Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.

ON RESISTING, while knowing it is not enough, and offering to think beyond where we are, together

View story at Medium.com

ON RESISTING, while knowing it is not enough, and offering to think beyond where we are, together.

Zillah Eisenstein

June 5, 2017

After 40 years of anti-racist and feminist activism and writing I want more—to be able to do more and to affect more. Most of my radical friends whether working inside or outside electoral politics want more too. This was true at the gathering of many progressive groups held in Stoneridge New York, shortly after Trump was elected. (We named ourselves A Movement of Movements) And it was true in the work I did as part of the organizing committee of the International Women’s Strike/US this past May. These friends and political networks are a part of what I write here, in this disheartening time.


Upon Trump’s election (by the Electoral College) resisters said that we should not normalize any thing about his regime. I think now it is important to say that resisters should not normalize resistance itself. That the last months of protest, while Trump continues to flail, and tweet, and make horrifically punishing initiatives in health care and prisons and climate change and war, has shown us that coalition, not simply resistance and its reformist framing, is needed– even if “we” do not know what this exactly looks like.


At first the massive marches and continuous outcry by so many of us against the travel bans, the forced deportations, the attacks on Planned Parenthood, poor people, Obamacare, Climate denial, DAPL (Dakota Access Pipe Line) was invigorating. The millions who poured onto the streets for the Women’s March the day after inauguration, the tens of thousands who stood in defiance in our airports said that “we” would not let Trumpism define this country.


But outrageous policy continues to be made. Trump lurches forward with war with arrogance and hubris. He pretends he is speaking for coal miners, but coal miners have not claimed him. They actually say they want good jobs; not outdated and poor paying and filth making old ones. The United Mine Workers never endorsed Donald.


Maybe it is time to further build connectors between these activists, and interests, and movements and start to make a revolution.


Yes, Antonio Gramsci was right that when the old is dying the new is not simply born. For Trump resisters today, in all our cacophonous chaos, we are living at the near end of many things: industrialization, living wage jobs, climate survival, traditional militaries/wars as they were once fought, legalized misogyny and racism and heterosexism, and disability. The capitalist structures of power are disassembling–nation states are in crisis, whiteness as a majority stance in the US, the mystification of class wealth exposed. BUT the (white) men who love these systems of militarism, racism, and hetero-patriarchy are still fighting for them in their decline. These men populate failed states:Trump, Duterte, Sisi, Erdogan, Putin, etc….


I seems that the US is living near the end of a particular majority/white supremacy and the anger/hysteria/violence and backlash is the response. The established forms of nation states are no longer needed, or they are leftovers and now stand in the way of a more rapacious global capitalism and its neoliberal predation. As such, Trump is a leftover—the old kind of white male supremacist who grabs women’s crotches. But,Trumpism uses a crass macho physicality that exposes rather than mystifies and stabilizes.


As former political structures—some of which worked, many that did not—sputter and struggle, more and more people are displaced and precarious. In this version—our operational but defunct prison system, the decimated social welfare state, the racist policing of Blacks and people of color, the illegal “grabbing of pussy”, it becomes clearer that democracy, as “we” have known it, in its liberal and neo-liberal racist misogynist forms does not work. “We” need new possibilities that do not suffer foundational racist capitalist misogyny.


There are some foundational truths to be found here. What we are living through is the crisis of old forms that are not yet gone and the men who still want them and benefit from them. This is a reminder of the end of plantation economies and yet the ex-slave holders/masters brutal extension of their privileges and power. Tera Hunter exposes these fraught years that were expressed through the chaos of sharecropping, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and new marriage laws. Tera Hunter, Bound in Wedlock (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2017) This history remains present today in mass incarceration, unprecedented police killings of Blacks, etc.


If “we”, all of us, recognize this horrific legacy threaded through important legal gains and civil rights and women’s rights struggles then it is time for us to move beyond the myth of success. Barack Obama was a first Black president, both because of all this, and in spite of it.


Abolitionism—the abolition of white supremacist misogyny and its capitalist nexus, alongside the racist misogyny of every day practices must become the heart of our visionary framework. If assimilation and reform and accommodation and integration and equality presume the foundational structure of class, sex, race, gender, and ableism—then a new foundation must be imagined. Start with a materialism of the body that is never singular. Envision a foundation of every color/sex/gender and bodily ability in a shared commons, rather than a class hierarchy.



