Comments on the 30th Anniversary Honoring of Women's Liberation Organizers
Dec. 13, 1997
published February 1998
Thank you, Jacqui [Ceballos] for doing this event and rousing others to help you. It's been the first time the 1960's women's liberation movement organizers have been honored like this for their--our--collective place in history. Perhaps this will draw some attention to the powerful radical truths that lie in knowledge of how important and effective our role really was.
Thanks also for dramatically drawing attention to the whole issue of "veteran feminists" by coming up with this idea of an organization of veteran feminists, which has a tough, activist ring and certainly suggests that, despite the talk about reminiscences and reunions, this can also be an organization not of retired veterans of a victorious war, but of seasoned veterans, strengthened and wisened by experience, knowing enough to coach new troops, ready and more prepared than ever before to go into battle in a war that is far from over.
Important though it is for ourselves and others to understand our achievements, it's urgent in the times we're now in to focus more on what we haven't yet accomplished than what we have.
Not only is there much more to be done--and also a lot of a very terrible new mess to be undone, that is partly the result of our ignorance and mistakes--but we've been learning, since our earliest experience of great triumphs in 1970, with one terrible surprise after another, that virtually nothing is "irreversible", from abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment to the Bolshevik Revolution to the New Deal to the victory over TB [tuberculosis]... Even antibiotics might be on the way out because of the reckless mistake of overuse and arrogant complacency. And we in New York Radical Women were sensing and beginning to warn of such a danger in the discussions in our 1960's meetings about the male chauvinist "free love" line and the already emerging penicillin resistant strains of gonorrea that affected women much more severely than men.
I was surprised to see so much about "irreversibility" in the material for our event--changing the world "forever" and "things will never be the same." Isn't one of the things that's supposed to characterize veterans that they know, from life or death experience, the terrible costs of complacency, of resting too soon after a battle... It's the green troops who, time after time, have gotten caught unawares and slaughtered while they're in the middle of prematurely celebrating their victory.
...One of the goals of the Veteran Feminists of America is to document and preserve our history. Redstockings is ... doing that... Our main purpose for the Women's Liberation Archives we began in 1989, is making the original ideas, materials, writings from that period, our period, available for activist use, for continued organizing.
What's most exciting about this is what young activists have been doing with the early materials and the impact that these materials have had on them. The largest, most dynamic Campus NOW chapter in the country is in Gainesville and it has exploded largely because of classes Gainesville Women's Liberation has given for ... six years using the early women's liberation materials supplied by the Redstockings Archives. ...
I want to end by recalling the Civil Rights Movement in the deep South and the SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] pledge many of us took and still keep faith with: 'We will never turn back--until we all be free and we have equality.' That's the pledge that preceded our women's liberation organizing, inspired it, guided it and still inspires and guides what most of us are doing, I'm sure.
The women's liberation movement is part of that great pledge to keep working until we all be free and have equality. And as Frances Wright, one of our great radical foremothers of the 19th century said, "Equality is the soul of liberty."
What we did was to start analyzing, organizing, and mobilizing to insure that women would be part of that "all" ... on the freedom train. We did not break with our SNCC teachers and inspirers to do this, we were guided by them to do it.
Sexism in SNCC is what is usually emphasized ... Yet male supremacy was all around us all our lives, what was different in SNCC were the tools and lessons for how to fight.
I will say for myself, if I had not been guided, encouraged, [by SNCC militants like Stokely Carmichael, now Kwame Ture] to "go fight your own oppressors", if I had not been taught by them the lessons that it could be done, I might never have done it--that is the truth, the contradictory, dialectical truth of revolutionary struggle.
For more information about the Veteran Feminists of America, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to VFA, 220 Doucet Rd., #225-D, Lafayette, LA 70503.
For a catalog of electrifying papers and pamphlets of this period--including the legendary "Toward a Female Liberation Movement" by Beverly Jones and Judith Brown, send 2 first-class stamps to: Redstockings Archives Distribution Project, P.O. Box 2625, Gainesville, FL 32602.
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