Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.

An Open Letter to Katha Pollitt

An open letter to Katha Pollitt

You wrote many of us on the organizing committee of the International Women’s Strike and asked us why Palestine should be a feminist issue. We all wrote back and you obviously did not like what we wrote. You mention none of our responses to your queries in your recent piece, “Actually, Not Everything is a Feminist Issue”, and instead you just repeat your questions.


Your queries reflect the stance of a white imperial feminist, from a privileged site that does not need to demand full inclusion.



  1. Can feminism be too inclusive? My answer, no. Our feminism of the 99 percent cannot be too inclusive, too democratic, or too big.


  1. Once you widen the lens of feminism how do you know where to stop? My answer: “we” do not want to stop. For the past ½ century anti-imperial feminists in the heart of empire have been learning how to deepen, what you call widen, our gaze to see more and know more. “We” are hopefully catching up to our sisters of color across the globe.


  1. Must women save the whole world? I wonder which women you mean. But “we”–#femnists4the99, are not saving the world, “we” are saving ourselves and with us, the world. Yes, “we” must save our communities, our families, our planet, and thus ourselves from a rapacious, militarized, corporate power structure. Palestine is one critical, but not singular piece of this. As long as Palestine is colonized by Israel and the support of the U.S. there can be no world peace. The apartheid conditions in Palestine have become the challenge of this century as South African apartheid once was. But I already said this to you in our correspondence.


  1. What about other countries like Syria? or Iraq? or? Why does the International Women’s Strike (IWS) not name them? Because the question of Palestine lays embedded in these other sites and some of us do name these other conflicts. Each one of us may not be able to be present for each and every action. But “we” can support and sustain each other across differing commitments. The fact that there is so much to be done is not reason to recoil from it.


  1. Is feminism at risk of diffusing itself within the left? No. Feminism is multiple at its root/route. Women—trans and gay and cis—are leading Black Lives Matter and they are anti-racist feminists. Women of all colors are leaders of the $15 movement; Native women lead the Standing Rock and DAPL resistance. You see dispersion where I see complex and overlapping coalition building. Feminists connect differing movements and different movements exist within a #feminism4the99.


  1. Are feminists becoming “perfect ideologues” and looking for purity? No, #feminists4the99 are looking for solidarity, not unity; complexity, not purity. Differences are necessary and embraced. They enrich and extend us.


  1. How do you make a mass feminist movement? By reaching deep and wide. By naming the specific struggles that must be addressed and by doing so actually destroying boundaries and borders that require wars. And, this mass movement may and can become revolutionary if it is opened widely enough.


Katha you are holding feminism back, by keeping it defined by liberal and neo-liberal agendas. In the last decades I hope I have grown in my understanding of the complexity of white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy. This has meant a constant engagement with women of color across the globe, most especially my Black feminist sisters here at home. My/our commitments to liberation must remain expansive and creative. Closure is not a goal here.


I have always treasured your defense of women’s right to abortion. But it is time for you to recognize that this singular focus should be used to broaden and deepen feminism, so that our multiple identities are always at the heart of everything. Your fabulous devotion to women’s rights to their bodies—their right to abortion, always—needs to grow and make sure that the color, race, nation, sexual preference of these bodies build the coalitions that are needed for the liberation of all women, and thereby, all of humanity. “We” women must control our bodies, but our bodies are multiple, complex and radically plural across this globe. Drop your imperial gaze and you will see more.


“We” live in impossible times. Economic inequality is at obscene and unconscionable levels; white supremacy continues to be murderous to people of color, especially Blacks; Islamophobia and anti-immigrant policies create impossible conditions. A #feminism4the99 has no choice but to embed itself in these crosshairs.


You get it wrong. When anti-imperial, anti-racist feminists specify Palestine, or world hunger, we do not divide, but rather open the gates to an inclusive humanity. How can you ever be too inclusive? That is like saying, as neo-liberals do, that you are too equal, or too free, or too democratic, or too feminist.


You have clarified the difference between white imperial neo-liberal feminism and the #feminism4the99. I hope you can see the difference/s. If you can, join us.



