Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"Radical," Feminism, Boston, and WAM: Free Write

This is just a free write about some topics that have been circulating in my head from the weekend. This is my last post about WAM (Women, Action, and the Media Conference).

There are two things I want to blog about right now: the term radical and my WAMmo experience.

First question - Do people understand what 'radical' means to individual feminists? Do people see that insignia on blogs that reads, "Radical Women of Color Blog Ring," and think terror? Do people understand that it's a natural group dynamic to find comfort in a name while still expressing differing opinions on the actual definition?

1) Radical is derived from the latin word for ROOT. Getting to the bottom of things, the truth of the matter. Dilly dallying with the petals and surface is not my feminism. Mine is rooted in the rich soil, the dirt that gives life. I'm radical because

2) I'm anti-excessive consumerism. READ: I'm not anti-money. I'm anti-excessive. Adonis and I want to have little feminists running around someday and they need a roof. They'll need food. We have a car and I buy tofu and meat. But, I build a strong wall around consumption and believe that excessive consumption, selling, buying, and money/power-driven economics is the darkest shadow of the proverbial "Women's Movement," that celebrates icons instead communities, marketing instead of distribution, and trends instead of justice.

3) I'm radical because I believe in the equality of womyn of color. I believe that stairs are more than stairs when there are no elevators for womyn who cannot climb them. I believe that jokingly threatening EXECUTION to a crowd of women that has womyn of color in it in the name of safe space and confidentiality is wrong and hurtful. I am radical because while I may not agree with others, I will stand by their anger and support their voices. I'm radical because equality means more than just additional sidebar links. I'm radical because I detest stealing ideas and not citing the author and blogger from where you found the information. I'm radical because I have found "normalcy" to equate complacency. I am not a feminist who will sit in silence while Brown and Black and Yellow and Red womyn become displaced and pretend that pickets and online petitions are enough. It is not enough.

Radical is not negative, folks. There seems to be a misunderstanding that when womyn of color are angry, it's all negative. From the WOC I am in community with, there is anger. Lots of it. It's in our blood from a life line of violence, rape, and racism. I think people hear what they want to hear and what they want to hear is the anger, it makes WOC easier to dismiss. But, the creative energy, the laughter and light is ten fold the anger. I'm angry, sure, but I'm much more than the anger and I believe in more positivity than I do in bitterness.

How does that relate to WAM?

Veronica talked about her good and bad experience of WAM and I agree with several of her points. I don't speak for anyone else, not even those who I housed when I say that WAM, like so many other conferences I have attended (e.g. NWSA) have much work to do with regard to racial divides. WAM is the brainchild of the Center for New Words, a non-profit org here in Cambridge that prioritizes, yes prioritizes, marginalized voices. The programs that I have attended have been provocative and stirring. Their rich history is a celebration of perseverance and will. Why should I not believe that WAM would be the same?

Thursday 9pm
I am giggling. A lot. I'm so excited for everything to unfold. I throw myself on a hotel bed and joke, "There better not be any pro-Hillary pundits telling me how to vote. I'm going to vomit."
Hee Hee Hee - that's not gonna happen, Sudy.

We are eating indian food and are laughing over everything and nothing. Folks are staring because we are loudly laughing. They are glancing over their shoulders and their backs feel like walls. We tip well and leave.

We enter a book store in Harvard Square. "Do you have Andrea Smith's Conquest?"

Thursday 10:37pm
We're on the train, giggling about anything and everything. A tall man closes in and leans toward us, "You girls look like you're having a good time. Do you want to hear some jokes?"
BA and Nadia are sitting across from me. I look at Wifey. She can already sense trouble.

Even though my nose still stings from any contact with fabric because of my piercing, I bury my face in Wifey's armpit as this man shoots out disgusting racially charged and sexist jokes. I cover my face with my hands. Peaking briefly across the way, Nadia and BA have done the same. Nicole, a friend, utters, "I think that's enough of the jokes, Sir." He tries one more. Dead silence. He leaves us alone.

Friday 11am
One of the most contentious issues with any feminist conference is the politics of attendance. The can-attend and can't-attend is something I take seriously. (You know, I'm radical like that.) For the can't-attends, LIVE BLOGGING is a great tool to channel the wisdom and information to those who could not afford the conference, take time off of work, be away from families, or find adequate means to spend a weekend in Boston. What is shared is passed on to readers. It's a tool commonly called LIVE BLOGGING, I'm old school and call it, SHARING.

