The Ms. Q&A: Dr. Connie Wun on Creating Free Futures and a World Without Racial and Gender Violence

“I’ve been doing this work for almost 25 years … and it’s working: More people are talking about abolition, ending anti-Blackness and ending anti-Asian violence, as well as ending transphobia. The need is great and more people are seeing that need.”

—Dr. Connie Wun

Creating Free Futures with Dr. Connie Wun
“There’s something important about matriarchal politics and matriarchs,” said Dr. Connie Wun. “They care differently.” (Courtesy of Connie Wun)

Around the nation, women and girls are doing the collective work necessary to build free futures in their local communities. Dr. Connie Wun—founder of the #ImReady Movement and co-founder of AAPI Women Lead—is one of these women.

Both AAPI Women Lead and the #ImReady Movement aim to strengthen the progressive political and social platforms of Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in the U.S. through the leadership of AAPI women and girls. And these communities could certainly use the attention. According to the #ImReady Movement site:

  • Sixty percent of AAPI women and girls have experienced some form of sexual or domestic abuse.
  • AAPI women on average earn 85 cents to every dollar that white men earn—though this statistic fails to capture the nuance of the economic disparities within the AAPI community (for example, Burmese women make as little as 52 cents) and fails to account for the differences in the kinds of jobs Asian women perform.

AAPI Women Lead hosts a number of community initiatives:

  • The community care series, “led by community leaders to help us understand what is going on with the pandemic and what we can do (including health and wellness lessons), specifically as Asian and Pacific Islander communities.”
  • A movement building series, which travels and collaborates with other organizations to create spaces for learning. 
  • The Solidarity in Action Resource Guide, which offers help with “self-defense, situational awareness, disability justice, political education, bystander training and more.”

I spoke with Wun about her dreams for freedom and what she’s learned from her work with women and femmes as a feminist, scholar, activist and researcher. She offers a broad view of organizing, politics, healing, study and spirituality for us to consider as we work toward a free future. 

Satya Vaught: Can you tell us about your organizations and their impact? How are they connected?

Dr. Connie Wun: I’m the cofounder of AAPI Women Lead, which amplifies the leadership of Asian and Pacific Islander women, girls and non-binary communities. We do that to end the violence against our communities and in solidarity with other communities of color. I’m a research consultant through Transformative Research, which means I train organizations and groups on how to do community driven research. I was recently an editor for Kapernick publishing. We did an online series of articles addressing abolition. The center of most of my work is around the intersections of race, gender and state violence.

All of these projects examine racism, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, patriarchy, capitalism. There is a centralized framework and all of them work together to end the violence against communities of color—specifically women, girls and non-binary people.

“The center of most of my work is around the intersections of race, gender and state violence.”

Vaught: What’s the most empowering thing you have found from working with women and femmes? 

Wun: I’m always amazed by how creative, powerful and communal the people that I work with are. I’ve been really sick lately, and with the rise in attention to anti-Asian violence, I’ve been extended. It’s been mostly women, femmes, non-binary people, queer folks, who have reached out to make sure I’m okay. There’s something about the amount of care that women, femme, non-binary, queer folks have for the people that they love. And by people, I mean communities expansively. They’re fearless in their leadership, but also in their compassion for each other. There’s something important about matriarchal politics and matriarchs. They care differently.

Vaught: What are the challenges and obstacles within your work?

Wun: The misogyny and harassment that I experience outside of the organization. The trolls that will either be in my DMs, messages, social media platforms or emails. It’ll generally be from people who are quite racist, anti-Black, because my work emphasizes solidarity, ending anti-Blackness, ending white supremacy. Primarily men harass me.

What’s also been hard is there isn’t enough community safety accountability. There’s not much of an infrastructure in place because there is so much violence from the police and criminal justice system against communities of color—specifically Black, poor, disabled people. We have to defend ourselves against state violence, and at the same time, build a community infrastructure.

One of the other obstacles is the way mainstream organizations are hijacking community-based organizers’ and educators’ work for their own platforms and resources.

Vaught: Do you see it this year especially?

