Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Open Letter to Activists of All Sorts

Bill Ayers, Obama's pal, spoke at Knox this afternoon. While his talk acknowledged the election "controversy," it focused more on the purposes of activism and how an individual can balance activism with individualism.
Ayers is a dynamic speaker, and one of the most important moments for me came when Mr. Ayers spoke about connecting activist movements. He is most famous (or infamous) for his work within the anti-war movement, but he also talked about his experiences protesting after Prop 8. Mr. Ayers noted how the feminist movement and the environmental movement can connect to the anti-war movement to broaden support for all causes.
I think this is absolutely important, and something both feminists and other groups don't do often enough.
I think of myself as a Marxist, pacifist, feminist, with an emphasis on feminist. I also feel passionately about ending global warming, expanding gay rights, and emphasising immigrant concerns. However, I blog, almost solely about feminism.
The post I wrote about the Texas sheriff was linked in many places in the blogsphere, but one aspect I failed to address was the victim's supposed crime, drug possession. While I feel that drugs should be legalized I didn't go there; I don't think I even remarked upon it. I should have. Drug legalization and the prison industrial complex and feminism are intimately linked, as are feminism and environmentalism, feminism and food, feminism and pacifism, feminism and LGBTQ rights, and feminism and [insert your cause here].
However, another issue within the feminist community is the ostracism we may feel after identifying as feminists. Some groups do not want their causes associated with us. There is still a huge stigma on feminism. Many of my progressive friends still shy away from the label or refuse the association. I urge these causes, whether it be the movement for universal health care in the United States or organizations against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to accept feminism as an important cornerstone of your organizations. The agenda of your group will not be diminished or over taken by feminist concerns, instead your participants and concerns will be broadened to make them more comprehensive and important.
And my sisters and brothers in feminism, we must also expand our agendas beyond the typical women's rights checklist. Fair pay has to do with more than sexist discrimination; it deals with economics, socialism, and the further discrimination suffered by sisters of color. Abortion is tied to racism and environmentalism and radical religion. What a beautiful web we could weave.
Historian activist Howard Zinn addressed specialization within social movements:
"To work on a real problem (such as how to eliminate poverty in a nation
producing $800 billion worth of wealth each year), one would have to follow that
problem across many disciplinary lines without qualm, dealing with historical
materials, economic theories, political problems. Specialization insures that one
cannot follow a problem through from start to finish."
I didn't address the charges levied against survivor of the Texas sheriff's assault because I didn't want to complicate the issue within a short blog post, so I categorized it as rape, a man's power over a woman. While it was rape, it was also about drug legalization, and the threatening power of the prison industrial complex. The woman's problem was not accurately addressed, and a prescription for her mistreatment will not come out of a misdiagnoses.
Please, my feminists and fellow activists we need to begin a dialogue between each other. I promise to do better as a blogger. I will ask the more complex questions and explore the deeper power dynamics. I will not be afraid to ask other causes for support or help and be quick to answer their calls for assistance. I urge you to do the same. Feminist blogs need to address other environmental issues. Environmental blogs need to address immigrant issues. Immigrant rights blogs need to address feminism. Ect. Ect. Ect. It will make us each stronger. We have the power.
Si se puede.
Yes we can.


Amelia said...

Just a quick, technical comment: You said "his work within the anti-war movement". I think you could clarify this - which anti-war movement? And because Ayers was best known for his involvement in a specific org, you might want to make an edit about that.

I'm so upset I didn't get to here him speak today!

Dori said...

Well said, and an interesting analysis that I don't see often.

I mean, I see the phenomenon of American progressive people pushing away the feminist label because of the Rush-Limbaugh-created stigma surrounding feminism, but that is an aspect I don't often see in analysis of anti-oppression movements and intersectionality.

That being said, i also know a great deal of activists who eschew the feminist movement not because of myths and misinformation about the movement or the philosophy, but because they belong to a group that has been marginalized within the movement. For example, women of color, sex workers, trans*people and LGBTQ people. If we are going to call for an intersected movement, the concerns of these populations and their activists must be listened to and acknowledged.

Good post, got me thinking.

Kate said...

That's such an important point, Dori. Feminism has been known to be exclusive, and even on my campus the effects of this can be seen.
As a movement, we need to hold ourselves more responsible.