A brief reflection after a city council meeting in Saratoga Springs…

The city government & law enforcement of Saratoga Springs, NY, are retaliating against civil rights activists with @saratogablm through unjust arrests and legal proceedings in response to activists exercising their first amendment rights.

Last night I attended the city council meeting to support @saratogablm and to make sure a friend of mine made it home safely, because Saratoga Springs is evidently not safe for Black people.

I did not plan on speaking, but I felt moved to bring up why many people protest in the streets.

Some see rage when they see street protests. I see a community responding to collective trauma. I see people who feel pain and a sense of powerlessness. I see people who are hurting, who see their community hurting, and who are trying to heal their communities.

I asked the Saratoga Springs city council members if they know what it feels like to advocate for justice through official avenues only to end up being ignored, or arrested and held in jail for hours without medical care, water, or a mask during a pandemic.

I’m not an expert on the politics of protesting, but I see street protests as a tool to publicly name pain/hurt/trauma, to raise awareness, to build community, and to reclaim power for the people. @saratogablm is trying to do all of these things. Instead of responding with empathy, Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly, Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, and Assistant Chief of Police John Catone have responded by villainizing Black activists and perpetuating further violence and harm in the Saratoga Springs community.

Comment on the City of Troy Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Final Report

Featured image: “Progress moves at the speed of trust. Collectively see, learn, do.” Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) blog. Photograph source: https://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/09/collaboration-for-learning-notes-from-the-public-libraries-stem-conference/public-libraries-stem-9

I submitted this comment to the City of Troy PRRC via email and via the Troy City Council’s public forum on March 25, 2021. To submit written comments to the City of Troy PRRC, email PoliceRRC@troyny.gov or send by mail to: City Hall, Office of the Mayor, 433 River Street, Troy NY 12180, c/o Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative.

My name is Chel Miller. I live in Downtown Troy, which is on occupied and unceded Muh-he-con-neok, or Mohican, land.

I am here to honor the experiences of Black and brown community members who have spoken out, and those who will not speak for fear of retaliation. I cannot speak to their experiences, because I have not lived them, but I can talk about violence prevention and what keeps us safe.

I am a survivor-advocate, meaning I am a survivor of sexual violence, and I spend my days advocating for other survivors of violence at the community, state, and national level. Through my personal experiences and my work, I have come to understand that we can only prevent violence and promote community safety by shifting our focus upstream.

This involves a thorough understanding of systemic oppressions that shape our society and our city—racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, ableism, and so many more. Systemic oppression shapes what is recognized as violence, who is most vulnerable to experiencing or witnessing violence, what healing and justice options are available, and how those who commit violence are treated and held accountable. Systemic oppression shapes who does or does no come into conflict with the law and who survives encounters with law enforcement.

Any plan to address police violence must demonstrate an understanding of how these systems show up in our community. The behavior of members on the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative in the City of Troy, particularly the mayor and the police chief, demonstrates that they do not have an understanding of these systems. During last month’s listening sessions, the police chief insisted that systemic racism does not exist in Troy. The report further demonstrates that city leadership does not understand and cannot recognize systemic oppression when it stares them in the face.

Shifting our focus upstream also means investing in the people of Troy. Investing in opportunities for our communities to thrive—like healthcare, mental health services, housing, education, food security, services related to substance abuse, and community interventions that reduce arrests and incarceration—are proven strategies for promoting safe and healthy communities and preventing violence. Any plan to address police violence must include plans to invest in the community. This report does not address how the City of Troy will invest in the people of Troy and the social services we are asking for.

The report does talk a lot about task forces. I have a few things to say about that.

Troy does not need a task force to think about whether a mental health crisis intervention team is needed—community members clearly argued for this need during listening sessions.

Troy does not need a work group to think about whether diversion programs for youth are needed—community members clearly argued for this need during listening sessions.

Troy does not need a committee to hire more Black and brown cops—Black and brown community members have expressed that demographic representation will not protect them. Not to mention, your police department currently faces a lawsuit alleging that Black officers have endured systemic racism in your agency.

Troy does not need a citizen police academy to educate civilians about how the police department works—community members know how the police department works and we know that police departments were never designed to protect Black and brown communities.

The report demonstrates that the City of Troy refuses to listen to its constituents, even after holding 9 listening sessions.

The report talks a lot about trust. I have some questions about trust.

I ask the Mayor and the City of Troy:

How do you expect us to trust you?

