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intersectionality

Get Intersectional! (Or, Why Your Movement Can't Go It Alone)

By Kristin Moe - Yes Magazine, April 4, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

"Intersectionality" has evolved from a theory of how oppression works to a notion of how people can fight it.

"There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives." –Audre Lorde

Here’s the scenario: This year’s epic drought devastates agriculture in California. Water use is rationed, so the cost of grain goes up, and, because cattle eat grain, the cost of beef goes up too. To cut expenses, the owners of a fast food restaurant cut a worker's wages and benefits by a couple bucks an hour. Next month he won’t be able to send money to his wife and kids back in Mexico, where the same drought is also decimating farms—and may be contributing to even more northward migration.

What’s the origin of the restaurant worker’s predicament?

Is it climate change, which makes droughts more severe and more likely to persist? Is it the labor policies that allowed the worker's wages to be cut? Or is it that NAFTA has flooded the Mexican market with cheap, U.S.-grown corn since 1996, forcing him to leave his family’s farm and migrate to California in the first place?

The likely answer is that it’s a little bit of everything. “People don’t have one dimensional identities as human beings,” says Brooke Anderson—a Labor Fellow at the Oakland-based nonprofit, the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project—and the issues that affect them aren’t one-dimensional, either.

There’s a word for this kind of thinking: "intersectionality." And while the word has been around for more than 25 years, it’s being used more and more frequently all over in social justice movements today, from climate to reproductive rights to immigration. It’s a way of thinking holistically about how different forms of oppression interact in people’s lives. More recently, it's also led to a more collaborative form of organizing that reflects that, rather than taking on one issue at a time.

Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905–1925

By Lucien van der Walt and Peter Cole Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies' Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011 (the citations are not included in this version)

In two of the planet’s most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”), were remarkable for their commitment to anti-racism. The broad anarchist tradition, including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

The fully annotated version of this essay was published in 'Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies' Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011, 69–96

Now that the comparative and transnational turns are well under way, it seems high time to apply these methods to one of the modern era’s most internationalist movements, the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies). While framing histories within national boundaries is understandable and useful, many subjects benefit from repositioning them comparatively as well as transnationally. Reframing labor history within a global, comparative, and transnational framework directs attention to cross-border linkages, activities, and processes that a ‘‘methodological nationalism’’ obscures.

For far too long, labor historians—even of the obviously internationalist Wobblies—have straitjacketed the history of the IWW into a series of separate national stories, rather than one global history. Yet the Wobblies were overtly internationalist, their movement operated across borders, and their traditions spread globally, across the Americas and into Africa, Asia, and Europe. The IWW was a radical current in the globalized world of the early twentieth century, part of an international upsurge of anarchism and syndicalism that challenged Marxism for leadership of the revolutionary left into the late 1920s, ‘‘the dominant element in the self-consciously internationalist radical Left’’ from the 1870s and ‘‘the main vehicle of global opposition to industrial capitalism, autocracy, latifundism, and imperialism.’’

There is much more to be learnt from studying the Wobblies using both comparative and transnational approaches; this essay will largely utilize comparative methods. There is very little work along either of these lines, but what exists demonstrates the utility of such analysis in examining how IWW politics played out in different contexts. The IWW can be seen as a precursor of some of today’s social justice movements, whose affinity with the anarchism and syndicalism that inspired the Wobblies—and their commitment to participatory democracy, direct action, and prefigurative organizing–is striking.

While the small body of comparative literature on the IWW has raised some questions about its gender politics, it has not examined race matters. How did the IWW evolve in highly racialized societies? Moreover, to what extent might the IWW tradition have differed in colonial and imperial countries? This article develops an innovative comparative analysis of IWW racial politics in the United States (US) and South Africa (SA), with particular attention to activities among workers of color.