Chattel slavery today


Systems of power do not erode all at once. They do so in fits and starts and repetitions. Legal endings are very different than actual ones. Chattel slavery was challenged and undermined by enslaved peoples from the start. White abolitionists came on board in fits and starts, and each state had somewhat of its own history. The enforcement of chattel slavery was always varied and complicated and never unitary.


Vera Hunter shows that there were non-legal slave marriages; legal ones that were sometimes recognized, and often not, and multiple forms of unrecognized Black marriage unions. There was intra-racial and inter-racial rape and cross-racial master/ slave rape. Black women’s importance in reproducing new enslaved peoples was consummate. Marriage law was very much protecting the slave master’s ownership of the black female’s sexual availability and her progeny as well. It is may be one of the most articulated even if debased recognitions of (black) women’s importance to economic life. The plantation economy did not need or want slave marriage—it wanted to claim all of black women’s labor—including their children—as its own.


Thomas Jefferson spoke against slavery but owned slaves. He had an entire shadow family with Sally Hemmings and even gave his daughter 27 slaves as a wedding gift so that she would have an appropriate dowry. He instructed that “his” slaves should be given their freedom at the death of his wife Martha, although this did not happen. How do you not believe in slavery and have slaves? This is white supremacist thinking: vacuous and disconnected from the reality of being Black.


Dolley Madison, wife and plantation mistress of James Madison inherited slaves in and through her marriages. Black slaves gave her social standing inside a patriarchal marriage system that gave her few rights in relation to her husband and total rights in relation to her enslaved “help”. Her life is determined by the death of her first husband and her next marriage—she is only entitled to 1/3 of the inheritance…but her slaves are completely defined by her demands, her relocation after remarriage, etc. They have no rights, including the 14-year-old girl who was her “favorite”. (Marie Schwartz, Ties That Bound (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2017)


The plantation economy ends but not the white misogynist supremacy of it. Chattel slavery documents the intimate weaving of ones class, sex, race inside it. Each of them is all of them. So Black men and women, though differently, are positioned in the newly evolving economy, free but without their rights. This is the racist/capitalist/misogynist classic lie: to be free is not to be equal—living at the end of something but not quite with a new enough beginning.


Resistance is not enough. Reform and assissimilation is not enough. Civil rights are not enough. Abolition of the old is necessary– but how to imagine the new?



White Supremacist Misogyny in Crisis


How do anti-racist feminists think and “do” and mobilize in this moment? Trump lies and makes punishing declarations and ultimatums daily. No one is safe from his bullying, except maybe his daughter Ivanka and the rest of his family.


Eve Ensler asks: how do you live at the edge of what is over? And I wonder with her, how do you know when something is over? Or how do you know what the leftovers might mean? I am thinking that white supremacy; at least in the ways it used to rule, in the slave trade, in colonialism, in early imperialism, is deeply changed. Maybe masculinism becomes less white as it becomes a tool for the globe that is majority brown and Black. Yet, white masculinist men and heterosexist racists are still in charge, doing their deeds in belligerent ways. The structures that buoyed and protected them at one time are no longer as enabling. Their challenged systems of structured supremacy beg for protection.


But why is misogyny always left standing? Why is it almost never targeted as actionable? Is it its incredible resilience and non-recognition that assists in its naturalization rather than a full throttle attack? What is it about capitalism that seems to suck all of the air out of a buoyant racial and sexual and gender critique? After all, in this political moment it seems pretty clear that the heart of the problem is capitalist hetero-patriarchal racism.


Why am I still forced to be making this case after all the years of incredible anti-racist anti-misogynist critique of capitalist-racist-patriarchy? Why is this still the question? Why don’t progressive thinkers and activists change more? Why does the “Left” fail to recognize that the personal is political, that there is a politics to sex, that racism is foundational to class? Why? Maybe this explains why there has never been a successful socialist revolution? Is it that socialism needs more heart, and body, and personal, and anti-racist feminism?


