(Editors Note: This is a 1976 conference report of the CWLU Lesbian Group, better known as Blazing Star, a name taken from their highly successful newsletter.)
Does a Unionwide Issue Fit Into a Strategy?
The above outline indicates what follows in this report. Part 1 is a description of our activities over the past year. Part 2 is a discussion of some ideas that have been raised within the work group. They are an effort to address some of the problems we see in our work. We do not see these as a finished product nor is there unanimity within the group around them. We hope that, they can be a vehicle for discussion at the conference.
1976 CONFERENCE REPORT : CWLU LESBIAN GROUP
In the year since the last CWLU Conference, the Lesbian Group has had some ups & downs. At the time of last years conference the state of the Lesbian Group was pretty good. We were publishing BLAZING STAR with some regularity: we had plans for some Liberation School classes; we fielded some sports teams in the leagues organized by SECRET STORM and we had some fairly ambitious plans for sponsoring some educationals and doing some writing and publishing.
However, the internal disputes & political split this spring had a pretty disastrous effect on us. Politically we were clearly on the side of Planning Committee-no way would we support the politics of smash feminism, oppose homosexualitybut the Lesbian Group was in danger of falling apart because a couple of our most active members were burned out by their intensive involvement in the Unionwide struggle. There were several other people who had just become active in the Lesbian Group at the time, who dropped out or became less active, because they had a hard time dealing with the struggle and had not really become well integrated into the group yet.
Throughout this spring & summer, we held almost no meetings & did very little work. Since about midsummer, we have begun to get back on our feet. We have several new members, & have been meeting regularly. The rest of this report will deal with each of our projects:
BLAZING STAR: One of our major projects has been publishing BLAZING STAR on a fairly regular basis. We had one issue in January but then didnt do another til July. Our last two issues (July & October) have been much larger than past issues. Weve included more articles on work & health, as well as legislation, lesbian mothers, & upcoming events. Our circulation seems to be increasing, & weve been praised for recent improvements in graphics.
Educationals: At the beginning of the year, with money from the American Issues Forum, we planned several educationals: with Elaine Noble on politics: a slide show on health from the Gay Nurses Association; lesbian mothers: and gay workers. The one on gay workers never came off. Of the others, Elaine Noble was probably the most successfulit drew the largest audience. The one on lesbian mothers drew the smallest audience, but the Lesbian Mothers Group started out of it.
More recently, we are trying to start up again on a series of educationals. We just did one on gay rights legislation--it was not too well attended, but the people who were there learned a lot.
Work with other CWLU groups : The main groups weve worked with have been SECRET STORM with sports teams and some educational work; and Liberation School, with our class, The Lesbian Experience. With SECRET STORM, there have been teams sponsored by lesbian bars & partially organized by us in several leagues throughout the last two years. In LS, we did The Lesbian Experience last fall & this spring, & we had plans for other courses (e.g., Lesbian Literature) which fell through because there were not enough conveners for both courses. Wed like to do The Lesbian Experience this spring, either as part of LS or on our own.
Work with other groups : We work with the Gay Rights Task Force and with the Gay & Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago. GRTF is primarily concerned with legislation-our involvement has been minimal, but will probably increase when more work had to be done. We have played a fairly active role in the Coalition (considering that only two of us from CWLU are involved), but weve often had a hard time dealing with the sexism and racism. The Coalition is just now trying to do some education to combat sexism and racism, and we are taking a leading role in that effort.
Writing, speaking and outreach: We have some unpublished material (our coming out papers) that we have been meaning to publish but have never gotten around to, as well as some other ideas for writing. We hope to publish them this year.
As usual, we have been the main resource people within CWLU for speaking engagements on lesbianism. We have done several speeches, and also one program on CWLUs radio show. Our outreach, aside from whats listed above, is mostly hanging out in lesbian bars & coffeehouses & going to other lesbian activities.
BLAZING STAR PROPOSAL
BLAZING STAR was formed almost two years ago out of the old CWLU lesbian group. Our group reports in this and last years conference packets and our reports in the CWLU NEWS indicate the kind of work weve been doing. Our group was started purposely as a part of CWLU: we felt that it was important, even vital, to the work we wanted to do, to be part of a socialist-feminist (or whatever you want to call it) womens organization. It was important because we believed that the oppression of gay people is related to that of women and all people, and that link had to be made clear through both our theory and practice. We also felt that as lesbians with socialist oriented politics that we had an important role to play in educating the left about gay oppression and liberation. Finally we wanted to put into practice the ideas we had learned about mass work from others in CWLU, particularly SECRET STORM: we also recognized that we had much to learn about mass work both from our own work and that of others.
These points are still important to us, and, with some variations, we think they are important to all Union groups. One of the slogans weve used is unity is our strength by being a part of one organization, our work and ideas can have more effect than if we act as individuals or small groups. But in the past this unity has often been strained in many directions; the most obvious is at times like the recent split where there are clear theoretical differences within the CWLU. However, the less obvious strains of unity can be as destructive to the organization as the obvious fights. One way in which this disunity can occur is through the existence of a small group mentality and lack of coordination and communication of our efforts. This proposal tries to develop a strategic way to surmount this problem: the institution of what has been called in the past a "unionwide issue."
