Archive for category: Hetero Patriarchy
How do we assert reproductive autonomy when far rightists are on the offensive and liberals have failed to stop them?
As we noted two months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision repealing Roe v. Wade marks a historic victory for the Christian right and specifically its fascist, theocratic wing. Defending access to abortion is an antifascist struggle, but that doesn’t mean the focus should be only, or even primarily, on combating the far right. What’s needed is a struggle on two fronts: against the various forces of the authoritarian right but also against their centrist enablers—the politicians and institutions that have long claimed to be defending abortion access while weakening opposition to the far right and giving ground to it step by step by step. These are different kinds of struggle and they call for different approaches.
This is what three way fight politics is all about: a recognition that the fascistic far right is interconnected with but distinct from the oppressive status quo, and combating them both requires interconnected but distinct strategies.
In the wake of Roe’s repeal, I’ve seen several excellent essays that use this kind of two-front framework to guide liberatory strategy. I’d like to focus here on three of these essays, to highlight what they share and also how their different perspectives broaden and enrich an ongoing discussion that’s vitally needed.
- Elise Hendrick, in “Some thoughts about how the struggle for abortion rights and bodily autonomy should be waged (and can be won),” identifies abortion rights as central to a larger struggle for bodily autonomy, criticizes the Democratic Party and its adherents for giving us “forty years of retreat,” and advocates a militant strategy that targets the key pressure points of profitability and governability.
- Noah Zazanis, in “On Our Own Terms: Class Struggle for Abortion and Transition,” argues that “Right-wing offensives against abortion, transition, and queer sociality aim to enforce the bourgeois family by any means necessary,” and calls for a labor-based struggle that challenges the constraints imposed by established non-governmental institutions (NGOs).
- CrimethInc.’s “To Defend Abortion Access, Take the Offensive” advocates a carefully tailored approach to militant direct action in order to exert leverage where it can be most effective—on liberal politicians.
Reading these essays, I see three overarching themes—three key things that each of them calls on us to do: highlight interconnections between different groups or rights under attack, confront liberal NGOs and the Democratic Party, and develop a clear and militant strategy. Let’s look at each of these themes in turn.
Both Elise Hendrick and Noah Zazanis frame access to abortion as a key form of bodily autonomy, and both specifically emphasize connections between criminalizing abortion and criminalizing trans people as two prongs of a larger right-wing strategy. Zazanis writes, “The surface logic of parental consent laws [for getting an abortion] is similar to the logic barring childhood transition: abortion is a serious, irreversible medical procedure for which youth under 18 are too young to give informed consent.” Hendrick denounces a recent New York Times column that tries to stake out a position that’s pro-abortion rights yet trans-exclusionary as a blatant example of divide-and-rule tactics.
Zazanis also emphasizes the ties between defending bodily autonomy and building a strong working class:
“Our fights for healthcare, and against criminalization, are inseparable from the labor rights of healthcare workers, and of the nonprofit workers doing unpaid overtime in the wake of the Dobbs ruling. More than ever, we must build strong, independent unions willing to defend workers who refuse to enforce these bans… It is no coincidence that the workers on the frontline of criminalization are in fields dominated by women, fields where queer workers are overrepresented and underpaid.”
Hendrick and CrimethInc. both highlight a further connection: between the fight for abortion access and the fight against police violence and repression. CrimethInc. urges abortion rights advocates to learn from the George Floyd uprising and writes, “Yes, there are fundamental differences between the movement for reproductive freedom and the movement for Black lives—but those who will be most impacted by the criminalization of abortion overlap considerably with those who are most impacted by racist policing.” Hendrick calls out implications for movement security, noting that criminalization of abortion means “the full weight of the surveillance state is coming down on millions of people who have previously been largely exempt from it…. That means making clear the importance of not talking to the police, not coordinating with police, protecting our identities, and…not posting unedited video of people doing illegal things on social media.”
In summary, drawing the connections between anti-oppression struggles helps us to understand the right’s larger agenda, build and strengthen coalitions, make our movements smarter, and honor the multiple and complex ways that people are affected by institutional violence.
