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BREAKING WITH INVISIBILITY: A Look at C.W.L.U. Tradition by Cady

(Editors Note:In 1985 former members of the CWLU organized a reunion in Chicago. Cady wrote and distributed this paper at the reunion. It is highly critical of the way the reunion was organized and explores some of the uncomfortable issues that the CWLU was never able to satisfactorally resolve.

This paper is being written in response to the on-going oppression I feel and observe within the visible white women’s movement which has been "struggling with these "issues for at least the last 11 years. From an historical perspective certain "issues" have been "worked on" at different degrees for centuries. I have asked myself, "What is our problem?"... now, I'm asking you. Do we have some investment in maintaining political/social/cultural systems which perpetuate woman-hating and racist acts of violence? Of course not, is the most reasonable response but it's 1985 and at some of the most essential levels we haven't even been able to resist acts of violence we toss ourselves and other women. The time for theorizing and abstract discussion has been long enough. We must assume responsibility for ourselves, so, in the context of responsibility, commitment and hopefully mutual accountability I will present my previously silent view of reality.

Many of the positive aspects of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union will be reviewed and appreciated at this reunion as it should be. Many women here have been instrumental politically and practically in aspects of women’s liberation which have not only made the quality of many women’s lives better but in some cases, "Jane" for example, saved women’s lives. I have a great deal of respect for the women instrumental in creating a feminist movement without which I wouldn't be here. I am not trying to trivialize the women or their work. I am though aware that the effort and qualitative changes made possible by some women should not grant the entire organization and its reflection in the women’s movement exempt from necessary criticism. The contents of the invitation to the CWLU Reunion provoked memories of the Women’s Union as I knew it during the last few years of existence. I will use the invitation as a concrete example in an effort to resist denying or negating the oppressive attitudes which caused the union to fall in on itself. The same old attitudes which I feel still exist.

The idea for the reunion grew-out of the planning for a national conference on socialist-feminism to be held in Chicago in August, 1985. Since CWLU considered itself a “socialist-feminist" organization it would seem only natural to have a reunion from which to recruit women to participate in the conference. The attitude expressed is one of the past is behind us; lets' renew acquaintances and move on to other issues. We dare not ever have a reunion to identify what the serious problems were... and probably still are. They were not and are not just "issues". Our problems reflect the woman-hating and racist ideologies (practices) that are the life blood of this culture. Involvement in a “movement" doesn't mean that we have erased from our existence everything we have for years been taught relative to our roles in maintaining this system. We said the personal is political but we never got specific - individual identification and struggle with the ideologies we oppress each other with was tossed in favor of collective theory and practice on "issues" and "causes" which we could identify as a common "other" oppressor. We cannot continue to live in some state of complacency or struggle selectively toward some self-satisfying state without recognizing that at many levels we still perpetuate and enforce the ideologies we say we are struggling against. We dare not have a reunion to discuss the attitudes that main-streamed the organization and were reflected from the structure through almost every action.

The invitation includes: "The schedule for the reunion will look something like this." This was provoking since I realized it was a committee of 6 women deciding for self-interest reasons to pull together and further design a tentative program without even trying to survey the interests of the former members in an effort to meet the needs of the majority. Some of us should stop calling ourselves socialist-feminists when our act ions won't let us pass.

To further exemplify, we can review the proposed schedule.

Notice, from 2pm 'til 5pm: "the last ten years, the next ten years"; the important things to be doing now; "the '85 elections”; "what work (political and otherwise) people have been doing".

How much serious consideration/attention or focus could there possibly be on even one part of the discussion in three hours? How much responsible thought by even one woman can be given on any one of these issues in serious discussion with even one other former members mind in three hours? Or perhaps we are going to receive a presentation of what the committee thinks; which is not at all invalid... but we need to be clear about what we’re doing. Don’t call it a discussion because that could prove inaccurate and embarrassing: not to mention insulting when I know most of us individually do have thoughts on these matters. We deserve more than a presumptuous program designed to organize us as part of a herd and directed, hopefully without objections, by those assuming capacity to decide collective goals. Do you remember steering committee? Do you remember small group discussions? Do you notice any similarity of "leadership"? Did we, or will we ever evaluate “leadership skills"? This is not the form of "leadership" (as reflected by the committee) I would choose to support or to work with organizationally.

