Tag Archives: anarcha-feminism

What the Suffragettes did for us

Suffragettes march in Bermondsey, south London, 1911

An anarchist responds to the guilt-tripping of women which occurs every election time about how suffragettes fought for women’s’ right to vote.

It’s election time again, and anarchist women are once more being lectured on doing our duty to those who died for our vote.

For the record, the suffragettes’ demand was that women should be balloted wherever men were. They weren’t fighting for every woman in perpetuity to be guilt-tripped into supporting any political system that used the ballot box to legitimise itself. They trusted future women to make their own decisions. Sylvia Pankhurst, for one, lived to reject parliamentary democracy as an “out of date machine” and refused to cast a vote or stand for election herself. This election, she’d be angry with every party’s participation in cuts to essential women’s services, not the women who spoil their ballots or stay away.

More than the vote

There was a lot more to the suffragettes than just the vote. They were about women’s solidarity, our ability to work and fight together, to write and speak from our own experience, not just on the vote but on sexual, social and vocational freedoms, like fair pay and reproductive rights. Being denied the vote was an insult to women as intelligent, rational human beings, regardless of how much use the vote itself was. Using the vote was almost beside the point compared to what it would mean for women to have the vote, to not be seen as mere extensions of their husbands.

Getting the vote was a victory largely because of what women achieved through the process of fighting for it. The speeches, publications, smashed windows, battles with police, martial arts training, imprisonments, hunger strikes, resistance to force-feeding and refusal to give in: these did more to raise the status and confidence of women, as public and political people, than the vote itself ever has. Much more than having women MPs or careerists who have cynically used women’s struggles to promote themselves.

Telling us that we have to vote because votes for women were hard won, is condescending, paternalistic shit. Working class men also fought for the right to vote, but are much less criticised if they suggest that there are more effective means of change than the ballot box. For women, voting is turned into an issue of conformity rather than conscience, in direct opposition to who suffragettes were and what they fought for. The suffragettes never intended their campaigning to stop with getting the vote. Many continued fighting when their leaders were co-opted. They weren’t satisfied, and they didn’t intend us to be.

Co-option

The suffragettes achieved their aims because they were a radical, inspirational and effective direct action movement. They achieved incredible things for themselves and for future generations of women. Yes, they deserve our respect and our gratitude. But more than that, they deserve our study and our effort to comprehend the full enormity and complexity of their struggle. They deserve better than to be reduced to a single-issue sound-bite.

So this polling day, whether you vote or organise or both, consider honouring the suffragettes’ memory by not using them as a stick to beat women with when they treat their vote exactly as the suffragettes did: as their own, to use or not, on their own terms.

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Go Beyond the Law

Today we went out to a rally to remember Leelah Alcorn, the young trans woman who recently took her life after her parents attempted to put her through conversion therapy. In her suicide note Leelah had called for laws to be introduced to end this torture of trans youth, and that was the initial focus for the day.

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The event  had been called by the city’s queer students, acting autonomously to hold an event for their community. It was widely reported that both the council and the police had done everything they could to try hinder the event, from lying about legal requirements to demonstrate, making up the need for insurance and a list of named wardens, right through to forcing changes in the date and location. Despite this the folks organising the day powered through and the attendance was strong. The newly formed Glasgow Food Not Bombs came down with scran and donations were taken for local LGBT Youth projects.

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We were also involved in chasing off some SWP scumbags who claimed they were attending in solidarity. They did this in front of one trans women they had attacked on George Square and one of our members who they had attempted to drag off while threatening to knock their teeth out, both times for calling out their members involvement covering up rape by Martin Smith (the specifics of the case are linked from here, here, and here). They bold-face denied their part in rape apologism, and at the same time were trying to say they were there as individuals while handing out fliers for an SWP front group! They really are a shameless cult that have no concept of solidarity except as a word employed to further their party.

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Our group was offered a spot to give a short talk and while it went off script a couple of times (due to nerves, emotions, and the freezing cold weather), here is what was being read from at the time:

“My name is Tanya and I am part of the Anarchist Federation of Britain.

Many of the signs brought here today call for human rights and legal protections to be put in place by the institutions that target us with their violence today. Leelah Alcorn’s own final message asks specifically for laws to prevent the torture that is conversion therapy. These calls are understandable and I am glad when things are made easier for us.

However I want put forward a warning: that setting our sights on changes in the law will only benefit a privileged few. We already have laws against murder and yet trans women are killed at an alarming rate. We have laws against child abuse, but our young siblings are still driven to suicide due to neglect.

Laws should not, and can not, be our goal. Anything that can be granted – rights, laws, or charity – can be eroded or turned against us. We can see this with marriage equality, and again with the push for acceptance in the military. Laws are compromises made by a government trying to break up a strong movement.

We need to go beyond the law.