Apply the Brakes: Anti-Immigrant Co-Optation of the Environmental Movement

By Jenny Levison, Stephen Piggott, Rebecca Poswolsky, and Eric Ward - Center for New Community, 2010

From the Introduction: - This report is intended to explore how antiimmigrant forces have corrupted the dialogue on population and the environment, and will examine the anti-immigrant environmentalist network that has influenced the environmental movement for the last 14 years. In 2009, an article in the Population Special Issue of the Earth Island Journal1 mentioned a new organization and website named Apply the Brakes (ATB hereafter). A few months later, the Center for Immigration Studies2 — an anti-immigrant organization known to trade in racism — cited ATB in a memorandum denouncing Sierra Club leadership for not addressing the issue of immigration. At a time when more people of color, labor and human rights organizations are engaging in environmental concerns such as climate change and “green jobs,” ATB could very well threaten those fragile coalitions.

Read the entire report here (in PDF form).

Indigenism, Anarchism, and the State: An Interview with Ward Churchill

Interview by Tom Keefer and Jerome Klassen - Upping the Anti, March 26, 2005

Ward Churchill is one of the most outspoken activists and scholars in North America and a leading commentator on indigenous issues. Churchill’s many books include Marxism and Native Americans; Fantasies of the Master Race; Struggle for the Land; The COINTELPRO Papers; Genocide, Ecocide, and Colonization; Pacifism as Pathology; and A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas.

In his lectures and published works, Churchill explores the themes of genocide in the Americas, racism, historical and legal (re)interpretation of conquest and colonization, environmental destruction of Indian lands, government repression of political movements, literary and cinematic criticism, and indigenist alternatives to the status quo.

Churchill has recently come under attack for views expressed in the article Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, written in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. An important part of the future of US academic freedom in the coming years will likely be determined by the outcome of the ongoing attempts to strip Ward Churchill of his academic position at Colorado University in Boulder. Two members of Autonomy & Solidarity sat down with Ward Churchill in Toronto in November of 2003 to do this interview.  It was transcribed by Clarissa Lassaline and edited by Tom Keefer, Dave Mitchell, and Valerie Zink.

Upping The Anti: We want to start off by asking you about your thoughts on the anti-globalization movement which, in terms of anti-capitalist struggles, has been one of the most significant developments in the past decade. This movement has also been criticized in the US context, as being largely made up of white middle class kids running around “summit hopping”. What’s your take?

Ward Churchill: I think the anti-globalization movement, for lack of a better term, is a very positive development in the sense that it re-infuses the opposition with a sense of purpose, enthusiasm, and vibrancy. The downside is that it’s a counter analytical movement in that it thinks it’s something new. We used to call it “anti-imperialism,” just straight up. The idea that “globalization” is something new, rather than a continuation of dynamics that are at least 500 years deep, is misleading. That needs to be understood.

Revolutionary Ecology, Biocentrism, and Deep Ecology

By Judi Bari - 1995 | [PDF File Available]

I was a social justice activist for many years before I ever heard of Earth First!. So it came as a surprise to me, when I joined Earth First! in the 1980s, to find that the radical environmental movement paid little attention to the social causes of ecological destruction. Similarly, the urban-based social justice movement seems to have a hard time admitting the importance of biological issues, often dismissing all but "environmental racism" as trivial. Yet in order to effectively respond to the crises of today, I believe we must merge these two issues.

Starting from the very reasonable, but unfortunately revolutionary concept that social practices which threaten the continuation of life on Earth must be changed, we need a theory of revolutionary ecology that will encompass social and biological issues, class struggle, and a recognition of the role of global corporate capitalism in the oppression of peoples and the destruction of nature.

I believe we already have such a theory. It's called deep ecology, and it is the core belief of the radical environmental movement. The problem is that, in the early stages of this debate, deep ecology was falsely associated with such right wing notions as sealing the borders, applauding AIDS as a population control mechanism, and encouraging Ethiopians to starve. This sent the social ecologists justifiably scurrying to disassociate. And I believe it has muddied the waters of our movement's attempt to define itself behind a common philosophy.

So in this article, I will try to explain, from my perspective as an unabashed leftist, why I think deep ecology is a revolutionary world view. I am not trying to proclaim that my ideas are Absolute Truth, or even that they represent a finished thought process in my own mind. These are just some ideas I have on the subject, and I hope that by airing them, it will spark more debate and advance the discussion.

