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Why the Blackness of Kamala Harris Matters

by Mimi Yahn

It isn’t that the other parts of Madame Kamala Harris’ heritage don’t matter. It is the significance, specifically, of being a Black Woman in America: It is the fact of her being a woman whose heritage descends, in part, from ancestors who were enslaved in America solely because of their race. More significantly, it is combined with the fact of her being a Black woman, a confluence of factors described by scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw as “intersectionality,” and later coined as “misogynoir” by scholar and queer Black activist Moya Bailey.

The history of Black women in America and the progression of how that history has formed our nation is why it matters deeply that Madame Harris is a Black woman. And it is why her position as the Vice President of the United States is so profoundly significant.

Our nation was formed by White men who were landed gentry, and thus, the structures of governance, of economics, and of the society they built were rooted in a hierarchical, exploitative system. It was a system founded on male supremacy, strict class divisions and, as the conquering race, White European supremacy. The very existence, as well as the success, of those colonies depended solely on the system of indentured servitude. Without the tens of thousands of indentured servants shipped to the colonies, the landed gentry who owned land and stock in the private companies that comprised the colonies would have had no way to clear land and build farms, villages and towns, to grow crops, to wage the invasions and genocidal wars against those already living in these lands. Without indentured servitude, there would be no English-speaking United States of America.

Importantly, while many of the indentured servants were kidnapped and sold into servitude, the vast majority of them were impoverished people whose poverty had intentionally been criminalized in order to establish the pipeline of servant labor needed to build the colonies. Arrested for sleeping under bridges and in alleys, for begging, for petty thefts, for “vagrancy,” for a multitude of “crimes” that arose from poverty, the newly-revised Criminal Code not only created new “crimes,” but turned them into “capital offenses”: crimes that were punishable by decapitation. This is what enabled judges (who owned stock in the various colonies) to offer a “choice” to those standing in terror before them: Death by decapitation or transport to the new colonies as indentured servants for periods ranging from seven to fifteen years, at which point they would be given their freedom along with some land, some food, and a gun.

This corrupt system of exploitation, of creating a nation solely from the forced labor of dehumanized humans tossed to the bottom of a social caste system is what formed our very existence, first as colonies, then as a nation. It was formed by men who would later not view the utter enslavement and trafficking of human beings as anything out of the ordinary, inherently wrong, or fundamentally evil. This was their mindset born of their own privilege, social narcissism and greed.

And this corrupt system grew out of a perfect storm of circumstances: England was spared the slaughter of populations across Europe that resulted from the Thirty Years’ War. In fact, in England, the opposite was occurring. By 1600, there were more than four million people in England and Wales—double the previous century—and the population continued growing. London alone nearly doubled from a quarter of a million people in 1600 to almost a half-million by the end of the century. And it was mostly the very poor who were flocking to the cities, thanks to the fast-growing global market for commodity crops.

It was the wealthy land-owners—the lords and royals—who owned huge tracts of land and they all wanted in on the new markets. And so the Land Enclosures Act was passed, which allowed land-owners to evict the farmers and peasants from their lands. This, in turn, resulted in millions of homeless people converging on cities in search of jobs, houses, and food. As Howard Zinn wrote, “the development of commerce and capitalism in the 1500s and 1600s, the enclosing of land for the production of wool, filled the cities with vagabond poor.”

The other circumstance was the “discovery” of the New World and the prospects of unlimited land and wealth thanks to the enterprising colony companies and the beneficence of a king who granted carte blanche to these companies and their stockholders (a king who reportedly owned substantial shares himself).

What better way to seize, develop and populate these new lands while at the same time dealing with the extreme overcrowding, homelessness and hunger in cities across England than to ship all these lower classes to the colonies?

And so the stage was set—morally, politically and legally—for a social and economic system based on exploitation and rigid hierarchies. The stage was also set for the next, even more venal system of exploitation and social stratification: Slavery.

Although indentured servitude in America remained in force until the 1880s, social, political, and economic changes starting in the 1650s motivated the English to stop relying on White indentured servants as the primary labor force and, instead, to begin exploiting increasing numbers of enslaved Africans. In the 1650s and 1660s, economic conditions, combined with crop failures, rising taxes, and the increasing malfeasance of a corrupt colonial regime, resulted in a growing number of uprisings and rebellions involving White indentured servants joining forces with Black slaves, so the colonial elites began a campaign of racial division which used economic class as a way to pit White servants and against Black slaves. One of the first steps was to begin passing laws, starting in the 1660s, that turned slavery into a legal status based strictly on race. Even worse, not only did these laws state that only Blacks could be slaves, many of these laws also made slavery a permanent condition of Blacks. At the same time, increased legal protections and entitlements were given to White indentured servants. Finally, as law professor Michelle Alexander explains in her book, The New Jim Crow:

     “Deliberately and strategically, the [White] planter class extended special privileges to poor whites in an effort to drive a wedge between them and the black slaves. White settlers were allowed greater access to Native American lands, white servants were allowed to police slaves through slave patrols and militias.…Poor whites suddenly had a direct, personal stake in the existence of a race-based system of slavery.”

Another important factor leading to the decline of the use of White indentured servants is that the scheme had become too successful—not for England, but for the colonies. For more than a hundred and fifty years, indentured servants performed most of the labor in the colonies, first as servants, then as free farmers, craftspeople, artisans, etc. They made plows and wove linens. They tanned leathers and built houses. They were masons, bakers, coopers, distillers, carpenters, and smithies. At a certain point, the goods produced in the colonies began to compete with the goods produced in England. In response, England passed laws in 1718 and 1750 not just restricting the exportation of English indentured servants, but banning all emigration to the colonies by skilled English workers.

Thus, by the late 1600s, the numbers of indentured servants were declining rapidly. At the same time, the international slave trade was becoming a major economic force and a major industry, with England as one of the leaders of that trade. It was only a matter of passing new laws, beginning with Maryland’s 1664 “An Act Concerning Negroes and Other Slaves,” to embed that industry into our political, social, economic and moral structures, structures that remained and thrived well past our birth as a nation.

As instrumental as slavery was to the development of the United States, the single most crucial element was the enslavement of Black women.

From the earliest days of slavery, enslaved women were bought and sold not only for their labor capacity but for their reproductive capacity; in other words, for their ability to expand the slave owner’s labor force and wealth by producing more slaves. In fact—and there should be no polite, euphemistic way of explaining this truth—what evolved over time was an increasingly deliberate practice of raping enslaved Black women and girls for the specific purpose of “breeding,” the term that was used by the slave owners themselves.

Historian Lerone Bennett, Jr., uncovered evidence of this widespread practice and in his book, Before the Mayflower, quotes a letter written by a Southern planter (the polite term used to refer to a slave owner) describing the industry:

    “In the states of Md., Va., N.C., Ky., Tenn. and Mo., as much attention is paid to the breeding and growth of negroes as to that of horses and mules. Further South, we raise them both for use and for market. Planters command their girls and women (married or unmarried) to have children; and I have known a great many negro girls to be sold off, because they did not have children. A breeding woman is worth from one-sixth to one-fourth more than one that does not breed.”

