World Court of Women attempts to rewrite history in Kensington
Corrine Kumar has put together 40 World Courts of Women during her time as an activist on the global stage. Last weekend, the Tunisian human rights and women’s activist was at the West Kensington Ministries on Norris Square to meet with more than 200 poor and working class people, listening to testimonies relating to injustices suffered throughout the United States, and in Philadelphia.
Held since 1992 in Pakistan, Kumar has used the forum to give working people and the poor a public forum where they can detail an alternative world history through a non-political and legal lens. There were also workshops held throughout the weekend, teaching organizing skills.
The idea, says local poor people’s economic activist Cheri Honkala, when I meet her and Kumar at Liberty Choice market in Kensington, is “taking 200 folks and having 50 testimonies and 12 people sitting on a jury that do nothing but listen for two days, to people who have been told to shut up and be quiet, told they don’t matter, they don’t bring any wisdom into the room, they don’t have any role to play in society or in their own liberation.”
Like many meetings of radicals, the idea is to work outside the box in a way those inside the box probably wouldn’t even understand. And in so doing, attempt to write a new history, based on the peoples’ experience — not that of the elites and governments.
The World Court began as a forum for people who had “crimes committed against them,” Kumar says, “that they would be able to find voice, a political voice. It was really about talking in the language of suffering and bringing that testimony of pain to the forefront. The themes ranged from the suffering of women in Asia to trafficking and migration of refugees.”
Since then, the court has hit South America, Africa and has gone all over Asia, where Kumar spends much of her time working. She’s currently on her first front through the United States, and has already visited Oakland; she’s headed to Louisville, KY., and Detroit, Mich. over the coming months.
As Kumar describes the testimony to me, she says the so-called crimes committed against people in the United States differs from those elsewhere. For instance, few people at the West Kensington Ministries spoke about human trafficking, but they did speak about sleeping outside, dealing with our financial institutions, medical insurance, foreclosures and food stamps.
And while many of the people in world courts around the globe have given defeatist testimony, she says Americans have a different attitude.
“The Civil Rights Movement,” she says, “taught people to recognize pain but never forget the hope.”
Many of those who spoke to the “jury” and others last weekend included formerly and currently homeless residents, activists and those involved in political and religious movements in Philadelphia.
Honkala helped Kumar organize last weekend’s event and was critical in involving both local activists and the “Green Shadow Cabinet,” a Green Party-based alternative political group meant to project another view of the world from people who generally have no political power in society. Many activists at the forum came from all over the world.
“The courts look at the voices of resistance,” Kumar adds. “You have the testimony of pain and the testimony of resistance. They speak truth to power but they also speak truth to the powerless, it’s very important … we need to re-imagine justice because the justice institutions that we have are insufficient for our times.”
Kumar hopes to bring the Court back to Philadelphia in 2015. There will be video of the event up on the web soon.
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