Who Bombed Judi Bari? - Interview with Beth Bosk

Interview by Beth Bosk - New Settler Interview, January 1995

NEW SETTLER: The last my readers know of you with regard to the bombing, you are in an Oakland hospital, near comatose. Outside, the FBI and the Oakland police are accusing you of the act of transporting the bomb that blew up your car as you were careening down a street in Oakland. I'd like you to begin with your recollection of the day you were bombed: why you were in Oakland?

JUDI: I'm going to start the day before in Willits, because I think it is more logical that way... It was the eve of Redwood Summer and we were calling for people to come in from all over the country to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the over-cutting; and the timber industry was mounting a campaign to portray us as violent, and to whip up hatred against us. This included my receipt of increasingly frightening death threats, and fake press releases that were being distributed not only to the press, but were being passed out in the lumber mills and on the logging jobs. The fake press releases had the Earth First! logo on them -- but they weren't written by us, and in contrast to what we were really saying, they were calling for violence and tree spiking. One of the fake press releases actually spelled Darryl's name wrong, so it was easy to prove it was fake -- as we were asserting -- yet these were still being distributed as if they were real, and treated by the press as if they were real.

And perceived real by the increasingly-angered men who work in the industry.

JUDI: We've documented all this stuff since. Louisiana-Pacific, for example, in at least one plant (I suspect in more) held a meeting -- on the clock, that workers were forced to attend -- where they passed out the fake press releases -- presented them as real -- and encouraged the workers (in the words of the plant manager) "to go to public meetings wearing your hard hat and work boots and role up your sleeves and sit down right next to one of them so they won't talk too freely." I know this because the union filed a grievance against L-P for making them listen to anti-Earth First! propaganda on company time.

The companies were very actively trying to discredit us. G-P canceled their mill tours because of the alleged "terrorist threat." That's how they were doing their part. MAXXAM (and I have actual proof from their internal company memos) MAXXAM distributed these fake press releases calling for violence to the press after they acknowledged privately that they were fake. L-P put a barbed wire fence around their Ukiah plant. There was a whole bunch of things going on to portray us as terrorists and make people afraid of us. The bombing didn't happen in a vacuum.

Our reaction, though, was to try to head off the violence. We knew a lot of contract loggers -- the gyppos -- and we wanted to meet with them face-to-face and explain to them who we really were and to allay their fears and to work things out so that we wouldn't have to face violence that summer.

We had asked Art Harwood to help us set up these meetings of local gyppo operators, in that he was one of the largest ones, and he did that and we had two mediated meetings with a paid mediator in Willits. There were some rank-and-file loggers, but mostly it was contract loggers, company owners -- Bill Bailey was there, he owns a big logger supply outfit in Laytonville. Jerry Philbrick was there. Tom Loop was there.

And we had actually been making progress: first in humanizing each other -- in learning that each other were human beings, that we really had more in common than we thought; -- and then in allaying each other's fears. At the second meeting, we had reached an agreement that we called "The No First Strike Agreement": we had assured them that we had no intention of monkeywrenching their equipment, and they had said that they would not assault us if we don't. [laughs]

So we really felt that we were making progress and that things were going well. So, that's where I was on Tuesday of the week I was bombed. That meeting was held in the evening.

The Feminization of Earth First!

By Judi Bari - Ms Magazine, May 1992

It is impossible to live in the redwood region of Northern California without being profoundly affected by the destruction of this once magnificent ecosystem. Miles and miles of clearcuts cover our bleeding hillsides. Ancient forests are being strip-logged to pay off corporate junk bonds. And bee-lines of log trucks fill our roads, heading to the sawmills with loads ranging from 1,000-year old redwoods, one tree trunk filling an entire logging truck, to six-inch diameter baby trees that are chipped for pulp. Less than 5% of the old growth redwood is left, and the ecosystem is disappearing even faster than the more widely known tropical rainforest.