By 1807, when Great Britain (which controlled the international slave trade) banned slavery, thus ending the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the structures and practices were already in place throughout the U.S. slave states to formalize and expand the Rape Industry, which was euphemistically referred to as the industry of “increase.” By then, there was little need to import slaves; “home-grown” slaves were already being “produced” in sufficient numbers to continue slavery generation after generation long after the international pipeline was shut down.

In fact, the expansion of domestic enslaved labor is what enabled the White planters to expand their territories and plantations westward into Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas throughout the first half of the 1800s, while the rest of the world was phasing out building their wealth from the forced labor of enslaved humans. It was, in fact, what enabled the Southern “King Cotton”—and later the United States—to become the economic powerhouse of the world.

There were four methods employed by slave owners to ensure the continued operation of the Rape Industry: One was by raping Black women and girls themselves, the second was by using the overseer as their proxy, and the third was by using selected enslaved Black men, who were commonly referred to as “stud Negroes.” Like the Black women marketed as higher-priced “Breed women” and displayed on the auction block surrounded by her children to prove her fertility, enslaved Black men were marketed as higher-priced “stud Negroes” and displayed naked on the auction block. The fourth method was simply the slavers’ expectation of the enslaved men to impregnate enslaved women. As one former enslaved man, Charles Grandy, recalled:

    “Marsa…used to sometimes pick our wives for us. If he didn’t have on his place enough women for the men, he would wait on de side of de road till a big wagon loaded with slaves came by. Den Marsa would stop de ole n—r-trader and buy you a woman. Wasn’t no use tryin’ to pick one, ‘cause Marsa wasn’t gonna pay but so much for her. All he wanted was a young healthy one who looked like she could have children.”

That the Rape Industry after 1807 became the sole source of enslaved labor for the southern planters is reflected in population figures: Between 1700 and 1860, the number of domestically-born Whites grew nearly seventy-fold, from 250,000 to approximately 17 million. The number of domestically-born enslaved Blacks, however, over that same period grew from 25,000 to approximately 34.5 million, an increase of nearly 1,400 times. Meanwhile, over the entire period of slavery, as pointed out by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., an estimated 450,000 enslaved Africans were brought forcibly to North America. (The remainder of the estimated 10 million people kidnapped from Africa were shipped to South America and the Caribbean.) Thus, somewhere between 1% and 2% of enslaved Blacks were brought forcibly to these shores; the rest were born in the United States.

One of the enduring myths from slavery is the notion that Black women are naturally more fertile than White women. The phenomenon of the extraordinary birthrate of enslaved Blacks was attributed to some mysterious extra fertility of Blacks and to the desires of Black women themselves to have large families, as if women and girls who are forced into slavery have any real choice in determining their pregnancies or would be so anxious to bear children into a lifetime sentence of slavery and violence at the hands of people who despised them. In fact, throughout the entire period of slavery, enslaved women continually sought ways to abort fetuses, fight back and even escape, but the reality that each woman and girl faced was horrific and terrifying: Fight back against the rapist (a nearly impossible feat given who had the guns, whips and attack dogs) and be maimed or killed or sold away from your family; or allow the pregnancies to come to full term or else be sold off to an even worse fate because if you were unable to bear children, you were deemed worthless.

Another enduring myth that began during slavery was the notion that Black women are highly sexualized, promiscuous and unrefined. It was, of course, the White planters who created these two myths in order to hide the Rape Industry and cover up their own horrifying crimes. Casting enslaved Black women as amoral seductresses of White men certainly enabled the White planters to explain to their White wives the obvious resemblance to so many of the enslaved children. But the most damaging aspect of the seductress myth was that, for the first time, a deep wedge was driven between Black and White women. Up till then, throughout the South, it was almost exclusively the White wives of planters who conspired secretly with Black enslaved women, teaching them how to read and write, secretly attending abolitionist meetings, holding bake sales and other fundraisers to fund the Underground Railroad.

In fact, one of the greatest achievements of all for the White rapist planters was the destruction of the natural, growing alliance between Black women and White women which threatened to undermine and dismantle the slave economy. Up till then, the Women’s Suffrage Movement found common cause with the Abolitionist Movement, and most progressive women—both Black and White—were both abolitionist and suffragist. By the end of the Civil War, however, the demonization of Black women had so infected both the Suffrage Movement and the Abolitionist Movement that Abolitionists stopped demanding suffrage for Black women, and White Suffragist women destroyed their own movement by catering to White racist funding sources, with the result that all women were denied the right to vote for another 55 years. By turning their backs on Black women, both progressive movements were severely damaged and a wedge driven between the two that this nation has yet to recover from.

(Yet another enduring, demonizing myth created by the White slaveowners to justify the system of forcing enslaved Black men to be “stud Negroes” was the myth of the Black man as sexual predator, especially preying on White women.)

This debasement of Black women, this myth of a grossly sexualized, animalistic nature placed on Black females manifested itself in ways far beyond the original myth. The degrading stereotype that branded Black females permeated mainstream American society and culture. In her book, When And Where I Enter, scholar Paula Giddings writes that in 1902, a commentator for the popular periodical The Independent wrote, “I sometimes hear of a virtuous Negro woman, but the idea is absolutely inconceivable to me…I cannot imagine such a creature as a virtuous Black woman.” And Gertrude Stein’s novel, Three Lives, published in 1909, included the character of Rose, who “had the simple, promiscuous unmorality of the black people.”

These attitudes persist to this day and still permeate American society and culture. It is manifested in the pornified images and archetypes of Black women in our popular culture. It was manifested in the #MeToo movement which gained no attention when it was started in 2006 by Tarana Burke, a Black woman. But when White women began coming forward in 2017, the movement took off. It is only the virtue and the cherished chastity of White women that matter to Americans. And in our criminal justice system, it is also manifested in the widely-held belief that Black women cannot be raped, rendering them unable to seek justice for sexual assaults.

The myth dehumanizes Black females, thus justifying their erasure from society. This erasure was seen in the BLM movement, which focused almost exclusively on police violence against Black males because, in fact, Black women matter less to Americans. And when the African American Policy Forum founded the #SayHerName movement to publicize the murder of Black women and girls at the hands of police across the nation, the name itself was soon co-opted by others and changed to “Say Their Names” and even “Say His Name,” once again rendering Black women invisible and irrelevant. The dehumanizing marginalization is manifested in attitudes about intelligence and inborn traits of Black females. In public schools across the country, Black girls are punished far more severely than White girls because they are seen as dangerous, uncontrollable creatures, and are suspended, physically detained, physically abused, and even arrested and sent to juvenile detention for “crimes” like “acting out,” “talking back,” “acting too boisterous,” and displaying any behavior other than submissiveness. In higher education, women in general are seen as less intelligent, less authoritative and less capable of rigorous scholarship than men, but for Black women, it is even worse. They are subjected to the uniquely virulent bigotry of misogynoir from all others, stripped of their authority and their legitimacy.