The Many Ways To Strike on March 8: Rise, Resist, Organize, Dance, Dialogue, Refuse


The Many Ways to STRIKE on March 8: Rise, Resist, Organize, Dance, Dialogue, Refuse

The International Women’s Strike, US, on March 8 hopes to be a catalyst for the liberation of all women, cis and trans—of every color, sex, gender, class, nation, and identity—from every kind of exploitation. “We” have an opportunity in this moment that we should not ignore. There is a long labor history to the celebration of women on March 8. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/21/womens-day-strike-march-8-donald-trump A strike for women is more complex and multiple than the usual notion of strike. So much of the work women do takes place outside the factory or restaurant or day care unit, and is not paid at all. There are as many ways to strike, as there are ways that women labor.

Women always need to be imaginative and inventive with the political language that exists. So a strike for us, the “big inclusive” us means in part, to re-invent the meaning of strike. In established discourse a strike happens at one’s place of work, and work means a waged-labor site like a factory or a service job. And, a great many women, especially women of color, work at these sites. But work is happening elsewhere all the time, and most women do it whether they are working a traditional job or not. So, the IWS/US intends to strike in new ways that recognize the multiple and differing and complex forms of labor that all women do. So, there are many kinds of actions—recognizable and newly formed– that will be taking place throughout the country from California, to New York, to Wisconsin, to Washington, D.C., to Illinois.

The purpose of a strike is to stop the usual work being done and to make sure that people acknowledge that the work is not getting done. And it is not getting done because the worker says no, that, the labor is unfairly taken, stolen, un-remunerated, etc. For women, our labor is never paid its worth. And, there is a raced hierarchy to the exploitation. Often the labor is not paid at all. Almost all women labor as domestics in their own homes for no pay, and when women, particularly women of color, labor in someone else’s home, it is for super-exploitive wages.

Women also labor as the major consumers of necessities like food and clothing. This consumer work is dispersed and chaotic. The emotional work of family life is a full time job, but most women have other jobs as well. Women routinely multi-task so a triple day of labor is a matter of course: reproductive, productive, domestic, and consumer laboring goes on simultaneously. So, the IWS/US asks women to refuse, or strike on March 8, in new creative ways that reflect their complex lives. These actions will amplify the already on-going mobilizations planned by women workers in the workforce. These unions and work groups are also planning with new strategies that protect workers who cannot afford to be fired; so there will be partial work stoppages, the use of vacation and sick days, etc. http://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/a43109/women-strike-history-significance/

The guide to “us” all is to make our labor visible especially if it seems invisible to the larger world. As a friend suggested to me: maybe instead of refraining from the invisible caring work that we do for our families we can make it visible: make a Facebook post and/or a Tweet describing the labor of the day. And, tell others to do it to. “Today I made 3 breakfasts, did 2 loads of laundry, shopped for dinner, went to the office for 4 hours, came home, made dinner, comforted a distraught child and…” The national planning committee is hoping to set up a log-on to the IWS/US website so women can keep a labor tally for the day, and collectively.

And, for whatever part of your labor you refrain from on March 8, publicize it in as many ways as you can. And, with the time this frees you up from your work we hope you will join with other women to: support each other, listen to each other, organize against what feels tyrannical to you. THERE IS NO ACTION THAT IS TOO SMALL. HOLD A SIGN OUTSIDE YOUR PLACE OF WORK OR SUPER MARKET. ALL YOU NEED IS TWO PEOPLE TO DO THIS. OUR WORK IS DISPERSED TO MULITPLE SITES SO OUR RESISTANCE WILL BE AS WELL. Build small and large communities with others that you will trust and resist with. This is what an anti-racist/anti capitalist FEMINIST revolutionary process looks like.

The International Women’s Strike/US and the Women’s March, initiated on January 21, share similar commitments for March 8, with the Women’s March campaign to highlight “a day with out a woman”, along with our recognizing the multiple forms of labor, paid and not paid. We are coordinating together when possible, and also may have autonomous commitments. We are doing what women do: partnering, sharing, endorsing, and embracing one another, and across difference. We all are hoping to grow our coalitions while at the same time many of us have uncompromising commitments to anti racism, anti colonialism, anti misogyny, and anti-neoliberalism. Out of this unknown mix of commitments we are growing a new feminism for the 99 percent. Do not be too ready to say that this cannot work. Give us a chance to make it work. https://www.thenation.com/article/striking-on-international-womens-day-is-not-a-privilege/

It is urgent to find and build the camaraderie that develops as coalitions across differences of race and class and gender and sexual identity become possibilities. All of these actions taking place before and on March 8 are getting us ready to confront and dismantle the present political regime. “We” are getting ready for whatever is coming. “We” are building a revolutionary resistance. March 8 is not an end to itself. It is a process of mobilizing new alliances and coalitions involving risk and trust.