As I took pictures and wrote down quotes and springing ideas, out of nowhere it was stressed that no blogging, publicizing, or quoting was allowed. Got it, says me, the lady with the Nikon SLR. Laugh, laugh - we'll execute you. Got it, says me, the lady with the Nikon. No, really, we'll execute you if you threaten this safe space of confidentiality. Got it, says me, the lady with the Nikon. Execute you. Execute. Execute.

This is a journalists' conference. This is, "Where women's words matter." Oh, it matters alright.


But, if I say anything, I am breaking confidentiality. Well, I'm not quoting, posting photos, or doing anything less than writing my experience. Hey, I'm just a radical Nikon lady trying to get out the goods others. I guess voicing threatens other's safe space. It was not a safe space for me though. "Execute?" Ooops, that was a quote.

Friday 8pm
Opening keynote..."Bitch is the new black."
"Someday we'll have own female Don Imus."
Did Saturday Night Live just squeak its way into this conference? Is that a Hill endorsement?
Did you just suggest that we need a female racist to utter spiteful comments into the radio waves so we're equal?

This is liberation?

Friday 10pm
I'm running around, trying to get folks settled, fed, and happy. BFP needs a Shamrock shake and some hot womyn tries to pick her up while she's walking out of McDs. I'm waiting in the car. Flashers are on, illegal parking. Stressssssss. No time to process what just happened today. Yet.

Saturday 12:30am
Security asks us to be quiet. It's the Marriot, not a libary! We don't want to get kicked out. We shush eat other's voices for the next hour and a half while we gently plan our session. We muffle our laughter with pillows.
BA asks, "Is there somewhere in Boston where we can just laugh and be ourselves?"

Saturday 10:56am
I am driving wild. But I live here in Boston and that's why I fit in. The panel on Immigration is superb but I am wondering why people think that getting coverage on Bill O'Reilly's show is worth talking about. Why are we even talking about people like Don Imus and Bill O'Reilly? For a few moments, I am having an out of body experience.

Saturday 11:28am
BFP is soaring and I watch her wings with love.

Saturday 12:30pm
I am carrying my sandwich and cannot wait to devour it while we have or Radical Womyn of Color Blogger's Caucus.

Saturday 12:54pm
Lex and I discover our room is double booked with a film screening. We walk to information, Our room is double booked.

"That's not possible."

My sandwich feels like it weighs 10lbs and my WAM bag is getting sweaty from my wet hands.
Blood sugar is dropping. I need sustenance. Now.

Our room is double booked.

"Did you check the program?"

I am having another out of body experience. Blooood sugarrrr drrropppinngg. Thank God for Lex.

Saturday 1:03pm
"There's a room now."

Saturday 1:20pm
We talk goods. We talk struggles.

Saturday 2:oopm
Our glorious session begins. A room full of womyn express their wishes for the world. A womyn brings 6 generations of Black womyn's struggles into the room. My heart is overflowing with joy. I keep thinking, "THIS is who we are." If only everyone else could see what we can do when we have the space, time, and freedom to create and Speak ourselves into existence. Jill and Octo make my heart smile. The energy fills me. The world, I feel, is so full of goodness and beauty.

Saturday 4pm.
An embrace I still feel.

Saturday 5pm
I am appointed driver of a huge minivan and cram it full of womyn of color feminists. It feels like family. This is my family. I drive like a wild womyn and need to wash my mouth out with soap for what I said to an unstable cyclist on Tremont and Boylston Street. We retire to my pad to rest up for tonight.

Saturday 7pm
Um, the Queer WOC and Allies reception is the same time as the WAM party. I tell Adonis, "I wanna dance tonight." The WAM party's got a DJ, but the other party's got my name on it. He seems perplexed at the dilemma. Is it a misprint, he asks. I wonder if anyone notices this. Uh yeah, everyone brings it up. Is this social segregation?

The Queer/WOC/Allies party rocks hard and it's a beautiful space full of laughter and comfort. BFP and I air-guitar during Pour Some Sugar on Me. Passerby-ers of The Tavern gawk at a dark room full of womyn dancing, rubbing, kissing, laughing, and drinking. Nothing to see here, just us,

I could count the allies I met on one hand.

Sunday 1am
BFP and I drive back while others go to IHop.

Sunday 4am
Nadia calls. Can you let us in?