There are in fact many pre-designed structures of organizations to choose from. All of which I believe were the creations of prominent political characters of the "right" or the "left" and it seems evident that no matter what side you choose and whatever degree, we are presented with new or foreign concepts to struggle to assimilate into or accommodate ourselves with. Perhaps we should at least consider for a moment kicking the habit of being so adaptable. Maybe all the existing structures created by and taught to us by male-dominated societies are not conducive to women’s evolution. Perhaps effective use of male power is not compatible with women’s use of power. It seems that we need to evaluate the structures we work in. If they prove to be inadequate for our collective purposes (lacking, distorted or draining) we should accept responsibility for creating new structures. Those which will reflect our capacity to give birth to presently unidentifiable structures capable of growing out of the constant process of women’s evolution without the false security of presumptuous analysis. Some may say that there is no time but I would argue that there is no time not to be creative; there is no time to continue to accept without considering the difference between the options we have. choosing between two non-viable options is not a choice.

I/We all understand how busy everyone is, the enormity of "issues", "projects", and the lack of humans to work on all this - which is exactly why it seems apparent that. We must change or create structures which provide access to the majority of people. Then "we" would be more people, therefore more time, and with time less "issues". With minimal proper planning we could have been responsible to the former members of CWLU and the theory we rest and justify ourselves by. The planning of this reunion appears to be a microcosm of a macrocosm; one we must not trivialize. Perhaps our exposure to structures and methods of "leadership" has been only lacking in proper thought. Perhaps there wasn't enough time in ten years to prepare for a reunion.

Apparently, at 5pm a few people should be done with us so the "social hour" will begin. Three hours for serious thought followed by an hour and a half to relax at the bar. Dinner and a party in the evening is then opened to friends. Evidently 5 1/2 hours away from the people we may dine and party with all year... year after year must be too much. I was outraged that consideration was given "friends" ("women & men") around dinner and no welcome or hint of accommodation for the children. I and our children deserve the respect and consideration given those with "friends" they wanted there. Our children, too, eat dinner like everyone else.

Did you notice what time child care is available? Afternoon only. Do we all realize how exclusionary that decision was? Perhaps I would prefer time alone at the reunion and make other plans for my son if I enjoy the privilege of making other arrangements. Perhaps my son is old enough to resist an invitation. No one person or committee has the right to exercise such elitist attitudes and expect that I will not feel it as an act of violence to keep us separate. I wonder what we do with the children at every level of "feminism”, "socialist feminism", "lesbian feminism".

Perhaps the focus of "Feminists" is on women without children; or women enjoying the luxury of a lifestyle in which childcare is never a serious consideration in her everyday struggle; or perhaps we should hide them in closets and relate to them collectively when they are old enough to be organized". Perhaps the committee assumed my son was old enough to hang out with me at the bar; or was the assumption that women with children don't dine and socialize? Did any of the other former members give birth to more of the invisible members of our culture over the last ten years?

The invitation ends with, "our committee is open to additional members -- if you want to join up, please write us." This letter was already written with a tentative program laid out and offensive decisions made before I received the invitation and I'm curious about what I missed that might have motivate my participation with the committee. Nine years after the union dissolved an ad hoc committee (a "leadership" group) asserts themselves as though the issues/problems I just reviewed were never issues or problems.

Did we notice that the former "leadership" from either side of the "two line struggle" are not on the committee? All the time the power struggles were "happening” internally the "leadership" was always there hoping to accumulate one more win. Anxious about the possibility of gaining more power and control over women based on the "correct line"; struggling through to the final destruction of the organization. Where are they now? Perhaps they were too busy. Perhaps it wouldn't serve there personal purposes right now. Perhaps there is no fame to claim so they exempted themselves. Perhaps they thought they did enough already.

Did this invitation have a bi-lingual counterpart that I didn't see?

