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Friday, November 9, 2012

Anarchist Conference April 19-21: Hunter College (1974)

anarchist conference ApRiL 19-21: hUNTER COLLEGE
Reliance, Mecca; Horan, Jean. Off Our Backs4. 6 (May 31, 1974): 8.


Attendance was off from last year; according to some, "thousands" had attended the conference the previous year. This year, possibly several hundred attended. Women were definitely in the minority -- at times it appeared to be by two to one. The list of workshops was exciting but they often overlapped, sometimes didn't even happen for lack of attendance or because some workshops were more desirable than others, or were lost to participants who arrived at the designated meeting-place too late. The Political Theory and Action workshop ran continuously through the weekend with large numbers (mostly male) attending. (This workshop seemed to have been organized in part by Judith Malina and Julian Beck of the Living Theater. It was referred to as a sort of continental congress where some articles of federation would be written.) Directly next door (on Sunday) was the Androgyny and Anarchy workshop attended by only four people. The contrast was a clear statement of the priorities of the people attending the conference.

Friday night the first anarcho-feminist workshop was held; women I talked to had not been satisfied with it, too much time spent on introductory raps and talking about problems with construction workers.

saturday no better
Saturday afternoon few of those women seemed to be at the next anarcho-feminist workshop. It started late and women making their way from the somewhat congested lounge followed signs reading "Anarcha-Feminists, room 300". Before we got started, an agitated woman came to the door: "a man downstairs says you won't let him in and everybody is freaking out!" We were a little mystified, there was a man sitting near me holding a baby. Then, did we object to the presence of men? At that point some women came to the door saying that there would be a meeting for women only across the hall and a few women left with them. We had made a much larger circle of desks than we had needed and we felt depressed and isolated by the split and empty classroom desks. We started by talking about the split; some of the women had felt inclined towards the women-only rule but hesitated to impose rules on attendance. Several more men and women came in; one man said that as a faggot he understands his own oppression but feels that he has a lot to learn from sisters. None of the other males said why they had come and after a while it wasn't clear why any of us were there.
abolish the family

The discussion was somewhat aimless despite efforts by Lynne Farrow of Aurora magazine to talk about what anarcho-feminism is; and Gypsy, a woman from a street theater collective who spoke of radical alternatives to the oppressive nuclear family. Apparently the only topic that people really felt comfortable with was that of child care. (I think the discomfort came from the presence of men who were wandering in at an alarming rate.) Gypsy was talking about the state's control of our-selves through the patriarchal institution of the nuclear family and that it was necessary "to abolish the family" so that a free society could evolve. Some didn't like the word "abolish" and its connotations. Especially since many people will always participate freely in family structures. Also, some were concerned about the fact that the impermanence of extended families or communes makes for less workable solutions to child care. These women were biological mothers and knew from experience, or sensed, or suspected that no matter what the alternative, the biological mother was ultimately the one responsible for child care. Judith Malina spoke of a community in Uruguay that rotated all domestic and work responsibilities successfully at six month intervals. (This community cares for the Tupamaros children.) Children in this community have a good deal of autonomy and are not solely the responsibility of the biological parents. One of the women present lived in a commune where there was an equitable sharing of child care. Another woman told us about a children's house in Berlin where the children live collectively and make all the rules; one of which is that no adults are allowed. (More information on this in "Issues of Radical Therapy".) A biological mother pointed out that it was always non-mothers who held such utopic visions of child care alternatives.

A child care discussion is a child care discussion. It was disturbing that at no time was the oppressed role of the female in the nuclear family acknowledged. Child care is a central issue for women (mothers and non-mothers) and children who want self-determination; where do utopic communes in Berlin fit in? Somewhere I hope. It's important that children have autonomy and some alternatives to the ways they are now raised. But, as a woman pointed out, I'm not a biological mother.

I left, sorry that I had waited so long to go across the hall. Women were talking from personal experiences with collectivity and the women's movement:
- The lack of role models for women in working collectively.
- Problems with women taking power.
- How women confer power upon other women.
- Problems that come up in project-oriented groups when the service rendered becomes more important than the women themselves.
- The voguish aspect of sisterhood.
- The wrongs done in the name of sisterhood.
Two women from the other workshop came in soon after me. We talked about the failure of that group to talk about anything constructive. We also talked about the other workshops being dominated by articulate and experienced speakers and our alienation from the conference.

Again, some women were dissatisfied with this workshop, that no practical matters relating to anarcho-feminism had been dealt with. I felt comfortable for the first time at the conference and enjoyed being able to share my thoughts with other women and having some sense of relevance.

lack of direction
I attended 2 1/2 of the four anarcho-feminist workshops that were held; I noticed that almost none of the women came to the next workshop. Apparently there is a limit to the time we can spend in general discussions; which is exactly what the result was when we came for such different reasons-curiosity; to learn more about anarcho-feminism; or even just to meet and talk to other women, and from such different places.

In order to give some direction to the Sunday noon gathering, a woman had written "Socialist Feminism Discussion" on the workshop list. We found a comfortable corner in the lounge (most people had given up with the classroom and desk atmosphere) and decided that the group should be for women only. We talked a little about the lack of direction in the other workshops and how we should avoid it but as the group began getting larger it was hard to hold to any direction. An anarcho-feminist from Ann Arbor talked about the tracking system in that city; she works with a collective putting out FPS, a youth liberation news service. She brought up the interesting point that it is difficult to work with women without getting co-opted. This led into some discussion about structures. In Boston, according to one woman, women are moving towards decentralization, and even Marxist feminists are participating in anarchist study groups at the women's center. We also discussed health care, the problems of working in project-oriented groups and sometimes the apolitical nature of some health and abortion referral services. However this quickly degenerated into a two-way conversation about herbal medicine.