Sunday 11am
I attend mass because I'm a radical Catholic like that. I pray for strength, peace, unity for feminists. I ask G*d for all kinds of things and hope She didn't hear what I said to that cyclist.

Sunday 1:30
Black Seed Cafe charges your first born child for a pastrami sandwich. We eat. Wifey and BA are leaving soon. My thoughts are beginning to turn sad as their departures begin.

Sunday 2:17pm
Wifey's purse is gone. The blue canvas, "Obama is My Homeboy" purse that I coveted is gone. How is that possible, I wonder, when I sat across from her the entire time? Her phone, iPod, wallet, Greyhound ticket, ID, LIFE is in there.

Sunday 2:30pm
Call the police for a report. Call credit cards to cancel. We are instructed to go to one of the police's kiosks down the block to write a report. We arrive. No one is there. We call again.
Please hold. Please hold. Please hold. Please hold.

An officer arrives at the kiosk contradicts the officer on the phone. "You can't make a report here."

Please hold. Please hold. Please hold. Please hold.

"Take the train to Haymarket stop. Look up and there's the police station. That's where you make the report."

Wifey's on the phone with Wachovia Bank who are giving her a difficult time. Why won't anyone help her?

Two officers in a car. Lex asks, "Please, can you give her a ride to the station? We're from out of town, she needs to catch a bus. She has no ID. "

"No. You need to ask someone else. We don't work with the Boston Police. We're a different department."

Please, someone. Help us. We're walking around this city with luggage, long faces, and 2 friends who need to leave.

The officers pull away from us in their car, literally.

I yell, "Her purse was stolen and no one will help us. Can anyone, someone please help us?"


Of course stares. A bunch of womyn, a lot of color, and luggage. A yell. Must mean trouble.

We get on the train. Haymarket. We go to the info desk, "Where is the police station?"

"Oh, you go up the street. It's up there, if it's still there."

'Scuse me?

"It may have moved."

The police station may have moved? Thanks.

We march onward. The air is cold and the city is colder. My friends ask me if the city is always like this and I reflect. It never has been that way to me. How are all of these things happening? Is it because of who I am standing with? A bunch of womyn of color who need help and have a voice? Maybe. Maybe not. What I do know is that frustration is mounting and I am exhausted.

The police station is worse.

"What's the address of the place it was stolen?"

Wifey is being too kind, she freaking calls 411 on someone else's phone to get the address for the person taking her report. Do they know what a phone book is?

"Do you have a picture ID?"

BA looks like she will assassinate anyone that breathes. Lex, BFP, Nadia and I are incredulous. She JUST spent the last 15 minutes explaining how EVERYTHING was stolen. Nadia goes to smoke.

I contemplate beginning to smoke.

Sunday 4:28pm
BA and Wifey head toward Greyhound. The rest retire to my apartment.

Sunday 8pm
Lex's plane is supposed to depart from Logan aiport.

Sunday 8:32pm
Lex is asked to get off the plane because it is too heavy. Lex weighs approximately 97lbs and is bumped to help the plane get its butt off the ground.
She heads back to my place.

Sunday 9pm
We all eat and celebrate the weekend. My eyes begin to droop at midnight.

Monday 1:15am
We hug good night.

Monday 4:30am
Bfp and Lex get to airport. The planes are at even weight apparently.

Monday 7:00am
I drive Nadia to the airport.

Monday 10am
Process with Adonis, my sister, and Self begin.

What do I need to say about my WAM experience? It had its moments. It has its clouds.
I know how much work goes into conferences and how much of one's Self goes into planning, work, and detail. I respect that and all the hours that went into it. But there were things that transpired there that had nothing to do with the conference details, but about the general "Women's Movement" atmosphere. A much larger issue than one conference exists. I don't believe that everything that happened this weekend is an indication of a divide, but I do think that portions of the conference speak to much larger problems that exist between feminists.

I also don't believe that simply putting a womyn's face where a man's face once was is going to solve our problems. Mainstream media will never hear the voice of Real Womyn and by Real Womyn I am talking about womyn of color, incarcerated womyn, migrant womyn, womyn at the border, womyn gripped in violence, rape, and war. Mainstream media does not cover these stories and when it does it narrows the experience and distorts the truth to make is sensationalized and flashy. Feminists who believe in telling true Stories of womyn will struggle in media "reform." For those want Justice, get to the Allied Media Conference.