I wonder why a "women’s union - feminist" - "anti-racist" could only provide access to almost only white and primarily middle-class women. There is nothing inherently wrong with being white or middle class. One problem though, is that many white feminists, middle class or any class, actively involved with the women’s movement refuse to make class distinctions. They insist upon blending under common issues, common theory, and common unstated privilege of denying the existence of many other women.

The Women’s Union on some very essential levels resorted to abstract theoretical politics which provide a safe environment for all the superficial ways of dealing with "issues". The problems we collectively have reflect the woman-hating and racist ideologies we refuse to deal with in ourselves and with each other. I don't think we have time to lie to ourselves or theorize for the next 200 years. For as long as we collectively deny, negate, trivialize these attitudes in ourselves we will remain chained to the system we claim to be struggling against. We cannot continue to close our eyes or hide in "correct political lines" or excuse ourselves and each other via silence.

We never struggled collectively with our own unique ways of acting out the misogynist and racist ideologies which have and will fundamentally affect any form of government we might choose. What is our problem? What could we be afraid of? Is it fear of an uncharted path? Do we lack the confidence' of giving birth to more than babies, books and organizations? Why not create viable analysis, struggle from the inside out and be pleased with how internalizing and expanding our real knowledge will be reflected and future multi-cultural society conducive to the growth and development rather than destruction of life.

Most of us probably agree that the lies must stop including the ones we tell ourselves.

We can look at the now non-existent CWLU and perhaps learn something. We never talked about women of color unless she was an issue. Black, Latina, Chicana, Asian, Indian women did not exist for us in any other than a superficial, relatively painless way. Did we ever work in coalition with Latina Mujeres en Action? Some of us talked about "forced sterilization" but I don t recall our working in coalition to bring an end to it. We talked about “Inez Garcia" too. With the exception of one Black woman that I knew of, the Women’s Union could not provide access to women of color. I remember being informed about "Prison Project” and their work at Dwight. This was the only Chapter I heard about, which reflected “anti-racist struggle" and they were kicked out. I wonder what they did or said that removed them from the terribly ambiguous, broad and rarely defined perspective of "socialist-feminism”. It seems that while we can speak of the legal systems' power to "interpret" laws and selectively apply them and how oppressive the whole system is... some of us "learned the skills" to use on each other. Do we notice woman-hating and racism in those actions now,.. or has nothing changed?

I worked with the Joanne Little Coalition. I was inexperienced, under-educated, and unskilled: no particularly useful knowledge, no real resources, yet, a representative of CWLU. What exactly did I have to offer? I did work a great deal though, so, I must have been useful at some level but no serious thought was given to what part we had in the coalition. The "Chairwoman" at the time managed to make a racist statement at one of the coalition meetings which CWLU apologized for. But, we didn't kick her out. We didn't talk about it very much. We said we struggle against racism"... Excuses and apologies weren’t good enough then and there has been no sign of 'real' process to indicate these attitudes are changing.

The "Socialist-Feminist" leadership lacked serious consideration and respect for the working class also. The idea seems to me now as an attempt to be absorbed by the "working class" therefore, avoiding having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of their own. Class is not just economic. I don t care how much or how little money a person makes. I do care a great deal though about the use of power which can be purchased and further used on those with less power.

With the exception of a few actual working-class women -most of the members had economically middle-class backgrounds. Inherent in the background were common values, standards) options, credentials, access to privilege, and money to fund some of their decisions to "join the working class".

Working-class people never decided to be under-educated, under-skilled) minus options, minus viable alternatives. You could always decide not to be hungry and can t know about my concern for my child's hunger. We risk survival - you choose to grovel for as long as you can and rest easy on your options. Does anyone recall "to each according to their needs; from each according to ability?" I don't believe the objective should be that we all will eventually grovel for survival. The "redistribution of wealth" is not to be seen exclusively in dollar bills; wealth seems to be a package of common values, standards, options, credentials, access to privilege and money. Did we ever talk about class? Other than abstract theory?