Confront NGOs and the Democrats
All three of our featured essays sharply criticize the Democratic Party’s role as supposed defender of abortion access. Zazanis notes that “For decades, Democratic leadership has treated abortion as a cudgel for electoral gains” (and more recently has done the same with so-called “LGBT issues”). Hendrick adds that this approach has repeatedly meant whitewashing the shameful anti-abortion positions of some Democratic candidates, such as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate Tim Kaine. CrimethInc. describes the effect of such opportunism as “the workings of the political ratchet, in which Republicans continuously push state institutions towards more oppressive agendas while Democrats continuously give ground, keeping those who are suffering invested in the state itself in hopes that it might one day be reformed.” As I’ve argued elsewhere, this dynamic doesn’t result from Democratic leaders’ subjective “weakness”—it reflects the party’s structural role as a vehicle to divert liberatory initiatives into support for an oppressive, capitalist order.
Zazanis and Hendrick are similarly critical of liberal NGOs for being structurally and financially tied to a “respectability politics” that weakens—or simply betrays—liberatory struggle. Hendrick warns that “Liberal non-profits will try to narrow the focus of this movement, to divide bodily autonomy into specific niches… and channel our energy and our anger into avenues that don’t make the ruling class nervous. They will resist any attempt to defy these laws and the cops who enforce them outright, and they will try to prevent any kind of solidarity and cross-pollination” between political struggles. Zazanis gets more specific, calling out Reproaction for trying to police the boundaries of acceptable “direct action” and Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, and the National Center for Transgender Equality for union-busting and abusive management practices. Even smaller, more independent NGOs engaged in vitally important support for self-managed medication abortion have “effectively ignored the question of who runs the clinics and how they operate, or how to defy those who seek to close them.”
Hendrick sums up part of the lesson with regard to both NGOs and the Democratic Party: “Only by maintaining our independence from these institutions can we exert the sort of pressure that is necessary in order to force them to do the right thing.”
Develop clear, militant strategy
To varying degrees, all three essays offer suggestions on what’s needed to protect abortion access and bodily autonomy more broadly. Zazanis advocates breaking with respectability politics, recognizing that effective direct action “makes oppressors feel victimized,” and forming independent networks both to help criminalized people survive and to lay a foundation for more comprehensive institutional change in the future.
Hendrick elaborates on Zazanis’s point about direct action:
“If we want the ruling class to even consider restoring our right to bodily autonomy, we need to put the hurt on them. We need an or else.
“Historically, the movements that have extracted meaningful concessions from unwilling ruling classes have been those that attack the two major pressure points of capitalist society: profitability, which is the point of the entire system, and governability, which calls the system’s very existence into question.”
As reference points, she cites two recent large-scale militant initiatives: in Poland in 2016, mass protests and a strike (an attack on profitability) that forced the government to walk back a proposed total abortion ban, and in the U.S. in 2020, widespread militant attacks on both police stations and big box retail stores (governability and profitability) following the police murder of George Floyd. Hendrick argues that calls to abolish the police have not succeeded because they threaten capitalist society on a deep level, but that U.S. capitalists are not committed to banning abortion and would restore abortion access “if we make it clear that they can’t afford not to.”
CrimethInc., too, argues for a militant approach, but they are particularly concerned with how militancy is targeted:
“if your goal is to exert leverage, you have to identify a group you can actually exert leverage on—a group that is likely to change course as a consequence of your intervention…. You have to make sure that the target of your efforts has a choice—then make them an offer they can’t refuse.”
They cite two counter-examples. On one hand, many abortion rights proponents have joined public rallies that help to boost participants’ morale but have no specific target. On the other, a number of anonymous groups, operating under the name Jane’s Revenge, have vandalized anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” The latter actions “may inspire people to take action on their own, but do not offer a participatory space in which to build collective momentum.” In addition, although the vandalism actions have a specific focus, “in targeting anti-abortion centers, they are taking on the most intransigent opponents of abortion…” CrimethInc. continues, “If it is possible to exert leverage on anyone who is complicit in criminalizing abortion, it is probably not far-right religious cult members, but their centrist accomplices”—in other words, liberal and moderate politicians who could be persuaded to defend abortion access if the cost of not doing so is high enough.
Here, too, the movement against racist police violence offers a useful reference point:
“At the high point of the George Floyd uprising, when millions of people had ceased to accept the legitimacy of the police and were acting accordingly, we saw terrified liberals like the mayor of Minneapolis suddenly take the demands of the movement very seriously, promising to take steps towards police abolition… Later, when the politicians had reestablished control, they betrayed those promises—showing that our effectiveness hinges on keeping our social movements lively and strong, not on winning concessions.”