Our goal has to be for liberation from gendered oppression, and nothing less.

This is a struggle that can only be won by finding others who we share an interest with, and organising collectively, first to understand the causes of our oppression, and then in taking action directly at their roots, to remove them for ourselves.

However, at the same time we must recognise that this is a fight that will involve many different groups facing different problems, and it is vital to our struggle to build solidarity across the working class as a whole.

We can see this in our shared history:

The huge waves of self-organisation and militant direct action used to face down the AIDS epidemic and Section 28. The solidarity between inner city queers and the miners that had a real chance of victory against all the state’s institutions. And going all the way back to when black and latina trans women fought back during police instigated riots (most famously at the Stonewall Inn). Remember that these same women would go on to form organisations like STAR – the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries – organisations that would lay the groundwork for the gains that trans and queer people have made today.

My final thought then is to take a look into my own experience and those of my friends, and look at the physical manifestations of gendered oppression. Our problems come from social isolation, medical gate-keeping, and crippling poverty. We’re estranged from family, constantly forced into dangerous situations, and denied well-being in our lives that leaves us in a precarious position both physically and mentally.

We need to make the space for one another to breath. We need to make the space to understand the causes of our problems. And we need to make the space to find freedom in our lives.

Thank you.”

A look back at AFem2014

Sunday the 19th of October seen the first International Anarcha-Feminist Conference, aka AFem2014. The seed from which it would eventually grow fell from the tree back in August of 2012. That tree was the St Imier International Congress anarcha-feminist round table. This was series of meetings that took  place on each of the five days of that event. In the closing session it’s participants announced their plans to host an anarcha-feminist congress of their own within several years. This was met by thunderous applause from the congress floor. Busily contacts were exchanged, interested parties came forward, and a group agreed to take lead on the project.

Then nothing.

Months passed.

The Anarchist Federation started to get occasional contacts asking if we knew of any organising on the Anarcha-Feminist Congress. Our international secretaries put out inquiries thought our sibling federations in IFA as well as any other contacts in the global anarchist movement. After some investigation it appeared that no planning had happened, and those who had stepped forward at St. Imier were out of contact. Sometimes things just can’t get done, such is the nature of being in a struggle, and definitely not something to be ashamed of.

That may have been the end of it if it wasn’t for one federation member deciding that this idea was necessary to both counter the failings of feminism outside the anarchist movement, with all other branches of thought happy to throw more and more people under the bus in the name of capitalism; and also within, as we see elements of the anarchist movement where misogyny and sexism are rife and where little more than lip service is given to overcoming the power structures surrounding gender, especially in regard to groups marginalized even by other feminists.

Discussions were had and soon proposals drafted for the fed to kickstart the previously proposed international event. The discussions were thorough and some of the goals laid out at this early stage. This wasn’t to be a project hosted only by the AF (as had previous anarcha-feminist events we had been involved in organising), or just undertaken by our international the IFA, but was to be born from the AF and gain its own autonomy. It had to provide a strong class-struggle perspective to provide a counter to the dominant feminist movement’s lack of liberatory potential. It also had to not only be inclusive to groups normally marginalized within the anarcha-feminist movement but also counter the prejudices they face. After some debate the federation reached a consensus of agreement to go forward and feelers were put out to other organisations.

Early on sibling federations throughout the IFA were keen to help, while here in Britain the SolFed joined and they made contact with their international federation the IWA. A meeting at 2013 London Anarchist Bookfair gathered support from independent anarcha-feminists, as did the creation of a web presence. After several months a consensus emerged on the criteria for organisation where those involved had to:

As planning went on things looked touch-and-go at times whether an event would be possible at all. New people got involved and others took breaks. Fundraising took place but money was short. Speakers and workshops started to came forward but then the programme had to be made to work. The inclusion policy was agreed along the lines of the form of oppression suffered which caused ripples in a field normally only looking purely to identity to give an indication of attendance. The safer spaces agreement was put in place and people needed to help on the day. Eventually everything started to come together.

Key to the whole event was the way in which different strands of the conference timetable would be given to groups usually marginalized within feminism (such as the disabled, sex workers, trans women, etc). This gave longer discussions over the course of the day about certain subjects, and it was hoped that this would highlight struggles from those who found their voices normally sidelined, vilified or lost entirely in feminist organising.

The day came and everything went past in a blur. Personally I spent the day either volunteering, supporting others, or helping to present the community accountability strand so I’m going to leave the nitty gritty of reviewing the strands to those who were there purely as attendees  This was the first time something like this had been attempted and it was all a bit experimental – but if we are ever to succeed in our goal of social revolution we have to be brave and try stuff. I think AFem did that and made a success of it all, though not everything was perfect.