So it is not surprising that I, a lifetime activist, would become an environmentalist. What is surprising is that I, a feminist, single mother and blue-collar worker, would end up in Earth First!, a “no compromise” direct action group with the reputation of being macho, beer-drinking eco-dudes. Little did I know that by combining the more feminine elements of collectivism and non-violence with the spunk and outrageousness of Earth First!, we would spark a mass movement. And little did I know that I would pay for our success by being bombed and nearly killed, and subjected to a campaign of hatred and misogyny.

I was attracted to Earth First! because they were the only ones willing to put their bodies in front of the bulldozers and chainsaws to save the trees. They were also funny, irreverent, and they played music. But it was the philosophy of Earth First! that ultimately won me over. This philosophy, known as biocentrism or deep ecology, states that the Earth is not just here for human consumption. All species have a right to exist for their own sake, and humans must learn to live in balance with the needs of nature, instead of trying to mold nature to fit the wants of humans.

I see no contradiction between deep ecology and eco-feminism. But Earth First! was founded by five men, and its principle spokespeople have all been male. As in all such groups, there have always been competent women doing the real work behind the scenes. But they have been virtually invisible behind the public Earth First! persona of “big man goes into big wilderness to save big trees.” I certainly objected to this. Yet despite the image, the structure of Earth First! was decentralized and non-hierarchical, so we had the leeway to develop any way we wanted in our local Northern California group.

Earth First! came on the scene in redwood country around 1986, when corporate raider Charles Hurwitz of Maxxam took over a local lumber company, then nearly tripled the cut of old growth redwood to pay off his junk bonds. Earth First! had been protesting around public land issues in other parts of the West since 1981, but this was such an outrage that it brought the group to its first “private” lands campaign.

A Conversation with Earth First! Activist Judi Bari

by Christine Keyser - On the Issues, Summer 1991

The spirit of Mother Jones lives on today in the backwoods of Northern California. The North Coast's most eloquent anti-chainsaw organizer, Earth First's! Judi Bari, is back at work defending the ancient forests from corporate slaughter after surviving a crippling car bomb in Oakland last May and the FBI's subsequent attempt to pin the blame on her and her companion Darryl Cherney. Just as the grandmother of the American labor movement fought King Coal a century ago, Bari has taken on the Big Timber barons armed with a bullhorn and a diehard credo, "No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth."

Ban's battlecry has reverberated from California's redwood forest to Wall Street to embrace a broad-based progressive agenda rooted in a profound reverence for the earth and its creatures. For the chief architect of 1990's Redwood Summer— the celebrated nonviolent campaign to save the vanishing remnants of California's once verdant old-growth coastal forest—stopping environmental destruction has profound urgency.

Bari has grafted environmentalism onto peace, social justice, equal rights and other progressive concerns. A former Maryland labor organizer, she is a longtime crusader for the dispossessed, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden in factories, fields and offices across the land.

Bari has put her organizing skills to work on the North Coast building coalitions with timber workers to fight corporate abuse. She founded a Mendocino chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World and represented a group of mill workers who were poisoned by leaking PCBs at Georgia Pacific's Fort Bragg pulp mill.

In a wide-ranging interview at her rustic "hippie shack" in the backwoods of Mendocino County where she lives with her two young daughters, Bari shared her perspectives on the impact of Redwood Summer, progressive coalitionbuilding in the 1990s, the "feminization" of Earth First!, and the departure in August of Earth First! co-founder, Dave Foreman, who, in a parting swipe, publicly denounced Bari and her feminist compatriots for injecting "class struggle" and "humanism" into an organization he conceived to preserve wilderness.

Why I am not a Misanthrope

By Judi Bari - Earth First! Journal, February 2, 1991

In last EF! Journal (Yule, 1990), Chris Manes responds to the question "Why are you a misanthrope?" by saying "Why aren't you one?" After all, humans have a 10,000 year history of massacres, wars, ecocide, holocaust, etc., so the burden of proof is on us non-misanthropes.