Exerting leverage in this way is very different from allying with liberals against the far right, or with, say, the federal government against state governments. As CrimethInc. puts it, “compelling one [state] institution to limit the power of another can be strategic, provided it does not contribute to legitimizing any of the institutions involved. It must be clear to everyone that the power that drives social change derives from grassroots organizing, not from state institutions…”
How do we go about asserting reproductive autonomy in the face of a major defeat, when far rightists are on the offensive and the forces of liberal respectability have failed to stop them? The three essays I’ve examined here grapple with this question in related ways. That doesn’t mean that their authors necessarily agree on every point, but it’s striking to me how much their arguments complement each other, and I do think the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. At the least, there’s a lot here that can inform and inspire further discussion and strategizing.
I started this discussion by invoking three way fight politics as a framework for strategy. None of the three essays uses that terminology, but at least two of them make points closely related to it. CrimethInc. notes that the far right are not defenders of the established order but rather advocates of social change (increased repression and oppression) and have used sustained pressure campaigns and a range of tactics, including bombings and murder, to bring it about. Hendrick emphasizes that those who advocate banning abortion are “a minority of bigots who are useful to capital, but far from essential to it,” and it is precisely this gap that opens strategic space for advocates of liberatory politics. These three essays insist that we have choices beyond surrendering to fascism on one hand and subordinating radical possibility to liberal holding actions on the other.
The post Strategies to defend abortion access: three essays appeared first on PM Press.
On Friday, September 23, House Republicans unveiled their “Commitment to America” — an outline of proposals that they will pursue if they flip the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2022 midterms. The Commitment has received scathing responses from liberal columnists who include the New York Times’ Paul Krugman to the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, and Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin has weighed in as well — slamming the Commitment from an abortion standpoint.
If Republicans retake the House, Levin warns in her September 23 column, they will aggressively pursue an anti-abortion agenda.
“In a one-page ‘Commitment to America’ officially unveiled on Friday, wherein House conservatives laid out their legislative priorities should they prevail in the midterms, the party declared that it will devote its time to, among other things, ‘protect(ing) the lives of unborn children,’” Levin explains. “Obviously, what they mean by this is that they’ll do everything in their power to obliterate the rights of pregnant people. While the agenda is short on any specifics or proposals, it’s not hard to fill in the blanks. Speaking to Axios, Rep. Bob Good approvingly noted that there is a ‘strong majority’ of House Republicans co-sponsoring the Life at Conception Act, which would define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, effectively making abortion illegal. The bill currently has 166 co-sponsors.”
Levin continues, “Meanwhile, Rep. Don Bacon told the outlet he believes leadership will put a 15-week abortion ban on the floor for a vote and that it will ‘pass, most definitely.’ We saw legislative precursors to these efforts just months ago, in July, when 209 House Republicans voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act; 205 House Republicans voted to prevent women from traveling across state lines to obtain an abortion; and 195 House Republicans voted against the Right to Contraception Act.”
House Democrats sponsored the Right to Contraception Act in response to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas saying that the Court should “reconsider” the 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut — which struck down as unconstitutional a ban in Connecticut on access to contraception for married couples. Griswold, for married couples, made access to contraception a national right, just as Roe made abortion a national right eight years later in 1973.
House Republicans’ anti-abortion agenda, Levin notes, is wildly out of touch with public opinion.
“If you’re a sentient being who’s been conscious over the last several months, you’re probably aware of the fact that the Republican Party is waging an all-out attack on reproductive rights,” Levin writes. “Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, GOP officials all across the country have passed or put into effect extreme abortion laws, while conservatives in Congress have set their sights on a national abortion ban. Given the unpopularity of this position — the majority of the public disapproved of Roe being overturned, with 62 percent of Americans in support of the medical procedure in ‘all’ or ‘most’ cases — you might have thought congressional Republicans would refrain from mentioning the subject between now and November, when they are hoping to take back control of the House and Senate. But apparently, they just can’t help themselves.”