If you think sexual violence towards women is part of everyday life, especially in places of work, if you are ready to dismantle white supremacy, if you want a living wage, if you want to have access to contraception and abortion facilities, if you believe in universal and affordable health care, if you want to end the wars everywhere, if you want to end all deportations of immigrants, if you want to welcome refugees until the wars end, if you want your city to be a sanctuary in this unsettled time, if you want to build schools rather than prisons, if you want guns controlled and then eliminated, if you want Palestinians to be free and equal, if you want to save the planet from environmental devastation, if you want every woman who needs an abortion across this globe the ability to get one, if you want to end hunger and poverty….you want to strike with “us” on March 8. All you need to do is to decide on one action related to the labor(s) that you do, and share it with others.

Women are already readying to do this. A doctor in Miami, Florida says she will be standing with IWS/US while she treats her uninsured and undocumented patients. A friend from South Africa says he will invite a speaker to his university on March 8 who will speak about “women, race and revolution”. In Poland women write that they will take no more abuse and denial of their rights to their bodies. They say they have the best weapon available to them in order to win: their solidarity. Tocan a una, tocan a todas. They say their rulers should be scared of them. I say, let us join our Polish sisters.

In Washington D.C. on March 8th women workers from around the country will join together in a massive rally along with women of One Billion Rising who rise against all violence towards any women– they demand an end to sexual violence and all its iterations—at work, at home, in war, against the earth. They will surround the Department of Labor with their bodies. They—the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), and Jobs with Justice, and the National Nurses United, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, and OUR Wal Mart, along with V-Day activists, will demonstrate, and rally, and say no to exploitation, to work place violence, and yes to a living wage, paid leave and labor rights at work. https://www.facebook.com/ROCUnited/ These women of all colors express the solidarity “we” all wish to achieve. Their rally will be done in solidarity with women around the world rising for racial, sexual, economic justice. Join them if you can.

Women will rally in Washington Square Park, New York City to publically stand together for a feminism against the cruelty of neoliberalism and deportations and criminalization of Black and Brown people. They will be organizing a feminism of and for the 99 percent.

Nawal el Saadawi is standing with us from Egypt. Years ago when US women asked her how could support the revolution in Egypt during the Arab Spring, she said: “make your own revolution, and free the rest of the world from your imperial government.” And, that is what “we” will hopefully begin to do now.

Figure out what makes sense for you and your friends and get organized for March 8. When you read the IWS/US declaration of purpose you will see a large and inclusive set of commitments. https://womenstrikeus.org/ It is a feminism against racist/capitalist hetero-patriarchy; against an anti-imperial feminism, against anti-colonial feminism; and for an anti-white supremacy anti-rape culture feminism. Even if you are hesitant, even if you disagree with some of the commitments, even if you think the vision is incomplete, join us. Join us, and engage with us. We will build a new revolutionary comraderie together.

The women’s actions, and rallies, and marches on March 8 are part of a process that began with the first resistances against the Trump regime after his inauguration, beginning with the Women’s March on Washington, and its sister marches throughout the country and globe. Acts of resistance have continued apace ever since that moment. The International Women’s Strike/US will continue this process. And the process is readying us for when we must all come together and dismantle this regime. No one knows when this moment will occur, but we do know how to build the camaraderie to get us ready. Revolutionary resistance is a process. Help us begin and continue to nurture this process.

“We” the organizers of the IWS/US are looking to build coalitions with and between our shared and differing needs. Unity is not needed–just trust and a belief in the possible.

Check out our web page for a local action. If you don’t see one, make one. https://womenstrikeus.org/

A note: Here are some possible hashtags you can begin to reach out to others with.


