The Womanist Liberation Movement

The Womanist Liberation Movement
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Mar. 14, 2009

Last week I celebrated Women’s History Month by telling the story of how the feminist struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries have won high level positions for professional women like Condolezza Rice and Hillary Clinton but have not transformed the lives of the billions of working class women living in poverty in the United States and around the world.

To transform these lives, I said, will take a radical revolution in our values and new ways of thinking not only about race and male-female relationships but about the ways we all need to make our livings by caring for each other and for the Earth in the 21st Century.

Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, has coined the word “womanist” to describe this new movement which begins with a profound critique of how industrial society has degraded not only women and the Earth but all living things.

Women from many different backgrounds are creating this movement.

Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabekwe Ojibwe) and Kathy Sanchez (Tewawa) are enriching environmental activism with their Native American legacies. “Three Pillars of Oppression” by Andrea Smith (Cherokee) has helped people of color understand each other better by explaining the very different historical roots of African American, Native American and Hispanic oppression.

Eco-Feminists Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva have explained how the nurturing Work of Women and small farmers differs from the Labor of industrial society. Women and peasants, like artists, do not judge the value of their efforts by the time clock.

In “Burning Times” (1982) Starhawk told us how Western industrial society began with the 17th century witchhunts which not only expropriated the land from the peasants but also replaced the intuitive knowledge of women with the Scientific Rationalism of Bacon and Descartes. Starhawk conducts permaculture workshops for young people, organizes transformative and spiritual demonstrations that involve poetry, dance, singing and fellowship, and helped create the affinity groups which closed down the WTO in the 1999 Battle of Seattle.

In cities around the country women plant community gardens to reconnect urban youth with the Earth and give them a sense of process. Professional women like Philadelphia’s Donna Jones return to inner city communities to create caring, learning environments for young people. As the coordinator of Detroit Summer, Shea Howell engaged young people in caring for community gardens created by elders.

In Milwaukee, Sharon Adams returned to her neighborhood near the Harley-Davidson and Anheuser-Busch plants which had become infested with crackhouses and crime. Planting community rain gardens with the help of Will Allen’s Growing Power, Sharon and her husband have restored pride to her “Walnut Way” neighborhood.

These efforts are on a small scale. But as Margaret Wheatley points out in Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World:

“In a web the potential impact of local actions bears no relationship to their size.

“From a Newtonian perspective, our efforts often seem too small, and we doubt that our actions will contribute incrementally to large-scale change.

“But a quantum view explains the success of small efforts quite differently.

“Acting locally allows us to be inside the movement and flow of the system, participating in all those complex events occurring simultaneously. We are more likely to be sensitive to the dynamics of this system, and thus more effective. However, changes in small places also affect the global system, not through incrementalism, but because every small system participates in an unbroken wholeness. Activities in one part of the whole create effects that appear in distant places. Because of these unseen connections, there is potential value in working anywhere in the system. We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness.

“In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”



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