From Fox News’ Tucker Carlson to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to former President Donald Trump, MAGA Republicans have been claiming that Democrats are undermining the U.S. military by trying to make it as “woke” as possible. Cruz, in a May 19, 2021 tweet, praised the Russian military for not being “woke” and “emasculated” — a tweet that received a scathing response from Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
But the MAGA narrative claim that Democrats and so-called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) are harming the U.S. military by making it “woke” persists. And Never Trump conservative Max Boot, in a September 26 opinion column for the Washington Post, argues that some disturbing motivations are behind this MAGA narrative.
“Donald Trump Jr., for example, claims a ‘militant female’ can become an admiral or general in today’s military ‘for no other reason other than they’re probably female,’ or “if you can say: Hey, I’m trans,’” Boot explains. “Tucker Carlson asserts: ‘It has been one calculated humiliation after another for the U.S. armed forces: vax mandates, anti-White ideology, sex changes, drag shows. Whatever is necessary to telegraph to the United States military you are worthless.’”
Boot continues, “Needless to say, these fanciful descriptions from bomb-throwers who never served in uniform bear no relation to reality. The U.S. military remains one of the most conservative institutions in America, with traditions dating back centuries. That the military now welcomes African-Americans, women and LGBTQ people — all groups that were kept out in the past — only strengthens an institution that needs to draw on the talents of the whole country to defend it. So, why are cartoonish inhabitants of the Fox News Cinematic Universe caterwauling about a ‘woke military?’”
The conservative columnist answers his question by arguing that the “MAGA brigades want to populate the military with far-right officers who will do whatever Trump or a Trump mini-me commands, no matter how illegal.”
Boot notes that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “became anathema to Trump & Co. not by embracing ‘critical race theory,’ but by making clear that the military would place loyalty to the Constitution above loyalty to Trump.”
“All of these attacks against the military for being too ‘woke’ should be seen as part of the MAGA strategy to harness the armed forces — ‘the guys with the guns,’ as Milley put it — to advance their authoritarian agenda,” Boot warns. “Blake Masters, the ultra-MAGA Republican Senate nominee in Arizona, has even advocated firing all the generals — ‘they’re left-wing politicians’ — and replacing them with ‘the most conservative colonels.’ Unfortunately, there would be little to stop a President Trump or a President Ron DeSantis from doing precisely that as long as the Senate confirms their new generals. A MAGA president could even summon back to active duty loony retired generals such as (Gen. Michael) Flynn or Don Bolduc, the GOP Senate nominee in New Hampshire, and appoint them to senior commands as long as the Senate consents…. The growing chorus of MAGA complaints about the ‘woke military,’ nonsensical as they are, indicate that the challenges will only grow. A homegrown extremist movement that has already captured control of one of the two major political parties is now trying to bend the armed forces to its supreme leader’s malign will.”
Giorgia Meloni, leader of Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy, party during a press conference in Rome on Sept. 26, 2022.
Photo: Valeria Ferraro/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Early this month, Hillary Clinton made some embarrassing comments about the then-forthcoming election of Giorgia Meloni as Italy’s first woman prime minister. “The election of the first woman prime minister in a country always represents a break with the past, and that is certainly a good thing,” the former secretary of state said.
Clinton has been rightly pilloried. After all, she was talking about the leader of the fascist Brothers of Italy party, the most extreme right-wing party to govern Italy since Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship.
Meloni claimed victory in Sunday night’s general election with considerable ease, leading a far-right coalition that now holds a significant majority in both Italy’s houses of parliament.
White supremacy has always relied on active enforcement by white women.
Whatever “break” from the past having a woman leader signals, “Meloni would also represent continuity with Italy’s darkest episode,” historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat noted in The Atlantic. And the continuance is very real: The Brothers of Italy’s direct forebears, the neofascist Italian Social Movement, was formed by supporters of Il Duce after World War II.
The idea that a woman leader “opens doors” for other women, as Clinton suggested, is of course laughable. That’s especially true when that leader is a fascist keen to stop abortions and do away with employment quotas that favor women — quite literally shuttering women in the nuclear home — while locking out immigrant women from Italy’s body politic all together.
The media got this right much of the time, giving prominent billing to Meloni’s far-right nationalism, but numerous English-language headlines focused solely on her being Italy’s first woman prime minister.
It’s tempting to say that her position as a woman leader should be considered irrelevant, given her and her party’s vile anti-immigrant, nationalist, racist, anti-LQBTQ+ politics. But ignoring her womanhood misses some crucial points about her political ideology.
