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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
anarcha-feminist celebration: criticism criticized (1978)
Leeder, Elaine Tiamat, Off Our Backs, 8. (Oct 31, 1978): 21.
As one of the organizers of the anarcha-feminist "celebration" held in Ithaca, N.Y. I feel it necessary to comment on Mary Fridley's review in your July issue.
First, I would like to point out that this "conference" was actually billed as a celebration in which we would seek to grow, learn, exchange ideas and to play together. Tiamat and friends, the organizers, felt that it was important for us as anarcha-feminists to get together, gain strength in our growing numbers, develop a rational political theory, see what we were all doing on the local level and continue to build an ongoing network (federation, if you will) for communication and support.
Second, the celebration was predicated on the assumption that where the needs of the participants were not being met there was room for dialogue in order to create the kind of space that people were needing. Revolutionary growth demands that kind of energy, rather than just suntanning.
Third, it concerns me that the capitalist press view of criticism, that of insulting and inducing guilt was employed by the OOB reporter. An example of this is in the statement: "Any movement which claims to be revolutionary but does not incorporate the struggles of poor, working class, Black and Third World women into its philosophy is not revolutionary - it is no better than the Democratic party." It would have been more helpful to us if Mary could have voiced her criticisms during the weekend so they could have been incorporated into the structure, rather than waiting to put it into print long after the event occurred. We were also quite sorry that the OOB workshop was not held as planned.
On Sunday morning the participants decided that the schedule of workshops was too hectic and through the use of consensual decision making a new scheme was implemented. We struggled, tensions built and we moved to a new level together. There were no positions of power, decisions were made by all, sharing was spontaneous, painful, but open and leadership rotated. All of these are examples of anarchism at work. Later, at the closing circle, after a weekend of sitting naked in the sun, 85 women held hands and gained strength in our numbers. We were bonded and cohesive in our vision of a new society and what we had experienced together. We had made meaningful contacts for our future work. But of course the OOB reporter missed these two important events, having decided to leave early.
Fourth, it concerns me as much as the writer that whites and middle class women were the predominant force at the celebration. The one Black woman present commented on this and we shared her dismay.
We could wish that reality in 1978 were different but need that invalidate the worth of the work that we do? We did a lot of theorizing. The women's movement has long been criticized for not doing just that. We are just learning how to do it. Let's affirm that we are looking at the theory under the actions, not put us down for it. It is my thinking that theory comes out of action. We need each other to discuss what we've been doing, abstract it, and from this move on to new actions.
Actions, at this point, seem to have their place in our own locales. They cannot be organized on a mass-scale when people have never met each other, do not share a common issue on which to act and are to be together for one brief weekend. We never intended for a plan of ... to come from this. For many of us nuclear energy and waste are our local issues (Ithaca is currently being threatened as a nuclear waste dump site). Rita Brown seems to be an issue in which women in the D.C. and southern areas are involved. We would have appreciated an education from the sisters who knew about what was happening at Alderson. I remember seeing the written material at the celebration and wondering who brought it and what I could do.
Mary's suggestion that we need Black and Third World women to lead us in revolution smacks of vanguardism. To me her suggestion loses the essence of Anarchism which is a struggle for all people, no matter what the specific oppression. We are fighting against all authority which suffocates those who have no power. Our struggles as white, middle class women are different than other women. We can validate our own struggle and support others in theirs. We can use a common framework and theory but then each group must work out the specifics for themselves. Coalitions must be formed but no one group will lead us to revolution. All the forces must be ready before anything will happen.
Another concern of mine is that Mary engaged in what I would call "inflammatory journalism". In the interest of good feminist reporting I would like to share what actually happened concerning the issue of violence. The discussion in the theory workshop evolved to a point where violence was being addressed. At just that moment the time allotment for the workshop ended and it was decided that those who wanted to go on to the other workshops would do so. Since the only scheduled workshop on violence was concerned with violence against women this new group evolved to discuss the issue of violence as a revolutionary tactic. There was certainly no "split over the issue of violence and use of violence by women" as suggested. This issue of direct action came logically out of our discussion and needed further exploration. I find this kind of reporting incendiary. It does not help us to grow stronger but divides us further.
Throughout the critique I found Mary using a lot of hyperbole that was not constructive. I feel she presented a negative and distorted picture of an important event. It had a "Lefter Than Thou" tone that was unnerving. I hope that my response will somehow add a further dimension to what really happened here in Ithaca in June of 1978.
Finally, Ithaca is not located in the Catskil mountains (which are actually over 100 miles to the east of us). One wonders how a person who doesn't know where she is can make judgments about where other people are not.
Copyright Off Our Backs, Inc. Oct 31, 1978