Posts tagged Stonewall

Happy birthday!

So, as you may have noticed, it’s June 27th; I don’t know if you know this, but it’s quite a day for radical birthday parties. To-day take some time to say:

  • Happy birthday to Emma Goldman, revolutionary Anarchist organizer, agitator, speaker, writer, and publisher — born June 27, 1869, in Kaunas, Lithuania (then occupied by the Russian Empire).

    The STATE IDEA, the authoritarian principle, has been proven bankrupt by the experience of the Russian Revolution. If I were to sum up my whole argument in one sentence I should say: The inherent tendency of the State is to concentrate, to narrow, and monopolize all social activities; the nature of revolution is, on the contrary, to grow, to broaden, and disseminate itself in ever-wider circles. In other words, the State is institutional and static; revolution is fluent, dynamic. These two tendencies are incompatible and mutually destructive. The State idea killed the Russian Revolution and it must have the same result in all other revolutions, unless the libertarian idea prevail….

    … There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another, This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and means become identical. —My Disillusionment in Russia (1923).

    At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause. I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things. Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal. —Living My Life (1931)

  • Happy birthday to FW Helen Keller, the Alabamian author, scholar, lecturer, and radical agitator — born June 27th, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Remembered today mainly for being blind and deaf and an inspirational example for the moral uplift of the young, what didn’t make it onto stage or screen was how, in her adult life, Keller won fame and infamy as a radical agitating for worker’ freedom, feminism, peace, anti-militarism, and the revolutionary unionism of the Industrial Workers of the World, which she joined in 1912.

    I became an IWW because I found out that the Socialist party was too slow. It is sinking in the political bog. It is almost, if not quite, impossible for the party to keep its revolutionary character so long as it occupies a place under the government and seeks office under it. The government does not stand for interests the Socialist party is supposed to represent. … The true task is to unite and organize all workers on an economic basis, and it is the workers themselves who must secure freedom for themselves, who must grow strong. Nothing can be gained by political action. That is why I became an IWW.

    — Helen Keller, interviewed by Barbara Bindley, Why I Became an IWW, New York Tribune (January 16, 1916)

    [Bindley:] What are you committed to—education or revolution? [Keller:] Revolution. She answered decisively. We can’t have education without revolution. We have tried peace education for 1,900 years and it has failed. Let us try revolution and see what it will do now. … Again the advisability of printing all this here set forth. And this finally from the patience-exhausted, gentle little woman: I don’t give a damn about semi-radicals! —Helen Keller, interviewed by Barbara Bindley, Why I Became an IWW, New York Tribune (January 16, 1916)

    The future of the world rests in the hands of America. The future of America rests on the backs of 80,000,000 working men and women and their children. We are facing a grave crisis in our national life. The few who profit from the labor of the masses want to organize the workers into an army which will protect the interests of the capitalists. You are urged to add to the heavy burdens you already bear the burden of a larger army and many additional warships. It is in your power to refuse to carry the artillery and the dread-noughts and to shake off some of the burdens, too, such as limousines, steam yachts and country estates. You do not neet to make a great noise about it. With the silence and dignity of creators you can end wars and the system of selfishness and exploitation that causes wars. All you need to do to bring about this stupendous revolution is to straighten up and fold your arms.

    … They know that if the government dresses them up in khaki and gives them a rifle and starts them off with a brass band and waving banners, they will go forth to fight valiantly for their own enemies. They are taught that brave men die for their country’s honor. What a price to pay for an abstraction—the lives of millions of young men; other millions crippled and blinded for life; existence made hideous for still more millions of human being; the achievement and inheritance of generations swept away in a moment—and nobody better off for all the misery! This terrible sacrifice would be comprehensible if the thing you die for and call country fed, clothed, housed and warmed you, educated and cherished your children. I think the workers are the most unselfish of the children of men; they toil and live and die for other people’s country, other people’s sentiments, other people’s liberties and other people’s happiness! The workers have no liberties of their own; they are not free when they are compelled to work twelve or ten or eight hours a day. they are not free when they are ill paid for their exhausting toil. They are not free when their children must labor in mines, mills and factories or starve, and when their women may be driven by poverty to lives of shame. They are not free when they are clubbed and imprisoned because they go on strike for a raise of wages and for the elemental justice that is their right as human beings.

    … Strike against all ordinances and laws and institutions that continue the slaughter of peace and the butcheries of war. Srike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Strike against manufacturing scrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder. Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human being. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction.

    — Helen Keller (January 5, 1916), Strike Against War, speech at Carnegie Hall on behalf of the Women’s Peace Party and the Labor Forum

  • And while we’re on the subject, let’s also wish happy birthday to the Industrial Workers of the World! The IWW’s founding convention began 105 years ago today in Chicago, on June 27, 1905.

If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists. As long as the workers keep their hands in their pockets, the capitalists cannot put theirs there. With passive resistance, with the workers absolutely refusing to move, lying absolutely silent, they are more powerful than all the weapons and instruments that the other side has for attack.