I’ve also not kept up with the internet feedback but I know there has been moaning online. I find forums are a draining, negative space, and hearing that folks were griping (often folks who were not even in attendance), I haven’t gone to look for it yet – that can wait until I’m more rested. On the other hand I spent the days following AFem hopping between different people who had been in attendance. The feedback I’ve been getting in person has been overwhelmingly positive. One person said it was best anarcha feminist event they had attended (and they were not green in this kind of thing). All of them gave feedback of negative points, but it was fell into fairly similar areas, constructively phrased, and the positives were overwhelming to them. A quick rundown these:

+ Big open/close
Folks loved the opening and closing sessions which gathered everybody in attendance together and were kept on track by the organisers. The way people set goals for the day meant there was a collective feeling of active participation expected from folks attending.
+ Developing ideas
Everyone I talked to had learned new ideas and methods to take back home, and many otherwise liberal feminists were not only exposed to anarcha-feminism for the first time, but engaged and took away lessons from an anarchist perspective.
+ Strands
The way in which strands were organised was loved by all. It led for more discussion and time to work on things. People said this was SO MUCH BETTER than how bookfairs and other conferences run their meetings and it rarely felt like you were just being talked to but were part of a discussion.
+ Atmosphere
On the whole people found the atmosphere at the event to be positive and liberating, with people able to build solidarity against shared opression. ot only that but international links were forged and space for meeting other anarcha-feminists took place. They also commented on how easy it was to find organisers and volounteers, and upon how friendly and approachable they all were.
+ Safer Spaces Policy
Every person commented that it was refreshing to see is attempting a safer space policy that goes far beyond what most conferences would do, and think we have struck some new ground in how this could be put in place at similar events, though some areas do need development.
+ Self Care
Food Not Bombs provided lunch for anyone who was skint and was loved by all. At the same time a decent quiet space and the readily available interpretation and safer space volunteers made everything a lot more manageable.
+ Internationalism
The international aspect was seen as being vital to the experience, with at least 19 different countries represented in attendance, and something others would hope to see us expand.
+ Enthusiasm to continue
Overwhelmingly people wanted to see this happen again, if not next year then in 2016.

The constructive criticisms raised to me were:

– Time table clashes
These can almost never be avoided, and people acknowledged this, but at the same time everyone said there was some clash at some time for them. We tried the best we could but always worth keeping this in mind.
– TERF infestation
A group of trans exclusionary radical feminists (known as TERFs for short) tried to undermine the event. Someone who had been on the organiser list from the start lied about their willingness to uphold the inclusion policy to other organisers. They then positioned themselves to help present the Introduction to Anarcha-Feminism where they went off the presentation planned with the co-facilitator in order to spout some transphobic bile. At the same time they were seen conferring with other terfs before they dispersed into each session and parrot the same transphobic talking points, and appeared to be using the quiet space to regroup and plan. Attempts were made to remove the TERFs by some of the organisers but this unity was undermined and they used the confusion caused by sabotage of the consensus we had otherwise forged for the event to hang about. Despite this betrayal and sabotage, everyone I talked with found that any move towards transphobic discussion was quickly shut down and made unwelcome, and that the issue was handled better than most events. However, there was still a lack of consistency on how those breaking with the safer spaces agreement were dealt with.
– Cultural appropriation/racism
Lots of white people turned up using fashion displays from cultures that had been othered by white imperialism with no respect for the cultures they were came from and then got defensive when this was fed back in a negative light by the POC strand. Again, while the safer space policy had words on this subject we didn’t have a consistent process on what we were actually doing about it.
– Lack of resources
We didn’t have enough full programmes  for the attendees (though everyone did get a timetable), and while we had people on hand to read out the timetable we did not have large print versions. This was a major slip up and something that I will not be repeated.

On the TERF gang, it is unfortunate that but not surprising that they would go to such lengths to try and ruin the event. However if after a year of planning the best they could manage was to get one person to lie about their intentions and then protect the five or six die-hards that came along in the center of London then they have played what may be their hardest hitting attempt to disrupt at a time where the conference was vulnerable and gone home with plumbs. The problems that have been highlighted have came with constructive suggestions for improvement and the organising group are already moving forward with these, thought we are going to need to take a wee break before launching into any serious planning.

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AFem has now been fully realized as its own organisational entity,  separate to the groups that nurtured it early on. As a member of the AF this is a key example of the worth of the federation, and illustrates the way in which anarchist organisations differ from their authoritarian counterparts. Where others would use this as a front group and co-opt the struggles of others for self gain, anarchists work to create mutual aid and forge solidarity between truly autonomous groups, with struggles directed by those who are oppressed.  I have every confidence that this has been the start of an ongoing series of truly international events to build a modern anarcha-feminist practice and will start to ensure that anarcha-feminism is central to anything that could be regarded today as anarchist practice. As such, the last thing to say is a big thanks to everyone who contributed to making AFem 2014 a resounding success. Thank you all!

