Women’s Voices Build Up for a Tsunami of Liberation
By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — Over the weekend, I was blown away by the eloquent and brave voices of women gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the 25 years of the transnational feminist organization AF3IRM.
It was quite overwhelming for a writer who’s naturally in constant look-out for a punchy, attractive angle for a story. I have been hit so many times over with their amazing reflections.
At hindsight, the terms women’s liberation and feminism are among the scariest words to ever speak of. Scary because they’re often misunderstood and taken off context. Oftentimes, women’s issues are trivialized and relegated to the sides by mainstream media. It is perhaps due to the manner at which the actors of women’s movements, which were partial or not holistic enough to be fully understood.
But these days may be over, with the lens of the transnational woman of color to see things through.
Coming of Age
At 25, the women’s rights movement with AF3IRM at the helm has come full circle with the articulation that the place of a woman is at the head of the struggle for liberation.
This struggle is not just singly about the right to equal pay, or the right to vote, or the right to education. This is about the struggle for the reorganization of society, because clearly, the patriarchal system is threatening our lives and the earth itself, as founding chairperson Ninotchka Rosca puts it.
The politics of class, sexuality, and environmentalism are being compartmentalized, she said, hence making it easy for women’s issues to be trivialized or disenfranchised. “But all of these are just one. We need to see things as one.”
Rosca, a Filipina, is an award-winning novelist and human rights activist. She set the student movement ablaze in the Philippines during the tumultuous years of the Marcos dictatorship.
The 25th anniversary of the transnational feminist group AF3IRM and the national summit dubbed as “Women on the Wave” on October 11 and 12, 2014 was a historically unprecedented convergence of women activists who articulated integral issues of economic, cultural, racial, and political oppression. It gathered more than 400 women all over the country, including its neighbors Canada and Mexico, at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex in downtown LA’s Filipino-Latino district.
AF3IRM chairperson Jollene Levid welcomed the participants early on Saturday, October 11, with a voice that’s both firm and sweet, “Women are in the head in the struggle for the liberation of humanity.”
Levid has been with AF3IRM for more than 10 years, and activism has very much become her, together with hundreds of women of color who have grown in the vast experiences of the social movements in America.
“We are unapologetic for our own liberation. We cannot use as measuring stick of our successes the equality with men, for they are the creators of patriarchy,” she emphasized.
AF3IRM puts a profound emphasis on reawakening of the spiritual roots the struggle for women’s rights. It also views that oppression of women cuts through class, race, gender, economics, culture, and politics and hence must be viewed as an “intersection” of all these factors.
AF3IRM has articulated an affirmation stating, “we affirm our commitment to recognize and value the work of pre-class societies as models of gender equality, power sharing, and survival, as we envision and build a new world that realizes true and genuine women’s liberation.”
We Build Our Theory for Liberation
At the heart of the summit was the enriching discussion on the theory building of women’s liberation.
This was a departure of the typical social movements around the world, where women’s rights movements are adjunct to larger movements and women’s contributions are often unrecognized. As Rosca puts it, “We are tired of the politics of subordination and submission to the patriarchy. We are tired of the politics of silence.”
AF3IRM defined its own revolutionary theory and practice with the input of experiences from Thandisizwe Chimuvenga, a journalist, Grace Chang, a university professor, and Rosa Clemente, an organizer and teacher, and Rosca.
“We build our theory everyday. Nobody can articulate it for us. We should tell our stories. It is the only way to get it right,” said Chang.
“We have a shared victimization by white supremacy. And as women of color, our work is creating a new society, away from imperialist domination. We are the caretakers and fighters for our family. As we transform society, we also heal ourselves. It is an intrinsic part of the struggle for liberation, ” quipped Chimuvenga.
“Revolution is very personal. We have to come from the heart. We have to be authentic to do something everyday that will change the world,” said Clemente.
Waves to Tsunamis
The AF3IRM summer school for women’s activism in June 2014 articulated the ‘5 continents feminism’ which debunked the western scholarly definition of waves of feminist movements. This school identified the various struggles made by women in Eurasia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America in various timelines, based on their own unique experiences of colonial domination.
AF3IRM has questioned the first wave of feminism, defined by scholars, to be solely created by the women who fought for suffrage in the US and Europe.
In its summer school, AF3IRM noted that the struggle for the right to vote and have a public life did not only have the face of the white woman. The black women also engaged in a more difficult struggle themselves, that of pushing for their right to be free and to vote, well against the resistance of the white men and women, and the black men.
AF3IRM had deepened its articulation of the waves of feminist movements by including the faces of women of color in all parts of the world as having engaged in the struggle for their own liberation.
At the summit, there was no other more inspiring articulation than the emerging young leaders themselves. During the various group discussions, these magnificent hash tags were born from the youth: #take back our spiritual roots, #respect yourself, #open space to be aware of intersectionality of issues,
#challenge history by telling our stories, #live life by deconstructing old thoughts.
I went home to New York inspired and re-energized, coming full circle as a writer of women’s struggles, and as a woman of color.