Did we ever discuss providing access for differently able women? Why? It seems we lacked a capacity to realize and relate to women seriously. Maybe they weren't interested in women’s evolution. Maybe we never really knew any women differently abled. Maybe they don't live in Chicago. I hope there is access for a member planning to be here- I hope you don't assume she won t come. I hope you don't plan to use some make shift carrying method and call that viable access.

What happened to honest efforts toward self-actualization? People talk of the necessity of collective work, collective struggle, collective action, and I know this is necessary but will not happen unless the individuals make the time and create the methods to deal with themselves internally as well as participating in collective work. A collective is not a collection of parts of whole people; a collective should be a reflection of self-sufficient autonomous individuals capable of functioning on their own and coming together in the spirit and commitment of collectively. The "right" insists that I deny my existence through certain principles and the "left" insists on the same denial but for what they perceive as "politically correct reasons". That is bullshit. I don't want to be collectivized with any group of people anywhere on this planet which denies a basic human right to individual “process" in favor of intellectual theory which will forever remain a state of mind rather than reflected in our state of "being".

Our collective capitulations, serial compromises, and refusals to resist lead us back to square one over and over again. Our trust, faith, strength and dignity is personal power used to control, direct and lead ourselves - and we will or can have choices of direction. If we never experience ourselves than what exactly do we have to offer a collective with or without the correct" political line, we have nothing except a vacant illusion of a hypothetical apparition. The power that we have access to within ourselves increases with every internal struggle being identified and resolved; a process of evolution. When this strength unifies with collective strength its force of resistance will equal revolution.

When I discussed the writing of this paper with a friend, she suggested including thoughts on our struggle with anti-Semitism. I wondered, "What struggle?” Was this an organizational anti-Semitic act of omission? Were we silently insisting that Jewish women deny their existence to? How did the members with Jewish backgrounds feel about this? The classical socialist analysis on the question of religion reveals it as an institutionalized buffer. Does the political analysis justify the silence? I understand silence as support and affirmation of anti-Semitism and cannot comprehend why we never even raised it as an "issue". Marx wasn't proud of being a descendent of nine generations of Rabbis but I thought he was separating himself from the Talmud, not all the knowledge and experience of his culture. Did I miss something? I also thought he really only wrote about his thoughts on religion twice - his doctoral dissertation on "Difference Between the Democritean & Epicurean Philosophy of Nature", 1841 and 'On The Jewish Question", 1844, while living in Germany. (1881/82). Almost forty years later, Russia and the Pogroms (massacres of Jews) become more visible in history. Then, the Holocaust, 1933 through '45. How would Marx have approached the Jewish question in Germany 1944 as opposed to 1844? Will Socialist-feminists even attempt to approach a viable, visible analysis in 1985?

I wrote this:

A. For myself and for those who realized all these contradictions and never wrote about them;

B. For all the women who couldn't be here because of our collective weaknesses;

C. For the women who never noticed even a part of my view of reality;

D. For the women "friends" who have tried to use their misogynist/racist acts of violence to hold me and a world of “different" women down...

E. I wrote this for the children with the hope that they need not start at square one.

When I consider what I need and want for the women’s movement I fantasize circles of women capable of supporting each other through levels of self-evolution. Then, to extend to circles of all people-women, children, men.

I/We need: Women who recognize woman/hating and racism (in all forms) as violent forces cultivated and used by our culture and ourselves to insure separation, powerlessness, hopelessness of ever being what we might be if we ever got passed all this together.

Women strong enough not to be liberal with themselves and other women. Support is not closing our eyes, silencing ourselves, agreeing or applauding the random acts of violence we use on each other out of ignorance, friendship, pity, condescension or arrogance.

Women strong enough to take responsibility for their part in perpetuating or changing our collective consciousness.

Imagine a qualitative change: a collective leap into a higher level of consciousness; a level of consciousness we all have access to; then, what happens? Whatever life could be like we can t even imagine, there is so much to know from where we are starting. I wish we would all be a least starting. I'm not suggesting stop what you're doing: we stop to eat, sleep, walk, talk, why can t we stop to evaluate ourselves, or "time-out" to integrate.

Why can't we evolve in the context of our lives?

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