  • When you did not engage in good faith efforts to gather input from the community?
  • When you dragged your feet for 8 months before announcing that you’ve formed a committee with minimal, if any, community input?
  • When your listening sessions were not accessible to community members who have inconsistent internet access, whose primary language is not English, or who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing?
  • When you dismissed community members’ calls for investment in mental health services?
  • When community members will not join public listening sessions for fear of retaliation from the City of Troy and Rensselaer County?
  • When you continue to target predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods?

Finally, how do you expect us to trust you when we have not seen justice or accountability for the murder of Edson Thevenin in April 2016, or the attempted murder of Dahmeek Mcdonald in 2018? Where have you demonstrated transparency or accountability for your actions and your officers’ actions?

We can only move at the speed of trust. If we do not pass a plan by April 1, so be it. Let the Attorney General install a monitor, if that is passed in the state budget. Let city leadership feel the weight of financial insecurity that so many community members feel. The City has taken its sweet time to develop a plan. Community members deserve the time it takes to make a plan that works for this city. Community members deserve to know and trust that we have been heard. We deserve better.

Thank you for your time.

Comment Submitted to the City of Troy Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative

Featured image: Thousands gathered at Troy’s Riverfront Park before marching through city streets Sunday afternoon, June 7, 2020. Photograph credit: Jesse King/WAMC. Photograph source: https://www.wamc.org/post/thousands-march-racial-justice-rally-troy

I submitted this comment to the City of Troy PRRC via email and via the committee’s public forum on February 22, 2021. To submit written comments to the City of Troy PRRC, email PoliceRRC@troyny.gov or send by mail to: City Hall, Office of the Mayor, 433 River Street, Troy NY 12180, c/o Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative. The PRRC is accepting public comments through March 1, 2021.

My name is Chel Miller. I am a Troy resident. I am the Communications Director at the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and I serve on the Board of Directors for the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

I would like to echo the concerns raised by Troy constituents at previous public forums, namely the concern about the City of Troy’s failure to include impacted communities in the development and appointments of the Committee and the need for reconciliation between people directly harmed by the police and the city at large. I agree with the concerns my fellow community members have raised.

I would also like to raise some of my own concerns as a Troy resident and as an advocate for survivors of violence:

  • While COVID-19 has made it impossible for us to convene in person, these public forums and listening sessions are not accessible to the community. Having to register twice in order to provide input in this venue is unnecessary and redundant. Many people in our community have inconsistent internet access. What kind of outreach is the committee doing to make sure their voices are heard? Further, the listening sessions are inaccessible to community members who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. ASL interpretation and closed captioning should be provided.
  • The scope of this committee is incredibly limited, to the detriment of Troy residents. The City of Troy needs to shift its focus upstream: investing in opportunities for our communities to thrive—like healthcare, housing, education, food security, and community interventions that reduce arrests and incarceration—will prevent violence and improve community safety in our city.
  • The Troy Police Department accounts for nearly 1/3 of the city’s $75 million general fund. As others have shared, by eliminating the police department’s 2021 budget increase, we can afford to invest in our community. The bottom line is that the City of Troy needs to invest in the people of Troy, not in policing and incarcerating Troy residents who are already marginalized by systemic racism and other forms of oppression.
  • Finally, we still do not have justice for the murder of Edson Thevenin in April 2016. Those who enabled the killing of Edson Thevenin and those who have covered up his murder have not taken accountability for their actions. I ask the City of Troy and Troy PD: How do you expect us to trust you?

From #MeToo to systemic cultural change: a public historian’s call to action

The #MeToo movement has shed light on the widespread prevalence of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse, including in scholarly and professional communities. The last two years have shown us that the public history community is no exception. In November 2019, NCPH’s blog, History@Work, published my reflections on public history’s “#MeToo moment” and my recommendations for how public historians and organizations should proceed in order to support survivors and prevent sexual violence in our field. Read more.

Reflections on ‘Beyond the Breakthrough’ and Social Justice/Anti-Oppression Work

I went to the National Sexual Assault Conference in August wondering if it’s really possible to do transformative anti-oppression work from within mainstream anti-violence organization. My colleague and friend, E Bjorkman, and I had a lot of thoughts on doing social justice and anti-oppression work in our organization, the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Read more on NYSCASA’s blog.

I’m at Readercon 30!


Here’s my schedule:

Friday, July 12

1–2pm, Salon 3: The Real Middle Ages, Part 1: Europe (Moderating)

Medieval Europe was a hotbed of interaction among people of different cultures and ethnicities, so there’s no reason for fantasy novels with medieval-like settings to be blandly homogeneous. Panelists will discuss how popular narratives of medieval Europe misrepresent known history, how these narratives serve white supremacist movements, and how writers can do better by readers by basing their worldbuilding on Europe as it really was.

