October 16, 2008
Radical Women national conference ignites support for expanding socialist feminist movement
by Monica Hill, Seattle, Washington
The same October weekend Sarah Palin raised money in the Bay Area for her multi-million-dollar Vice-Presidential campaign, more than 250 women and men met in San Francisco to chart a course for a feminist movement —independent of the Republican and Democratic parties.
Participants traveled from Australia, Costa Rica, and Mexico, and from eleven states across the United States to attend Radical Women's 41st anniversary conference, The Persistent Power of Socialist Feminism. The packed auditorium in the city's landmark Women's Building was a tapestry of ethnicities and colors, feminists born in the United States and many other places around the world, such as China, Iran and Somalia.
Ranging in age from 14 to 87 years, many expressed a sense of urgent responsibility to reverse the misery enveloping humanity worldwide. Striking was the large number of young students and workers eager to organize on the basis of socialist feminist politics.
Convened in the midst of the imploding U.S. economic crisis, the four-day conference of keynotes and policy resolutions, panels and workshops sparked intense discussion. The result—concrete action plans to strengthen women's leadership in the social movements, to build united fronts with other committed activists, and to foster solidarity among working people at home and abroad. As Radical Women's sister organization, the Freedom Socialist Party, noted in its greeting, "RW plays an irreplaceable role in developing women's theoretical and practical leadership and in bringing a revolutionary feminist voice to all the movements."
"Women & revolution—alive & inseparable."
In her opening keynote address, celebrated poet and unionist Nellie Wong put it bluntly: "This weekend, we continue the fight for women's liberation because it's as necessary as breathing. The revolution is ours to make. It is our greatest duty. It is our greatest joy."
Such sentiments permeated the event. One young Chicana described the gathering in a writer's workshop: "Thunderous applause, tears of pride and cheers of laughter empowered and emboldened those who came to build the revolutionary feminist movement."
In her Friday night keynote, New York public defense attorney Lynne Stewart advised, "The righteous response to oppression is to speak out, fight back and confront. Make the movement too big to lock up!" Stewart was convicted in 2005 of "supporting terrorism" by representing an Egyptian client dubbed a "terrorist." She is appealing the conviction.
Featuring a pro-labor and international agenda.
One pivotal resolution was For a U.S. feminist movement independent of the twin parties of war and reaction. The author, Laura Mannen, an Oregonian bi-lingual teacher and mother, promoted "organizing on the job where we are already reviving union power and in every community and social movement coalition where an army of grassroots women already organizes." The point, she stressed, is to work together, not separately.
A panel of union organizers told of hard-won victories and struggles by janitors, bus drivers and university workers. They discussed how to organize in the labor movement, and how not to. "When you want to fight for something, brace yourself. For my children, I will do anything," said Raquel Rodriguez, a Justice for Janitors strike leader. Attendees affirmed a commitment to organize in the house of labor, to agitate for democracy within unions and encourage them to be active in the community, in antiwar mobilizations, in defense of immigrants and on women's issues.
International perspectives reverberated throughout the conference. Workers, feminists and youth groups from nine countries sent supportive greetings. At a Saturday panel entitled "Magnificent warriors: Female leadership in the global freedom struggle," Costa Rican labor lawyer Patricia Ramos Con urged on U.S. feminists: "As Latin American revolutionaries, we know that world revolution depends on you. We're in the trenches and you're in the belly of the beast. Your fight is our fight." Other panelists recounted the heroic struggles by the women of Palestine, Mexico, China and Australia.
For immigrant, people of color and queer rights.
Seattle Radical Women president, Christina López, motivated Estamos en la lucha: Immigrant women light the fires of resistance, the second major policy resolution. A Chicana-Apache, López recounted the harsh impact of U.S. immigration policies on women and children and heralded the leadership of migrant women fighting for the right to survive around the world. Radical Women members voted to step up defense of immigrants and to send López on a national speaking tour to address these critical issues.
A panel of Asian American, Black, white and Chicana/Latina members spoke on "The galvanizing impact of multiracial organizing in a society divided by racism." From its founding in 1967, emphasized Emily Woo Yamasaki, New York City president of Radical Women, the group has been a proponent of the idea that there can be no revolutionary change without the leadership of women of color. How to teach and practice this made for riveting discussion.
Queer activists, eager to address more than same-sex marriage, want to combine their issues with immigrant rights. Attendees pledged to help a young woman from Arizona do just that. The group also agreed to highlight transgender rights and organize to support the New Jersey Four - Black lesbians being prosecuted for defending themselves.
Moving into action.
The conference concluded with a report and proposals by National Organizer Anne Slater entitled, Rising to the challenge of socialist feminism in a neoliberal world. Radical Women members affirmed plans she outlined to maintain a strong national organization and build chapters. The group decided to canvass in workingclass neighborhoods to see what issues are of interest to women, and then organize campaigns around those topics. Resolutions were also passed in support of political prisoners including the San Francisco 8, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Marilyn Buck, and Leonard Peltier in the United States, Lori Berenson in Peru and Lex Wotton in Australia.
According to Slater, the decisions made illustrate that, "Armed with dynamic ideas, principled politics, and a rich legacy of practical organizing experience, Radical Women is ready to do what is needed. Linking arms across age, race, gender, national and sexual orientation lines, attendees departed eager to build a stronger, independent women's movement. And, as their T-shirts expressed, it would be—UNBOUGHT & UNBOSSED."
For information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org • www.RadicalWomen.org