Monday, October 20, 2014

REPORT - TRIP TO PHOENIX, AZ, BROOKLYN, N.Y, and ALBUQUERQUE, N.M

October 2 to October 7, 2014

By Carol Downer

Background: Kinyofu Mlimwengu invited me to be the keynote speaker at her “Reproductive Awakening” event in Brooklyn.

Summary:
  1. 10/2/14: stop in Phoenix, AZ airport to meet with Ann Hibner Koblitz 
  2. 10/2/14 - 10/4/14 at Gilbert Gaynor’s N.Y. apartment 
  3. 10/4/14: New York Magazine interview and presentation in Brooklyn
  4. 10/5/14: Kathy Scarbrough and Kathie Sarachild and I drove to Carol Hanisch’s house in Ellenville, N.Y.; met 3 hours 
  5. 10/6/14-10/7/14: Met with Mary Lou Singleton: presentation in Albuquerque
Phoenix 10/2/14 - Meeting with Ann Hibner Koblitz: She has an impressive background and has written several books.  Since 1998, she has been a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Arizona State University, where she teaches courses on Women as Healers, Gender and Science/Medicine, and Feminist Theory.

Ann is the author of Sex and Herbs and Birth Control, Women and Fertility Regulation Through the Ages.  She discusses women’s efforts to maintain control of their sexuality and fertility through time and across cultures.  They have utilized herbs; fashioned barriers out of lemon, beeswax and sea sponge and circumvented religious and societal proscriptions in order to maintain access to abortion.  Ann emphasizes women’s agency, our pragmatism and resourcefulness.

Sex and Herbs and Birth Control is a wonderful book.  I highly recommend it. 

We found ourselves in agreement or close to it in many, many subjects, especially the potential of women to control our own fertility through self-knowledge, use of natural remedies and substances and simple abortion technology.  Ann is the one who recommended Caliban and the Witch to me.

We discussed the current attack of some transwomen on radical feminists’ exclusion of them from all-female events; she informed me that Arizona State University had just added complete coverage for trans-sexual surgery and care to their insurance policy.  We agreed that it is positive news that this surgery and drug treatment will be covered, but we marveled that it has been a fight to get abortion and other women’s reproductive medical services covered in insurance policies, and we have often been unsuccessful, yet the inclusion of this extremely expensive medical procedure in group insurance policies is becoming standard.

We shared our dismay that young college women are generally inactive politically, even those in the Women’s and Gender Studies program.

If we both had not had to board planes, we would have kept talking for many hours more.

Ann wrote a lively account of our meeting on her blog, ahkoblitz.wordpress.com.

New York, 10/2 to 10/4: I had a restful but stimulating stay at the apartment of Gilbert Gaynor for 2 nights.  Gilbert is a brilliant constitutional lawyer.  I met him 30 years ago at the ACLU when he worked on the health center injunction to prevent some anti-abortionists from holding a funeral for the remains of 4,000 aborted embryos and a few fetuses.  (We won the legal battle, but they had the politicians on their side and did it anyway)  Gilbert clerked with a California Supreme Court Justice, Joyce Kennard, and as a private practitioner, he takes on complex litigation with gusto--and wins most of the time.  He does death penalty appeals, something that only the highest qualified attorneys are able to do.  He has recently moved to New York from California.  He’s looking for new paying clients.  He’s over-booked for pro bono for civil rights cases, and, like everyone else, he has to pay his bills.  I’ve worked on cases with Gilbert, and he not only writes persuasively and produces impeccable papers, but he’s very aggressive and creative in court, a combination of skill sets that are rare.

Brooklyn 10/4/14: Kinyofu Mlimwengu is the curator of “Reproductive Awakening: Narratives of Agency in Black America: An Exhibition” which started October 3, 2014 and will continue until November 23, 2014.  I gave the keynote talk on October 4.  The event is being held at the Women’s Museum of Resistance at 279 Empire Boulevard, Brooklyn.  The Museum is dedicated to black women’s experience in America and has beautiful artwork and relics of black people’s centuries of slavery and subsequent times in the United States.

Kinyofu and I became acquainted when she interviewed me for an excellent paper that she wrote as part of her class work, Self Help as the Base for Women’s Power.  It’s an overview of the women’s health movement of the ’70’s, its history and its politics of empowering women through regaining control of their reproduction.   