What I don't want to do is feed the binary feel of feminism - across race or religion or citizenship - or anything. There is a place for honesty and anger - always. But I also feel that there is a need for critical analysis of why division exists, what is gained AND lost when separation occurs in feminism. While I remain critical of mainstream feminism and its flaws, that critical analysis is not absent from the communities that I identify. What can I, a womyn of color, do to bridge this divide?

The highs and positivity are what I want to focus on. Most of the highs were provided by the company I kept and the womyn and allies in our session. I can't say enough about Jess Hoffman and how excited I am to work with her on make/shift. There's not enough vocabulary to express what transpired in our session with all those other womyn. The space provided where womyn can safely create, remember, and piece their vision together is the face of feminism to me.

That is what radical means to me.


  1. Anonymous12:15 AM

    sudy - this is beautiful. amazing how the accumulation of all the pieces - the real, lived scenes - says so much more sometimes than, well ...
    truly - there is something to the way you are laying out one scene after another, human, emotional, the relationships mixed with the politics ... i think that's a lot of what the reformist/scared-of-radical folks are missing, what made so much of the conference feel disorienting/crazy-making/disjointed. this isn't abstract or distant but right here, where people are feeling and perceiving and being marginalized and knowing precisely because of that how important it is to get at the root and not play superficial, power-grabby, false, misguided games.
    love to you.

  2. Anonymous12:47 AM

    love love love reliving this with you, even the "need to smoke" parts.

    beautiful, completly.

  3. Anonymous8:05 AM

    As one of those people who "can't make it" to stuff like this, I am so grateful that you brave the threats on our behalf to tell us what went on. I am in turn shocked and not-so-much by much of what you have written here. It hurts me to know that women I love and respect so much had to go through all that. And that there is/was nothing I can do that takes away your/their pain. Except to get a better understanding of media JUSTICE and do my part to help make it a reality. Thank you for sharing this so raw.

  4. Seriously you can't make that shit up.

    Drama and all I just wish I could could have squeezed by ass in the minivan with you all.

  5. I left a similar comment for Jessica Hoffman about how when I reviewed the brochure for WAM! after arriving, I was suprised to see the word "feminist" used as though it had a settled meaning - that everyone might already have an understanding of what it meant, because I know that in the places I read and write, it is the least settled term I can think of.

    I suggested to the CNW exec director that we need to think about the linguistics of feminism, and she said that that sounds like a session.

    The more I'm reading all these posts from attendees and presenters, the more I'm convinced that there needs to be an open dialogue between all of us who use these words and more - because if we don't even understand what they mean to each of us, I'm not sure how we can promote any of what it means with as much success as we could if we DID have better understanding.

    Anyway - thanks for writing these reflections. I'm so sorry for the purse experience too.

  6. Anonymous4:32 PM

    I am radical because while I may not agree with others, I will stand by their anger and support their voices...The space provided where womyn can safely create, remember, and piece their vision together is the face of feminism to me.

    I'm a new reader to your blog, and I wanted to chime in and say that this whole post, and especially the above, is beautifully stated. Staying steady together, across any lines/difference/distance, as womyn who are made of anger, joy, hope, all of it -- that is truly radical.

    Thanks for your words here.

  7. what La Mala said--you really can't make that shit up. and, wtf bumping someone because the plane is too heavy?! WHAT?!

    the purse stealing episode sounds like a fucking nightmare. did K ever get any of her stuff back? how'd she manage the trip back without ID?

    and yeah, I'd probably be thinking about taking up smoking too.

    My best friend loathes Boston. The last few times I was there I began to see what he meant. It's...yeah. A lot of things; but New England is definitely one of them, under all the shiny yuppie and liberal spillover from old-school Cambridge and so forth, I would say.

    I just wish Detroit was anywhere near anywhere I'd be easily able to get to or likely to go otherwise.

  8. belle, somehow the good in boston forced its way through and i received in the mail yesterday, courtesy of the boston pd, my purse with my ipod, digital camera, planner, scarf and nadia's newest zine. my wallet was gone, but everything else was found in the bathroom of the restaurant while it was taken. and i would rather get a new wallet than buy a new ipod or camera. so i suppose this is the twisted theft silver lining. or something.

    and i learned from lex that you can use a police report as id to board a bus home. BUT greyhound will make you buy you a new bus ticket, even though yours is documented online and on said police report.

    [by "the good in boston" i think i mean "sudy lives there." i still imagine her sitting the city down and going "look, this is not acceptable behavior." and boston shaking her head and saying "okay, okay, i'll see what i can do. i'm sorry."]


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