#BreadAndRoses   #WomenWorkersRising   #InternationalWomenStrike/US

#WomenStrike #ADayWithoutAWoman   #AWoman’sWorkIsNeverDone

#WomenRisingMarch8     #WomenUnitedMarch8


Revolutionary Imaginaries in a Time of Women’s Marches

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com


Or: For ‘Colored Girls’, when the ‘rainbow’ and white women being allies is not enough’

February 2, 2017

I am the same age as Hillary Clinton. I am a white anti-racist feminist. I grew up in the civil rights movement and was called a race traitor as a child. As an adult I worked with Angela, and bell, and Chandra, and Barbara, and so many fabulous women of color (WOC) trying to end the then exclusionary racism of the white women’s movement. How things change and do not. Today I am listening and resisting along with these friends and also learning from and with my younger sisters of color.


This might be a historical moment in need of a bit of theory—theory meaning connecting the dots between disparate actions so “we” can see the connections and see each other. The theorizing will be partial and inadequate but necessary. The resistance has gotten ahead of our theory—it is mixed, and intersectional, and wildly chaotic in a productive way. Terms like left, liberal, radical, feminist, etc. are in motion. And terms describing Trump, like proto-fascist, or pre-fascist, or totalitarian are not nuanced enough to name and therefore see the misogynist/racist excess of this regime.


The day after the Inauguration there was the spectacular outpouring of resistance by millions in the Women’s March on Washington, and its sister actions. This was a huge mass action against Trump on the streets of Washington D.C. and the streets of our cities and towns here and across the globe. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/it-started-with-a-grandmother-in-hawaii-now-the-womens-march-on-washington-is-poised-to-be-the-biggest-inauguration-demonstration/2017/01/03/8af61686-c6e2-11e6-bf4b-2c064d32a4bf_story.html?utm_term=.d6a0e77fc680 The marches were incredible and women of color led these many majority white marches. I am not ready to discount the importance of learning from this hugely successful action. If it was not radical or revolutionary enough for some of us, it still offers a fertile site for further radicalization. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-womens-march-succeeded-because-it-spoke-to-womens-outrage/ And, do not assume you know what the pink pussy hat means exactly.


What is there important to say about these moments that follow Trump being elected–so to speak–forgetting hacks and voter suppression and 3 million more votes for Hillary. He, along with Steve Bannon is consolidating their power and re-configuring the power elite. And these early days of massive resistance are only the beginning.


The right wing of this country is delusional. They are NOT the majority. Yet, their attacks have such breadth and depth that they have awakened almost everyone other than themselves. “We”, the rest of the people that Trump loves to hate, are: taxi drivers, restaurant workers, women of all colors and classes, the new working class, immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter (BLM), Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Planned Parenthood (PP), Black Women’s Blueprint (BWP), undocumented students throughout the academy, Movement of Movements, Standing Rock, ACLU, etc. etc. There are many of us: occupying, protecting, rising, overcoming, revolting—trying to be ungovernable.


Women and men, trans, white and every other color—the bigger “we” that Trump insists on excluding have repeatedly taken to the streets to build a resistance at every opportunity. The commitment is to: form a resistance; to be ungovernable; to de-normalize the Predator in Chief and his cabinet.


Name this? See this? Do this? The Electoral College completely ignores, smashes, and sidelines this reality. The two party system – enmeshed in gridlock and dysfunction is probably done, if it ever was effective. What is next?


In this urgent moment Trump and his cabal are attempting to prop up racism and misogyny for the capitalism they love so dearly. In doing so they have deepened and exposed the fissures while all of us who they hate are trying to uproot and eviscerate anti-immigrant/racist misogyny once and for all. In actuality, ironically, Trumpism reveals the very oppressions “we” have longed to both expose and destroy. They do not get that “we” are the many, and they are the few.


With extra speed he makes executive orders/decrees: reinstate the global gag rule and disallow even the mention of abortion to all the women of color across the globe; continues settler colonialism re-issuing land rights to DAPL and the Keystone Pipeline; making full blown enemies of all immigrants and refugees, especially those from Muslim countries creating enemy strangers where they do not exist. Mass actions took over airports throughout the country as people were detained and refused entry.


There may not be a woman president but there are now many women leading the resistance in its many forms, like Sally Yates who just refused to enforce Trump’s immigration ban and was promptly fired.


I have lots of questions: how can these reform movements become revolutionary? How to think about this? Because the problem “we” are focused on is multiple and “intersectional”, as Kim Crenshaw and so many other women of color feminists would have it, the old questions centering capitalism and sidelining its whiteness and its misogyny are more insufficient than ever. Is it possible that if the problem itself is multiple, even single site assaults can disarm and weaken and make shaky the foundation?