New York Magazine, 10/4/14: Rachel Syne of New York Magazine interviewed me re menstrual extraction.  She was interested in learning the history of menstrual extraction as it applies to the medical version of M.E., M.V.A (manual vacuum aspiration).  A doctor in New York City is offering this procedure, and Rachel is impressed with how superior the technique is.  The machine is noisy and often performed in an impersonal setting.  I believe a good article will be the result.  Rachel also was keenly interested in self-help.  I gave her a speculum.  

The Program, 10/4/14: Kinyofu constructed a “red tent” for her exhibit.  The tent was incredible; it occupied about 400 square feet, carpeted with a red padded floor.  It had filmy red drapes and velvet tie-backs.  Dozens of pillows formed a comfy circle; I had the immediate urge to go in it. 

First was a dance/drama with 2 women.  With my hearing impairment, I couldn’t understand the dialogue, but I appreciated their graceful moves and expressions.

Kinyofu gave a moving presentation.  The centerpiece of her talk was that our uterus is our core and the source of our strength.

My presentation, first consisted of a brief history of the abortion movement in the 1970’s and how self-help played a key role in building a women’s movement that was poised to take full advantage of the Roe v. Wade decision.  30 women-controlled clinics, almost all directly or indirectly connected with the FWHC’s started within a year or so of the decision.

Then I talked about Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici.  This was my first time to present this material in a talk, and I was worried the women would find my point of view too anti-capitalistic and too intellectual.  They were totally interested and their questions showed a profound understanding of the importance of Federici’s work.

 Then, Stephen, one of the members of Kinyofu’s team, shared an Indian line dance, which got our juices going.

Ellenville, New York, 10/5/14: Kathie Sarachild, Carol Hanisch and Kathy Scarbrough presented “De-Fanging the Women’s Liberation Movement” at the Boston Conference on the Second Wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement earlier this year.  I’ve met with Kathie Sarachild before, (the Feminist Women's Health Center’s have been supportive of Redstockings and their political decision to expose Gloria Steinem’s pre-feminist anti-communist activities.   They responded to my offer to come meet with them to continue discussing the panel’s topic.

At the conference, Kathy Scarbrough laid out how gender and sex are alternate categories to use to overthrow male-domination and Patriarchy.  We talked about the recent attacks of radical feminists by some transwomen. (born males transitioned to female physical appearance through drugs and surgery) for not allowing them into all-women meetings.  They charge discrimination and call radical feminists “rad fems” or “TERFS”, (trans-exclusionary radical feminists).  They have been verbally violent and sometimes property-damaging.  They have received wide support from leftists for their complaints.  They’re particularly angry with lesbians if they won’t have sex with them; they have come to occupy positions on advisory boards that previously were occupied by lesbians.  Consequently, I was anxious to continue the discussion with Kathy, Kathie and Carol.  Kathy proposed some questions to me that challenged my concern about “destroying gender”.  Since then, I’ve thought a lot about her points and I’ve written what I think is a clear exposition of my position.  I’m going to put it on my blog. 

At the Boston conference, Carol Hanisch, gave out a list of terms with two columns.  The first column listed that we used in the Women's Liberation Movement (WLM) in the 70’s and the second column listed the “new and improved” terms that have replaced them.  For example, “male violence” is now “spousal abuse” and “pro-abortion” is now “pro-choice”.  Some of these examples were amusing, but her point was dead serious.  The use of gender-neutral language has destroyed the feminist insight that 95% of violence is male-female which is caused by male-dominated culture, and supported by male dominated institutions, like the police and counselors, etc.

Kathie Sarachild has been an influential voice in the WLM.  She and other WLM members promoted the use of consciousness-raising groups.  She and Carol are original members of the Redstockings, and one of their contributions is to emphasize the importance of remembering and honoring our history.  As Kathie has said, “If you can’t remember where these ideas comes from, they lose much of their power.”  Unfortunately, her warnings have been ignored.  I expressed my belief that the universities have created an anti-radical feminist tradition that is training young women who enroll in these courses hoping to learn about their history and instead are being taught to ignore the 70’s second-wavers because “they were all white, middle-class women”.   

The four of us shared a delicious, vegetarian lunch in Carol’s living room.  The windows on three sides looked out on a small town neighborhood in the Catskills with lots of trees and mountains all around.  Like most feminist discussions I’ve ever been in, a lot of our time was spent discussing the agenda, taking spirited detours to talk about specific questions as they arose.  In other words, we covered nearly all the topics that had been brought up, we shared what we were doing politically and yet there never was a “new business” and “old business” approach.