The issue of legitimacy is at the heart of why the Blackness of Kamala Harris matters. It is at the heart of our nation’s politics and economic policies. Arising from the horrifying Rape Industry of slavery came the understanding that Black women, due to their “lesser” gender, their “lesser” race and the specific degrading attributes assigned only to them, our nation came to the conclusion that the least deserving group—the group with the least legitimacy—is Black women. The term used to signify this illegitimacy—this least deserving and most reviled group of all in our society—is the “Welfare Queen,” a term that was created specifically to refer to Black women.

Rather than telling the corporations and wealthy 1% to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and pay their fair share, we give them billions in entitlements every year—billions that would easily pay for universal health care, free tuition for all higher education, end hunger and homelessness in America, all while still balancing the national budget—we continue to marginalize, dismiss and degrade Black females, depriving them of legitimacy and their rightful place in our society. Our obsession with cutting off the “Welfare Queen” has determined the fate of elections, has controlled national policy and budget priorities, and has created an economic disaster.

Our nation is still grappling with the impact of slavery’s Rape Industry, a history that remains hidden, secret, at best dismissed as a minor footnote, rather than as the monumental, central cause of why we are crippled by injustice, inequality and broken social paradigms. Our legacy is that we have not dealt with our legacy.

One of the greatest and most brilliant American feminist/abolitionist activists and theorists was a Black woman by the name of Anna Julia Cooper who devoted a great deal of her activism and writing to “elevating the Black woman,” advocating for the full participation of Black women in all aspects of public life. She rejected the notion that Black men—or men of any race—were the primary human and women the subspecies. As she wrote in 1892, “no man can represent the race. Whatever the attainments of the individual may be…he can never be regarded as identical with or representative of the whole.” In her book, A Voice From the South By a Black Woman of the South, Cooper famously wrote: “Only the BLACK WOMAN can say when and where I enter, in the quiet undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.”

What is understood by women of color across our nation is that Madame Kamala Harris has entered. It is up to the rest of us, as a nation and as individuals, to embrace this moment in its fullness, embracing and building upon this momentous event. Because looking back on the progression of our nation—its history, its legal, political and economic structures, its very soul—it is clear that when and where the Black woman enters, so too does our entire nation.

*   *   *

posted March 19, 2021

The Saving Grace of Food Stamps


Today something odd happened. The significance of my trip to the grocery store sunk in, and the shock of it stunned me. There was something about that mundane errand that was nagging at me, but it took a full day for me to realize what it was.

For the first time in my life, I used food stamps at a grocery store. And for the first time in my life, I bought food without worrying about the cost.

What was nagging at me was what I’d felt: the relief, the absence of anxiety, almost an elation, as I filled my basket, then handed the clerk my EBT card. And what came as a shock was the realization of the anxiety I’ve had my entire life around the simple, basic exercise of buying food. The deep-down anxiety of being poor and not always knowing whether there’s enough money for food has been with me so long — from childhood — that it became no more noticeable, no more significant than the air I breathe. But today, fully realizing that relief, and fully comprehending that lifelong anxiety, brought me to tears.

This was not the first time I’ve used food stamps, but my benefit was so minimal that I’ve only used it at Farmers’ Markets, where I can double the allotment, dollar for dollar, after the first $10. Nevertheless, turning my monthly allotment of $16 into $26 doesn’t ease the anxiety, it only allows me to buy fresh vegetables I normally can’t afford, like winter squash, snap peas and broccoli.

My financial situation, however, has recently changed quite drastically and, in fact, when I got the notification of the increased allotment for food stamps, I was certain there’d been a mistake. I went down to the Economic Office to straighten it all out, and left grateful that I live in a state that believes in taking care of people.

I’ve thought about how I feel about getting food stamps, and I’ve thought about why I need food stamps.

There has always been a strong aversion to “hand-outs” in America; a belief that if a person can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, then they don’t deserve any hand-outs. Presumably the second part of that belief is why our nation is so eager to give wealthy people and corporations a free ride, while those in dire need are left to die under bridges or in overcrowded homeless shelters. I suppose some of that has rubbed off on me because I’ve always had difficulty asking for help, but I’ve also always believed that our responsibility as humans is to care for each other. Love makes the world go ’round, and compassion makes it whole.

And why is it that I need food stamps? Why has poverty been a lifelong disruptor of my dreams and achievements?

Because I was born a female. That’s the ugly, honest truth of it, a truth that is no less true today than it was for me growing up. In school, I was told I could not learn woodworking or print shop — trades that pay far better than the typing and sewing skills I was taught instead. But my school, Joan of Arc Junior High School, did not allow girls to take those classes. They did, however, allow their band teacher to sexually molest girls. And they did allow my 8th grade math teacher to forbid girls from speaking in his class because, as he explained, we girls were too stupid to learn math and he was quite upset that he had to put up with having girls in his class.

By the time I reached high school, by which time I’d been sexually assaulted quite a few times — once at knifepoint, but mostly the daily groping in the subways — by that time, I was half the person I was at the age of seven, before all the degradations took place, before the world began letting me know every day I was worth less, far less, than a boy. By the time I reached high school, I was utterly fractured, and utterly convinced that I was, as the world had informed me, not very smart and certainly not smart enough to even think about college, as if my mother could have ever afforded such a wild luxury.

And so I dropped out of high school and spent the next several decades working at jobs that are reserved for women — typist, telephone operator, secretary, waitress — and because they are reserved for women, they are low-paying jobs with little or no benefits, little or no security. Women are, after all, the ideal disposable worker across the globe: In every nation on the planet, we are second-class citizens with little or no recourse to legal or political remedy. We don’t even have the privilege of “mankind” recognizing the endemic epidemic of gender-specific violence against us as hate crimes whose primary purpose is to terrorize and subjugate us.

But like so many women, rather than giving up on giving back to a world that gives us so little, I devoted my life to volunteer work, to the unpaid labor of helping others and of working to build a better world. I also spent the next several decades becoming a social scientist, teaching myself the skills and academic rigor required to become a researcher and to design studies that quantify social injustice; studies like my longitudinal survey tracking levels of hate speech and bias language on primetime television. And yes, I taught myself math, because how else can you quantify the world around you and because I discovered that, as a female, I am quite good at math.

Because of the professors I met who used my work in their classes, because of their urging and encouragement, I did finally face my fears and go back to school, first getting my GED at the age of 54, then my BA just two years ago. I hope to return to school and eventually get the PhD that was denied me the day I was born a female.

