Sunday, August 17, 2008

FAB-R: Feminist Action Brigade Book Club

Inspired by BISAR (and several women's only book clubs) as well as by riot grrl, Ladyfest and BAB (Bands Against Bush), I started FAB, which first stood for Feminists Against Bush but ended up being called Feminist Action Brigade.

In some ways FAB was an experiment that failed, which I won't go into great detail about here, but basically we were trying to incite a DIY network of feminist activism that was political beyond the personal (without discrediting the personal) and wasn't just about culture, but also addressed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 'our' place in the world as feminists living in the US, an extremely rich, imperialist nation. The urgency of the presidential election of 2004 was the immediate impetus.

My outrage at what was going on in the world collided with my background in "cultural activism"(Bikini Kill, Ladyfest Etc) and experience of the hardcore scene during the Reagan era to inspire me to get a bunch of people together in Olympia to start Bands Against Bush, and Pogo for Peace (a series of shows the publicized anti-war actions)....on a personal/local level, this was a response to Rachel Corrie's death, on a national/international political level, it was to protest the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan...basically all this stuff was a way of responding to the US government's repression and violence after 9/11. When the war was starting in March 2003, we didn't see the punk scene here as being overtly political, and we wanted to change that; especially because, more than ever before, we had access to our own media, resources and distro: from shows to flyers to zines to websites to self-made and produced movies to youtube to community radio to pirate radio to public access tv to PA systems to house shows to xerox machines to scanners to all the local record labels, bands and festivals that are known internationally and constantly going on tour and doing interviews and selling merch and talking into microphones to audiences and staying up late on tour having conversations with people they just met all over the world--we really were in a position of cultural power as members of the Olympia music scene. We wanted to use this power to spread dissent. In the face of what was happening in Iraq we felt it was our responsibility as US citizens to try to use these resources to speak out and organize a resistance movement against our government's policies. We got pretty far with it and then it stopped. I honestly don't know why exactly.(Please write in with your take on this)

We worked really hard and did a bunch of stuff but both of those organizations/tactics were sort of losing steam as people got more and more depressed after our big event in October 2003... then Fallujah happened...."beers against bush" went from a bad joke to a way of life for many friends... by the time Bush was re-elected I was ready to try something else. We were all really depressed so it took awhile. I had decided to go back to school to study US history, and was losing faith in the idea of culture as political terrain. Maybe being in a band, writing fanzines and holding benefit shows wasn't enough anymore... Plus all those meetings were starting to make me go insane. I wasn't writing songs or articles, I was just posting organizational emails to countless list-servs. Still, we had to do something, right? So we kept at it and FAB was born.

FAB was something we (me, maggie, amy and wendy yao) had thought of while eating dinner the day after the 2000 presidential election, but nothing really came of it at first (other than a few signs at anti-war protests). By November 2004, it seemed like nothing was going to happen with FAB unless we made an effort, so the idea we started with was 'baby steps', so I suggested a feminist theory book club that would meet locally but also have an online presence.

Rather than to have it be 'women only', we invited people of all genders to participate but then on the side also had a lady's book club where we read mostly fiction. The reason it was open to everyone was because Feminism For Everybody by bell hooks had just recently been published and it made a persuasive argument that men should be included in feminism; ie Feminism is not for Women Only. I was a little nervous about including men in the group, but as it turned out only one or two guys were interested in coming to meetings (big surprise) and their inclusion seemed to pose no problem (none that I was aware of anyhow, although men did dominate the list-serv, making many women hesitant to post).

FAB-R (the R stood for readers) was short lived in it's initial form, but had a lasting impact locally. Besides reading feminist theory together, we also networked with local feminist organizations by attending, promoting and participating in a locally held Feminist Summit, which was really informative/inspiring and put us in contact with a diverse group of feminists in our own community who were of different generations and who were utilizing different tactics. We organized two events, one being a panel discussion at Ladyfest on 2nd Wave Feminism, featuring local women who had been involved in the women's liberation movement; the second was a book reading by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Outlaw Woman, a book we read together (thanks Kanako!) We also managed to make two zines and a website, thanks to Marissa Magic (thanks Marissa) and brought them on Spider and the Webs tour, where we used the merch table and the microphone as a platform to get the word out about FAB. On top of this, we went to anti-war protests together and helped organize/participate in a counter-action to an anti-abortion rally. I think we did a few other actions, but I really can't remember right now.

There's a lot more to say about why FAB failed to turn into an actual Feminist Action Brigade, as well as why Ladyfest succeeded and what happened with BAB. This is something I'm interested in documenting, as we need to write our own history of resistance as we are participating in it--Erick Lyle's On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City being a recent example of how effective this can be. It's important to talk about what didn't work as well as about what did work. This is how we learn not to repeat our own mistakes. I know first hand that riot grrl could have gotten a lot further had the second wave histories that have been written since the early 90's been available to us then.

