most pressing need of the moment for women's liberation is building a national
organization that can both rekindle a mass women's liberation movement and
guide that movement in the steps needed to defeat male supremacy.
today, individually and as a class, are under brutal political attack. We are
being assaulted on all fronts - in the courts, in the legislatures, on the
streets, in movies and popular culture, in jobs and in personal relationships
with a ferocity that can only be explained as a desperate attempt to stamp out
the embers of the feminist rebellion of the past decade and a half. Most of us
are fighting back only sporadically and in isolation from each other, rarely
taking the offensive or breaking new ground. Often we are at a loss even to
know what to do or where to begin - tired and demoralized.
weakened are the other movements in this country, which, at their best, nourished
the women's liberation movement with ideas and energy, just as they were
nourished by us. The lack of a strong, fighting Left has had serious
consequences for the women's liberation movement in another way: the
cross-class nature of feminism, so necessary to identifying and combating the
common oppression of women by men, nevertheless leaves the women's liberation
movement vulnerable to co-optation even in the best of times. In times of
reaction, opportunism on the part of the more powerful classes of women
threatens to destroy the movement. Just as an independent women's liberation
movement is needed to prevent the exclusion and exploitation of women and
women's issues in even the most conscious of Left organizations, so too the
class-consciousness and political power of strong movements of other oppressed
peoples and of workers is necessary to keep feminism radical. History records
numerous examples of once-vital feminist movements deteriorating into
reactionary forces in periods of declining radicalism, working for the
short-term interests of a minority of women and in the process destroying
feminism's very reason for being.
so it is today. Isolated pockets of radical feminists exist all over the
country. But what little remains of the women's liberation movement that can be
considered organized is no longer radical and has become the protected preserve
of female academics (usually calling themselves
"socialist-feminists") and alternative lifestylists (inhabitants of
an illusory "women's community"). The reform wing of the feminist
movement has thrown all its resources into an apparently doomed lobbying effort
to achieve passage of the Equal Rights Amendment - an effort doomed by the
absence of a mass movement to force even legalistic changes in the condition of
women. Single-issue groups, meanwhile, avoid acknowledging any connection with
the women's liberation movement. (Examples are the "pro-choice" and
"reproductive rights" groups, which shy away from using the word "abortion"
almost as assiduously as they avoid talking about freedom for women.)
a mass women's liberation movement in this political climate is obviously an
uphill battle. But there are some reasons for optimism. The very seriousness of
the situation is forcing some in the WLM to ask hard questions about how the
trend can be reversed. And while the women's liberation movement in the United
States is moribund, women in the Third World are now taking the lead in
fighting not only for their liberation from economic and military oppression
but also from male oppression. The liberation struggles of women in Nicaragua
and El Salvador are especially advanced in this respect, with these women
explicitly recognizing the persistence of male supremacy in otherwise
revolutionary countries, such as Cuba.
are stirrings of new life in other U.S. movements: outbursts of rank and file
worker militancy, including strikes by men and women for equal pay for women
workers; organized Vietnam veterans taking public positions similar to those of
the anti-war movement of the 1960's; a growing anti-war movement focused on
U.S. intervention in Central America based-largely on an anti-imperialist
consciousness developed over a period of years during the Vietnam War, to
mention just a few.
is also a positive side to the inaction and paralysis that seemed to plague us
in recent years. Singer/songwriter Don McLean recently described the seventies
as the only decade in history when the nation was absorbed in looking back at
the decades that came before. Whether this observation is literally true of
not, it does capture a characteristic of recent years. For many of us in the
movement, a preoccupation with the previous decades has been necessary to come
to an understanding both of what we did right and what was lacking. We must put
to use what we have learned if we are to start moving forward again.
of the biggest lacks we have come to perceive in the women's liberation
movement of the late sixties and early seventies was an inadequate understanding
of the need for central organization and for long-range planning. The movement
was all do-your-own-thingism and little unified activity, all
"democracy" and no centralism. Its great advances in analysis and
insight were unaccompanied by a well thought out, long-range program of action,
of how to actually take power.
is not to say we had no program at all. The main program of the early women's
liberation movement was consciousness-raising - a method intended to insure
that our analysis of the oppression of women and the steps needed to end it
would be based on the concrete realities of our lives. The oppressive
conditions of our lives as women give us a shared experience, though we often
interpret that experience differently.
the early days we were often asked, "What is your program?" In
essence we said consciousness-raising was our program thus far, and through it
we would come up with a more developed program. Through consciousness-raising
we were able to unite our common experience into theory. Thus
consciousness-raising was the first program of the women's liberation movement,
a program aimed at getting at the essence of our experience to build our
took the experience of the great success of consciousness-raising and its later
disintegration - the explosion and then fragmentation of the women's liberation
movement itself - to teach us that we need a central organization to organize
the raised consciousness and ensuing activity, and to defend the work, both
practical and theoretical, that has been accomplished.
turned out to be the correct program for the first stage of the movement. But
now we need a program that unites our activity and our theory, that allows us a
common experience, not only of our oppression, but also of movement
practice, if we are to carry out an effective offensive.