Again and again in discussions with other women who had been in the workshops, we talked about our mutual feelings of not having progressed in any sense after the workshops had ended. I still don't feel qualified to discuss what anarcho-feminism is. A definition is elusive. Possibly, the synthesis is contradictory except that anarchist men are, as a rule, sexist and hard to work with. Can you be an anarcho-feminist-separatist?

theorizing: yes or no?
In an article published in Aurora magazine, Lynne Farrow says that feminists are the only individuals and groups putting anarchist principles into practice; working and living collectively, providing alternative services and communications. This was clear in the workshops where most women had a lot of experience with collectivity and working on projects but didn't hold to an anarchist philosophy per se. The attitudes towards this are interesting; some see it as the strength of the women's movement that we aren't overly concerned with theorizing but instead are applying our politics in practical ways. But others feel that the lack of theorizing, or the downgrading of theory constitutes a weakness of the movement and makes for the lack of role models, or worse, facilitates the evolution of project-oriented individuals.

A communications network was established by mutual agreement at workshops. A newsletter that would contain all letters written by anarcho-feminists would be published and mailed by anarcho-feminists in a different city each month thus sharing the responsibility. Hopefully this will provide a better forum for communicating our perceptions of anarcho-feminism.

"To create a viable woman's culture we have to go beyond all accepted structures, even those of the so-called counterculture for all known social structures have been the creation of male society, cultures which have accepted dominance, competitiveness, power relationships and territorial and social aggression to be both universal and inevitable.

"People who have not been able to relate on this level, i.e. women, children, gay people, peasants, `mad' people, have been dismissed with contempt as unworthy of consideration, reviled, oppressed, destroyed. Yet, even though ignored by male historians, groups of people have always resisted. Now our resistance has become collectivised.

"We are working to create a society where individual and collective needs do not automatically cancel each other out, where the sharing of tenderness, pleasure and joy is primary, not secondary, where guilt is unknown because there are not structured role relationships, no classes, no hierarchy, no discrimination or domination of one group by another, where living doesn't involve a choice between mere survival and the realisation of our deepest desires."
-- Proposal for Workshop on Anarchism and Feminism (Anarchist Conference, 1974)

Last month self-proclaimed anarchists and ...sted in how anarchism relates to our personal/political lives got together at Hunter College in New York for the purpose of just getting together. While there were a few joyful learning experiences about that weekend, for the most part I felt once again that communication had failed among folks who, quite simply, just want to get it together.

Where I felt it most strongly (and where I felt it first) was the first workshop on the relationship between anarchism and feminism. For myself, I know how feminism relates to my everyday life, both on a theoretical and practice level. My association with anarchism has not been so complete.
We were a group of 30 women, with varying political and personal backgrounds. Some of us had come from the male left, for some the women's movement has been their first concrete political experience.

I had come to the anarchist conference because of my conviction that total revolution will not be realized until we, as people with radical perspectives, understand that a political revolution must be accompanied by a psycho-social/sexual revolution as well. What this means to me then is that our most fundamental personal lives have to be totally integrated within radical political perspectives in order that all distinctions between our personal/political lives are eliminated.

For me, at this stage of political development, the women's movement has come closer than any other political structure in effecting change in my life.

During the workshop there were a few feeble attempts to define anarchism, but since, as one woman noted, definition is elusive, some women were no clearer on it after they left the conference. The discussion, despite the protestations of some women (including myself), continually gravitated towards men and how do we deal with them. It wasn't on the level of how do we work or not work politically with them, but more on the level of how do you respond to a construction worker's sexist remarks?

I'm tired of reacting, I'm tired of forced responses, but I'm also getting very impatient with heady, theoretical discussions with little or no effect on my personal life. One woman, Kathy, who is working with the Black Rose anarchist collective in Boston, commented during the workshop that none of us really know how to survive, so what this means is we have to create.

come! unity press
On the second day of the conference, Come! Unity Press, an anarchist printing/communications collective in New York, held a workshop to exchange ideas about methods of organizing anarchist skills collectives -- the problems, economics, distribution, life-support. Come! Unity Press, which one collective member said has both sexual and social connotations, came closer to a living definition of anarchism than any other experience that weekend.

Housed in a huge loft on the third floor of a run down building on the east side, the collective prints as well as creates a good portion of movement literature for the alternative community in New York. They have no system for billing, no fixed charges. Groups and individuals give what they can. They print no black on white, use color and overlays freely and creatively. All their equipment was acquired through a hand-me-down arrangement with the Quakers, who used to run the press there. What is even more important is they are into sharing skills, so that anyone who wants to learn more effective techniques to communicate has that option.

Most of the people who came to the print workshop are involved in alternative communications in one form or another. We spent time talking about the problems of living and working as much as possible outside the system, as well as ways we could support each other. There was a sense of sharing and creativity that I had not felt thus far at the conference, particularly in the feminist workshop the night before. The problems for all of us are the same: distribution, economics -- basic survival, and so there seemed to be a real willingness to exchange and explore ways we can support each other.

Copyright Off Our Backs, Inc. May 31, 1974

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