Being a woman — a white woman, that is — is not in conflict with Meloni’s fascism. White supremacy has always relied on active enforcement by white women, particularly when it comes to upholding racist, pro-natalist narratives.
Italy may never have had a woman prime minister, but white women in leadership roles within the forces of reaction is hardly a new phenomenon. Consider Phyllis Schlafly, the paleoconservative, anti-abortion leader of the anti-Equal Rights Act campaign in the 1970s, who made much of her role as a traditional wife and urged other women to stay in the home.
The fact that Schlafly was herself a powerful conservative activist was no threat to her political vision; the same is true for the rabidly traditionalist Meloni. A fascist society is also a society of rigid class structure; a woman leader is no impediment to keeping working-class women in their place.
Meloni, like her less polished far-right counterparts in the U.S. Congress — Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, among others — weaponizes her role as woman and mother to police the boundaries of womanhood and reproduction. She has framed her poisonous anti-immigrant positions as a defense of Italian (white) women’s safety, conjuring well-worn tropes of migrants “importing” sexual violence.
Her party’s white supremacist platform is explicitly pro-natalist, seeking to bolster the low birth rate of native Italians as a bulwark to “ethnic substitution,” or what fascists here call the “great replacement.” Meloni’s far-right coalition is expected to usher in more stringent abortion restrictions nationwide. Abortions, which have been legalized in Italy since 1978, are already difficult to access in many areas, especially where Brothers of Italy has locally governed.
Meanwhile, in line with the typical allocation of resources in Herrenvolk democracies, Meloni’s social welfare proposals are aimed specifically at Italian families, while excluding immigrants and those outside the bounds of the straight, cis family. Meloni is thus continuing the legacy of what Ben-Ghiat called Mussolini’s “natalist obsession.”
It’s no accident, and certainly no surprise, that Meloni paired her deeply reactionary reproductive politics with attacks on Italy’s LGBTQ+ communities. Like Republicans in the U.S., Italy’s first woman prime minister is a fervid enforcer of traditional gender roles. Brothers of Italy, alongside other far-right parties, last year voted down a bill that would have made violence against queer and trans people a hate crime.
Meloni has consistently denounced “gender ideology” — a term used with increasing frequency by anti-trans ideologues who deny the fact that neither gender nor sex function as strict binaries. “Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby,” Meloni said earlier this summer. “Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death,” she added, while campaigning on a platform that will endanger the lives of immigrants and Italian minorities.
For those who would like to defend women’s reproductive freedoms but not support trans rights, Meloni, like the U.S. far right, offers another reminder that these issues must not be disentangled. Attacking gender-divergent people is as much a centerpiece of fascism as is pro-natalism. And, as with the Brothers of Italy’s entire program, it’s no less fascist when a woman says it.
Planned Parenthood Arizona on Friday night vowed that its fight to protect reproductive healthcare in the state was “far from over” after a judge lifted a decades-old injunction which had blocked an anti-abortion rights law dating back to 1864 — before Arizona was even established as a state — and allowed the ban to be enforced.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson said in her ruling that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which affirmed the constitutional right to abortion care, had been the basis for barring the 1864 law from being enforced. Since Roe was overturned in June, she said, the injunction should be annulled.
Johnson’s decision will “unleash [a] near-total abortion ban in Arizona,” said Planned Parenthood Arizona, with the law including no exceptions for people whose pregnancies result from rape or incest. Under the law, which was first passed by Arizona’s territorial legislature and then updated and codifed in 1901, anyone who helps a pregnant person obtain abortion care can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
Today, The Pima County Supreme Court lifted the injunction that suppressed an archaic near- total abortion ban in Arizona.
Our lawyers are evaluating next steps in the case, and we will update our patients and community as soon as we have more information. pic.twitter.com/Hy1ncVzL9C
— Planned Parenthood Arizona, Inc. (@PPArizona) September 24, 2022
The law does include an exception for “a medical emergency,” according to The New York Times, but as Common Dreams has reported, such an exception in practice has already resulted in a Texas woman being forced to carry a nonviable pregnancy until her health was deemed sufficiently in danger before a doctor provided care.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs told the Times that “medical professionals will now be forced to think twice and call their lawyer before providing patients with oftentimes necessary, lifesaving care.”