We found that we each differ on which organizing strategy and tactics to pursue at this time, but none of our different approaches are incompatible with the other; it’s more a matter of emphasis and differing histories, skills and personal situations.  I agreed with the others‘ belief that it is essential to keep articulating a radical feminist perspective and exposing the subversion and co-optation of the women’s liberation movement (what I called “muck-raking”, an honorable tradition in journalism), but I favor going past that by putting forth our positions and taking actions, rather than assuming that once people know the truth about what’s going on, they will do something to change the situation.  This difference came up in the context of discussing what, if anything, should be done to fight back against the transwomen’s attack against TERFS.  Kathie has already signed a public statement supporting women‘s right to have all-female meetings that exclude transwomen.  I believe that unless we act now and act forcefully, the radical arm of the women’s movement may be dead for generations to come.

Kathie, in particular, believes that Redstockings has an action program.  For example, they’re giving ten weekly sessions on Radical Feminist Theory and Action Today in New York City from September 18 through November 20th (contact: nwl@womensliberation.org).   

We talked about the upcoming meeting of StopPariarchy.org in New York City to plan a January 22nd protest.  All said they would attend protests put on by SP, but that they couldn’t be part of organizing them.  Kathie said that she wasn’t going to work on abortion anymore; she’d rather work on related reproductive rights issues, such as childcare, maternity leave, etc.  When I told her that I agree that the pro-choice movement limiting itself to birth control and abortion is a mistake.  I still think that the pro-abortion movement needs to give priority to the abortion issue, while always placing it in the larger context of reproductive rights, including childcare, natural birth, breast-feeding, toxins in work environment, getting rid of the Hyde Amendment, and increasing women’s power generally, because the legality and availability of abortion is the key determinant of the birth rate and thus the priority of the liberal anti-natalists and to the right-wing pronatalists. Allowing abortion (but not supporting women’s options to have children) or restricting abortion (and forcing women to be mothers) is the most direct threat to a woman’s right to control her reproduction.  She clarified her statement to say that she will support abortion rights by going to demonstrations, but she will not devote a significant amount of her time to it.    

I definitely achieved my goals of the meeting and justified my time and expense in getting myself there, and all three said they were glad I had come so that we could have a face-to-face in-depth discussion of these important issues.

We’ve been e-mailing since, and I hope that our meeting will give us a basis to continue to do so (of course, they already had this basis).

Albuquerque, 10/6 and 10/7: Mary Lou Singleton is a nurse practitioner and midwife and a fellow member of the advisory committee of StopPatriarchy.org.  She is a founder of PersonhoodforWomen.org.  She is a member of WoLF (Women’s Liberation Front), womensliberationfront.org a radical feminist organization that started this last year. Mary Lou, despite working her regular, more-than-full-time schedule, picked me up at the airport, crammed in every free moment to talk to me and organized a community meeting at her office. 

She and I talked about hating capitalism and patriarchy.  We shared our information about the attacks of some transwomen on radical feminists at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and other events.  In particular, we discussed the increasing number of very young children as being identified in their pre-school as transgender and the parents considering surgery and drugs as young as six years old, the participation of transwomen in women’s athletic events which is resulting in beating out born females in many categories, the widespread leftist support of transwomen being allowed to attend female-only events, the concurrent rise of the pro-pornography movement, etc.  It seems that the trans movement is receiving a lot of foundation support.  I noted that it would be consistent with the history of the anti-natalist movement to support any cause which had the net effect of reducing women having babies, such as gay rights.  But, since the behavior of some transwomen (does anyone know what percentage of transwomen take this aggressive, radical feminist-hating stand?) seems like such classic male behavior, it occurred to us that maybe the right-wing power structure is promoting the activities of that portion of the transwomen’s.

Meeting, 10/6/14: Approximately 20 women attended.  We sat around a large “coffee table” in the reception area of Mary Lou’s offices.  I started off with an introduction to the self-help movement, and the intense interest of the group in menstrual extraction determined the rest of the group’s discussion.  There were many questions about forming a ME group and discussions amongst the group about the possibilities of doing so.  There seemed to be a potential of several groups being formed.  One new possibility came up.  There are two “red tent” groups in Albuquerque, and one participant is a member of both.  She plans to take the information back to those groups.  I assured her I would be delighted to work with them if they wanted any further information.

People contributed to a collection basket, and it was given to me, so I raised about $100.00 to go toward the expense of the trip.