By then, it will still be too late to have built up a lifetime of good earnings, of saving some of those good wages for my retirement, of equal pay for equal work, of open doors to any job I can learn and handle, of believing myself to be capable of my full potential because the world nurtured and valued me. I consider myself lucky that, as a female, I don’t have the additional economic and emotional burden of single motherhood, stigmatized and impoverished by the honest, ugly truth of a society that despises females.

I do still have trouble asking for help from my friends, but from a society that has done more than its share to marginalize, deprive and impoverish me solely because of my gender, I have no trouble whatsoever getting financial aid to ease the burden of poverty placed on me, and to finally lift that anxiety that has been a constant, open wound fracturing my soul.

Mimi Yahn, ©December 9, 2016


Image from World Poverty Day, October 17, 2007, Nairobi, Kenya. WUNRN (Women’s UN Report Network). Photo by Lorena Pajares.

Clear Cut

Dedicated to our sisters and brothers of Standing Rock.


Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op


Democracy is a tetchy, elusive proposition. It is the common goal of humans that spans centuries, nations and cultures. It is as much an art as it is a science, a deep human yearning and a universal thread that ties humanity together. But it is something that must be practiced every day; left untended, it does wither and die.

Here in Putney, Vermont, democracy is just as elusive, and just as imperiled, as it is anywhere else in America and anywhere else in the world. Some of the imperilment is our own making: Like elsewhere across Vermont, selectboard meetings are sparsely attended, if at all; attendance drops a little more each year at town meetings, and most of us have become happy enough with the status quo to do little more than trust that our progressive ideals are being well-protected and preserved.

But look beyond the reputation of Progressive Vermont and we find that corporations are increasingly taking control and our government offers few protections from the excesses and tyrannies of corporate greed. AT&T and other telecoms have been given carte blanche to bypass local ordinances, local zoning laws and local democracy in order to build cell towers, as many as they want, wherever they want and as big as they want. Fairpoint—notorious for erratic, substandard service—gets our tax dollars to build broadband infrastructure and make money by charging us for the service, but without any oversight or guarantee that they’ll actually provide adequate, reliable service. Comcast, Iberdrola, NSTAR, and a host of other corporations are finding there’s little they can’t do, legally or not, because there’s no meaningful oversight in the state of Vermont. More importantly, there’s no longer the political will to control the corporations.

Under the new health care law, insurance corporations operating in Vermont have been given carte blanche—and obscenely unprecedented subsidies of taxpayer dollars—to set premium rates far beyond what was already unsustainable, already bankrupting families across Vermont, and then to continue raising their rates every year. In the state of Vermont, there is no oversight, no structure to rein in the rampant, destructive greed of corporations. And there is no political will to take on these corporations, only the faith of good citizens that our progressive reputation will protect us.

Just as the Reagan gestalt shifted our national political paradigm so far to the right that we consider moderate Republicans to be flaming lefties, our concept of what constitutes democracy has shifted into something far less than democracy. We have come to accept a level of corporatist paradigms and corporate control in our personal and public lives that could not exist under true democracy. Like the frog in the pot of water slowly heating to boil, we accept and normalize the gradual erosion of our privacy, of our civil and economic rights, our access to politics and education, our ability to control our own government. Meanwhile, the water coming to a boil is the increasing level of rights, privileges, wealth, power, and control of governmental policy that we have handed over to the corporations.

And here in Progressive Vermont, here in Putney, one of our most cherished institutions—the food co-op—is in the process of being co-opted by a large corporate entity.

The first many of us learned of this was at the October annual meeting when members were asked to vote up or down on some changes to the existing by-laws. Most of us trusted that the Board of Directors had merely tweaked and, as they termed it, “updated” some of the wording. However, thanks to the diligent efforts of a staff member, we discovered that what was being proposed was a major overhaul not just of the entire by-laws, but of the fundamental direction and governance of the Putney Co-op. The proposed by-laws represents a shift away from cooperative, member-controlled governance to an entity modeled on hierarchical corporate structure and control.

We also learned that behind this fundamental shift is a large national consulting firm, CDS Consulting, which has created standardized templates of uniform governance, by-laws, corporate structure, purchasing decisions, store design, labor management, membership management, public relations, hiring decisions, board training (promoted as “professionalizing” boards), and a range of other decidedly unco-op-like services to create a single model for all coops. Currently, they have over 200 co-ops as regular clients, charging a base rate of $6,650 per year. Beyond that, there are additional charges for seminars, webinars, retreats, board trainings, staff trainings, ongoing consulting, and membership in the United Natural Foods Incorporated distribution network. In fact, the relationship between CDS and UNFI is disturbingly close—more like incestuous, with joint ventures, co-sponsored conferences and seminars, and former employees of each being hired by the other. There is also a pattern emerging of a corporate approach to the way workers are viewed and handled, particularly those who oppose the co-optation of their co-op.

Unions are not welcome, as evidenced by management at the Brattleboro Co-op (a CDS client). As a member of another CDS client, the East End Co-op in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we saw management wage a long and expensive battle against unionization, which included hiring a notorious union-busting law firm and ultimately firing workers who supported unionization. In Portland, Oregon, another CDS client, Peoples Food Co-op (which I used to patronize until they gentrified), was the subject of a 2005 Portland Indymedia report following the firing of a dissenting worker opposed to the decisions being made to “corporatize the coop.”

According to the report, CDS “is pushing the Policy Governance model on Coop boards. In effect, this board policy mandates that the board divorce themselves from the community, and only deal with the general manager, while refusing to hear the concerns of workers. It is a method for a board to ‘democratically’ decide to cede all power to management, while management does what they want with the Coop and employees.…When workers voice concerns, they get fired. Some try to organize unions, like in Seattle and Pittsburgh. Management typically hires a consultant and confers with CDS people on how to keep the board of directors unconcerned and uninvolved, by using Policy Governance as an excuse to not hold management accountable to the community.”

Equally ominous is the report’s assessment concerning UNFI’s relationship with CDS:  “All of this has to do with making more profits for United Natural Foods Incorporated, who has a monopoly of the natural food distribution in the US. No more direct purchasing from local producers, or dealing with small distributors. Their hostile takeover of Blooming Prairie distribution speaks to that. The pretext is to compete with Whole Paycheck, but if Coops get corporate enough, they’ll just be sold off to
the highest bidder in 20 years.” (

Certainly the by-laws template being touted to CDS clients—including the one being proposed by the Putney Co-op board—paves the way for this. The wording is generic and vague enough, and the elimination of nearly everything that makes the current by-laws specific to the Putney Co-op and to cooperative governance, makes for an easy, and completely legal transition from a cooperative entity to a subsidiary of a large corporation.