In a statement on Twitter, Hobbs vowed to “do everything in my power to protect” abortion rights in Arizona, “starting by using my veto pen to block any legislation that compromises the right to choose” if she becomes governor.
“No archaic law should dictate our reproductive freedom,” Brittany Fonteno, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in a statement. “I cannot overstate how cruel this decision is.”
The ruling was handed down a day before the state’s 15-week abortion ban, which was signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in March, was set to go into effect. Although abortion care had remained legal in Arizona after Roe was overturned on June 24, it has been largely unavailable as medical providers waited to see whether Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s motion to lift the injunction on the 1864 law would succeed.
Johnson’s ruling made Arizona the 14th state to ban nearly all abortions following the overturning of Roe. Earlier this month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced his proposal to pass a nationwide forced-pregnancy bill that would ban abortion care at 15 weeks of pregnancy.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Saturday called the ruling “catastrophic, dangerous, and unacceptable.”
“Make no mistake: this backwards decision exemplifies the disturbing trend across the country of Republican officials at the local and national level dead-set on stripping women of their rights,” she said.
Planned Parenthood Arizona, which had argued in court that medical professionals in the state should be permitted to continue providing abortions under the 15-week ban, said its “lawyers are evaluating next steps in the case.”
A grassroots movement in Dane County WI, just won immediate protections for abortion rights – in direct defiance of Wisconsin’s 173 year-old abortion ban and the state’s GOP-dominated government. The abortion sanctuary legislation, which the Dane County Board passed 29-5-1 on September 22, came out of a campaign led by Socialist Alternative. This victory came […]
Fans and non-fans alike were angered by the recent advertisement for pet food that Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness and Antoni Porowski posted on their social media accounts on Thursday. Or more accurately, people were upset that the pair had pretended to be in a relationship in order to announce the launch of their new dog food brand.
The reaction was intense, with one tweet even accusing them of queerbaiting, which is impossible for openly queer people to do: The definition of queerbaiting includes that the person doing it has no intention of “ever actually depicting such relationships or sexual interactions.” Ness and Porowski have long been upfront about being in the queer community and both are in relationships with men.
Perhaps the issue with Ness and Porowski’s posts is the queer community’s gag reflex when it comes to anything too corporate. But two things are true: People are becoming brands and queerness is becoming more normalized. It makes sense that queer people are going to use their queerness as part of brand deals and endorsements. Many are already doing so, as seen in last Pride Month’s Ugg collaboration with the Trevor Project. So, yeah, some queers are going to be capitalists.
Straight celebrities do brand deals all the time and often use their relationships and personal lives as part of the ad. They get criticized if they partner with a problematic brand, but otherwise it seems to be accepted as a fact of life; a reality so present that many of us have come to expect that contestants on popular reality dating TV shows might just be there to make money from future ads posted on their newly booming Instagrams. Former Bachelorette lead JoJo Fletcher and her husband, for example, had a discount code with The Knot, a wedding website, as part of the lead-up to their wedding.
Sure, I don’t love brand deals. But doing them is not evidence of some moral failing. JVN wants to be a capitalist, that’s clear from their multiple commercial ventures and brand partnerships. Does that make me love them more? No. Does it make me want to attack their queerness on social media? Also no. Queer people are expansive in their wants and desires and an ad is typically not reason enough to feed into the anger of the social media machine.
Maybe a stupid ad is just that, a stupid ad.
Upon check-in at the almost $200 per night Hilton hotel, the convention displayed in the lobby beautifully painted “protest signs” that read “My Body, My Choice,” “El lugar de la mujer es en la resistencia (women’s place is in the resistance)” and “The whole damn system is wrong.” Images highlighted Black and Latinx women in particular, with radical imagery invoking the Black Panthers and indigenous women in struggle.
The conference was sponsored by the usual suspects — including the Women’s March, the National Organization of Women, and Planned Parenthood, as well as Emily’s List, Vote Run and Lead, Black Feminist Future, and more. It was also co-sponsored by corporations like Ben and Jerry’s, The Body Shop, and Mara Hoffman.
