Mar 10, 2020
The Democratic primary has again revealed a fundamental divide among feminists regarding goals and the best strategy for fighting patriarchy. The divide between liberal and revolutionary feminists has become more visible amid the debate over whether Elizabeth Warren should endorse Bernie Sanders in order to form a progressive front.
Past and present, liberal feminists have centered the interests of white and wealthy women, often at the direct expense of working-class women, people of color, queer people, and non-U.S. citizens. Liberal feminists are primarily concerned with visibility and representation within institutions of power. Many are now dismissing the contest between Sanders and Biden as just a sexist match between two old white guys. This framing obscures their enormous political differences. It's also ageist, it ignores the fact that only Biden has been accused of touching women, and it erases Sanders' Jewish identity and the anti-Semitic attacks against him.
Revolutionary feminists define feminism as a struggle to dismantle the interlocking systems of patriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy, and imperialism.
The National Organization for Women has urged Warren not to endorse Sanders because "he has done next to nothing for women." This claim implies that working-class demands--for labor rights, affordable healthcare, and a livable planet--are not feminist concerns. It also implies that Sanders has not championed access to abortion and contraception. Both claims are false.
Revolutionary feminists define feminism as a struggle to dismantle the interlocking systems of patriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy, and imperialism. "The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives," explained Black feminists in the Combahee River Collective in 1977. In the United States, this analysis is commonly called "intersectionality," but its roots go back hundreds of years, both here and abroad. For revolutionary feminists, the strategic site of struggle lies in mass movements that seek to reform and dismantle oppressive institutions. Movements are the terrain for fighting society's sexism and for centering the demands and leadership of marginalized women and queer people. Capitalists concede to power, not to well-crafted plans alone. Visibility and representation are just as important in movements as in government. In fact, they may be more important in movements, since only mass movements can win effective representation in the corridors of power.
Multiracial working-class organizations have supported Sanders not as a savior, but because his candidacy offers the best conditions under which to live and organize. They see a strategic opening to save lives and win reforms that will benefit working-class people--including women of color and queer people the most. It's the difference between desperately fending off attacks versus leading offensive fights. At the same time, supporters understand that electing Sanders is not enough. Powerful, disruptive movements will be essential for winning any of the reforms that Sanders and Warren have proposed, and for pushing Sanders further left and holding him accountable.
Many are urging Warren to endorse Sanders because his platform is feminist and because he has the best chance to defeat Trump. Meanwhile, capitalist media and the Democratic Party are waging a propaganda war to paint Biden as more electable. Kamala Harris has endorsed Biden, while Hillary Clinton has repeatedly attacked Sanders.
Warren and her supporters have a choice. They can endorse Sanders to keep the progressive fight alive and defeat Trump. The Working Families Party, which had originally endorsed Warren, has now endorsed Sanders. But if Warren refuses to endorse Sanders, and if her supporters vote for Biden, then this was never about winning feminist reforms, let alone dismantling patriarchy. It was about advancing the political career of one woman over the lives of the many. That is the sort of "sisterhood" that my immigrant mother and movement ancestors warned me about.
A Biden nomination would virtually ensure a Trump victory, killing the progressive platform that both Warren and Sanders have championed. This is a matter of life and death. And we know who will pay biggest the price.
Warren must be defended against sexist attacks. She also needs to be held accountable for taking positions that kill people and disproportionately harm women and queer people--from supporting lethal sanctions against Venezuela and the U.S.-Saudi war in Yemen, to refusing to endorse Sanders as vital primaries come and go. Criticizing the deadly choices of a woman politician or capitalist is not an act of sexism, as liberal feminists often imply. Conflating gender identity and political practice is dangerous. From plantation mistresses who enslaved Black and Native women, to imperialists like Clinton who bomb brown women, being a woman is no measure of feminist politics. Accountability is true feminist practice.
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