On a personal level with all this stuff, when FAB began I really didn't want to start a new organization from scratch--I kind of wanted to check out what groups were already working in our community and try and help them with publicity and outreach. I had realized I had a lot to learn from older, more experienced organizers and really did not want to be in any kind of "leadership" role. Still, I did (and do) want to use the public voice I have and resources I have access to for political purposes. So in the face of this personal situation, I wanted FAB to be more of a network, rather than an actual organization. I guess we weren't really sure how to do this or what we wanted to do exactly and it turned out not to be such a good strategy, as there wasn't really a basis for our platform, or even a means of developing one collectively, we were just individuals without any kind of structure for action reading books and doing stuff we felt like doing when we felt like doing it. There wasn't accountability and since people are busy, things don't usually get done unless people feel like they've made a commitment to follow through. I think if we had made a magazine together that came out regularly, or even just a blog or a website that was more interactive it could have gone to Tacoma.

Writing about this is something I have started working on and will continue to so contact me if you'd like to contribute your perspective on this history. For now, inspired by Slim's BISAR post, I will leave you with a short list of books FAB read in the first six months or so of our existence, as well as a long list of books I wish we had read together.

Here's what we read:

The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy; Women, Politics and the Future by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner
The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back by Gloria Feldt
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
Daring to Be Bad by Alice Echols
No Turning Back: The History Feminism and the Future of Women by Estelle B Freedman
Outlaw Woman by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism by Angela Y. Davis
Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader
Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement ed by Rosalyn Baxandall and Linda Gordon (i think this was extra credit,we just passed around a copy at the meetings)

Looking at the FAB-R email archive, it looks like a small group was reading the Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir over the summer, while most of us were swamped with organizing Ladyfest and stopped having regular meetings. At the end of the summer Kanako held a second meeting for new recruits who had read Outlaw Woman after we had already met about the book, and that's when we held the event hosting Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. By this point I was in school full time and I'm not sure if the book club continued or not -I think it did, but under a different name?

Here's a list of books I would still like to read in a Feminist Theory book club-this is up for debate, should a book club actually form:

Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks
North/South: The Nawal El Saadawi Reader
Inessential Woman by Elizabeth V. Spelman
Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body by Susanne Bordo
Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan
Ideas of Action by Cynthia Kaufman
Women, Gender and Islam by Leila Ahmed
Thinking Class: Sketches of a Cultural Worker by Joanna Kadi
Transliberation: Beyond Pink or Blue by Leslie Feinberg
Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins
Vindication of the Rights of Women Mary Wollstonecraft
The Orgins of the Family, Private Property and the State by Friedrich Engels
This Bridge Called my Back & Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua
Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
"Can the Subaltern Speak?" by Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak (maybe more in the Spivak Reader)
Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy ed Arlie Russell Hochschild and Barbara Ehrenreich
Women and the Politics of Class by Johanna Brenner
Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis
Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminist ed Zillah Eisenstein
Anarchism and other essays by Emma Goldman
Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures ed Chandra Mohanty
Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class Ed Michelle Tea
Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance, and Redefinition by Kamala Kembadoo .
Dangerous Liaisons : Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives. by Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti and Ella Shohat
Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism by Chandra Mohanty
Color of Violence: the INCITE Anthology
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex INCITE


Tobi Vail said...

to give credit where it's due: the 'we' of bands against bush and pogo for peace when it was first starting was mostly me and al larsen (some velvet sidewalk/property is theft)
the 'we' of FAB as an idea was me and maggie and the yaos; then it was maggie and marissa and I; then kanako sorta kick started it into another dimension, then i don't know what happened
there were so many people involved in all these groups (Ladyfest, Bands Against Bush, FAB) that I don't want to gloss over that when I talk about the genesis of these from ideas to realities (and back to ideas again?)
I also don't actually remember everything that happened in the past eight years, it's all been a blur, so apologies if there is an omission, please add whatever you want here.

saralibrarian said...

19th century feminist novels I highly recommend:
Lucie by Amelie Skram (Norwegian), Fettered for Life or Lord and Master: A Story of Today by Lillie Devereux Blake (American), and What is to be done? by Nikolai Chernyshevksy (Russian).

Tobi Vail said...

thanks sara....i read a bunch of mid/late 20th century american/british feminist fiction but nothing fromt he 19th century...sounds intriguing!

saralibrarian said...

these novels are all from the late 1800s but i don't remember the exact dates. the library has a copy of "lucie" with a 2002 english translation and a feminist press put out "fettered for life..." in 2000. the olympia library used to own this book, it's where i found it, but no more! (you could get it through InterLibrary Loan if you wanted to.) we never had, "what is to be done" but lenin called it (i don't remember the exact quote) something like "the most important book of our time" and the intro that i read of it said that the nihilists read it like a bible. i just stumbled across it at the chicago public library (which is vast!) because it had a yellow spine and i liked the russian sounding name. i had no idea until i started reading it that it was going to be so up my alley.