And let us learn a bit here from the predator-in-chief himself. He made clear that misogyny—he will grab our pussies if he wants to –and his whiteness—his base is white—was key to saving global capitalism. But of course it is not just capitalism that he needs, because capital couldn’t do much of what it does if it didn’t use patriarchy and its deep roots/routes of settler colonialism and chattel slavery in modernized forms to garner its profits, for white rich powerful men.


Maybe the global greed is undermining the golden rule. Instead of mystifying the racist hetero/patriarchal underbelly of capitalism Trump up-ends it. It is so revealing that when Trump defends the white working class male it is not called identity politics. Instead everyone else who calls out the racist/sexist/hetero-gendered unfair structuring of citizenship and political life are categorized as such.


Let the resistance call out the failed two-party system. Let some wonder about a third party. Let others imagine a whole new structural apparatus for communities living in a global world. Let some call for an end to nationalism as we know it, and with it the wars and destruction of the planet. Audre Lorde would point us to the master’s tools and the master’s house. It is not reformable. Rosa Luxemburg also demanded revolution and a vision of it that was not limited to resistance but moved beyond what seemed possible.


Following Audre and Rosa “we” need to imagine beyond what feels like possibility. We need to mobilize our different movements of so many differing voices into a risk-taking set of actions, even though too many are already at too much risk. It is for those of us—especially non-poor white women and men to listen carefully and then put our bodies between the police and their state orders, and alongside our brothers and sisters of every color.


So “we” need to be and can be diverse, and unified and multi-pronged in our visions simultaneously. Alicia Garza of BLM similarly says that the time is now, not before, so embrace whoever is ready in this moment. https://mic.com/articles/166720/blm-co-founder-protesting-isnt-about-who-can-be-the-most-radical-its-about-winning#.msnpfr7mJ “We,” the most of us people, can unite for the planet and our bodies against Trumpism and his cabal of violators and predators. S/exploitation is key to this system. Sexual and racial violence is present in all wars for domi/nation.


Let us name the revolutionary problem as global capitalist hetero/patriarchal racism. There are new possibilities, as global capital has demanded the mobility of labor threading many sites of colonial power: from Europe to the US. with new colors. Whiteness is more exposed as a minority global population than ever before, when earlier the predominantly white US could live its supremacist lie at home. And, when France and Germany could spin their white majority status for supremacy. Now the supremacy is harder to protect. White people have always been a minority in Africa, Asia, and South America. They are now becoming that in the US and Europe.


Newest right-wing fascist, xenophobic, misogynistic politics of Trump and Modi and Putin bespeak this politic in their own local discourses. The troubled yet promissory stance and status of white women exists within this complex moment. It is no surprise that women of color and especially Black women voted against Trump in overwhelming numbers. And way too many white women, across class lines did not.


Trump targets multiple hatreds and animus. Our resistance takes this assault and lovingly embraces the multiple venues smashing at us. This is a new cacophonous call to arms by the president: a calling out of the multiple systems of oppression of the nation by the commander in chief. Instead of protecting these multiple/intersectional ruling class sites, he exposes them. So it is important that “we” stay multi-purposed and unified in this very multiplicity. Oneness in diversity. The Black Woman’s Blueprint asks us to do this. http://www.mamablack.org/single-post/2017/01/06/On-January-21-2017-Black-Women’s-Blueprint-Will-March-on-Washington

Congressperson Luis Gutierrez did this when he said he would walk in the Women’s March with his wife and daughter because he cared about every slight to every human right. https://gutierrez.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/why-i-will-not-be-inauguration-and-will-be-marching-women


A new collaboration. A new solidarity. A new revolutionary/reformist movement. “We” the people must be inside and outside; legal and extra-legal; uncompromising and compromising; supportive and more to each other. Difference and conflict must be embraced in order to grow. Voices of critique from WOC are opportunities, not condemnations. “We” are in a post-women march/es world. Deal with it: women leading us all for revolution whatever this will mean. At moments demands will be specific and singular. Other times demands will be inclusive. Sometimes the politics will have to be vague and unknown and scary.