Sharing Resources
Sex and Herbs and Birth Control, Ann Hibner Koblitz.
http://kovfund.org/book.shtml
http://ahkoblitz.wordpress.com/

Radical Feminist Theory and Action Today in New York City from September 18 through November 20th  Contact: nwl@womensliberation.org

New Redstockings Button: “DUES-PAYING FEMINIST
Proclaims the alternative to foundation-grant feminism, academic feminism and dependence on the academic-media complex, a independent financial base, for an independent women’s liberation movement. $One Dollar per button.
Redstockings Women’s Liberation Archives for Action
P.O. Box 744 Stuyvesant Statiion, NYC, 10009
www.redstockings.org

Follow-up:
  1. To develop a questionnaire for people that work in the university setting to get facts about the establishment of gender studies, rather than women’s studies.  Who is doing it?  Have new positions opened up? 
  2. To learn more about the transgender movement in general and the transwomen activities in particular.
  3. Join WoLF (done) - womensliberationfront.org
  4. Send Ann a list of people that I think would use her book to further their work, and she will send out copies to them.  Call me if you would use the book in your work.
  5. Keep communicating via e-mail with Carol Hanisch, Kathy Sarachild and Kathy Scarbrough re Class, Gender issues
  6. Possible Conference or some mini-conferences to get a discussion going about what to do about the attack of radical feminists by some transwomen for not letting them come into our all-female groups.

Contact Information:

Annotated Bibliography
Articles
  • Heinsohn, Gunnar and Steiger, Otto “Witchcraft, Population Catastrophe and Economic Crisis in Renaissance Europe: An Alternative Macroeconomic Explanation”. 31 Pages  
Then, at the Summit Conference on the Persecution of Midwives, Hermine Hayes-Klein provided us with a paper written by german sociologists about how the Witch Hunt was specifically designed to stamp out "women's secrets", meaning how to have voluntary motherhood using herbal tonics and other substances.

Books
Silvia Federici's book places the Witch Hunts in the larger historical context of the establishment of capitalism, through primitive accumulation of capital in Europe, then using that capital to launch worldwide exploration and invasion of other lands and peoples, again using the Witch Hunts to destroy "women's secrets" forcing colonialized peoples to provide the slave labor for the European capitalists.
Ann Koblitz' book discusses how women have in the past controlled our own fertility.
  •  Riddle, John M. Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. Harvard University Press, 1994
    Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West. Harvard University Press, 1999
Then, I read John Riddle's books which pull together the evidence to show that women's knowledge of contraception and abortion did exist in the European society among women, but the chain of knowledge was broken by the witch hunts. He cites the studies that show that these remedies were effective, and populations were stable.

Handouts
  • Wicanhpi Iyotan Win Autumn Cavender-Wilson BA “Midwifery, Colonialism, and Settler Identity: Deconstructing Colonial Norms in Modern Midwifery”
At MANA conference in Portland, Wicanhpi Iyotan Win Autumn Cavender-Wilson handed out these suggestions to U.S. settler midwives on how to maximize their support of indigenous midwives and ways to be accountable to them.  She told us "find out your own history".  I did so, and it turns out that as a white, European settler woman, our histories are different but interwoven, and we are oppressed by the same forces. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Important New Book: "Caliban and the Witch, Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation" by Silvia Federici

Dear Friends:  I have just finished reading Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici.  This book examines European history in the 14th through the 17th centuries and the conquest and colonization of the Americas and other areas, and the African slave trade.   Federici shows how the Witch Hunt, along with other brutal policies of the European rulers, the nobility along with the Church and mercantilists, damaged both men's and women's rights, forcing them into new work relationships, and how this same ruling class spread their mayhem around the globe, stealing lives and resources.

I believe that Federici's analysis of these cataclysmic events of four centuries explains why women are so ignorant of our bodies and have so little independent control over our bodies, whereas in ancient times, effective birth control methods were known and used among women in general and midwives in particular.  It shows that we can reclaim this knowledge.  Working together, we can undo the harms that were done to us.

Fully understanding this history as Federici tells it reinforces my belief that all women and all people of color who descend from colonized and enslaved peoples have every reason to blame capitalism and its exaltation of patriarchy for past atrocities and their present oppression.  I also believe that if white men of ordinary intelligence understand how capitalism is wrecking our planet today, they will also blame capitalism and they will see that racism and sexism is keeping humankind from taking effective action against capitalism.

