailout, launched in coalition with the National Bail Out Collective and nearly two dozen groups across the country to bail out Black mamas so they can spend Mother’s Day with their families.
Helen Peña-Smicker
Helen Peña-Smicker
Helen Peña-Smicker
"It was this girl gang running, running the city, remembering the proper relationship that we should be having with each other, with the land, and returning to that in a fearless way."

Tell me a little bit about (F)empower and how y'all got started.

We started in the summer of 2017. It started off with a very emotional response [to being] a black woman living in the Trump era. It was [also] a response to black death. And, seeing all the massive amounts of state violence towards black bodies being circulated on the Internet. I created a blog post and it later became a zine, which envisioned this dystopian future of an apocalyptic Miami being run by the female black girl gang.

It was this girl gang running, running the city, remembering the proper relationship that we should be having with each other, with the land, and returning to that in a fearless way. So, when I showcased that, people were moved by it and asking for what was next. It only made sense for us to unite. And as a person that is artistically inclined I thought, let's start off by uniting all of the femme artists and visionaries in Miami to see each other as sisters and as community instead of each other’s competition. And so that's where it started. We describe ourselves as an artist collective and community raising queer feminist consciousness in South Florida. We are rooted in Black feminism and intersectionality, and know that we are not free until all black women are free.

 

The Standard

How did the #FreeBlackMamas campaign begin for (F)empower?

The idea for us to take on this action in Miami actually started off in our liberation book club, a weekly collective study space where we encounter radical texts together and decolonize, unlearn and reprogram ourselves outside of the institutional bullshit. It’s led by my sisters, Niki Franco and Zaina Alsous. We've talked a lot about mass incarceration, criminalization and abolition.

We understand that if any woman is locked up then we are unfree. So, for Mother's Day, we figured it’d be powerful for our folks to put what they’ve learned into action and join the National Bailout Collective in freeing mamas in time to spend it with their families. The action was originally proposed by the queer liberation organization Southerners on New Ground. Together with them and organizations across the country, we are getting as many black women out of cages as possible while also drawing attention to the terrible practice of money bail and the bail bonds industry. The reality is: there is asymmetrical domestic war happening towards Black people in America. How we act now will determine if humanity survives or doesn’t. This is about using every tool at our disposal to survive and reign in a new world that breeds life in all its forms. Florida alone incarcerates more people than any country on the planet and spends $55,000 to jail children and only $7,000 to educate them. The stakes are really high.

"Florida is so deeply fucked up. Some of us are also community organizers, activists and educators at the front lines of these battles."

As a collective, how are you able to manage the incredible political realities of what it means to live in South Florida and then also forge spaces for joy?

Florida is so deeply fucked up. Some of us are also community organizers, activists and educators at the front lines of these battles. We are constantly aware of how bad things are. It only makes the need for joy so much more urgent.

If we are being attacked, if our lives are at stake every day, if our families are being separated, and if our people are being locked up and being caged, we have to really bask in all the little moments of joy that we can find. We have a long way to go before we reach our vision of utopia without borders, binaries or cages. And, so in the meantime, we are focused on creating that sense of utopia right now in all of our events and in the spaces we create. It’s urgent and important because happiness is crucial for humans. It gives us a taste of what’s to come.

So, what is next? How do people get involved?

Donate to the gofundme, if you are able. Take money away from institutions that harm us and invest in providing lifelines to our communities—food, shelter, education, housing, healing. Join your local end money bail campaigns. If you’re an artist, take hold of your immense power, divest from the institutions that harm us, and put your skills and talents towards breeding life, towards changing the world.

Writer
Kimberly Drew
Photographer
Lex Morales