Do we really know exactly how or why Trump won? Do we really know who the white working class exactly refers to, or if it is really white any longer? Do we really know why the Democrats undermined Bernie and chose Hillary? Do we really know how the new working class/es of women of color across the planet as well as here at home can become our new revolutionary hope? Although I am sure Ai Jen Poo of the Domestic Workers Alliance have some good ideas. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2017/01/see_whos_speaking_at_the_womens_march_on_washingto.html


Trumpism reflects an old radical feminist brilliant formulation: the personal is political and there is always a politics to sex. He like the former white radical feminists forgets to be newly brilliant and realize that personal politics in its racial and class underbelly is deeply, radically, revolutionary. So—the moment calls for WOC of every kind to go forth and lead this next revolutionary movement. I hope you remember to use what was incredible about your foremother’s brilliance and make it better.


And I am with you, listening and collaborating on your and our behalf, not simply as an ally, which does not explain my interest enough, but as an anti-racist sister/comrade, freedom fighter, in this struggle to finally up-end white supremacy’s gendered racist abuse of us all. The struggles are not the same between us, but they are similar enough that I and many others will risk everything. Because, when “we” are doing the work together we make a new world for us all.

As I finish this writing #GeneralStrike for February 17 is trending on Twitter.

And, as Osagyefo Sekou sang the other night in Ithaca, New York: “what a time to be alive. When we stand up we have already won”. Or, we have a fighting chance.







An Open Letter to Planned Parenthood Leadership; Dear Cecile Richards

An Open Letter to Planned Parenthood Leadership

Dear Cecile Richards

You are amazing along with the huge Planned Parenthood apparatus that delivers health care and reproductive freedom to millions of women. THANK YOU for all you do and continue to do.

I have been a keen supporter of Planned Parenthood for most of my lifetime and even more so in these last years as the right wing of the Republican Party have put PP under such fire and assault. Nonetheless, Planned Parenthood has continued to stand courageously and defiantly for all women’s rights to their bodies and their health.

So this makes it all the harder for me to question and disagree with the endorsement Planned Parenthood has just made of Hillary Clinton for President, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zillah-eisenstein/hrc-and-us-exceptionalism_b_6844022.html I, along with many progressive feminists cannot support this endorsement. It elicits an unwarranted level of support for a candidacy that does not stand strongly enough for an inclusive notion of womanhood and humanity, as well as reproductive justice.

To endorse HRC is to allow PP to be used on behalf of Hillary’s support for war as a necessary form of politics; to continue the unwise legitimation of her foreign policy initiatives in Iraq, Libya and now Syria; http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B016L1RTR8/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?ie=UTF8&btkr=1 to dissect the politics of race and class from the lives of women, especially in these named countries; to endorse her non-intersectional approach to women’s lives; to accept her privileging of her whiteness and all white women’s privilege in relation to women of other colors. http://www.thefeministwire.com/2014/08/shes-anti-racist-anti-imperial-feminists-war/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zillah-eisenstein/hrc-and-us-exceptionalism_b_6844022.htmlI will always support Planned Parenthood in the way it supports any woman who walks through its doors. I just wish you would have followed your inclusive and democratic vision of women’s health and reproductive rights before handing over so many of our voices to the HRC campaign.

Instead of endorsing HRC, feminists who believe in peace, anti-racism, women’s bodily rights, economic and racial justice, must stand as an alternative to the limited neo-liberal/imperial politics of the moment expressed in this dismal 2016 presidential campaign. Anti-racist/anti-imperial feminists need to make HRC uneasy and uncertain about her exclusionary mind-set, and demand accountability for a more just world.


Zillah Eisenstein



Why did Sandra Bland Die (and why we need a white-anti-racist feminist posse



Why Did She Die?

(and why we need a white anti-racist feminist posse!!!

Zillah Eisenstein

Ithaca New York

August 3, 2015


By now Sandra Bland’s name has been in the news for several weeks. http://www.salon.com/writer/brittney_cooper/ A 28 year old Black woman is stopped by a white police officer. She saw the police officer in her rear view mirror and tried to get out of his way. He pulled her over for moving lanes without using her signal. She gets a ticket, which is a bit of an overreach in and of itself. She then was arrested for this minor traffic violation.