The Co-op’s Board of Directors adamantly denies that their proposed changes are anything more than “streamlining” and “updating” the by-laws “to make them clearer and more overarching.” In my own experience serving on by-laws committees with different non-profits and community organizations, I’ve never seen better, more eloquent and a more clear set of by-laws than the Putney Co-op’s existing by-laws. From the inclusion of the beautifully-worded cooperative principles (removed from the proposed by-laws) to the specifics of Board responsibilities and member rights (both also removed), the current by-laws are clearly and unequivocally cooperative in governance and progressive in nature.

The proposed version, on the other hand, is a bare-bones corporate model, a boiler-plate one-size-fits-all template that can apply as easily to the Putney Co-op as it can to a Whole Foods or Pepsico subsidiary. One reason given by the Board for the generic, boiler-plate language is to prevent future boards from having to go through the laborious process of changing the by-laws “every time we need to change something.” But anyone familiar with the true and supremely important purpose of by-laws understands that changes to governance, structure, principles, and fundamental purpose embodied in a set of by-laws should be laborious and hard-thought.

The Board also argues that the current by-laws are too long and needed to be “stream-lined.” Aside from the implication that Putney Co-op members are too dull-witted to comprehend anything longer than a few pages, it would appear that the only ones who requested and pushed for creating a Twitterized version of generic by-laws for the Putney Co-op was CDS Consulting. In a conversation with a board member, I was also told that having by-laws that are a “boiler-plate template” is what everyone is doing, and one of the great things about it is that we can have people come into the co-op from anywhere else and they’ll know that our by-laws are the same as the by-laws at their own co-op and so they’ll feel right at home.

Admittedly, I’m still trying to make sense of that explanation, but turning the Putney Co-op into a uniform clone of all other coops across the nation is not a direction I’d ever imagined we’d be heading. It’s the corporatist future of America that’s already here. All Hannafords and Rite-Aids look alike, all tablets and smart phones direct us to the same small handful of corporate merchants, and notions of beauty and human value are stripped down to a single generic standard of impossible emaciation and brand-name labels. Even the very notion of cooperative governance has been perversely turned upside-down and repackaged by corporatist shills as the new future of coops.

The water is now simmering.

Here in Putney, we’re being offered a chance to become a standardized clone of all other coops, in exchange for which our coop gets discount prices, particularly if we limit our options to foods produced and distributed by big corporations. Here in Putney, it feels like we’re facing a smaller version of the same big shift as the rest of the world. If we don’t hitch our future to the big corporations, we’ll be left out in the cold. Go with the corporatized, big brother flow or hang onto our humanity to our last breath. The task here is made so much more complicated by the Board members being our friends and neighbors, by Putneyites striving to be nice always. We all want the best for the Co-op and we all want to trust in each other’s integrity and good intentions.

But those good intentions and the trust was seriously damaged when the Board attempted to force a vote at the annual meeting and imperiously attempted to shut down the discussion and questions by members. Vote up or down now, we were told; the Board has put in many months of work on these new by-laws. But using that rationale would dictate that no change be made at all in view of the extraordinary amount of time the previous Board put into creating the current by-laws.

The trust was further eroded by the behavior of two board members at a public meeting in December. Though the meeting was somewhat disorganized and poorly facilitated, the intent was to give respectful space to all parties to speak and be heard. Instead, one Board member engaged in making insulting, snickering comments when people spoke in opposition to the proposed by-laws, while another shouted angrily at someone attempting to present information about CDS and UNFI. In response to direct questions about proposed changes, Board members took the opportunity to tell us lovely stories about our wonderful Co-op. I could almost hear the advice and promptings of the consultant as they steered the conversation away from substance and “managed” the discontent of the members.

Without a better, more forthcoming explanation than what we members have been given as to why the current by-laws needed major reconstruction in the first place, the trust continues to lie fallow. Characterizing the concerns of members about fundamental revisions to the by-laws as a matter of “perception as opposed to reality” doesn’t help the Board’s case or credibility. Nor did one lengthy discussion at the December meeting over their proposed change which would allow members to attend but not participate in general meetings: Despite the vehement assertions of the Board that there is no difference beyond semantics, there is. It’s called democracy.

Mimi Yahn, ©January 14, 2015


Detailed comparisons and explanations of the proposed changes to the Putney Co-op by-laws, along with copies of both current and proposed by-laws can be found at:

Everytown, Earth


Dear Friends,

This is truly an awful time, made even more horrendous by the ease with which anyone can purchase weapons of mass destruction. I keep thinking too, of the first responders arriving on the scene to find the bloody bodies of such small children, and of the deep and life-changing grief of the parents.

If there’s anything positive in this horrifying massacre, it’s the instinctive reactions of most Americans: it’s heartening to see this kind of sorrow and empathy sweeping our nation, to know that our humanity and concern for others is intact, despite the inhuman and callous malevolence of some. As we come together in sorrow and the desire to help, let’s nurture that instinct to do something to help, to do the right thing, to stop this from happening again. But how can we do that when we’ve seen it happen before, when we know, discouraged and feeling helpless, that it will happen again? Let’s all of us take a good, soul-searching look at our society, a society in which we promote violence every night on television, in which owning weapons of mass destruction is an inalienable right. Collectively, as a culture, as a society, and with the worst of unintended consequences, we don’t just teach our children that all problems are solved with violence and guns, we show them how to do it and we prove it to them every day in the endless, permanent wars we wage against other human beings.

Let’s all take a good, soul-searching look at our own hearts and what we’re teaching our children: We grieve deeply for those massacred in Newtown, but where is the sorrow and empathy for the children massacred with our drones and bombs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine? We live in a society which teaches us to value some human beings, while dismissing the humanity of others. But the lifeless body of a slaughtered child is the ultimate witness and challenge to hypocrisy and the separation of heart and mind. The reality is that once you’ve dehumanized any human, violence becomes a facile and appropriate option. Whether it’s a mentally ill young man incapable of seeing others as human beings or an entire nation incapable of seeing the “enemy” as human beings, the result is still horrific slaughter.

Please do something, please take a first step; making violence acceptable has got to stop. Whether it’s getting involved in changing the gun laws in your state, teaching our children that violence against women is wrong, getting involved in anti-racism or anti-homophobia work, or joining the anti-war movement, please start doing something to stop this from happening again. To anyone.

Peace, solace and hope for change to everyone,
Mimi Yahn

Whose Lives Will Matter on Tuesday?

We are the critical mass.


My Webster’s New World Dictionary defines critical mass as “the minimum amount of fissionable material that can sustain a nuclear chain reaction under a given set of conditions.” In other words, the number needed to go boom when pushed up against the wall.

A woman by herself can get pushed around an awful lot. But a lot of women together who’ve been pushed around a lot will suddenly push back when they join forces. That’s critical mass.

A woman will experience a lot of separate injustices throughout her life. But the day she puts all those injustices together is the day she reaches critical mass. And goes boom.

Critical mass is important because that’s how things get changed. Without it, we go on suffering the violence, suffering the racism, the misogyny, the day-to-day assaults on our minds, our bodies and our souls.

