Radical Women

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Radical Women (RW) is a socialist feminist[1] grassroots activist organization that provides a radical voice within the feminist movement, a feminist voice within the Left, and trains women to be leaders in the movements for social and economic justice. It has branches in numerous United States cities as well as in Melbourne, Australia.

History[edit]

Radical Women emerged in Seattle, Washington from a “Free University” class on Women and Society conducted by Gloria Martin,[2] a lifelong communist and civil rights champion. As a result of the class, Martin teamed up with Clara Fraser[3] and Melba Windoffer (initiators of the Freedom Socialist Party) and Susan Stern (a prominent figure in the local Students for a Democratic Society) to launch Radical Women in 1967.

In Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, 1966-76[4] Martin writes that the new group was formed to “demonstrate that women could act politically, learn and teach theory, administer an organization, develop indigenous leadership, and focus movement and community attention on the sorely neglected matter of women’s rights — and that women could do this on their own.”

From the outset, Radical Women participated heavily in the explosive anti-Vietnam War mobilization and has opposed subsequent wars, interventions and occupations initiated by Western countries.

Members worked with African American women from anti-poverty programs to initiate the abortion rights movement in Washington State with a historic march on the capitol in 1969.[5]

In the early 1970s, RW helped organize a strike and a union of low-paid employees (mostly female and of color) at the University of Washington. Many Radical Women members were trailblazers in the nontraditional trades. At Seattle’s public power company, Seattle City Light, Clara Fraser crafted and implemented the country’s first plan to train women as utility electricians. For these efforts and her prominent role in a mass walkout at the utility, Clara was fired. She fought an intense, seven-year legal case that ultimately affirmed the right of free speech in the workplace and won her reinstatement at City Light.[6]

After working closely with the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), Radical Women and the party formally affiliated in 1973 on the basis of a shared socialist feminist program.

Purpose and ideology[edit]

The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure[7] defines Radical Women’s purpose and ideology as follows:

Radical Women is dedicated to exposing, resisting, and eliminating the inequities of women’s existence. To accomplish this task of insuring survival for an entire sex, we must simultaneously address ourselves to the social and material source of sexism: the capitalist form of production and distribution of products, characterized by intrinsic class, race, sex, and caste oppression. When we work for the revolutionary transformation of capitalism into a socialist society, we work for a world in which all people may enjoy the right of full humanity and freedom from poverty, war, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and repression.

Radical Women calls for a multi-racial, multi-issue, working class and anticapitalist approach to women’s liberation. The group looks to the leadership of the women of color and lesbians in movements for social change, and calls for solidarity and mutual aid of all the oppressed.

RW believes in mobilizing community protest against rightwing assaults on reproductive freedom. It calls for free abortion on demand, an end to forced sterilization of women of color, and for affordable, quality, 24-hour childcare.

RW persistently presses to form alliances and united fronts, including early efforts such as the Action Childcare Coalition, the Feminist Coordinating Council (an umbrella organization made up of the whole spectrum of women’s groups in Seattle), and the Coalition for Protective Legislation (a labor and feminist effort to extend female-designated workplace safeguards to men after passage of the Washington State Equal Rights Amendment).

RW has continuously supported the front-line role of women of color, combatted racism among feminist activists, and spoken out against sexism in people of color movements. In its early years, Seattle Radical Women worked closely with the local Black Panther Party chapter to prevent the kind of lethal police attacks that decimated Black militants in other cities. In the 1970s, members participated in mass civil disobedience organized by the United Construction Workers Association[8] to break the color line in the all-white building trades. They defended Chicana feminist Rosa Morales, victim of a sexist firing from her position as Chicano Studies staff-person at the University of Washington. RW worked closely with Native American women leaders Janet McCloud[9] and Ramona Bennett,[10] and participated in the Puyallup Tribe’s successful takeover of Cascadia Juvenile Center, a former Indian hospital. The group demands affirmative action, ethnic studies, justice for immigrants, and an end to police violence.

Radical Women has played a leading role in lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender liberation struggles.[11] Members have helped build militant lesbian/gay rights organizations and have been involved in many coalitions devoted to preventing forced AIDS testing, opposing ballot-box attacks on gay rights, lobbying for state gay rights bills, and more. In the 1980s Radical Women leader Merle Woo, a college lecturer, writer and Asian American lesbian spokesperson, triumphed against the University of California at Berkeley in two epic employment cases charging discrimination on race, sex, sexuality and political ideology.

Radical Women encourages its members to become union militants, and some[citation needed] have been sparkplugs for many years on county labor councils in San Francisco and Seattle. RW views women’s mass entry into the workforce as an issue of deep significance, seeing women workers as strategically placed in the rapidly growing and powerful service sector. RW's position is that, together with people of color and lesbians and gays, women are the overwhelming majority of workers and have the potential to revolutionize society.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A bibliography of Socialist Feminism on Kristin Switala's Feminist Theory Website, Center for Digital Discourse and Culture at Virginia Tech. includes the work of RW's Gloria Martin and Clara Fraser. Accessed online 8 April 2007.
  2. ^ Gloria Martin, 1916-1995: Feminist Pioneer and Unabashed Lifelong Socialist (obituary notice put out by RW and Freedom Socialist Party, reproduced on the Progressive News & Views List archive). Accessed online 8 April 2007.
  3. ^ Clara Fraser, 1923-1998: American rebel and architect of socialist feminism, Socialism.com. Accessed online 8 April 2007.
  4. ^ Gloria Martin, Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, 1966-76, Red Letter Press. ISBN 0-932323-00-6. [1]
  5. ^ See Cassandra Tate, Marilyn Ward recalls the campaign to reform Washington's abortion law, HistoryLink essay #2675, HistoryLink.org, for an oppositional view of the protest.
  6. ^ Nicole Grant, "Challenging Sexism at City Light" University of Washington, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project
  7. ^ The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure, Red Letter Press ISBN 0-932323-11-1. [2]
  8. ^ United Construction Workers Association on Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, University of Washington. Cites for the UCWA in general, though not for RW's involvement.
  9. ^ Janet McCloud, 1934-2003: Indian activist put family first. Obituary on Native Action Network, reprinted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Cites for McCloud generally, but not for RW's involvement.
  10. ^ Ramona Bennett on Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, University of Washington. Cites for the Bennett in general, though not for RW's involvement.
  11. ^ Don Poulson, "Seattle's Gay History: Jamma Phi (1959 -1963): Seattle's first Gay Organization", Seattle Gay News,; and Gary Atkins, Gay Seattle, (University of Washington Press, 2003).

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