The Women’s March Convention was named “Summer of Rage,” which didn’t really fit. Yes, participants are furious at the stripping of our basic right to an abortion. But on one hand, the summer is basically over, and the Women’s March has organized essentially nothing all summer. On the other hand, the rage expressed by participants was being funneled to the most tepid solution: vote for the Democrats. It is a “solution” that has been tried over and over, and failed to protect reproductive rights over and over — so much so that Roe v. Wade was overturned while the Democrats held both the Congress and the Presidency.
The Women’s March Conference was a lot like the fancy Hilton Hotel we stayed at — the “radical” protest signs thinly veiled the real class content of the event. This was an event that served the capitalists and the Democratic Party.
The Political Context
It is important to situate this conference in its political context. A few months ago, it seemed nearly certain the Democrats would be trounced in the midterms. Inflation is at a 40-year high. Biden has broken nearly all of his election promises. And the Democrats have done absolutely nothing to protect abortion rights. Faith in institutions plummeted after the Supreme Court decision, and it seemed the whole system was headed for a crisis.
The Women’s March, Planned Parenthood, and the like refused to use their millions of dollars to build a real movement or even a major national protest for reproductive rights.
The referendum in Kansas, where nearly two thirds of voters supported keeping abortion legal, showed the path forward for the Democrats towards the midterms. They would use abortion, once again, to mobilize people to the polls. This maneuver comes while they are very literally spending millions of dollars to promote the most vile anti-abortion, anti-queer, anti-woman Republicans, giving them a platform and airtime and allowing them to promote their vile ideas, in hopes of gaining an easy 2022 Democratic victory.
It is in this context that the Women’s March held their conference — a conference that helps serve as a political tool for the Democratic Party.
Power to the Polls
Participants came from all over the country, mostly driven by anger and horror at the overthrowing of Roe and a fear of the far right. Participants who were isolated in small, right wing towns talked about being afraid of losing their jobs due to their political views. They also talked about moments of bravery — putting a rainbow flag up in a classroom, or on their porch, despite fear of the stigma. People talked about organizing protests against the overturning of Roe, even in very small towns, which put them in contact with the Women’s March. The will to fight in the folks who attended the Women’s March Conference was palpable; mentions of anger and rage got huge cheers from the audience. These are folks with whom we want to be in dialogue, in struggle, and in the streets.
The problem with the conference was with the political solutions being put forward by the leaders, not with the participants.
Long-time Democratic Party politician Sheila Jackson Lee, known for helping making Juneteenth a national holiday, as well as being the lead sponsor of the 2021 Violence Against Women Act, spoke at the conference and was lauded by the Women’s March. However, Lee is far from a leftist. In fact, she is in favor of more border security and against even a guest worker program. Yet, in her speech she spoke about the need to stand for “all women,” including immigrant women.
Throughout the conference, radical rhetoric thinly veiled the lack of radical solutions. At one panel, the speakers explained “Poor people are going to get poorer [as a result of the overturning of Roe]. We gotta start at race, class and gender and move from there.”
But on that very same panel, a panelist said, “The worst thing we got out there against us is not our opposition. It’s people who are with us and are starting to feel apathetic or like there is nothing they can do within this system.” Yes… the real problem are those of us who want nothing to do with this system that has denied us our basic rights over and over again.
Panelists went on to say, “We have a strong story of victory that is bigger and bolder than our story of loss. Y’all almost forgot that in 2018, we took back the U.S. House. Y’all almost forgot that a Black South Asian woman took the White House in 2020… Y’all almost forgot that Katanji Brown Jackson is on the Supreme Court.” The fact that Black women are in the highest posts of society, including the undemocratic Supreme Court and the Vice Presidency, is the direct result of the Black Lives Matter movement and of the ongoing struggle fo Black Lives. But having Black faces in high places has done nothing to protect abortion rights, for instance, and It has done nothing to address the exorbitantly high maternal mortality rate among Black women in particular.
The panel ended with participants being asked to make a vow: “I will volunteer for reproductive justice candidates this November.”
Even the decorations and swag highlighted voting as a strategy.
Without a doubt, newly activated people were at this conference. But the message to them was clear: you want to fight for your rights, you’d better head to the polls. There is no alternative. In fact, if you don’t get on board, you are part of the problem.
The Women’s March will be organizing a weekend of protest on October 7-9. But those protests are nothing but “get out the vote” rallies, which take place the weekend before voter registration ends. They aren’t mobilizations to build our power and strength in the streets; they are mobilizations to move people to the polls.