4–5pm, Salon B: A Post-Police World (Panelist)

Policing, as it has developed and is currently implemented, is a sometimes violent system for maintaining order and perpetuating the power status quo. Better systems and better ways are possible. This panel will explore the real and ostensible goals of policing and look for ethical ways to achieve them, in our future or on created worlds.

Saturday, July 13

11am–12pm, Salon 4: The Real Middle Ages, Part 2: Everywhere Else (Panelist)

Writers looking for alternatives to cod-medieval European settings don’t need to look far. The years 500 to 1500 C.E. were times of tremendous cultural and technological change around the world. Novelties of that period included Islam, paper money, and fast-ripening rice; the Incan Empire, Great Zimbabwe, and the Tang Dynasty flourished. Which non-European settings of the 6th to 16th centuries have been successfully used as the basis for fantasy lands, and which might writers find particularly inspiring?

Sunday, July 14

10–11am, Salon 3: Marginalized People Destroy History (Moderating)

In P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums, African gods wreak havoc on airships during the Civil War. In Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, the Congolese beat back the Belgians with steam power and ancient magic. Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth adds hippos and gender flexibility to 19th-century America. These stories and others reimagine history through the eyes of the oppressed and flip the script. Panelists will identify other moments in history in need of the same treatment, and discuss what that might look like.

Re: Docket No. ED-2018-OCR-0064, RIN 1870–AA14, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance

In November 2018, the US Department of Education published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Federal Register regarding Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX). During the following notice-and-comment period, I submitted the following comment to the Department of Education outlining my concerns regarding the proposed changes to Title IX.Continue reading “Re: Docket No. ED-2018-OCR-0064, RIN 1870–AA14, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance”


Earth/Body/Silhouette: Landscape as Artistic and Political Practice[1]


In an Artforum interview, Jacques Rancière asked: “What landscape can one describe as the meeting place between artistic practice and political practice?”[2]

Landscape is a meeting place between artistic and political practice. Landscape is a medium of exchange between what is human and what is natural.

Continue reading “Earth/Body/Silhouette”

Thoughts on Columbus, Italian American History, and Solidarity

Image: A worker removing the red paint from the hand of a Christopher Columbus statue in Central Park on Tuesday. Statues of the 15th-century explorer have come under scrutiny amid a larger debate about monuments to controversial historical figures. Credit: Dave Sanders for The New York Times. Image and caption retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/nyregion/christopher-columbus-statue-central-park-vandalized.html


Every October, I find myself caught between two worlds: the Italian American community, for whom Christopher Columbus is a symbol of Italian and Italian American heritage, and the social justice-oriented community, which encourages us to reconsider ‘Columbus Day’ and transform the national holiday into an opportunity to critically engage with our colonial past.

Many Italian Americans still fiercely defend Columbus Day. But why should we? Why should Italian Americans uncritically accept a man with blood-stained hands as a representative of our heritage? Moreover, how can Italian Americans committed to building a world without oppression grapple with the ugly past and present and honor our Italian American roots?

Instead of glorifying Columbus as a symbol of our Italian American heritage, we can look to our twentieth-century predecessors, the Italian immigrants and their American-born children who faced discrimination and violence from the US government and citizens alike. Their radicalism and resistance against oppression has been deeply researched and well-documented in recent years. In the age of #BlackLivesMatter, the emergence of Indigenous Peoples Day, and increasingly hostile US policies toward non-white immigrants, it’s time for Italian Americans to return to our radical heritage and stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people of color.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Columbus, Italian American History, and Solidarity”

Article: “What are women’s prisons for?”

Amy Halliday, Chelsea Miller, and Julie Peterson, “‘What are women’s prisons for?’: Gendered states of incarceration and history as an agent for social change,” Museums & Social Issues: A Journal of Reflective Discourse 12, no. 1 (April 2017): 56-66, https://doi.org/10.1080/15596893.2017.1292104.

As the exhibition States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories travels the nation, visitors will explore the roots of mass incarceration in our communities. While mass incarceration has garnered increased media and scholarly attention in recent years, mainstream analyses overlook the role of gender, even as women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population in the United States. This article argues that women’s incarceration and the gendered aspects of the carceral state need to become more prominent in the national narrative, and that museums and public history institutions, in partnership with local communities, have the potential to lead this effort. Archival research and oral history interviews with community activists on the ground shed light on the gendered aspects of incarceration in the United States while, at the same time, amplifying the voices of community members and activists. Doing so provides a model for how museums and public history professionals can become active participants in promoting social change.

Carceral studies, gender, Massachusetts, mass incarceration, oral history, public memory

Continue reading “Article: “What are women’s prisons for?””