Trump dropped the largest bomb in recent history in the 17-year long war in Afghanistan. Noted scholar Phyllis Bennis says that he uses brute force in attempt to shore up US foreign policy. (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/04/06/carnage-and-chaos-loom-trump-weighs-military-attack-syria)That he uses uncharted illegal use of military force because he has no strategy or coherent policy other than the illegitimate use of raw power/a kind of sexual violence. I wonder if this “raw power” simply reveals his white male misogynist hysteria. From grabbing pussy, to rape, to dropping bombs, to deploying drones. Each uses terror to terrorize which is the main strategy of white male supremacy assisting empire.


Trump and Bannon and Sessions are each gladiator like, brutish, and mean white men. There is something particularly misogynistic about their irrational and illegal use of power. Trump is a noxious predator who continuously uses a brutish sexual physicality, which appears awkwardly visible against feminisms. His cabinet is all men. The committee to revamp his so-called health care bill is all 13 white men. His daughter Ivanka says he loves women. She sees no irony as he grabs her thigh or ass. So, feminism, the kind for the 99 percent must be brought into the coalition for solidarity.


And overly militarized police officers use deadly force against Black bodies, many of them children, as maybe we see the last gasps of white supremacy hurtling forward? But I also know that there are so many millions of guns everywhere waiting and ready.


Trump has re-mobilized an anti-abortion agenda, an anti-women’s health bill that is anti-contraception, anti-Planned Parenthood, and anti-woman. His appointees to oversee the public health say abortions cause breast cancer and contraceptives are harmful to the health of women and the nation. Really?

Ivanka claims to stand for women’s rights and their right to equality in the workplace with no recognition that planned pregnancies are a necessary for holding onto a job.


Abortion remains the canary in the mine in that it is used to always test the waters for women’s rights. But still and often abortion and misogyny are sidelined and misunderstood. There is no compromise about women’s bodies and our rights to decide about them. Abortion is not one issue. It is many. It is all of them. Women of every color and every class are impacted, most especially poor and undocumented women. So abortion is an economic issue. It is a racial issue. And, it is a woman’s issue simultaneously. It is therefore a human rights issue.


Reproductive rights are raced, and economic. Poverty is raced and sexed. But few public figures like the Pope, or Bernie Sanders really get this. Sanders recently decided to support Heath Mello, a mayoral candidate in Nebraska, even though Mello has had a problematic history on abortion. Sanders said: we cannot exclude people who disagree with us on one issue. Sorry, Bernie, abortion is not one issue, and it is not just “any” issue as such. Nancy Pelosi agreed with Bernie. Why is this still an issue?


For me, abortion is both controversial and non-negotiable. It clarifies that certain issues will always assist in uncovering what “revolutionary” means. Hillary Clinton says she wants abortion safe, legal and rare. #Feminism4the99 wants full access to abortion, and in a world that is egalitarian for each person. Make the world kind and equal and abortion will be different in a different world.


Pro-life democrats and republicans are not trying to make the world kinder. They are figuring out ways to punish the doctors who do abortions and the women who need them. I want a world that is not punishing, but restorative.





The need for coalition emerges out of the truth that no one resistance is enough. And, that no one “issue” is ever singular. Each issue, each individual, each structure is made of multiple problems, identities, and needs.


If individuals are always constituted by our multiple identities—no individual is ever singular in this sense—then the systems of power that attempt to control or release us will be structured in these multiple frames. Given this, all politics must be muti-plexed. And because this is the case, I look, in this interim, to build coalition strategies that connect the connections between sex, race, class, gender, nation, and…Fictions like the white working class do not help. Calling complexity identity politics does not assist.


When we work in coalition we temporarily can move beyond the limits of our politics. Unity is not the end goal here, but an intersectional/multiply differing solidarity is.


Expand sanctuary for all to include—all people of color, non-immigrant and immigrant, refugee and non-refugee—and Indigenous rights. Black, LatinX, Native,Trans, Bi, Disabled, Muslim refugee, and women across each of these identities. We must envision economic justice for all our multiple identities. This requires inclusive coalitions.


Coalitions are part of building solidarity with and between the differences. They are demanded by the complexity of our presences. We must move with and beyond the categories that push us apart like center and margin; we must move beyond binaries that separate and divide, and instead find a way towards connectedness that denies unity, or oneness, and instead images solidarity and its tensions.