I urge you to read this book.  I already had a general understanding of history, but Caliban and the Witch has helped me to interpret and understand it better and provided me with a road map on how to bring about social change.  I'm hoping to inspire you to run right out and get it; I've written a summary which I am attaching.  After you read it, please let me hear back from you.

Carol Downer

MEMORANDUM

TO: Friends

FROM: Carol Downer

DATE: October 9, 2014

Caliban and the Witch, Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation, Silvia Federici, 2nd revised edition, 2014, Autonomedia, online ordering www.autonomedia.org

About the author: Federici has the chops to write this book.  She worked with Wages for Housework in the 70’s, then with others to write books and articles about the transition of feudalism to capitalism.  The first edition was published in 2004.  She taught in Nigeria for 3 years, during which time she witnessed the Structural Adjustment imposed on the Nigerian economy by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that selectively impoverishes the country for the enrichment of the few.  She recognized that this was similar to the way that European nobility, along with the Church and the mercantilists, accumulated capital.

Summary:  Disclaimer: This is a greatly simplified summary.  Federici reviews and quotes from many studies of European History in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Over this 4 centuries, there were ups and downs and complexities. I have attempted to contact her, but I have not yet heard back from her.  I urge you to read the book to absorb all of the information and analyses.

Federici recounts the cataclysmic events in the Middle Ages in Europe.  The Black Death killed off a sizable proportion of the population.  Famines reduced the birth rates, and there was a scarcity of labor, causing wages to skyrocket.  These dislocations created conditions that resulted in serfs’ revolts in the Middle Ages, Federici sees the actions of the nobility along with the Church and mercantilists to impoverish the feudal workers as a counter-revolution against the people’s uprisings to tear down the fences, and protests to demand redistribution of the land.  


This counter-revolution was a many pronged attack. 
  1. They forced serfs off the land through enclosing the commons, pushing men into becoming waged workers, 
  2. They created a sexual division of labor; they forced women to reproduce the labor force through the Witch Hunts which destroyed women’s knowledge of contraception and abortion, 
  3. They gave wages to male workers who then had the power to force the unwaged (females) to perform the social reproduction which enhanced the productivity of the waged workers.
Federici also characterizes this a primitive accumulation of capital.  This term means “how the rich got their money in the first place”.  Turns out it’s not because they’re so smart or worked so hard, but because they used force to take people’s lands and their labor away from them.  In the case of the Witch Hunt, it means many things:  Among them, it destroyed the knowledge that women had amongst themselves about how to prevent pregnancy, so they produced more children who became members of the work force.  They burned old and poor widows or single women who had been forced to beg, thus acquiring what little belongings and land that they might have.  They terrorized women and kept them from moving about freely or traveling or meeting. In the case of enclosing the commons, it took resources away from the serfs and peasants because they couldn’t graze their cattle there or hunt in the forest or fish in the streams.  Therefore they either were forced off the small plots of land that they held under a feudal agreement with the noble and became vagabonds or went into the city to work for wages or worked agriculturally for wages.  All these moves resulted in increasing the wealth of the already rich.

Federici recounts how the European ruling class then used its increased wealth to finance exploration of other lands, resulting in their “discovery” of the Americas.  They then sent armed expeditions to Latin America where they killed many thousands outright, enslaved others and forced them to dig out the silver and gold they found, which they sent back to Europe.  Prior to this, European wealth was primarily land, cattle, horses and valuable objects.  The influx of precious metals made a monetized, capitalistic economy possible.  This in turn enable the ruling class to build an infrastructure, fund institutions, fuel the industrial revolution.

She recounts the brutal enslavement of the people in the Americas where people, male and female, were beaten, often to death, to force them to work until they dropped.  It wan’t until the slave trade was slowed down that there was any concern for maintaining the life of the slaves and attention was turned to reproducing new slaves.  She talks about how the Witch Hunts were conducted in the New World with the same ferocity with the cooperation of the the Church, both Catholics and Protestants.  Indians were characterized as devils.

Witch Hunts continued to be conducted in other colonies, such as India and Africa, and in the New England colonies.

She has lots of details about how many features of our so-called modern industrial way of life came into being.  She also shows how the capitalist expansion reinforced patriarchal organization, reduced women’s power, both their reproductive power and their ability to move around in society and have independent agency.  Such “modern” features as racism and the various uses of prostitution at different times and places are included.  The science of demography was invented; the study of the birth and death rates, and especially what causes the birth rate to go up and down so that the policy makers can influence it through “carrot” and “stick” measures.