Women's History Month # 26: Writing History Forward--Who Will Lead?

9 years ago
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Have been intending to blog about this fascinating
intergenerational feminist convocation since I took the D train out to
Brooklyn last Saturday after enjoying dim sum in Chinatown with my
30-something cousin Elizabeth. (She calls me "Auntie G" because of our
age difference. Thus the day started out with an intergenerational
theme; food if nothing else transcends the generations.)

Asking just what transcends and what divides the generations were a galaxy of feminist stars, moderated (if such a thing is possible with feisty feminists) by the ever-engaging Laura Flanders, “Women’s Visions for the Nation: What’s It Going to Take?”, the Saturday speakout showcased the intergenerational feminist think tank, Unfinished Business. The occasion marked and was sponsored by the 2nd anniversary of the Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

NB: Sackler established the center at the Brooklyn Museum, and if you have not been out there to see the extraordinary wing where Judy Chicago's famed feminist history review "The Dinner Party" is permanently installed--run, don't walk. (Oh, and don't forget to change to the 2/3 at Atlantic Ave.) You are in for a treat and I for one am immensely grateful for this treasure of a place, and for Elizabeth Sackler's commitment to fostering the future of feminist thought, art, and action.

Of course, it's the action part that most concerns me. I was taken with the quiet determination of Ai-Jen Poo, founder of Domestic Workers United (in feminist fashion, she
calls herself a "lead organizer", not "executive director" or "CEO").
This organization's mission is to create a new paradigm for valuing
work that includes the rights of domesticworkers and caregivers, who are almost always women and tend to be the lowest-paid, most marginalized workforce.

But my hackles of concern were raised by the pervasive thread of
aversion to leadership that I heard in so many of the presentations and
comments from the floor. "We're not here to lead, but to spark", was
one framing. Feminists have fought so hard, so courageously against the
injustices of patriarchal leadership, but we have not yet created our
own leadership model that gets us beyond the circle of power-equals
which is noble in concept but loses steam in the long, slogging
implementation of systemic change.

I stood up and asked: what's wrong with leading? After all, a movement has to move. Power and energy come from moving into new places, from taking action. There are incredible leaders here--from Elizabeth Sackler to Ai-Jen Poo. And yet we are talking about sitting in a circle and
sparking, not leading. My challenge is to take leadership. A leader is
anyone who gets something done. There is nothing negative about being a
leader or leading.

I wanted to hear the speakers address how feminists can get beyond
this worthy desire to be in a circle, with no one more powerful or more
recognized than any other person, and accept the responsibility of
There was lots of energy and clapping in response, but then the discussion immediately got back right away to what the problems are, rather than how we might to the solutions.

I recalled that after the WomenGirlsLadies panel at the 92Y last week, a young woman asked me who is leading the movement today? Where can she go to be effective, to make a difference? I could not give her a satisfactory answer.

Everyone agrees this is a moment for women. A moment for change. A moment when we can get what we want to happen.

But we are going to have to embrace the concept of leadership for
the common good if we truly, fiercely, deeply want that systemic change.

For a full overview of the “Women’s Visions for the
Nation: What’s It Going to Take?” program, once again, Deborah Siegel
sums it up brilliantly at girlwpen, so why should I duplicate the work? Check out her liveblogged posts from the event here in chronological order:

Liveblogging Women’s Visions for the Nation @ Brooklyn Museum

Elizabeth Sackler Revs It Up

C. Nicole Mason Keynotes

Laura Flanders Emcees

Esther Broner and Ai-jen Poo Take the Stage

Let the Intergenerational Speakout Begin

What Will the Feminist New Deal Look Like?

Closing Thoughts from Esther Broner, Ai-jen Poo, and HipHop Artist Toni Blackman

Liz Abzug Brings It Home

And you may also find Courtney Martin's commentary on the discussion over at feministing.com provocative.

While you are chewing on these questions--and I hope sharing your
thoughts about who will lead and how by posting comments here--feast
your eyes on The Dinner Party here.



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