So how do we achieve critical mass?

For me, it happened when Anita Hill was publicly assaulted and  William Kennedy Smith was acquitted and white men in the media who kept refusing to publish my articles kept telling me what we women felt and how feminism was a dirty word and, anyway, it was dying and women were glad. So I decided to publish a magazine that actually allowed women to speak. I reached a critical mass.


It is difficult for women to reach critical mass. We are taught that everything else in the world is more important than women. Our jobs, our families, our unions, our religious activities, our political activities, even our struggles for social justice are more important than our sisters and our own selves.

We look the other way when a “leader” harasses, dismisses, insults, demeans, beats, rapes or otherwise dehumanizes a woman. We say, “We can’t afford to lose him—or her”; “They’re too important to the movement” or “We can’t afford to be divisive.” But no one is above moral accountability and, in fact, those people are destructive to the movement, to our principles, our values, and to each woman harmed. And don’t forget: if you allow one woman to be harmed, you not only lose that woman, you lose the trust and support of all other women who have been similarly harmed. An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us.

We don’t, as a matter of course, shop at women-owned businesses. We don’t, most of us, make it a point to spend our money at stores that support women. And most women-owned businesses don’t, as a matter of course, support women’s arts, media, social services, etc.

We are fractured, and therefore weakened, in our politics, our principles and our lives. And so we find it hard to reach critical mass.

But we are the critical mass. Each one of us sitting silently in our rooms, our houses, our offices, our cars. Each one of us raging silently against the injustices done to us every day. While in the next room, the next house, the next office, the next car, is another woman raging silently against the same injustices suffered daily. Another woman powerless as you because she doesn’t know you are sisters.

Two hands stretched to each other. Two women sharing their experiences. Switching stores to support allies. Switching your dollars to women’s projects. Putting women first.


A simple act of sisterhood, multiplied by the masses that we are, is all it takes to reach critical mass.



Originally published as the editorial for The Feminist Broadcast Quarterly of Oregon, Volume I, Issue 4, Spring 1993.



Sisters, don’t just vote like our lives depended on it, vote because your life depends on it.

Call for an International Women’s General Strike on March 8, 2012

by Mimi Yahn, ©2012


Across the globe, International Women’s Day will be commemorated with mass marches, rallies and celebrations. In the U.S., women will be marking it by shutting down banks, corporations and other actions to highlight the economic disparities between women and men and the economic hit that women have endured over the past several years. Across the globe, women have borne the brunt of the economic disaster.

In the past several months, the assaults against women have escalated, our rights are being eliminated. If we are to be out on the streets on March 8th demanding justice, the power of our outrage and determination will be magnified a hundred-fold by taking action as a united international women’s general strike.

If you’ve not had enough, consider this:

Women go through everything that men go through — hunger, poverty, injustices, torture, imprisonment, racist colonialism, etc. — but in addition, they are subjected to a whole other set of injustices, not only because they create life and therefore have an additional set of basic human needs, but also as a direct result of their second-class, subjugated status across the globe.

In the U.S.:
<>More women than men were targeted for subprime loans and so more women than men lost their homes.
<>Women already earn on average two-thirds of what men earn, so every financial setback impacts them more severely.
<>More women than men have no health insurance, and so more women than men are forced into bankruptcy due to a medical catastrophe.
<>Over the past several months, dozens of bills have been introduced in states across the country that will restrict or outlaw women’s access to contraception, abortion and related health care.
<>Both political parties are fighting for power on the bodies of women in the belief that whichever party can eliminate the most rights for women wins.
<>In Occupy encampments across the country, women are being sexually assaulted, harassed and terrorized into silence; those speaking up are labeled divisive, crazy, hysterical and delusional.
<>Popular culture continues to demonize, brutalize and marginalize women. Rapper Too $hort recently released a video showing young men how to sexually assault teenage girls; ABC-TV is ignoring public outcry and going ahead with airing their new show, “Good Christian Bitches”; sales for video games that give extra points for stalking, raping and murdering women and girls continue to climb, and nearly every crime drama on television features women and girls being stalked, raped, beaten, tortured, mutilated, and murdered every single night.

Across the globe:
<>Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world’s income.
<>Women and girls make up 51% of the world’s population, but are 70% of the world’s poor.
<>Women produce more than 70% of the world’s food, yet own less than 2% of the world’s land.
<>Women are usually the primary caretakers of children and elderly parents which means they are financially responsible for more people on less money.
<>Women are far less likely to get credit, and when they do, they receive less than men.
<>Women make up two-thirds of the estimated 876 million adults worldwide who cannot read or write; and girls make up two-thirds of 77 million children not attending school. As the economic crisis deepens, it is the girl children who are being pulled from school, further entrenching their second-class status as dependent, impoverished, illiterate servants of men.
<>Men are the first to receive aid, whether in the form of food, loans, grants or education. In refugee camps, women & girls suffer malnutrition and starve to death at much greater levels than men, boys and male-headed families.
<>Throughout the Global South, the neocolonial economies were made deeply dependent on export industries like electronics, textile and clothing manufacture, food processing, and outsourced service-sector jobs. In all cases, women made up anywhere from 60% to 90% of these low-wage, no-benefit, insecure jobs because women are the primary “flexible” labor source across the globe: Since women have fewer political, human and legal rights than men in nearly every nation, they are viewed by international capital as the ideal cheap, disposable worker.
<>After the economic crisis, millions of women were fired from export-dependent jobs throughout the Global South, as the sweatshops, farms and factories shut down. Millions of destitute, desperate women have been forced into prostitution in order to feed their families.

We are not not a special interest group, we are half the world. Our society’s current patriarchal model of subjugation and exploitation influences every aspect of life on our planet and it excludes women at all levels: from decision-making and governing, from negotiating peace and ending wars, from organizing movements, from long-term economic, social, and environmental planning, even from sharing in life’s bounties.

We are the working class of the working class, the 99% of the 99%. And in virtually every nation across the globe, we have no equal status as citizens or even human beings. We are hunted and murdered like animals, we are bought and sold like property, we are silenced and erased from history and public life. We have no choice but to stand up for our rights and our lives. And men have no choice but to support us as allies if they ever want a world free of brutal injustice.

If you’re still not sure if you want to strike, then do it for the millions of women who cannot. Do it for the women who are struggling to feed their families; for the women who earn one-half to three-quarters of what men earn; for the women who became homeless in order to escape brutal beatings; who have been denied health care, reproductive care, contraception or abortion; for the women who cannot vote, cannot drive, cannot own property, cannot be seen in public without a man; for the women who have been beaten, tortured, raped, and sexually degraded; do it for the girls whose genitals have been mutilated and destroyed; for the women who are beaten by husbands, boyfriends, fathers and brothers; for the women who were been beaten into believing they were crazy, hysterical, neurotic; for the women who’ve been denied medical insurance because domestic violence is a pre-existing condition; for the women imprisoned in rape camps in war zones; for the women and girls who’ve been sold into sexual and domestic slavery; for the women whose legal and civil rights have been eliminated; for the women who have yet to gain legal and civil rights; and do it for the women and girls who are no longer with us because of dowry murders, acid attacks, honor killings, domestic violence, and the dozens of gender hate crimes perpetrated every day.