How Does a Unionwide Issue Fit Into a Strategy?
A strategy is basically a plan that tells you how to use what you got to get what you need. To develop a strategy you need to know what youve got and what you need. What we, the CWLU, have got can be summed up by three things: 1) Our organization and its history and experience, 2)Our society and its concrete conditions like the international situation, working conditions, whats happening with women, whats happening in Chicago, and so-on, and
3) Ourselves our time, energy, knowledge, experience. What we need ultimately is womens liberation as a part of a total change in society; we may call that socialism or independent socialism or socialist feminism or something else whatever we call it we know that we need to change things for women and that means changing things for all people. Based on what we know so far we recognize that there are a lot of steps we have to take before we can come even close to our goals. We need to: 1) Work on making changes in existing institutions, 2) Reach many women and make it possible for them to join us in our fights and for us to join them in their fights, and 3) we need to raise our consciousness and understanding (and others as well) about socialism and womens liberation.
Even these goals are pretty big things and in order to be able to work towards them we need to be able to use our organization effectively. This is where a unionwide issue comes in; one of the ways in which we weaken our work is by being scattered. We dont know what were all doing, we dont have a common goal, and so we dont reach as many women as we could. Those we do reach have a hard time getting a sense of the organization. It also means that we cant be very successful in any fights we take up because our energy and resources are scattered all over. Finally we dont grow together, we dont learn from each others experience. By having a unionwide issue that we would all work on we would be able to focus some of our energy, we would have a common goal, we would have a link that would make us one organization.
How Would a Union-wide Issue Work?
If the CWLU were to unite on a unionwide issue, all core members and work groups would participate in activities around the issue. The exact nature of the work would depend on the issue, but could include things like petitioning, program meetings, organizing block club type groups, raising the issue where appropriate in other political work. Groups could continue with other work specific to their project, but would coordinate that work with the union-wide issue. CWLU coordination of the unionwide issue would be done by the Outreach Secretary and her committee and by Steering Committee. Core members would meet together (about quarterly) to share experience and do political education and plan for the future.
What Should the Union-wide Issue Be?
We propose that a possible unionwide issue is equal rights. This would mean support for equal rights for all people and not just work on the ERA. The situation now is that there are three levels of civil rights legislation: national, state, and local. On the national level there is the gay rights bill originally introduced by Bella Abzug, and the ERA. There is also a statewide focus for the ERA? and there is a state gay rights bill (the Catania/Mann bill) . Locally there are the city code amendments on gay and womens rights There are several groups already involved in these issues; in Chicago the main ones are the Gay Rights Task Force and NOW. Other groups are working at state and national levels. We have a working relationship with both Chicago groups especially the Task Force.
We think this issue has several important strengths:
1) The majority of women are for womens liberation. In order to attract them we need to start with an issue that has the support of many women and equal rights is one of them.
2) It is an issue that can be worked on by anyone and just about any group in the Chicagoland area.
3) In working for the liberation of oppressed people the first step is in civil or democratic rights (sort of like the main contradiction.) Work here can be the basis for work in other areas. This is most clear in the gay situation where many, if not most, gay people cannot be organized because they have no rights. The main protection, as well as the main oppression of gays is the closet and until this situation is resolved we get nowhere fast.
4) Because the issue has broad appeal and citywide possibilities it can be used as a basis for or in conjunction with community and other work. We can investigate, work in and build community ties and groups that will be sustained beyond this project. In part this means that our role is not just to get equal rights passed, but to educate people through our work as to how womens rights is linked to other issues.
5) We can work on equal rights in many ways petitions, community groups, educationals, block clubs, newspapers rallies, etc.
6) by having a general equal rights issues we can broaden our work on gay rights to include straight people We can educate folks around gay issues . This would make it clear that gay issues are not issues only for gay people. We also could make clear that gay people are interested in more than just gay issues.
7) We have the responsibility, given the state of the left, to develop an understanding and analysis of sexism - the woman question and the gay question and socialism. If we (a generalized we - CWLU, NAM, other womens groups and so on) dont do it, it wont get done by doing common work on a basic issue of sexism, we can begin to develop our political understanding of it.
How Would Equal Rights Fit Into Our Work?
Each group would have to consider exactly how work on equal rights would fit into the project work as a whole. For BLAZING STAR this is comparatively easy since one of our interests has been work on gay rights through our links with the Gay Rights Task Force. Adopting this as a unionwide issue would have two primary effects: we would expand that work to include equal rights issues beyond gay rights, and we would put more energy into some of the aspects of equal rights that have been a low priority so far. Our work to date has been to have a representative on the Task Force, to circulate petitions, to talk about the issue in BLAZING STAR, and to have two educationals on gay rights legislation. Much more could be done .
We think that it is important for CWLU to find some way to coordinate our work better and to increase the level of cooperation and communication in the organization. Having a unionwide issue on equal rights seems to be one way; we are eager to hear responses and other ideas that people have.