A Revolutionary Moment -- Then, and Now?

By Christine Riddiough


Feminist.jpegMore than 600 people gathered at Boston University at the end of March for a conference on “A Revolutionary Moment: The Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hosted by the university’s Women’s and Gender Studies program, the conference was exhilarating and exciting. It provided an opportunity to discuss the many issues that face feminists today and to reflect on the work that was done decades ago.

Many of the conference panels focussed on radical and socialist feminism, a part of the history of the women’s movement that has generally been neglected both by scholars and the popular media. Representatives from socialist feminist organizations like the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, Bread and Roses in Boston and the Combahee River Collective discussed the organizing efforts and achievements of their organizations. Many people there had been involved in the New American Movement (one of DSA’s predecessor organizations), including filmmaker Julia Reichert.

In her opening keynote, Sara Evans, author of Personal Politics and University of Minnesota professor, described the origins of the women’s liberation movement in the New Left, anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. She noted that historians of the 1980s and 1990s are caught up in theorizing about the feminism of the ‘60s and ‘70s and describe it as a mainly white women’s movement that was superseded at the end of the century by an ‘“intersectional” wave of feminism in the ‘80s and later. She stated, however, that the women’s liberation movement was multi-racial from the outset. Its name owes much to the Vietnamese and was part of a worldwide eruption of women’s activism. Radical women thought that revolution was possible and imminent. This vision led to a willingness to experiment and to rethink root issues like the idea of gender. 

Linda Gordon, professor at New York University and former editor of Radical America, in her closing keynote described the many progressive feminisms, from the 1930s to the present. In the 1930s the Communist Party was the only predominantly white group to critique racism and sexism. In the 1960s the women’s movement grew out of the New Left with a shared utopian courage to dream of something completely different. Gordon described women’s liberation as the largest social movement in the history of the U.S. She added that women’s liberation added two perspectives to radical thinking that are important in the current political debate: 

  • First, gender is not a characteristic of individual people but is rather the overall system that we live in. Thinking about gender in this way has implications for our overall political analysis.

  • Second, the idea that the personal is political was a key concept for women’s liberation. It implies that power invades all aspects of our lives. 

Gordon concluded that women’s liberation is not fundamentally about equality but about transformation.

These presentations raised important questions for us as socialist feminists, as did the conference overall. The attendees were a mix of academics and activists who tended to come at the issues from different perspectives. What are the roles of academics and activists vis-à-vis feminism today? How can they communicate more effectively? This is one of the first gatherings that I’ve been to that included both groups. Many of the older academics were and remain, in fact, activists, but many of the younger academics are coming to the topic from a purely academic point of view. 

How can those of us who became activists in the 1960s and 1970s work more effectively with younger women? For many of us attending the conference who had been involved 40 years ago, the conference was a chance to reconnect with old friends and comrades. But there were instances where some of the younger women felt excluded. How can we bridge that gap?

The conference focused on the interaction of the New Left, civil rights and women’s liberation, but what about addressing other connections/intersections such as the connection to liberal feminism, often represented by NOW, and the relationship to the LGBTQ movement?

Papers from the conference will be available in the near future at the conference website: http://www.bu.edu/wgs/conference2014/.

Additional reports on the conference are available:

Christine.jpgChristine R. Riddiough serves as a vice chair of DSA.

 

 

 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

Lessons in Organizing from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

January 17, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Join DSA Vice-Chair Chris Riddiough to explore what we can learn from the work of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1969-77), the largest of the socialist feminist women’s unions of the 1970s, which had a rock band, a graphics collective, the underground abortion collective JANE, and numerous other projects. Check out their website and join the discussion via internet connection.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 38 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 8 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

February 15, 2017
· 30 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 1 rsvp

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But check out their short the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 2 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.