Mothers of Resistance

Woman silhouette(Image: Woman silhouette via Shutterstock)

In Havana, International Workers Day (May 1) was especially sweet as the Cuban Five were finally free and able to march together. The wives of the Cuban Five, who were held unjustly for more than 15 years in US prisons, were tireless crusaders for their freedom. One of the wives, Adriana Pérez, was never allowed to visit her husband Gerardo Hernández during the 15 years he spent behind bars.

As high-level talks took place between Cuba and the United States, Pérez was able to conceive a baby through in vitro fertilization with her husband, a concession granted in exchange for better conditions for Alan Gross, the US contractor imprisoned in Cuba. Pérez’s determination to be a mother became an important step in securing the freedom of the Five and ultimately leading to improved diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.

As the nature of US-Cuba ties is shifting, authorities in New Jersey have stated their interest in apprehending another mother of resistance, exiled activist Assata Shakur. Shakur was a member of the Blank Panther Party and the Black Liberation Movement and says she was shot by police with both arms in the air and then again in the back during a 1973 incident in which a police officer and another Black Panther were killed.

Sentenced to life in prison, Shakur was able to escape and flee to Cuba, where she has lived since 1984. While she was in prison, she was forced to give birth in chains and then separated from her daughter Kakuya, who now lives with her Cuba. Shakur was the first woman to be placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and there is now a $10 million reward for her capture. The bounty was placed there by the same FBI that was involved in gross misconduct through the Cointelpro strategy, which targeted Black leaders and activists in the 1960s – but even the agency’s vast machinations could not keep Shakur caged.

Christine Rush has known the pain of a son sentenced to death. She is the mother of Scott Rush, one of the “Bali Nine,” a group of nine Australians convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia. Her son was 19 at the time of his arrest. He was eventually able to overturn his death sentence on appeal, and is now sentenced to life imprisonment. Two of the Bali Nine, however, remained sentenced to death, and on April 29, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by firing squad as they sang “Amazing Grace.”

Christine and her husband Lee have had to carry a heavy burden surrounding the case: It was their concern for their son that led them to reach out to a friend – asking for help – which then unleashed the chain of events that led to the arrest of the nine in Bali. They had hoped their son would be detained before leaving Australia; they say they were told he would be stopped before boarding the plane to Indonesia. But that never happened.

Despite concerns for her son’s well-being, as he is still in prison in Indonesia, Rush is supporting calls for an inquiry into the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) role in the arrests. The policy of the AFP is that they will not give evidence or information that will result in someone receiving the death penalty. Christine Rush has bravely called for an investigation into why the policy was not followed.

Another Australian mother of resistance, Debbie Kilroy, made this public statement after the executions:

I’m many beings
I’m a convicted drug trafficker
I am the CEO of Sisters Inside Inc
I am a wife
I am a friend
I am a lawyer
I am a mum

I am shattered that Andrew and Myuran have been executed. They had so much more to offer us all.

Our lives are worth more than the worse we’ve ever done #‎bali9

Kilroy’s organization, Sisters Inside, advocates for women in the criminal legal system, and their art and sports programs aim to keep Aboriginal girls out of courts and detention centers. An unrelenting advocate for those caught in the systemic and structural racism and sexism of the legal system, Kilroy has also just launched the #ChangeTheRecord campaign aimed at addressing the genocidal overrepresentation of Aboriginal people behind bars.

Meanwhile in Texas, mothers from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala being held at an immigrant jail went on hunger strike to demand their release and better conditions for their children. In a letter, they stated:

Our children are not eating well and every day they are losing weight. Their health is deteriorating. We know that any mother would do what we are doing for their children.

Many of the mothers in the Texas jail fled violence in their home countries – only to be incarcerated and traumatized in the United States.

In Cuba, Australia, Central America and around the world, women remain on the front lines of justice work. All these mothers of resistance – with their courage and determination – are warriors in the fight for a better and more equitable tomorrow for the next generation.