This is no surprise. After all, that was the slogan of the 2018 Women’s March — taking the millions of people who mobilized against Trump and funneling that rage into the midterms. And although the Democrats took the House, and even though the Democrats hold the House, the Senate, and the Presidency today, the right to an abortion was still taken away. This feminist movement has tried voting, and it clearly doesn’t work.
Liberal Intersectionality of the Non Profit Industrial Complex
The form of “intersectionality” promoted by non-profits conveniently forgets that we live in a capitalist system that profits from all forms of oppression. While rhetorically they claim to unite our struggles, in reality they’ve kept these struggles separate in the streets; the unity of our struggles is manifested for them at the polls and in the Democratic Party.
A feminism that wants to grasp our problems at the root should understand that all systems of oppression are currently inscribed within capitalism — and capitalism is a system that profits from all of our oppression. It’s a system that can only run due to the exploitation of workers — with the most exploited sectors being workers who are Black, brown, and from the global South — for the profit of the very few. Working class women, especially working class women of color, are especially oppressed and especially exploited in this system: the Black women who work in UPS warehouses without air conditioning, the Mexican maquila workers, and the domestic workers who send money to their children back home every month.
At the same time, the multi-racial and multi-gender working class is in a unique position to shut down the economy in service of our demands as workers and oppressed people because we make everything run. This may be a limit of intersectionality as a framework: even its left iterations focus on the sources of oppression and miss the strategic position of the working class in capitalism. But this conference was not a leftist iteration of intersectionality: it was liberalism that brushes over the existence of capitalism and glorifies exploitative bosses. There is no such thing as liberatory capitalism. It’s impossible to even imagine our liberation within a system of private property and exploitation, in which the bosses profit from the unpaid labor in the home overwhelmingly done by women and profit from our low wage labor in the workplace.
A feminism that grasps our problem at the root understands that corporations have no place in our movement — including “progressive” corporations like Ben and Jerry’s that actually union bust, whose CEO makes over 17 times what a worker makes and supports the Zionist state of Israel.
But it’s not just corporations that are exploiters; nonprofits are a pillar of the exploitative capitalist system. At the conference, I met a young Black woman who was fired in a process of attempting to unionize her workplace, a non-profit that co-sponsored the event. “I know how much the CEO makes… and it’s a lot,” she said to me, “Everyone who was trying to unionize has left. We’ve been pushed out.” In the end, the liberal intersectionality of the Women’s March, as well as the countless non-profits who spoke and co-sponsored the conference, is merely a cover for the oppressive capitalist system.
I met another young person who put her finger on the problem: “If the higher-ups at these nonprofits make bank from addressing our oppression, it’s not really in their interest to solve the problem, is it?”
And this is the crux of the issue. The radical movements for women’s liberation and queer liberation of the 60’s and 70’s have been moved into non-profits and defanged. While progressive rhetoric and discussions of liberation remain, these same non-profits play an essential role in maintaining the movement entirely subservient to the capitalists — in the Democratic Party, but also in “progressive” corporations.
The Way Forward
While the Women’s March conference was supposed to be about “empowering women,” the message being peddled was exactly the opposite. These people pretend to be the champions of women, but they do not trust women to fight for their own interests. The message is that the power is not with us — it’s with politicians that do not represent or support us.
The Women’s March wants to take a whole generation of new activists from all over the country to the polls, fostering illusions in the Democratic Party and in a system that has been created to exploit workers, where Black and brown workers are the most hyper-exploited. They use the imagery and the language of transgressive movements of the 60’s and 70’s, movements that were defanged by the non-profit industrial complex and the Democratic Party in the neoliberal era.
We needed a summer of rage. But we didn’t get that. Planned Parenthood, Women’s March, and the other groups that co-sponsored the meeting had no interest in organizing one. They were interested in all that rage being bottled up and directed at the right moment.
Now they want that rage to be directed to the polls to vote for the Democrats. And that was what the Women’s March conference was primarily about.
There will be protests on the weekend of October 7 called by the Women’s March. And despite the serious limitations of the Women’s March, we as socialists should participate.
We want people to be in the streets. We want to be in dialogue with all of those folks who want to fight back– all those thousands of But we should be clear that we have very different goals from the Women’s March. While they try to push our power to the polls, we want to build an independent power; we want to build power in the streets and in our workplaces.