On June 10, 2017 The Veteran Feminists of America held a feminist reunion in New York City at the famous progressive church, Judson Memorial, in Greenwich Village.
As Barbara Love pointed out in her welcoming remarks, the event was for all feminists—revolutionary, radical and reformists: “bad girls” and “nasty women” included. In fact the event attracted many feminists who had never been to a VFA event before. Everyone was there in good faith, recognizing we are all-in to fight for a better life for women and girls. A few brave men, historians and students joined the celebration.
Among the many fabulous feminists in attendance were Kate Millett, Phyllis Chesler, Susan Brownmiller, Alix Kate Shulman, Vivian Gornick, Heather Booth, Judy Norsegian, Merle Hoffman, Muriel Fox and Yolanda Bako.
Many of us had joined the Movement over 50 years ago. We were able to makes things easier for several people in wheelchairs and some with walkers. In addition we REMEMBERED our deceased sisters and heroes, with posters taped around the room.
In all about 130 attendees gathered; met with old friends and comrades; enjoyed sandwiches, fruit and brownies. Projected, on a wall in the background, were photos sent by feminists and accompanied by women’s music.
The VFA Feminist Reunion Committee pulled it all together. Co-Chairs, Barbara Love and Carole DeSaram. Treasurer, Joanne Depaolo, and Ann Jawin. VFA President, Eleanor Pam, played a key role from beginning to the end.
The main event was a Speak Out at an open mic guided by Carole DeSaram. The theme was We Will Not Go Back!
We are pleased to have four videos from the event, filmed by Liza Bear:
While not everyone prepared remarks, a few did. Below are remarks by Susan Brownmiller, Robert Brannon, and Alix Shulman. Their remarks are noteworthy. Their comments follow. (See below)
Barbara Love and Carole DeSaram, Co-chairs
I am Robert Brannon, a social psychologist who proudly works with NOW, and with Nomas, the National Organization for Men Against Sexism. In that organization I chair our sub-Committee on Feminist Movement History.
Confronting men’s patriarchal violence is only one among many major feminist endeavors, but it is one that is a very high priority for Nomas. We were thus proud to recently publish our Alice Paul Awards, which named and honored 250 American women, who have made meaningful contributions to combating men’s violence. Susan Brownmiller, Phyllis Chesler, Merle Hoffman, Kate Millet, Sonia Ossario, Myra Terry, Jo Freeman, Laura X, and a number of other women who are present here today were honored by Nomas. (You may find our award-list on line, at the excellent new feminist Journal Dignity, which is free, and well worth searching for.)
I bring greetings also from my long-time colleague Diana Russell, who is in California and unable to be here in person. And I would metaphorically light a candle today for my dear friend Andrea Dworkin, vulnerable and fragile in her physical persona, but who was, in the words of Rockland NOW’s Phyllis Frank: “A Tower of Strength, for Women Around the World
I am, as you may see, something today of an old-timer. My inclusion in Barbara Love’s authoritative history (2006) of early (pre-1975) feminist activism in the U.S. is among my life’s central accomplishments. That was the past, but I am not yet done, and plan to continue fighting until patriarchal violence is just a bad memory.
I was pleased that, when I mentioned the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, there was a ripple of applause across the room. I was also pleased that the names of Phyllis Chesler, and Andrea Dworkin, elicited wide and general applause. These two great women have been the targets of some in our movement for the courageous stands they have taken; It was good to see that they are both admired and loved, by the “grass-roots” activist feminist leaders across America.
Well, we’re still here. And so is the maniac in the White House. We know firsthand that progress does not always move onward and outward on a steady path. The pendulum swings. Gains can be lost. We have multiple reasons to feel defeated, but we are not women who accept defeat.
I saw us go in the popular imagination from scruffy androgynes in combat boots, a seventies image, to the current charge that we were just a bunch of out-of-touch upper-middleclass whites. These deliberate misrepresentations have been deadly.
I was in the radical “women’s liberation” wing of our Second Wave. I’d had three illegal abortions out of the country that I’d never talked about until I went to a consciousness-raising meeting of New York Radical Women in 1968. What a revelation—abortion didn’t have to be something you risked your life to obtain, and it didn’t have to be a secret, it could become a right! Roe v. Wade, January 1973, the result of our labors, was a 7 to 2 decision. Nothing was going to stop us, we thought, but the day after the Roe decision the women haters began to chip it away.
Abortion is my primary issue again in these perilous times. For the women’s march in New York a few months ago, I made a sign that read ABORTION IS EMPOWERMENT. I must say that it got lost amid all the important issues that were raised so colorfully and wittily around the world that day: Climate change, racism, police brutality, gun control, terrible poverty. I sensed that we, as women, were supposed to give equal time to all these issues.
The concept of “intersectionality” is a battering ram against feminist causes. Climate change activists, gun control activists, and Black Lives Matter activists do not twist themselves into pretzels over intersectionality, but feminists are supposed to.
The meaning of Roe, that reproductive freedom is central to women’s equality and self-determination, is what the Trumpsters and so many Republicans want to erase, and they have the Supreme Court votes to do it. In large swaths of this country, as you know, pregnant women have no nearby access to an abortion provider, and by state law they are fed misinformation about fetus viability, fetal pain, and the safety of abortion procedures. If Roe is overturned, jurisdiction over reproductive rights– including contraception and healthcare insurance– will revert to the states. Hello, we’re almost back to where we started.
In our glory years, we never did speak for all women, and perhaps we never will. Trump’s victory was enabled in part by religious right-to-lifers that include women. Motherhood should be for those who really want to be mothers. A choice. Not a mandatory destiny for anyone anywhere in the world. But I think no one will put contraception and abortion rights first and foremost in their priorities today, except women like us.
When we started out in 1960s to make feminist revolution, most of us knew nothing about 1st Wave. A few urged us to correct that:
- Shulamith Firestone wrote essays about 1st Wave
- Cindy Cisler compiled an ever-growing bibliography
- Laura X, envisioning future history, founded wmns history archive that collected every flyer, broadside, newspaper, journal
- Organizers of the Aug 26 1970 Women’s Strike invited veteran Suffragists to ride down 5th Ave at head of march (as 2016 Women’s March organizers invited Gloria S to speak??)
- VFA; Barbara Love’s book
Now young women newly calling themselves feminists, many of whom joined Wmn’s March day after Trump inauguration, know as little about our movement as we knew about 1st wave. This is not surprising, since they are nearly as separated in time from 1960s as we were from suffragists. Today’s young feminists are not us but are connected to us as forebears, as we were to 1st Wave. Some have begun to study our movement(s).
Our generation of feminists has become history now. We not only made history, changed history, but—with lots of us having already died—we ARE history.
At almost 85 I am gratified to have lived to see this goal achieved.