— FW Joe Ettor, in the Bread and Roses textile strike of 1912

  • And happy birthday to the radical gay and trans liberation movements! Late at night, 41 years ago today, on June 27th, 1969, and early in the morning on June 28th, the Public Morals Squad [sic] of the New York City government’s police force infiltrated and then assaulted the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, believing that they would use violence, prison, and social shaming yet again in their ongoing campaign on behalf of the Basher State. But something happened that night that they didn’t expect — when the poorest and most marginalized in the queer and trans community said no more, began to resist, and then fought back against the cops. When people dressed as women refused to be taken back to the bathroom to have police verify their sex, men began to refuse to show their IDs, and cops started bullying and groping lesbians during frisks, the police shoved the people in the bar outside. Those who hadn’t been singled out for arrest refused to leave, and stayed to witness in solidarity. People began to shout Gay Power! and sing We Shall Overcome. When a cop smashed a stone butch over the head with a billy-club for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight, the crowd finally erupted, turned on the police, and freed the prisoners from the police wagon. The police, humiliated and massively outnumbered, barricaded themselves inside the bar until the NYPD’s Tactical Police Force arrived to pull them out and beat a hasty retreat. Running battles with police in Greenwich Village streets continued the next night. Witnessing the example of street kids, gay men, lesbians, drag queens and trans folks rise up, fight back, and win against the government violence of the Morals Police brought about a new urgency, a new daring, and effectively a new movement. Within a few months, the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Activists Alliance, and Gay Pride organizing committee had sprung up in New York, with the first Gay Pride march in New York City’s history being held on June 28, 1970, in honor of Christopher Street Liberation Day. As Frank Kameny, a longtime organizer for the Mattachine Society put it, By the time of Stonewall, we had fifty to sixty gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least fifteen hundred. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was twenty-five hundred.

    We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration. It was spontaneous. That was the part that was wonderful.

    Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us…. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We didn’t really have the freedom totally, but we weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.

    — Michael Fader, quoted in David Carter (2004), Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, p. 160.

Here’s to many happy returns.

“What kind of victory is that?” Jane Rule on Government-approved Gay Marriage

Jane Rule, a feminist before the Second Wave and a pioneer lesbian novelist before Stonewall, died last month at the age of 76. She was born an American but moved to Canada with her lover Helen Sonthoff, where they would live for the rest of their lives, in order to escape the persecution of the McCarthy era. In her novels, she was known for her nuanced and sympathetic portraits of lesbian characters’ lives—one of the first novelists to write books about lesbians in which her characters lived through ordinary human problems, were not punished for their sexuality, and were not treated as psychological freaks. Her essays, columns, and correspondence were notable for her generosity, patience, and also vigorously independent thought. Although she wrote passionately and movingly about her own life-long love affair with Helen, she was sharply critical of the gay rights movement’s efforts to win State recognition for gay and lesbian marriages. Here is what she wrote for the Spring 2001 issue of BC Bookworld; while I’d urge a radical people-power solution to problems of welfare, based on mutual aid between workers rather than State redistribution, the rest of the essay is almost entirely right-on. The solution is not to lodge same-sex relationships firmly under the eyes and the bootheels of the marital State; it is to free everything that’s valuable in both straight and gay love, intimacy, and commitment from the State’s stifling embrace.

The Heterosexual Cage of Coupledom

Over thirty years ago, when homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized, Trudeau said that the government had no business in the bedrooms of the nation.

Until a few months ago that privacy was respected.

Now the government has passed a law including gay and lesbian couples as common-law partners with the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual common-law partners. Any of us who have lived together in a sexual relationship for over two years must declare ourselves on our income tax forms, or we are breaking the law.

With one stroke of the pen all gay and lesbian couples in Canada have been either outed if they declare or recriminalized if they do not. Our bedroom doors have come off their legal hinges.

Why then is there such support for this new law among gay people? Svend Robinson spoke in favor of it the House. EGALE, the national organization for gays and lesbians, encouraged its passing.

It is celebrated by all of them as a step along the road to total social acceptance, to a day when those of us who wish to can be legally married, our relationships just as respectable as those of heterosexuals.

But common-law partnerships were never about respectability. They were forced on couples as a way of protecting women and children from men who, by refusing to marry, were trying to avoid responsibility, free to move on when they felt like it without legal burdens of alimony and child support, without claims on their property or pensions.

There are some gay and lesbian couples raising children who, because they are not allowed to marry, may find a common-law partnership useful for benefits in tax relief, health benefits, pensions, if they can afford to expose themselves to the homophobia still rampant in this country. The law may also protect those who are financially dependent on their partners from being cast aside without financial aid.

But the law, far from conferring respectability, simply forces financial responsibility on those perceived to be irresponsible without it. What about those poor who are unable to work because they are single parents or ill or disabled?

The single mother on welfare has long had her privacy invaded by social workers looking for live-in men who should be expected to support her and another man’s children. Now single mothers must beware of live-in women as well. The ill and disabled will also be forced to live alone or sacrifice their benefits if their partners have work.

Over the years when we have been left to live lawless, a great many of us have learned to take responsibility for ourselves and each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, not bound by the marriage service or model but on singularities and groupings of our own invention.

To be forced back into the heterosexual cage of coupledom is not a step forward but a step back into state-imposed definitions of relationship. With all that we have learned, we should be helping our heterosexual brothers and sisters out of their state-defined prisons, not volunteering to join them there.

We should all accept responsibility for those who must be dependent, children, the old, the ill and the disabled, by assuring that our tax dollars are spent for their care. We should not have any part in supporting laws which promote unequal relationships between adults, unnecessary dependencies, false positions of power.

No responsible citizen should allow the state to privatize the welfare of those in need, to make them victims to the abilities and whims of their legal keepers. Human rights are the core responsibility of the government.

The regulation of adult human relationships is not.

To trade the freedom we have had to invent our own lives for state-imposed coupledom does not make us any more respectable in the eyes of those who enjoy passing judgment. We become instead children clambering for rule, for consequences to be imposed on us instead of self-respecting, self-defining adults.

Those of us who want to legalize our relationships for the protection of our children, for our own security, for whatever reason, should have the right to do so but not at the expense of imposing that condition on all the rest if us.

What we have now is neither the right to marry nor the right to remain private and independent in our relationships.

What kind of victory is that?

— Jane Rule, BC Bookworld (Spring 2001): The Heterosexual Cage of Coupledom

Via Women’s Space / The Margins 2007-12-02.