Wun: I see it a lot, and it’s troublesome. Many are calling for more policing and surveillance, while the ones who are most vulnerable and have been organizing from that position have to compete against these platforms. The former do it to enhance their political solutions. For instance, they’re calling for more hate crime legislation and partnering with conservative and neo-liberal politicians. The rest of us are like: ‘What are you doing? We’re building community solutions!’ They get coverage while everyone else is working with survivors of more recent violence, or they themselves have been doing this work for a long time to create community based solutions.

Vaught: What helps you stay motivated to do social justice work?

Wun: I’ve been doing this work for almost 25 years. It’s the community that keeps me growing and going. The need for liberation and freedom and the fact that more people are coming to do this work keeps me going. Then what I recognize is it’s working: More people are talking about abolition, ending anti-Blackness and ending anti-Asian violence, as well as ending transphobia. The need is great and more people are seeing that need.

Vaught: How do you create a collective space for people to think, organize and act?

Wun: We create different spaces including healing spaces to bring in healing practitioners and support attendees to decompress and address the harms that are currently happening. We had an event last month with poets and healing practitioners, so that folks could just be held and seen by their practitioners. We have self-defense seminars and community defense seminars.

Our organization is about abolitionist praxis and transformative justice. We have movement-building series where we do political education around the history of violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders here and the U.S. territories. We have end-of-the-year conferences where people come and they learn from different workshops, different educators and they also get healing support from acupuncturists, from herbalists, from martial artists. We’ll be starting a project that is called Intergenerational Participatory Action Research. Our young people will do research with older generations to tell stories so they can actively own their own stories and then tell them.

Vaught: What does a free world look like to you? 

Wun: There wouldn’t be racial and gender violence. Our communities would be accountable to each other and not reliant upon a state criminal justice system that has caused harm. We would be able to take care of one another. We would all have access to good health care, critical and good education, and beyond livable wages. We would have gotten rid of prison systems, detentions, ICE. We would have a matriarchal society that is not oppressive. We would be taking care of land, earth. Patriarchy would be dead. I would feel safe being in the world. The people that I love would feel safe being in the world.

Creating Free Futures with Dr. Connie Wun
Dr. Connie Wun (Courtesy of Connie Wun)

Vaught: What work do we need to do to get there? 

Wun: We’re trying to do it now. We have the hard questions so that people learn to be more accountable to each other and have a systemic analysis of the harm that’s been done. We collectively try to end the systemic violence so it doesn’t penetrate our interpersonal relationships. That means being accountable in our relationships, neighborhoods, workplaces, creating systems that are accountable to all the peoples, the most marginalized communities especially, and then to Earth!  

I’ve been thinking about spirituality and of different concepts—like when you hurt someone, you’re hurting beyond that one person; you’re hurting communities and the spiritual world. I’m big on praying to my ancestors, my grandparents, my great-grandparents every morning. I have only learned to do that after I left academia. Academia had me so much in my head. I didn’t think to rely on other forms of knowledge. I grew up with a Ouija board, with my family seeing spirits, and I would discount them. I’d be like ‘ugh, my family is crazy’—not realizing how powerful that is that so many of them see spirits. I don’t want Western epistemology to be the only form of knowledge that we respect. To get to that place of freedom, we recognize that there are multiple forms of knowledge and power that are not only Western. In fact, Western knowledge has hurt a lot of people,

“To get to that place of freedom, we recognize that there are multiple forms of knowledge and power that are not only Western. In fact, Western knowledge has hurt a lot of people.”

Vaught: Who are inspirational thinkers, authors and artists that help you?

Wun: I love Beth Richie, who is a professor at University of Illinois Chicago. She has done gender based violence abolitionist work for a long time. Sabina Vaught is really amazing and very generous as an academic, as a friend, and mentor. Mariame Kaba does smart work around abolition and is fearless. Jenny Wun, my sister, is really smart, patient, and compassionate. She’s the cofounder of AAPI Women Lead. Assata Shakur—she too has the politics of care. Yuri Kochiyama was part of the Puerto Rican movement, Black Liberation movement—she’s a Japanese internment camp survivor. I got to meet her in the ’90s, and learned from her in terms of her commitment to people. She was all about solidarity. I think about the goddess Quan Yin who is the goddess of compassion.

The resounding theme is that all of us are unafraid to fight for our communities because we care about them so much.

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Satya Vaught is a high school student concurrently pursuing coursework in Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University.