I would like to respond to Manes' challenge, and my answer has nothing to do with humanism, anthropocentrism, or the belief that humans are a "higher" life form. Unlike Murray Bookchin, I reject that claim from the git-go. I believe in biocentrism, and think that all life forms are equal. I agree that human population is totally out of control. And I am as appalled as any misanthrope at the havoc that humans have wreaked on the natural world.

But I disagree with Manes' conclusion that the problem is "humankind." You cannot blame the destruction of the earth on, for example, the Quiche tribes of Guatemala or the Penan of Malaysia. These people have lived in harmony with the earth for 10,000 years. The only way you could identify the earth's destroyers as "humankind" would be to exempt such people from the category of "human." Otherwise you would have to admit that it is not humans-as-a-species, but the way certain humans live, that is destroying the earth.

Manes briefly acknowledges that these ecologically sound human cultures exist, but he dismisses them as trivial because "the fact is most of the world now mimics our dissolute ways." This statement completely ignores the manner in which "most of the world" was forced to abandon their indigenous cultures or be destroyed. You cannot equate the slave and the slave-master. Only after massacres, torture, ecocide and other unspeakable brutality did the peoples of the world acquiesce to the conquering hordes with their culture of greed and destruction.

Technocratic man, with his linear view of the world, tends to see tribal societies as earlier, less evolved forms of his own society, rather than as alternative, simultaneously existing methods of living on the earth. The presumption is that, given time, these cultures would somehow be corrupted like ours. But there is no evidence whatsoever that these ancient civilizations would have changed without our violent intervention. So it is not humans, but industrial-technocratic societies, that are destroying the earth.

In the same manner that misanthropy blames all humans for the crimes of the industrial/technocratic society, so does it blame all humans for the crimes of men. The list of atrocities for which Manes condemns the human race—massacres, wars, ecocide, holocaust—are not the work of women. Of course a few women can be found and paraded out who participate in the male power structure. But by and large, throughout history, wars and atrocities have been the territory of men. And the societies that engage in them have been run by men, in the interest of men, and against the interests of women. By categorizing as "human" traits which are actually male, misanthropes are being androcentric (male-centered) instead of biocentric (life-centered) as they claim to be. Vandana Sheeva of the Chipko movement in India put it best. She said the problem is not humans. It is white, technocratic men who are destroying the earth.

So misanthropy is not a form of humility, as Chris Manes says. It is a form of arrogance. By blaming the entire human species for the crimes of white, technocratic men, Manes conveniently avoids any real analysis of who is responsible for the death of the planet. Not surprisingly, Manes himself is a member of the group that most benefits from our consumptive society—privileged white urban men.

From Cheerleader to Earth First!: Judi Bari

By Bruce Anderson – Anderson Valley Advertiser, November 11, 1989

On a sweltering day last summer, a diminutive, energetic woman stood talking to a pair of reporters on the Ukiah Courthouse steps. The woman leaned at the reporters, leading with her chin—as they’d say in boxing—as she talked. The woman was Judi Bari, associated primarily with Earth First!, but in reality an American radical in the uniquely American tradition. When she’d left off her talk with the reporters and had disappeared into this area’s class warfare headquarters, the Courthouse, one reporter looked at the other to say. “You know, that woman can talk! She doesn’t even come up for air. Not a breath.”

Well, Judi is a serious person living in an area and in a time when real feeling is considered bad form or just kind of crazy, so Bari finds herself fighting on many fronts against many kinds of opposition, but this lady can fight so effectively, it’s hard to associate her with cheerleaderism. “I really didn’t grow up with any political feelings,” she says, describing a sedate, if mildly fearful, upbringing by a pair of genteel liberals intimidated by the McCarthy-ite fifties. “My parents taught me Wobbly songs as nursery rhymes but told me not to say where I’d learned them,” Bari remembers with a disbelieving snort. “One of the best things about them was my parents lectured me and my sister against racial and ethnic hatreds. Later, when I was in college and came home wearing a Chairman Mao badge they said to me, ‘We’ve got to have a talk with you.’ I mean, this was kill your parents time, remember. So they went on to warn me against tying the sixties student movement to a foreign power. I came away with a whole new respect for my parents. They knew much more than I thought they did. And they were right, of course. We need an American radical left, not one looking overseas for a model.”

