Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chapter 25: All Power To My Sisters, 1970-Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories (140)

Increasingly, though, some Movement women were starting to question the political drift towards the use of militant tactics that would include destroying U.S. corporate and military property by anti-war bomb-planting. Political arguments started to be made by certain Movement women that it was not only left-adventurist to resist the war machine by planting bombs, but that it actually expressed an anti-feminist politics of macho for Movement people to either support or practice the use of revolutionary violence in the U.S.—even if Black Panther Party activists also justified its use in response to fascist repression.

In March 1970, Newsreel’s women’s caucus, under Andrea’s leadership and influenced by the example of the women’s takeover of the (now-defunct) Rat counter-cultural newsweekly, began to push for Movement women control of Newsreel. Because about two-thirds of Newsreel’s 40 to 50 New York City members were Movement women, the demand for radical feminist control of Newsreel could not be logically resisted on democratic grounds. As Movement women took control of Newsreel, those men who wished to remain in Newsreel were compelled to equally share organizational shitwork duties and child care duties with Newsreel women.

Newsreel men were also compelled to accept “personality criticism,” as well as political criticism from Newsreel women, at intense meetings, in order to rid their personalities and political practice of male chauvinist tendencies. Newsreel women were also required to submit to collective personality and political criticism in these emotionally-draining March 1970 criticism-self-criticism sessions. But criticism of Movement women was usually done in a less harsh and more supportive way than was the criticism of Movement men. Mass organizing and mass outreach work pretty much came to a standstill because Newsreel women felt that the organization’s top priority should be to eliminate all vestiges of male chauvinism within the organization, before resuming any mass outreach work.

Some of the criticism that Newsreel people leveled at each other was productive. But much of it seemed organizationally and emotionally self-destructive. Some Newsreel people began to feel emotionally closer or politically empowered because of the intensity and frankness of these criticism-self-criticism sessions. But many activists were trashed by other members of Newsreel, whom they were quite fond of previously, for petty reasons, in a politically destructive way.

Sometimes it seemed like the predominantly upper-middle-class white Movement women were using the predominantly upper-middle-class white Newsreel men as surrogates for their lovers in previous failed marriages or relationships or for male supremacist institutions in general; given the resentment and bitterness that came out in these demoralizing meetings. Many Newsreel people no longer seemed to trust each other or accept the weirdness or eccentricities of each other’s personality or style of doing political work. Movement men who were not attached romantically to Newsreel women were at a special disadvantage now within the organization; because they lacked a Newsreel woman to certify to other Newsreel women that they were “dealing with their male chauvinism” adequately.

Some Movement women who felt dissatisfied with the quality of their love relationships with Movement men attempted to solve some of their relationships’ sexual or emotional problems by criticizing their lovers at these formal Newsreel criticism-self-criticism sessions. One Newsreel woman criticized a Newsreel man in front of the rest of the collective for not letting her lie on top of him when they made love to each other. Newsreel men were requested by Newsreel women to take turns revealing the history of all their previous relationships with women to other Newsreel men, in order to collectively deepen their anti-sexist consciousness.

When I mentioned to my sister some of the ways in which Newsreel women were pressuring Newsreel men to “deal with their male chauvinism” and change their personalities, she was somewhat surprised and remarked that the process sounded somewhat “neurotic.” A Leviathan magazine article by Marge Piercy, titled “The Grand Coulee Dam,” was also influential in encouraging the Newsreel women to verbally trash white Movement men at the height of the Panther 21 trial and the war in Viet Nam.

I concluded that it was politically positive for Newsreel women to set the agenda for their Movement organization, given the depth of inter-personal and institutional sexism both within and outside the Movement. But I also concluded that it no longer made much political sense for me to work with Newsreel. Without a distribution network for its films, Newsreel really wasn’t able to make any mass political impact in the U.S. And until the demoralizing internal conflicts between Movement men and women were satisfactorily resolved, it appeared unlikely that any adequate mass distribution network for Newsreel films would ever develop.

Before leaving Newsreel, I attempted to get Florrie interested in me romantically, since I still was wild about her, despite my feeling that Newsreel wasn’t really making any political headway because of its internal and external political problems. But Florrie was not interested in getting any closer to me outside of a Movement work-situation. So when I finally managed to beat the draft near the end of March 1970, I dropped out of Newsreel.

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