Thesis Intro –

Posted on October 14, 2013

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This needs minor adjustments and fact-checking… asterisks mark the spots, as well as some more clear definitions and expansions towards the end… where I talk about what my paper is ACTUALLY going to be about.  But here is the next step on my journey.

 

 

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now.
-Henry David Thoreau “Civil Disobedience Part 1”
 
Introduction
For a long time, longer than I care to admit, I felt trapped within feminist boxes.  My amazing college courses illuminated theories like ecofeminism, critical race theory, critical consciousness a la Paulo Freire, and intersectionality – among many others – while campus activism made relevant the many ways in which all peoples, non-human animals, and even the earth, are divided and isolated, dominated, exploited, and controlled.  Kreps says, “We must recognize that the liberation of women must be collective, it must be aimed at freedom for all women”.[1] I took her words to heart.  In order for this collective liberation to be actualized we must understand that racism and white supremacy, heterosexism, cissexism, economic disenfranchisement, and all forms of oppression and exploitation must end, because women come in all creeds and kinds.  Women deserve freedom from all forms of oppression, not just sexism.   All forms of such subjugation converge around capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy; or to boil it down even further – hierarchy and profit.  Yet these weren’t being adequately addressed by single-issue campaigns or strategies for equality; mainstream movements remain located in an upper-middle class, white, heterosexual battlefield, arguing about equal access into deeply flawed institutions.  I want more.  And for a long time post-academia I felt isolated in my “radical” and youthful idealism, shamed into a corner with tales of wisdom, from mostly good hearted folks of all ages and backgrounds, about “The Way Things work” in “The Real World”, concluding with the uselessness and overall futility of demanding a just and fair world and holding dear the idea of a higher standard of living.
Over the last decade my young eyes have been opened to not only the dysfunction of our many varied systems – education, judicial and healthcare to name a few – but also the deep flaws of our so-called two party political system.  A system where we are given the illusion of engagement through the ability to choose between two pre-negotiated and horribly similar candidates to represent us at the highest of levels, while in reality the Electoral College chooses our Commander in Chief.  In this political circus, exorbitant and ever-increasing amounts of money are spent on campaigns and strategies, while brothers and sisters are hungry, jobless, in debt, incarcerated, and sent overseas to fight in a never-ending “war on terror”.   Both major party candidates support a grossly inflated military budget, not to mention a foreign policy based on global domination and profiteering.  Congress has approximately an 8% approval rating, and according to one poll Americans have a higher opinion of hemorrhoids, jury duty, and cockroaches than they do of Congress.[2]  We’re still seeing contraception and abortion legislation in states throughout the country, we saw the failure of the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2012, which would have updated and strengthened the Equal Pay Act of 1963,[3] and yet I have little doubt that if Hilary Clinton runs for president the next time the circus rolls through town in 2016, women’s advocacy groups will idealize her as the best thing since Change We Can Believe In, and people will eat it up because our political collective consciousness suffers from short term memory loss in the worst possible way.
Under President Obama, who was both touted as and criticized for being the most progressive politician of our day, we have new and improved surveillance of American citizens, Guantanamo Bay is still open, enhanced interrogation continues, drone strikes overseas kill indiscriminately, multinational free-trade agreements continue to control and extract natural resources from developing countries for the sake of “industry” aka private profit, political activism and activists are labeled domestic terrorist threats, and truth-telling is considered treason and/or espionage:
Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press—compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations[4]
Reporters doing their jobs, and heroes like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are persecuted and jailed for exposing the government to the people it supposedly represents.  This heightened level of secrecy and broad surveillance of those who wish to speak truth to power mark a dangerous turning of the tide for those who aim to create a more just and equitable way of life which inevitably includes criticizing the current status quo.
We are told that government and legislation is the pathway to equality; what happens when those systems fail us? What are we left with?
The way our government currently functions is abhorrent. The capitalist control on government processes and the culturally promoted idea that profit is the ultimate goal and highest of achievements, no matter the toll, has degraded the integrity of many institutions. In my former feminist boxes, these issues – government, capitalism, and increasing privatization of systems such as prisons or education for profit – were not being addressed adequately.  I felt let down by “progressive” women’s and LGBT movements; while they sought equal access into systems that were deeply flawed I was questioning the legitimacy of these institutions to begin with.  They are too essentialist-driven and un-encompassing of the plurality of human experience; too centralized in a white, upper-middle class western location.  I was disappointed that so many of my peers were and still are avidly supporting democratic candidates and legislative campaigns.  I understand that to progressively-minded individuals, republicans are more dangerous than democrats when it comes to social issues.  If republicans had won the House and the presidency in 2012, my uterus was whispering plans of leaving the country.  But as critically-thinking feminist beings, why let ourselves be confined to choosing between the lesser of two evils?  By getting on the lesser-of-two-evils train, we silently acquiesce to and perpetuate the suffering of our local and global community, instead of questioning and demanding candidates that are truly representative of our diverse population.  And that doesn’t seem very feminist to me.