NEXT STEP: A PROGRAM FOR WOMEN'S LIBERATION
at MEETING GROUND see the development of a written program for women's
liberation as a logical next step in correcting the mistakes of the early
period, and have begun work on one. The transition from the anarchist,
do-your-own-thingism of the early days to the kind of organized movement we
need to win will not be an easy one. A program becomes a necessary part of this
transition because it is a practical step in itself and puts forth practical
steps that can help us achieve the unity of experience and thought necessary to
such an effort.
written, we hope this program can be refined and adopted for use by a national
women's liberation organization. What we envision is not only a statement of
goals and demands, but also of priorities and plans, based on an analysis of
what can and cannot be accomplished at different stages of the feminist
struggle and the general movement for liberation.
are some of the ways we think a program can further our work:
A GUIDE FOR ORGANIZING AND ACTION: On the most immediate and practical level, a
program provides a basis to decide where to put our energies -what issues to
confront and how they connect with one another and with our general goal of
women's liberation; what tactics and strategies to use; when to unite with
other groups and when to work separately; etc. It is hard to imagine beginning
to rebuild, especially in times like these, without first coming up with a plan
A MEANS OF HISTORICAL CONTINUITY: By putting into context where we have been
and where we are going, a program lays the basis for historical and theoretical
links with earlier phases of the feminist movement. In order to draft a
program, we have to study the earlier statements of goals and demands set forth
by our predecessors. The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions of the 1848
Seneca Falls Convention where the 19th century women's rights movement was
founded, and the Declaration of Principles adopted by the National Woman's
Party in 1922, setting forth a list of "immediate objects" to be
worked for as part of a campaign to end the subjugation of women, are two
obvious examples of hard won knowledge that we can put to use. We can
incorporate those goals that are still unmet (almost the entire 1922 list for
starters, see page 8 of this issue), making changes or additions in the light
of current conditions.
A WAY OF LINKING THE WLM WITH OTHER LIBERATION STRUGGLES: In addition to
studying feminist programs, we must learn from the programs developed by
revolutionary movements in this and other countries. We are finding the study
of socialist/communist programs in particular to be especially fruitful in
providing lessons applicable to the building of any revolutionary movement. In
fact, Lenin's discussions of the necessity for a program (see page 5) helped
clarify our own understanding of the need for one. This study can also help
clarify unsolved problems in the relationships between feminism and
socialism/communism, showing where our demands and the activities needed to
achieve them coincide and where they differ, when common action is possible and
when we must forge ahead on our own.
A MEANS OF POLITICAL UNITY: Disunity is so rampant in the women's liberation
movement that some are bound to say this is not the time to propose a program
that we will not be able to agree on it anyway. On the contrary, a program is
necessary to unity. The polemics which now flare up in so erratic and often so
damaging a way will have a concrete focus as we try to come to terms with our
differences, to discover and uncover the roots of these differences and to find
out just which differences can be overcome or lived with, and which are
irreconcilable and will necessarily divide us into separate organizations. It
will help separate the chaff from the wheat, isolating the unserious and
opportunist elements. It will form the basis of an organization that can hold its
members accountable for their action or inaction, at the same time making it
harder for opportunists and semi-feminists to represent themselves as
spokeswomen for the movement. Anyone can claim to represent a movement; someone
claiming to represent an organization, however, can be checked out.
A WAY OF LINKING UP WORK: A program can tie together the work not only of the
organization that adopts it but also of women who for one reason or another
cannot be part of the organization. It can reach places that a limited number
of organizers cannot, breaking down isolation and putting theoretical tools
into the hands of those who need them. It can help guide the steps of activists
working on the local level, while providing connections with a national organized
effort. In turn, local experiences provide crucial feedback on the program to
the national organization.