Liberal feminism is also the enemy

The Guardian today published a piece entitled “If we get bogged down in the TERF war we’ll never achieve anything“. This piece of writing is cissexist in its own right, so keep that in mind before clicking through. Also if you are unsure on what a TERF is then I highly recommend reading this.

Anyway, taking the main thrust of the piece at face value it seems that it would be very easy for mainstream feminism to end the TERF war within its ranks. Kick the TERFs out. Refuse to share platforms with them. Strongly assert support for trans women as women and welcome them into their organisations. That’s what anarcha-feminists have largely been doing all along.

The only reason for keeping the TERF’s about is to keep them at war with trans women. This protects the relatively rich, usually white, feminist’s aspirations of becoming an accepted part of the ruling class while keeping working class women down. Never be fooled: Liberal feminism is just as much the enemy as the TERF.

ASIDE: There is still time to donate to AFEM2014, an upcoming anarcha-feminist conference taking place this October, full details here: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/2mmvd/sh/23Rrn4

Organising for AFem2014: an anarcha-feminist conference in London on Sunday October 19th 2014.

We received the following call-out; see the end for the email contact:

Who are we?
We are a group of anarcha-feminists of varying genders, backgrounds and histories, who have come together to organise an anarcha-feminist event. We want to use it to build concretely towards the transformation of our own experience, and towards toppling the institutions and ideas which oppress us.

What is AFem2014?
AFem2014 will be the first of what we hope will be a series of international anarcha-feminist conferences. The need for this has been obvious for a long time within anarchist organising. Efforts to shut us down, belittle our ideas, and physically assault and abuse us have led to a level of anger against the masculinisation of our movement. We are not represented in equal numbers and often are not taken seriously. Whilst on paper we are equal, we sometimes face oppression even in our own groups and organisations. Barriers to our full political participation remain intact. This means that our anarchist movement is not truly ‘anarchist’. We will no longer tolerate this. We want to transform our movement.

Furthermore, in wider society, the supposed gains of liberal feminism have not brought equality. Mainstream reformers and authoritarian-left political parties achieve little for us. This is the case in legal, economic, social and political terms, and in personal relationships. As we work toward a feminist conference which will have class-struggle anarchism and the fight for economic equality at its heart, we know that capitalism is not the only enemy. We are kept down and divided by many different kinds of oppression, overlapping and intersecting in complex ways. Racism, ableism, trans*phobia, ageism and oppression relating to religion or culture are common forms we encounter, but there are many more. These can impact on us as much as economic exploitation, and sometimes more immediately so.

As such, we understand anarcha-feminism not just as a response to anarchism and feminism. Anarcha-feminism is an anti-authoritarian, anti-oppressive critique of the capitalist kyriarchal form, and a weapon we can use in our daily lives. We want to explore the intersections between oppressions, developing theory, learning from others and arriving at practical outcomes.

Who is the conference open to?
Although this conference is not open to cisgender men (men who are comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth), it is open to people of all other genders and none. It actively hopes to engage with trans*, genderqueer, gender fluid and non-binary people, as well as with cisgender women. We will not take a policing stance around gender presentation at the conference, but we will not hesitate to challenge trans*phobic, cissexist or binarist language, behaviour and attitudes.

How will the conference be structured and organised?
We propose a structure of intersecting, thematic meetings and strands, with outcomes by the end of the conference which we can take away with us, use and build on. We invite people to initiate meetings and whole strands with a focus on anarcha-feminist analysis and activity. These strands should include those self-organised by people of colour, trans*, genderqueer, gender fluid and non binary people, sex workers, disabled people and people with mental health issues. We are committed to doing what we can to involve a diverse range of people in our organising, so such strands will be supported and resourced as a priority through the wider project. To support the full and free participation of those encouraged to attend, the conference will have an explicit and meaningful safer spaces policy.

Please get involved
The conference was the initiative of anarcha-feminists within the Anarchist Federation (AF, Britain) and the organising group now includes representatives of the International of Anarchist Federations (IFA-IAF) and its member federations, the Solidarity Federation (SF-IWA) and a growing number of non-aligned and autonomous anarcha-feminists. There are a lot of things that we need to do, and we invite you to get involved to help shape this exciting event, in terms of ideas, concepts, and practical organising.

Please get in touch if you agree with the approach above and would like to join the organising group, as an individual or as a delegate, including if you would like to participate in or help organise a specific meeting or strand.

Please also circulate this statement widely within your groups, organisations and networks, and get them to join the list of supporters and contributors.

Please help us raise money for the event. The more we get, the more inclusive and international the conference can be.

Looking forward to working with you…

AFem2014 Organisers

January 2014

Email: afem [at] afed.org.uk

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