For years before that breakthrough discussion with her parents, Judi Bari was distinctly not a political person. “I was head cheerleader at my high school, for god’s sake! Can you believe that?” Frankly, no, but boundless renewable energy of the Bari dynamo variety can carry one to the heights of some peculiar organizations.

Bari began life in a working-class area of a town near Baltimore. Her neighbors all worked in the area’s steel mills. Bari’s mother later radically enhanced the family fortunes when she went back to college, emerging with the first PhD awarded to a woman in mathematics by Johns Hopkins University. Bari pere is a diamond setter, “which is, where I get my perfectly steady hands from,” his second daughter, Judi, says. Daughter number one is a science writer for the New York Times while daughter three is described by sister Judi as “a perpetual student.” Apparently the third Bari remains in school past the age of goal-oriented scholars.

“I had no political consciousness when I left high school. My big thing was to get dates with football players. I thought I had to act dumb and be cute and sweet because I didn’t know there were other social options available to me. It never really fit my personality.” Bari recalls her first political stirrings during her last year in high school when a star athlete asked her out. He happened to be black. Bari was visited by a delegation of white athletes who informed her none of them would ever again grace her with their stimulating company if she dated the black kid. “I didn’t go out with him.” she says with what is clearly a painfully nagging memory of capitulation to intimidation. She doesn’t say so, but it may be one of the only times Bari has ever given in.

From the la la land of high school, Mendocino County’s premier radical went to the University of Maryland in pursuit, not of higher learning and the elusive keys to life but in quest of football players, the odd status symbols of millions of misdirected young American women. “We called Maryland U, 13th grade” Bari recalls. “It was the place Spiro Agnew was referring to in his famous ‘effete intellectual snobs swept into college on the wave of the ‘new socialism’ speech.” Bari doesn’t recall much intellectual activity of any kind, but as a 1967 freshman she was in the right place at the right time. “It was one of those crank em-out schools. Agnew had just been elected as a liberal alternative—if you can believe that—to another right-wing crank named Mahoney who’d run on a straight racist platform of keeping blacks confined to their neighborhoods.” Bari was soon disillusioned with football players. “They were gross: just a bunch of big, dumb assholes who treated women very badly and who thought treating women badly was funny.” In a world in flux, there remains one constant—the personal behavior of the college athlete.

Bari soon began to meet company of a more interesting and hopeful kind, “As soon as I got away from home, I quickly figured out I didn’t have to go to class. I was soon into sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Which in those wild days included, in its more alert manifestations, side trips into radical politics. “My first demo was a trip with hundreds of other students to the college president’s house one night to demand his underwear. The politicos in the mob tried to get everybody to chant ‘Elkins [the college prexy] must go,’ but they were drowned out by calls for Mrs. Elkins to give up her drawers.” But students there and everywhere were getting restless and more serious, as many of them had to consider the distinct possibility they could be shipped off as foot soldiers in the expanding imperial adventure in Vietnam.

Bari was soon one of the more politically active students at U Maryland, recalling with obvious delight her own transformation from flower child naïf to street fighter. “When Nixon invaded Cambodia in ‘70 we had flat out political riots. We took over Route 1 for anti-war protests.” Route One is the main road into War Maker Central, or Washington, DC. “I have an old picture that was in the newspapers of me giving water and flowers to the cops. I cringe now when I look at it, because I got as tired of hippies as I did of jocks. I was getting more and more of a feminist consciousness because I always seemed to be with men who had no interest in women beyond sex. One day I was on acid with this guy and I remember thinking, ‘God, what am I doing? This guy is totally disgusting.’ My friends and I all seemed to be having similar feelings. I stopped going out with men for a year, both as a reaction to football players and the dumb hippie exploitation of women through so-called, free love.” Love is never free as the cowboy songs tell us, a fact of life many women seemed to learn from their hippie experience.

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