A COMMITMENT TO ORGANIZING: The very existence of a program generates pressures
on those who adopt it to work toward its fulfillment. At a time when forward
movement is so difficult, such pressure can help prevent backsliding and
negativism. For a national women's liberation organization to make such a
commitment will in itself be a leap forward.
STATE OF MEETING GROUND
we started MEETING GROUND in January 1977, we wanted to provide "an
ongoing place to hammer out ideas about theory, strategy and tactics for the
women's liberation movement and for the general radical movement of working men
and women." MEETING GROUND was to be a place where activists and
organizers could share ideas and information.
fact, with the decline of the women's liberation movement, many of our readers
became less politically active, and the organizing experiences sent in were few
and far between. MEETING GROUND's contents became more theoretical and less
focused on organizing.
there was another reason why MEETING GROUND did not completely meet the goals
we set for it: the project itself had built-in contradictions.
MEETING GROUND began publication, the editors were members of Redstockings. We
explained in issue #2 that MEETING GROUND was begun independently of
Redstockings because "not everyone in the group felt that Redstockings
should take on such a project at this time." We began publishing MEETING
GROUND in part as a way of keeping in touch with the many women (and a few men)
who responded enthusiastically to the 1975 publication of Redstockings'
FEMINIST REVOLUTION with hopes and pleas that radical feminists could get
together for the renewed offensive FEMINIST REVOLUTION seemed to promise. But
as long as MEETING GROUND limited itself to talking about organizing while its
editors tried to do their feminist work within Redstockings, MEETING GROUND
could only partially succeed in meeting its goals.
fact, the publication of MEETING GROUND and the opposition by other
Redstockings to our putting our energies into this type of work reflected a
disagreement over the importance of organizing and of connection with a mass
movement. The disagreements that surfaced in 1975 - which deserve thorough
discussion in a separate analysis - have deepened with time. Redstockings has
now constituted itself a "think-tank" for the women's liberation
movement - a head cut off from and unresponsive to the body - thus formalizing
its error of "all theory, no practice."
may be an understandable reaction to the current state of the movement, in
which much of the activity that passes for feminism is headless and mindless.
But it is still a serious error. By 1975 it had become apparent that the
movement needed to be pulled together by some central organization.
Redstockings promised to lead this new offensive but did not.
trying unsuccessfully to push Redstockings in the directions advocated in this
editorial, we are going ahead with this work. Both editors of MEETING GROUND
have resigned their membership in Redstockings, Barbara Leon in January 1979
and Carol Hanisch in September 1981.
should emphasize that the separation from Redstockings in no way means disagreement
with the basic political positions set forth in FEMINIST REVOLUTION, or for
that matter in the Redstockings Manifesto adopted in 1969. (Naturally, our
views on some aspects of both have been clarified with time and new
experiences). Rather, it represents a commitment to turn that analysis into
action, which will then be the source of further analysis and action.
MEETING GROUND as a resource in developing and publicizing a women's liberation
program is thus a return to our original objectives in publishing MEETING
GROUND. But we do not see MEETING GROUND merging into or becoming an organ of
the women's liberation organization that may result from these efforts. Rather,
we would like to try to keep it going to also meet its second purpose: exploring
the common ground between the liberation movements of women and working people.
THE NEXT STEP
task of preparing a draft program for women's liberation is a large and
difficult one and it is with no small amount of trepidation that we have
decided to take it on. It is not something that can be done overnight. In fact,
we figure it will take at least a year to get the first rough draft together.
invite MEETING GROUND readers to send us suggestions, information, historical
precedents and examples of programs -anything you think is relevant. We intend
to work closely with those who make real contributions to this effort. We
welcome the assistance of men in this project as we realize they may have
information and suggestions that can make this very difficult task a little
easier. However, men must realize that the final decisions regarding the actual
draft program of women's liberation will be made by the women involved. Some
women are already hard at work researching and formulating this draft program.
women's liberation movement has suffered a major defeat and it is only natural
to feel some discouragement at the direction things have been taking. Many
women, brave and important in the first round of the battle, have retreated in
disillusionment to furthering their careers, devoting all their energy to their
family or personal relationships, and in general dealing with their problems as
women in an isolated way. Many of them will join us as we begin to move again,
and as we fill our ranks with the young women who will help restore to the
movement the militancy and vitality that we once gave it. In retreating, women
are again learning that there are no personal solutions and that their only
hope after all is to join together for the collective solution. It is time to
throw aside our feeling of helplessness and the squelching of our anger and
come together with a higher level of understanding of what must be done.