The Boston Women's Conference: What Interests Are Served by Trying to Shut Down Revolution

Updated April 7, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader

In the midst of the reactionary onslaught against abortion rights, and the war on women more generally, people gathered in Boston at the end of March for a conference on the "revolutionary moment in the women's liberation movement" in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hundreds of people came. The conference should have been an opportunity to debate different ideas on what women face today, and to discuss and struggle over what critical lessons can be learned from the past, where do we need to go in the future, and how do we carve out the pathways to get there. And it could have been not only an important site of vigorous discussion and ferment, but a critical springboard to action.

Yet, despite the fact that there were people there who were anxious for that kind of conference, some people tried to prevent a woman who has both strongly put forward revolution and the emancipation of women as a key part of that revolution AND who has stood at the forefront of the struggle to defend abortion rights—Sunsara Taylor—from putting forward revolution. At different points she found her mic cut off and was told from the podium to stop speaking when she tried to put forward the solution of revolution, or to bring forward the importance of the struggle to defend abortion in that context. Someone else at one point was denied even the right to speak at all for "being associated" with Sunsara Taylor, and this outrage was only overcome when another person at the conference got up and criticized this suppression and then turned over her time at the mic to this revolutionary. All this took place in the context of materials promoting BA Everywhere being distributed to attendees at the conference. In addition to the suppression of Sunsara Taylor, some people were promoting vicious lies and an undercurrent of unacceptable hostility toward Bob Avakian that were way out of the bounds of principled expressions of political differences.

To be clear, Taylor and the other revolutionaries did NOT back down in the face of this, and some people were drawn to what they had to say—much literature got out, and 50 copies of the RCP's A Declaration for Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity were sold. But what could have and should have been a full-throated discussion of serious questions, open to a whole range of points of view, was truncated and an overall bad atmosphere created. This went on despite the fact that everything that Taylor and others were raising was quite integral to the announced thrust and breadth of discussion to be undertaken by the conference and was being raised in the scientific spirit of struggling over the character of reality and the rich back-and-forth that goes along with that.

How did any of this serve to advance the dialogue—and yes, the very badly needed debate—over the character of the problems facing women, the source of those problems, the methodology that is needed to understand them, and their solution?

It did not.

In addition, despite an opening speech by a famous woman novelist and poet that in part focused powerfully on abortion, virtually no emphasis was given at the conference to actually figuring out HOW to fight to defend abortion rights—rights which are right now under unprecedented and extremely sharp attacks that amount to an emergency. Indeed, there was one small workshop on abortion at the conference, and this focused mainly on the struggle in the '60s and '70s. How did this lack of resolve at a critical moment—and again, the attempted silencing of someone who has undeniably stood at both the literal and figurative front lines of this struggle—serve to advance the struggle against the very real and immediate attacks against women and for their emancipation?

It did not.

To be part of such an attempted silencing is outrageous and indefensible.

To fail to fight against the attacks on women, as they are coming down today, is utterly unconscionable.

Some of those responsible for these attacks seemed to view the conference as a way to burnish the legacy of the radical women's movement of the late '60s/early '70s, and their role in particular, as a means to advance their organizational interests; evidently, the understanding and approach Taylor was advocating for—an approach that poses building on that legacy but taking it further and with a different synthesis—is perceived as a threat to that. Others, more prominently featured, put forward a fairly naked defense of working within the system for reforms and a blatant misrepresentation of the role played by more revolutionary currents "back in the day." Here, too, it is clear that a voice who can show the harm of restricting one's efforts to working within the system and who can put forward a different view of the problem and solution, cannot be tolerated by apologists for reformism. The proponents of both of these currents apparently felt unable to contend with the ideas of Sunsara Taylor and the women and men of End Pornography and Patriarchy about those and other burning questions, so rather than discuss and debate those questions openly, they attempted to "enforce their narrative" by silencing them. Yet this is not a matter of "competing narratives"; it is a question of the source of and solution to the increasingly dire situation faced by hundreds of millions here, and billions around the world.

Thus, the final question that begs to be asked is this: What exactly were these people defending with this attempted censorship? And where in all this were the interests of the masses of women, and of humanity as a whole?

With all its great accomplishments and breakthroughs, which definitely must be upheld and even more importantly learned from and built off of, with all its inspiring moral, intellectual, and physical heroism and courage, the most salient fact about the women's movement of the 1960s/'70s and the movement overall is that we did not go far enough back then... we did not make revolution. Billions pay the price for that every day. It is urgent that we go forward now and go much further. As part of that, the movement we need now must be one based on principled debate over reality and how to transform it, coupled with a determination to take on the most serious attacks on women and defeat those attacks and outrages.

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