Do it for the women of Juarez, Tahrir Square, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo, King County, Montreal, Suffolk County and everywhere else women and girls have been targeted and murdered for the sole “crime” of their gender.

Do it for our daughters whose future must not be the same.

We strike for them.

Whose Occupy?

Whose Occupy?

by Mimi Yahn, ©2012

January 11th was the 100th anniversary of the Bread & Roses Strike. It was more than a strike that successfully raised wages and improved working conditions for 250,000 textile workers throughout New England, more than a strike involving over 20,000 mostly immigrant workers speaking 45 different languages: it was a strike called by no one, led by no formal organization, but spontaneously initiated, organized, led and won by women. From the mass meetings—where the people’s mic consisted of continuous translations—to organizing actions that formed human chains around entire factory blocks; from organizing strikers’ welfare committees to going head-to-head with armed police and state militia called in to break the strike by any means; from organizing soup kitchens to ensuring the safety of their children by sending them to allies and supporters in other cities, it was the women who carried out most of the organizing and who consistently and persistently refused to let the men take over. It is the strike most famous for the banner carried by a group of women and young girls that read: “We Want Bread And Roses, Too.”

This understanding of the link between the personal and the political, between the human body and the human spirit, is what gives women our power and wisdom to lead. But you’d never know it from looking at the Occupy Movement.

Women have been pushed to the margins, just as they’ve been in every failed revolution and progressive movement throughout history and across the globe. Once again, women are being threatened, silenced and made irrelevant by those accustomed to writing the agendas, formulating ideology, setting policy and implementing practice.

The media—both mainstream and alternative—have played into this: The vast majority of images, interviews, videos and articles feature men as the dominant face and brains of the Occupy Movement, as if only the men’s opinions matter as the important experts and thinkers of Occupy. Worse yet, it is one race that predominates, even in the images of women: the white race. As if whites, and especially white men, represent the 99%.

But the images of Occupy presented both by the mainstream and the alternative media is an image that has more to do with image itself and far less to do with the realities of the 99%. The mainstream press mostly portrays the movement as a bunch of leaderless, unemployed (male) street kids and their female camp followers, while the alternative media present an idealized image of noble, brave, young men fighting in the trenches for the rights of the downtrodden, while their radicalized girlfriends stand bravely but quietly beside them, occasionally bearing the brunt of some out-of-control cop’s tear-gassing spree.

Neither present the women who are angry and in the trenches every day struggling against the same injustices taking place within the movement that they struggle against outside the movement. Neither present the deep analyses and outsider perspectives of women because our opinions don’t count. There’s no mention of the women who continue to be sexually harassed and assaulted, who continue to be pushed further to the margins to form their safe spaces and auxiliary caucuses in order to escape degrading and dismissive attacks, no discussion of how a movement can call itself progressive while its women cannot safely participate unless accompanied by a man.

None of the white media talk about the hard decisions that people need to make about whether or not to involve themselves and their own communities in a movement that is so clearly dominated by whites who so clearly hold onto their privilege by behaving as if the rest of the world’s populations are merely guests and bystanders rather than participants and co-creators of this movement. Do people really want to ask their families and friends to willingly put themselves into yet another racist situation, where their minority presence guarantees no allies?

Already, the dominance of men has been established and the exclusionary agendas they consider important implemented. Though attempts to introduce “fetal rights” have so far been blocked around the country, Occupy Austin decided that since abortion is a “divisive” issue, it will not be part of any Statement of Principles or official action plans. Of course, no progressive woman would ever agree to that since reproductive rights are absolutely fundamental to our most basic human rights. But the men who have taken over the thinking, policy-making and agenda of the Occupy Movement have decided that, since reproductive rights don’t concern them, it’s a minor issue. More than that, their lifelong privilege as men gives them the certitude that they have the right to make decisions for those they consider less relevant, less valued to the Movement and the human race.

For women, whose marginalization always includes terrorized silencing through physical and sexual violence, and who have almost no training in fighting back, the choice is no choice at all: Either remain silent and remain with us or go off and do your own “little” thing far from the main movement. For women, whose dehumanization and objectification has always included being reduced to her reproductive body parts—body parts which she doesn’t even have the right to own, control or protect from assault—the choice is never hers. The decision as to whether the basic human rights unique only to women should even be on the agenda is left up to those whose privileged body parts make them uniquely protected from those human rights abuses.

These are the choices we’ve been given for thousands of years: Put our own rights aside for the “greater good,” choose between your race or your gender, your religion or your gender, support your man or be a traitor to the cause. Even sexual orientation has been disconnected from gender oppression—as if only straight women experience misogyny and lesbians only experience homophobia the way gay men experience it—leaving lesbians to choose between the struggle that most oppresses them.

The principles of the early days of the Occupy Movement included recognition of privilege and a commitment to addressing and undoing the destructive, counter-productive and regressive behaviors that arise from privilege. Step back/Step up was immediately instituted at General Assemblies: This meant that those traditionally holding privilege—those who were accustomed to being the first to speak, the ones accustomed to dominating the room and the agenda—would step back, remain quiet, while those whose voices, ideas and perspectives were rarely heard would step forward. White men were to listen for a change and begin understanding that their ideas and voices weren’t the only ones that mattered. Women and people of all other races were to be given priority for speaking, setting the agenda and leading this movement to a new paradigm.

It didn’t work. Just as governments and corporations won’t stand idly by while citizens take power into their own hands, within a few weeks the entitled men who had come to Occupy in order to have their voices and ideas listened to and heeded began lashing back to retake their privilege.

In Occupys across the country, similar stories have been emerging: When people bring up the subjects of misogyny and racism, they hit back with proposals to ban those words from all public Occupy discussions permanently because they’re “divisive.” In Oakland one woman was told that including discussions about how “Blacks, Indigenous People, and Asians have been colonized in this country was a distraction,” while in Nashville, an attempt to form a women’s caucus was labeled “divisive.” In Boston, a proposal was presented to allow rapists to return after a specified period to present their case for remaining in Occupy. In New York, an angry demand was made that a women’s caucus be summarily disbanded because the women failed to include the words “female-assigned, female-identified” in a draft statement. In Nashville, women who raise the issue of the rampant misogyny—which includes cutting off live feeds when women begin speaking, refusing to allow women to create their own caucus and using social media to slander women who speak out—are being called “bullies” and labeled as “trouble-makers” and “man-haters” with an “agenda.” The Nashville men are also using the centuries-old tactic of labeling women as emotionally unstable and hysterical. As Norma Jones points out on Nashville’s Occupy Patriarchy blog, “Email after email uses language like ‘going off the deep end,’ ‘tantrum,’ ‘chaos,’ ‘severe malfunction.’ And, as elsewhere across the country, men’s postings to blogs, live streams, Facebook pages and the Occupy sites are filled with ugly, dehumanizing comments about women, ranging from crude sexual remarks to suggestions that women “deserve to be beat.”