Feminism freed me in more ways than I can explain; it provided insight into an unjust world, explained discrepancies I had known since childhood, gave me language and tools to deconstruct a status quo taken for granted by so many.  It negated the false either/or frameworks we are so often found in.  I familiarized myself with the ways in which the institutions and systems around us perpetuate white supremacy and patriarchy. It gave me strength and hope, and it connected me to the struggles of others in unimaginable ways.  Yet after four years of stocking my utility belt, I could find no holistic theory for insight and action in the feminism I knew and cherished. One crucial piece was missing: criticism of the government.  I saw feminists criticize certain laws, but not the man-made institution which dictates how we live and which has privileged a minority of the population while marginalizing the rest. There seemed to be a critical gap between what American feminism generally says it’s about and how it plays out in real life.  A feminism complacent with nationalism, capitalism, white supremacy, and a society driven by profit is not what I signed up for.
I was, and continue to be, on the hunt for a Unified Theory of Everything, to borrow physics terminology.  Like physics, it needs to address the micro and macro issues.  Global, local, and interpersonal.  My quest for a unified and comprehensive approach to address the inequalities we face was only solidified by my on-campus activities at Saint Mary’s College and my experience with the Occupy Movement.  They illuminated the ways in which single-issue activism merely pandered to the revolving door of Oppression Olympics and marginal gains for small groups of marginalized peoples.  I saw how women seeking “equality” could throw people of color under the bus; how lesbian, gay and bisexual people often forsake trans and other queer people; how radical people of color could perpetuate blatant misogyny; how basically nobody in these circles talk about differently-abled people’s rights; while we all buy products made in sweatshops overseas. It furthered my feminist frustrations.
After college I took a job working at a state coalition against domestic violence, a forward-thinking lady-centered nonprofit organization like a good Women and Gender Studies “graduate”.  After only a year I realized the role we filled as an undersized band aid on a Niagara Falls of exploitation and degradation. There was only so much we could do in the face of colossal and deep-rooted injustice.  I became frustrated and felt isolated despite being surrounded by some pretty radical ladies, but with no political or direct action outlet my spirit was hurting. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems.
And then, at the height of my frustrations, Occupy Wall Street happened:
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.[5]
This is not a paper about that movement, per-se.  It is, however, relevant because it was a catalyst for growth, new information, and provides relevant examples, both positive and negative, of a “new” political philosophy in action.
This Unified Theory of Everything started coming into focus as the Occupy Movement sparked, ignited, roared, and fizzed out – each stage inspiring new insight into the struggle for freedom.  This process, including the resurgence of anarchist theory into the U.S. political scene, personal experience of interpersonal conflict in revolutionary circles and the larger manifestation of wounds around privilege and marginalization of voices/knowledge as the fracturing and dissipation occurred, the importance of self-care, community, and healing has led me a few steps closer to what could be a more holistic feminist revolutionary praxis, which, to me, is the logical next step for feminist and gender theories:  A fourth wave which is found at the nexus of queer theory and anarchism, and demands revolutionary change.
Some Definitions (add as paper grows)
1. Queer theory fills in the gaps left by traditional feminist theories, and relies heavily on intersectionality and questioning normalized frameworks.  One working definition I will rely on is:
Queer theory and practice challenge some of the basic assumptions around gender and sexuality that form the basis of modern society.  They question the idea that human beings throughout history have fit neatly into the categories of “male” and “female,” both physically and in their social selves, and that heterosexuality is the normal and natural way of sexual expression.  Queer theory shows that gendered identities as well as sexualities are not fixed and “natural” but rather… socially constructed, fluid, and changeable – both socially and with regard to physical bodies.[6]
2. I had always understood anarchism to be synonymous with chaos and destruction.  Never had I understood it to be:
The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful…
…Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government.  Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and free enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations. [7]
Women know the dominion of religion, the need for her body to be liberated, and to be free from institutionalized oppression, and thanks to intersectionality and radical feminism we understand that it is not enough that some women, some queers, some people of color are living in the upper class and thus “have made it”.   How can we be content, let alone feel accomplished and liberated when our brothers and sisters in this country and around the world are suffering still, and that many atrocities done to them are done by our government, in our names? While I will be exploring the myths and misconceptions around Anarchism in detail, this very basic definition will be helpful.
3.  Praxis is key to my Unified Theory of Everything.  As Freire says, “Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it.”[8]   Incorporating lessons learned and seeing the most recent strides toward liberation as a learning experience, not merely a failed revolution attempt, and how we can move forward.
The Disclaimer
“We approach this project with a sense of experimentation, not to point out any final answers or truths about pedagogy, but to push the borders of utopian thinking and implementation”
– Jamie Heckert , Deric Michael Shannon & Abbey Willis[9]
 

This is not exhaustive.  It is not meant as a rule book, or The Answer.  Rather it has been, and continues to be, an exploration of concepts and lived experiences as this humble individual seeks a praxis where theories and action converge, where we honestly look at the shortcomings of the American feminist movement thus far – taking accountability for the injustices we perpetuate ourselves and allow to be done in our name – and where ideals and values no longer need to be compromised.  It’s uncomfortable.  And it won’t be easy.  But we owe it to ourselves, to our foremothers, and especially to our future generations, to at least try.


[1] P. 48 “Radical Feminism”
[2] “Americans like Witches, the IRS, and even Hemorrhoids better than Congress
[3] “Congress Says No to Equal Pay”  http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/06/05/saying-no-equal-pay
[5] “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” http://www.nycga.net/resources/documents/declaration/
[6] Grohman, 139. “Queering the Economy”
[7] Goldman, p. 69, 84-85, “on Anarchism”
[8] Freire, p. 79 Pedagogy of the Oppressed
[9] Loving-Teaching: Notes for Queering Anarchist Pedagogies
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