This is a moment for cross-movement and intersecting actions that will create new alliances that we might not know or imagine yet. This means supporting autonomous actions that become cross movement through the intersections that exist within each.


BYP1000, BLM, Say Her Name, CTU, Fight for 15, ROC United, OUR Wal Mart, March 8 International Women’s Strike, Women’s March, economic justice, reproductive justice, the 3 R’s/Chicago—resist, reimagine, rebuild, immigrant rights, LGBTQIA rights, indigenous land rights, anti-militarism, pro-water rights, worker rights, feminism4the99, 100 women of color leaders, Black Women’s Blueprint—are just a few of the thousands of resistance groups in the US today.


The “Beyond the Moment” campaign, initiated by the national Black Lives Matter (BLM) network and their partners, that hailed May 1st, 2017 as a day to stand up against the ICE raids, and for worker’s rights, especially immigrant and undocumented worker’s rights. Black and Brown people, immigrant communities, the economically unstable, women, children, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, those working to protect our right to work and those fighting for our right to clean air and water, are all facing attacks because of a minority whose values are rooted in misogynist white supremacy,


Coalitions work to recognize and allow our complex inter-weavings, `double-jeopardy’, `adverse specificity’, ‘multiple status’, ‘both-ness’, all-ness, and `intersectionality’ of our being. These complex individual multiple identities exist within the structural systems of sex, gender, race and class. It is not enough to say that sex, class and race intersect with each other. They rather structure the selves and practices that already have multiple expressions. No one is ever just a member of a class in the singular sense; or simply a woman; or simply Black; or LatinX. So it is not about simply adding issues or identities or structures together but rather it is necessary to connect, blend, and marble them with the tensions that are inherent in difference and inequality.


In this process, it is important to remove binaries, such as race or class, and instead see them both, and simultaneously, so neither is separate from the other, but remains distinct, nevertheless. Displace the notion that there should be one center and with that rethink what is understood as the margins. We are connected and divided by the threads of sexism, racism, white privilege, militarism, environmental degradation, able-ism, heterosexism and transphobia. Sexist and racist violence oppresses so many of us, especially women of color, Native and immigrant women. So, there is a possible complex camaraderie in the making here.


Our work must commit to being radically inclusive. When one thinks of protecting the earth and climate this means naming environmental racism and environmental sexism as the hazards that they are. People do not all suffer in the same way from the climate disaster “we” all face: people of color live in areas that are the most at risk here and abroad. Women, especially disabled women of color face particular challenges as hurricanes hit, as was so clear after Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.


Poor people of every color face the misery of drought, of floods and tsunamis in more calamitous fashion, and poor people come in every sex, gender, sexual orientation, bodily ability, and geographical location. Climate change exaggerates these disparities so the resolution of these crises must address these inequities.


Bombs and missiles (their manufacture and the damage they wreak) heat the globe. One cannot support the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen without endangering human existence. Wars always involve violence, especially sexual violence, specifically of women of color, and women who are poor, older and young. We must end militarism and war to cool the earth and end violence of every kind.


Everything affects each of us but one’s race, and class, and sex and gender and geographical location, and able-ness, specifies the particular punishment each of us face. An anti-racist anti-militarist/imperialist, anti-misogynist climate justice demands that differences are recognized in order to find the huge commonality needed to save each of us and with us the planet.


Unity is not the goal. So let us move forward finding the connections, not expecting ease or immediate results. Maybe we could further the coalitions that are already started by also nurturing cross movement alliances on some of the demands below:


single payer health care for all

alternatives to prison

universal guaranteed income

full access to contraception and abortion

justice and freedom for Palestine

end the use of fossil fuels and ban fracking

affordable housing for anyone needing it

immigrant rights and sanctuary cities


Right now this work demands a loving generosity with each other as “we” try to find a way to go forward together. Whatever issue you are committed to, make sure to connect with others. “We” must demand everything from each other and ourselves to find the courage together to make a revolution. And making a revolution is a process that has no end in sight, but will create new possibilities.


So, yes—I am stuck and also ready to begin. If enough of us are ready “we” can start, again, now. And, take all that we have learned, and have been given, by earlier struggles and present ones, into the fire, humbly and courageously.






Comments are closed.