Meanwhile, where are the men calling for change in misogynist attempts to marginalize women? Before men started becoming defensive, nearly every casual conversation I had with men regarding gender issues resulted in them telling me about the women’s area and the women’s daily meetings, as if that addressed any grievance the “feminists” might have and absolved them from any concern or need to educate themselves about “women’s issues.” More recently in New York, a man sent a request to one of the women’s caucuses for the group to intervene in what he characterized as an inappropriate, exploitative relationship developing between a man in his 30s and a 16-year-old girl. His comment was, “Who will look out for women in this movement if not your group?” But what makes this man who considers himself a member of the Occupy Movement incapable of intervening himself? Does he realize how insulting and dismissive it is to see, once again, a man treat injustice toward a woman as less important than other injustices, less morally imperative that he also “look out for” someone being exploited because of her gender? Instead, once again, sexual harassment and exploitation is disconnected from issues of injustice, oppression and abusive privilege. It’s just a women’s problem, a personal issue; so let the “girls” handle their own separate problems in their own separate safety zones and caucuses. Ironically, earlier that day, a friend posted to Facebook an appropriate quote by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

One of the worst and most insidious tactics I’ve seen yet is being implemented in New York’s Occupy. A group of white men are now claiming that they are being marginalized because they are losing their prerogative to speak whenever, wherever and for however long they want.

Let’s be clear about this: marginalization is oppression, and there is real violence, real blood, and real dehumanizing, objectifying, terrorizing physical and sexual assaults in those words and the lived experiences that inhabit those words.

Marginalization is not getting nervous and uncomfortable because you may no longer be masters of the universe. To use that word to describe what the 1% is feeling right now is an affront and utter dismissal of the human injustices done daily to the 99% who have been silenced, enslaved, impoverished, deprived of basic human rights, and yes, marginalized for too many thousands of years. And it is an inappropriate and outrageous insult to the dignity and very existence of every person who endures real marginalization and oppression every single fucking day.

There will be many women in the Occupy Movement who will be angry with me for airing the dirty laundry, but they’ll be even angrier at me for the loud, aggressive and combative tone of this article. These men are part of the movement—they’re crucial to the movement—we should not be antagonizing them or creating divisions.

Sisters, the divisions were created the day you were born. If my tone is unladylike, it’s because I’m fucking angry and, as a woman and a human being, I have every right to be angry. These men, who use their privilege as a weapon against us in order to occupy what belongs to us all, are not as important to the movement as we are. It is not up to us to be conciliatory, to attempt to adapt to their privilege. It is their privilege and arrogance that divides and weakens the movement. Women—as the ultimate working class, as the class that is at the bottom of every culture, nation, race, and society across the globe and across history—are the Occupy Movement.

Either you’re part of this movement that is all about egalitarianism, co-governing, and a cooperative sharing of life’s bread and roses, or you are not. If you are more concerned with hearing your voice heard above all others, imposing your vision of a revolution—without input, creative development and consensual process by others who do not share your gender, race or privilege—and maintaining your position above all others at all costs to everyone but you, then this is not the movement for you.

If ever there was a movement that needed to be led by people who understand the connection between heart and mind, between the personal and the political, it is the Occupy Movement. If ever there was a people whose past history proves extraordinary power, strength and leadership in the face of crushing odds, it is women.

I ask sisters everywhere to recognize, cherish and activate your innate abilities to take charge of our world too long run by those with none of the skills, wisdom, heart or strength that we have. We may be marginalized by men, we may be assaulted, deprived of basic human and civil rights, paid less, impoverished more and universally despised, but ultimately it is we who make the decision whether or not to rise up and create the world we want for ourselves and our children.

One hundred years ago, immigrant women and girls who were at the bottom of society, who were paid less than $7.00 for a 56-hour work week, who spoke little or no English, whose lives were enslaved to poverty, stood up from their machines and said, “Enough.” On the hundredth anniversary of their historic and successful uprising, we can honor and carry on their spirit on International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012, holds more meaning than ever before. If ever there was a time for women to rise up in one united, global general strike, this March 8th is the time. Women have borne the brunt of the global economic disaster, and women are continuing to bear the brunt of the political, economic, religious, social, and cultural wars. Across the globe, women are still at the bottom of society. As the New York-based Movement for Justice in El Barrio says, “Women around the world are rising up and saying, “Enough!” Their event will honor the women who “are organizing new movements from Chiapas to Egypt, from Greece to Spain, from South Africa to New York…They are ’indignadas,’ outraged by the staggering inequalities, the violence and deceit, the hatred of democracy, the flagrant corruption and utter disregard for life on this planet that characterize our society, our economy, our governments. They are struggling against this nightmarish status quo, and laying seeds for a new world in the process.”

This year’s International Women’s Day has been declared by Codepink to be the day of Women’s Call to Action (see statement below). As part of the Occupy Movement and the role that women play in the global economy as the ultimate disposable worker, there are actions planned around the country, including shutting down banks, actions targeting corporations, yarn-bombing, mass marches, rallies and demonstrations.

Let’s join our sisters across the globe, and join in spirit our foremothers who rose up to fight for a better world for us, their daughters: On March 8th, let’s begin.

“At the forefront of these global movements are countless dignified women whose ‘Enough!’ resounds in different colors, in different languages, across the lands. They are spearheading these movements, and battling injustice head-on and without compromise, often at enormous risk. Those from above attempt to repress them; those from ‘within’ attempt to disregard and silence them. But they are insurmountable, and with their dignified struggles, transform our world each day.”—Movement for Justice in El Barrio


International Women’s Day 2012: Call to Action

     Women make up 51% of the world’s population but 70% of the world’s poor.
      We perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn 10% of the income and own less than 1% of the world’s property.
      While our work remains unpaid, underpaid and undervalued, making us invisible to economic indicators and ineligible for the rewards reaped by the most “productive” members of society, we have become the prime targets of predatory bank policies and economic collapse. Women are 32% more likely than men to receive sub-prime mortgages and Latina and African-American women borrowers are most likely to receive sub-prime loans at every income level.
      It’s time we started targeting banks. On March 8th, we call on people across the globe to fight back against the patriarchal economic system. Show the banks what a REALLY free market looks like. Shut down a bank. Yarn-bomb an ATM. Move your money. Force a CEO to take a walk in the shoes of those hardest hit by the economy.
      This International Women’s Day, our work will be visible.
      We are the 51%.
      Expect us.


For more information about IWD events: