The Scholar and the Feminist XI (Women and Resistance): Afternoon Panel, Part 3

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  • Speaker One: ...Who want to be liberated? Isn't the goal ‘people liberation,’ and why can't we look at things from that perspective instead of dividing ourselves? She thought of what I consider solidarity separatism, and I was wondering how you address something like that?
  • Barbara Smith: Well, the reason that we can’t just, you know, subsume ourselves under ‘people liberation,’ is that most white people in the world don’t think that People of Color are people, so that’s for one. So the thing is, like it just doesn't work. I just feel like one of the aspects of Third World Feminism is the way that we have developed identity politics which means that, you know, it's not solely about celebrating who we are to the exclusion, you know, of doing activist work, but it's saying that all of our varied identities -- you know of being women of color, you're working class poor, lesbian, perhaps physically disabled, old, whatever -- that, you know, we can form a politics that speaks to those issues that spring directly from our identity and we subsume it. I mean, you know, it’s just like talking about humanism, you know. I mean, humanism doesn't work when people -- other people -- define people as not human. So, I just want to say that a couple weeks ago, Gay Community News, which is, you know, the most comprehensive gay newspaper, gay and lesbian newspaper, in this country, had an April fool’s issue as they do every year and it was called Human Life News. Now clearly, you know, something’s being said by that, you know, it’s not just about being human and being people, we have to be specific about the nature of our [present.] When everybody agrees that certain kinds of people are people, then we don't -- then we won't necessarily have to mention who we are.
  • Speaker Two: Hi Mom. [Laughter]. I never met you before, but my son has and he loves you. I've been asked to report on the lesbian resistance workshop, and in the tradition of the workshop I would like to make a very personal statement. This is my first trip back to Barnard in 25 years. I came here a quarter of a century ago searching for myself -- I didn't find myself then, I did today, in the workshop. So I would like to introduce myself by creating something of a picture of who, of who I was in that workshop. I'm a white woman struggling to transform my circle of privilege which I found out is not a safe place for anyone. I am a woman of color but do not fail to see my many hues. I am Israel's daughter and I am, hear me, a Palestinian, and I too want a home. I am a capitalist, I am a working class dyke. I shop at Zabar's and Bloomingdale's; I am the bull dagger on the welfare line. I am a feminist separatist, I live with a man, I nurture my boy child. Last year I ran the Boston Marathon; my lover signs for me at straight people's concerts. I analyze and abstract; I refuse to analyze and abstract. I simply tell my stories and I know you will hear your own voice. I have a history as old as woman, I always knew it would embarrass my mother. I am sad that it embarrasses my lovers sometimes. I will not renounce it, I will not hide; this is my act of resistance, I am who I am. I am diversity, I am contradiction, I am whole, I am still, I am in motion, my movement is built on contradictions. You, as women, if you are in search of yourselves, and I know you are because we are always becoming who we are, and I hope you are, because you are so very beautiful. If you are in search of yourselves, I urge you, you might want to get to know me. Thank you. [Applause]
  • Speaker Four: This is a question for Grace Paley. Would you talk a little bit about the in -- would you talk a little bit about the installation of missiles in New York Harbor and any of the actions that are being organized to oppose that? Grace Paley: It’s tax resistance, I just talked about tax resistance resistance. Speaker Five: Can you talk about how? Grace Paley: Oh, how. Speaker Five: The details.
  • Grace Paley: Oh, alright. I really -- I don’t have the -- the flyers here for the coming actions on the -- on the Home Port, which is what it's called. If anybody here has it, I wish they would come forward and talk about it. It's not going to happen this week so -- so you know, so we really have time to build a movement around it. And there was a demonstration just last week, at the -- the Port Authority, where about eight hundred people came and “died-in.” And there was no press around it at all, but if there's someone here who has any information about the next action, and I know there is some -- Oh, wait, I know this, there is something right now, that’s why I know about it. That’s the next action, it happened today in Staten Island. [Laughter] But I think they’re -- I think there are some flyers, at one of those tables over there -- Huh? Speaker Six: [But what contact information should they know]? [Unclear]?
  • Grace Paley: Well, call -- the only number I know to call is 673 -- 180 -- 1 -- 1808 -- or 1608 -- [Laughter] I mean, try that. That tax resistance, that someone asked me to say more about -- I think that -- right back there, there are all of these pamphlets and that they can -- they will give you an address to -- to write to, and the phone number to call, and the regular meeting of the women’s tax resistance assistance, because with the money that we hold back from taxes, with money we hold back from Nicaraguan -- from the mines in the harbors in Nicaragua -- we will turn money over to -- to women's needs, and the -- like the battered women's shelters. All the things that have been -- that have lost their funding. And the regular meeting is on the fourth Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. at the 15th Street Meeting House of the American Friends Service Committee. But you can -- you can -- since it’s practically the 16th, you can really start at any time, withhold 3% telephone tax, and with -- with a letter to the telephone company. I've been doing it for several years and many people that I know in this audience have been doing it too.
  • Speaker Seven: I wanted to also report from the feminism, anti-racism and peace movement discussion. One thing that I heard very clearly was the intertwining of social justice and peace. And that really without addressing all the needs for economic and social justice for women, the peace movement becomes sterile and can't succeed. And that essentially, it's not civil rights or the liberal tradition of individually succeeding that is being sought, but a total social transformation. And it seemed like, in that discussion, there was no reliance on models, but our own creative imagination to bring forth some goal and vision. That in instituting militant nonviolence along the model of Seneca, which is a heritage from Third World movements led by Gandhi and Dr. King, that this has become adopted by the feminist movement, a tactic for addressing state power now held by older white men to initiate change in the way state power is used. And I -- this is one thing that I’ve learned, and I feel like I'm recommitting myself to, is this sense that women traditionally bring, for militant nonviolence, absolute commitment to not allow ourselves to be abused and to go forward to assault the powers-that-be in a nonviolent way.
  • Speaker Eight: I have a question for Barbara Smith. Dealing with middle-class and upper-middle-class Blacks, I've seen that many of them, who have an opportunity to make it in society, to an extent, and be involved politically do not feel that they have to. They don't see that there's racism, they don't see that there’s sexism, and they’re apolitical. It seems to me that they need to look at their culture and history find themselves, but they don't see that they need to look for themselves. In addition to working in the political arena to make some changes, have you found this to be true, and if you have, what do we do about it?
  • Barbara Smith: Yes, I have found it to be true, and I don’t know what to do about it except to speak out as you are, you know, about how grievous, you know, that kind of loss of a consciousness in history is. I was just talking this morning to my friend Ana, who's here also from Kitchen Table Press, and like you I was talking about -- she -- she had never been to Barnard before. I taught at Barnard last fall, and like, because of the kind of work I do, I'm in these kind of environments all the time you know, that it's speaking, etcetera, etcetera. And like, I went to Mount Holyoke, which as I said makes Barnard look like -- makes Barnard look like a slum! You know, [laughter] cause it’s [unclear] you know, and you know what I’m saying. But be that as it may, the thing is, like I was talking about like, the people that I went to college with in the 1960s, and I was in the first generation of Black students to go to these kinds of schools, because most white universities and colleges, you know, except for state schools and even those, primarily, during any time from -- before 1960 were segregated schools. So in any event, what I was saying is that most of the people that I went to school with, they’re the people you just described. You know, the middle-class, upper-middle-class, you know, totally, you know, zonked out, you know, People of Color. I don’t know what we do about it, but let’s keep in mind, for one thing, they are not the majority of the Black population. You know, so the thing is like our potential, you know for radical change, you know, for action, for activism, our potential is just as strong as a race of people as it ever has been, because the thing is, like, it's really, like, just a drop in the bucket, the people you read about in Newsweek or Black Enterprise, you know. I also feel like it's real important for People of Color who do have access to education to remember our traditions, you know, of lifting as we climb, and that the reason that we do all this crap is so that we can, you know, make a difference for the race as a whole. [Applause]
  • Temma Kaplan: The people in line now will get to make their statement, but we have to close questions. Speaker Nine: This is very brief -- would women who are interested in perhaps writing a letter to Bernice Reagan, or -- in some way addressing some of the issues that we feel were raised by her poem, please meet after the meeting briefly under the bas -- the basket over there. Speaker Ten: I want to comment on the woman who commented on Bernice Reagan’s statement. I may be wrong, but the way I understood Bernice Reagan, she was not endorsing an anti-Semitic remark of Jesse Jackson. She was saying that the guy is messing up, but she's saying that she's going to support him for what he stands for, and as a Jewish woman I have to say the same thing. I'm not satisfied with the way in which he has dealt with the anti-Semitism, I think a lot more has to be done about that. But I think that if Black people were to refuse coalition with whites every time a white person made a racist statement, we’d never have a coalition at all. If we're going to have -- [Applause]
  • Speaker Eleven: I don’t think anyone is refusing -- Speaker Ten: I think -- Speaker Eleven: -- A coalition. I voted for him -- Speaker Ten: -- I think that the lessons about coalitions are contained very well in Bernice Reagan's statement on coalitions in Homegirls from which Barbara Smith read, and she says very clearly that you don't make coalitions because you agree with and love everybody you make coalitions with, you do it because you have to and you struggle within it. If women -- many of the women in this room, I'm sure, work in political organizations with men. They encounter sexism, they do not allow the sexism to stand, they struggle with it, but they do not refuse to act in coalition. And in the same way, I believe that Jewish women must struggle with people like Jesse Jackson to have them truly understand that anti-Semitism, but work together for progressive goals. [Applause]
  • Speaker Twelve: This is a very quick question. I think having heard about peace camps today, as an alternative to the kind of lives that we live, we have to consider the radicalizing effect it has and how marginal it makes us feel when we’ve learned these things and we try to address them. Now my question to the panel is: I would like you to think about or to propose alternatives or models that you can go to once you've had a radicalizing experience like that and you have to go out and feel very alone or very isolated. There needs to be a way for the women's community, with the kind of diversity that exists, the resources that we have, to work to help people who have really undergone radical change to, you know, to reintegrate to some extent, if you have to pay your rent, if you have to do those things. So my question is how do you integrate something like political activity that’s very radical with the fact that you have to pay your rent, okay. That’s my question. I’d like to hear alternative models proposed by anyone on this panel to something like that. [Scattered laughing and coughing]
  • Barbara Smith (?): I’m -- okay. Is there a microphone on? Okay. I’m not sure that there's an alternative model for you, you know, like paying your rent. I mean if you’re talking about some kind of living situation, I don't know that you can do much more except share housing and cut the rent down. But what I think is important though, and I would like to comment on what you said, is that it's what happens when you have one kind of experience, where do you go on from there. Cause I think that's a real question that's been touched on by different speakers. And I don't know, in my own experience the answer has been to relate to an organization that was pulling people together that made a grouping of individuals stronger than any single one of us can be alone. In other words, the power of organization is I think the -- the fundamental answer to what you're asking about, and I don't think there really is another one. We are stronger collectively than any single one of us can be and that can be national or international. [Unclear] [Set that -- knows the strongest forms of all?]. But I think, to become isolated again is a, is a great loss of lessons learned, and that’s what must be combated.
  • [Grace Paley?] One thing that I -- I mean I’m worried about people feeling like that, I mean, you -- you have an experience like that and you -- you are as I say, as it’s said, radicalized or whatever and you really do change your way of life. So, good, so you’ve changed your way of life, that's fine, but, you know, it’s -- it’s -- you mustn’t in a way, no matter, all of us who -- who do -- who do radical work of any kind, or political work, or whether it's dangerous, more or less or whatever -- no matter how much time it takes from us, you know, we never-- we must never, never go too far away from the people. It’s -- you know -- so -- the parts are more organized in organizations and things like that, we have to go -- we have to live everyday life and we have to live it among the people of our city and our country. And -- to go -- to go too far away from them is to really lose the use of your radicalism, what the hell is your radicalism for anyway? I mean it's to change the world, not yourself. It’s nice, you got changed, now go back, you know, knock on all your neighbors' doors, go back, [applause] and go back into the work and speak to it. It. Well -- wrong word. [Applause]
  • Speaker Thirteen: I’d like to remind -- is this mike on? I’d like to remind people in the spirit of the urge that is coming up at the end of this section to do networking of the New York State Regional Women's Studies Association Conference which is coming up April 27th through 29th in the city here. It's been framed in the understanding that we are working in an international movement and the workshops are participatory and performance-based workshops so that everyone can have a chance to participate. On Friday afternoon, Cheryl Clark will be emceeing a cultural series of ongoing workshops at the CUNY Graduate Center, including a Nicaragua slideshow. On Saturday morning at Brooklyn College campus, Sylvia Sandoval, Decima Williams and Margaret Randall will be speaking on revolution in Central America and Grenada. In the afternoon women from Medgar Evers will be talking about the mission of women’s studies and women’s centers and the challenge of Black women’s education. On Sunday morning there will be a Jewish feminist spirituality workshop and many, many, other workshops throughout the conference including cultural events at every session. So I hope you see you there. Speaker Fourteen: When? Speaker Thirteen: April 27th through 29th, Graduate Center of CUNY on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues on Friday afternoon; on Saturday and Sunday, at Brooklyn College campus. Speaker Fifteen: Merci beaucoup.
  • Speaker Sixteen: I am from Greensboro, North Carolina, and I -- I come from Johannesburg, South Africa, and I am a Black woman, very proud of it. But I would like to respond to one or two things that were shared, if I may, please. I have personal friends who are Jewish in South Africa who have suffered for the struggle, and I am concerned about selective justice that we have in this country. That we will highlight the idea of the -- uncalled for remark of Jesse Jackson, but be silent when members of the Jewish Defense League bomb Jesse Jackson's campaign offices in -- in California and in -- in Philadelphia. And the very Jewish people, who are very much pro-justice say nothing; it would have been far more helpful if they stood up and used it as emphatically as they attacked the [unclear] [phrase] which is racist, and is not called for. That’s one issue that I wanted to see, that we must look at our own sexism and our own racism, and how we use the power that we have. Because within the feminist movement, there’s still a lot of racism, a lot of sexism, and we need to face it and deal with it. And finally, coming to these coming elections, we must always reiterate to the public that the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, are both shams. [Applause] But in the same process -- they are concerned about -- maintenance of selfishness, of imperialism, of exploitation of people all over the world. You don’t like it, you can verbalize these things, yeah. But we are taking personal risks and I think this movement would have failed if you just moved -- stands only on this intellectual expose. Because the bulk of the people are not educated, two out of three people in the world are illiterate because of paternalistic and ritualistic and religious institutions of this country. The mosque, the -- the church and the Jewish, you know, religious institution are largely responsible for this, and if all of us don't go to the areas of conflict in our own institutions and work within them to change them for a global world order, where race, sex, [unclear] criteria, it is going to be a wasted effort, and I know many of you are students here, starting and then moving on and going onto the same institutions, getting to legal practice, making money out of it, but believe you me that era is fast changing. The bulk of the world is not Caucasian, and it is Third World, and it is rising up and nothing will stop it from changing. And unless we have that vision, I pity you because the future’s on our side, we the oppressed. [Applause]
  • Speaker Seventeen: I would just like to add to the statements made about Bernice Reagan's reaction to Coleman, who spoke about Jesse Jackson. The people who spoke about that, had said -- suggested that people who don't like what Jesse Jackson said don't want the coalition. I for one have been very excited about his campaign and think it's absolutely the most -- the superior campaign. However, as somebody on the left and as progressives, we all have to be willing to denounce any kind of bigotry, and I'm really ashamed of people on the left who can’t say, ‘I support Jesse Jackson, he is the best candidate, but his anti-Semitism is inexcusable,’ and I don't know why that can't be done.
  • Temma Kaplan (?): When we were planning this conference, we talked a lot about the resistance of mothers, and the claims that women throughout the world make in the name of motherhood against oppression, against injustice, and somebody suggested that -- that they’re also the rebellious daughters. I'd like to thank you all for being both the fierce mothers and the rebellious daughters. Thank you very much, we're going to take a five-minute break. Oh you wanted to say, I’m sorry --
  • Barbara Smith: It’s okay. We just want to make an announcement, Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, is co-sponsoring an evening in solidarity with South African women on Saturday April the 28th at 7 p.m. It’s in the Joan of Arc Junior High School at 93rd between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue, and there are flyers about the event on our Kitchen Table table, which is the first table over there, so I hope people will come for that, thank you.
  • Temma Kaplan: Five minute break, and then we have the honor of having June Jordan and Adrian -- [Tape Cuts Off]