She is annoyed and bothered; who would not be? But the officer gets more annoyed and nasty and loses his temper. It seems irrational, given the origin of the stop. He tells her to put out her cigarette. She refuses. She is told to get out of the car, probably illegally, and then is manhandled and pulled out of her car, and thrown to the ground.


What started out as an ordinary day, July 10, turned to shit quickly for Sandra, Sandy to her friends. Instead of receiving a ticket and going on her way she is terrorized by a policeman, arrested, thrown in jail and had bail set at 5000 dollars. The bail is outrageous and excessive. She has no history with the law and yet was made to stay in jail until the bond could be paid. Bail became a punishment without any due process, ending in her unnecessary death.


She was isolated in a cell by herself for two days. Instead of total outrage at this, the news media interrogate her. Whether she was unruly, whether she was using drugs, whether she was depressed, and in the end, whether she committed suicide. She has no culpability here. None. Instead, the arresting officer and judge who set the bail are to blame.


Sandra Bland was condemned to death as a Black woman, having nothing to do with who she was as an individual. This is what a white supremacist patriarchal justice system looks like. You have no rights or affective legal protections to defend yourself in moments like these.

In a sane world “we”–everyone—especially white people would be asking how could this happen? “We” would be outraged that she was arrested in the first place, that there was a punishing bail set, that she had to suffer even an hour locked up. Instead there are queries about her as an individual.


The problem here is not Sandra Bland or any of the other recent victims of police violence and carceral state abuse. Since her death/murder at least three other women of color have been found dead in their jail cells. She died because she was a black woman who got annoyed at a white police officer. She died because of an overly punishing and retrograde police state. Police and policing have become violent beyond sanity. http://www.thefeministwire.com/2015/07/sayhername-sandrabland-is-sojourner-truth-harriet-tubman-and-fannie-lou-hamer-2/


I am sadly reminded of Kalief Browder, the Bronx teenager who was jailed for three years without ever receiving a trial. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/kalief-browder-1993-2015 He was arrested for supposedly stealing a backpack. He continually refused plea bargains because he said he was totally innocent. He languished in jail because he stood by his innocence. His jailers beat him tortuously. His case was finally resolved and he was released from Rikers prison only to succumb to his tortured existence and commit suicide. But he did not kill himself. He was killed by the racist prison system and its officers.


Sandra Bland was innocent of any actionable wrong doing on the day she was incarcerated. She did not deserve to die. Sandra had about as much rights on July 10, 2016, as she would have had as an enslaved black woman in chattel slavery. No laws would have protected her then, or now. However she died, she was murdered by an unforgiving system of white supremacist patriarchy.


Sandra’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, a single mother of five girls, says she will bury her daughter, which she did last week, and then will turn to seeking justice. “Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready. This means war”. http://madamenoire.com/549162/im-readythis-means-war-sandra-blands-mother-eulogizes-daughter-prepares-to-fight-for-justice/


Sandra is dead because of the unjust racist and sexist country she/we live in.


White anti racist feminists need to make a posse to protect our Black sisters. We need a white women’s anti-racist feminist posse that uses our bodies as a shield. We need to put our bodies between the white police and our black sisters. We must risk everything. Black women don’t get to choose. We do. This is the only way the violence will stop.


#WhiteAntiRacistWomenforBlackLives   #sayhername

Towards an Abolitionist Feminism



Zillah Eisenstein

May 14, 2015

Ithaca New York


As an anti-racist white feminist I wonder if it is enough to be an “ally” in this present and “newest” moment of racist/militarist/carceral violence. Or, is there something more to do? I am thinking hard about this “newness” which is also very old.


White anti-racist feminists can take the lead from our Black and Brown sisters and embrace an abolitionist stance towards chattel slavery and its racist and misogynist remains. Such an abolitionist feminist must commit to abolishing all forms of racial and sexual violence along with the hierarchies of economic class and hetero-patriarchy in their white privileged forms.


If I had lived during chattel slavery I would have been an activist abolitionist feminist. Today I/we need an activist abolitionist feminism focused on ending the hetero-patriarchal capitalist racist police state.


I used to be grateful that I did not live during institutionalized and legal chattel slavery. Instead, I was raised by Communist parents whose entire beings were committed to an ending of Jim Crow law. As a child I participated in picket lines and the civil rights movement. Laws were then changed; and it was now easier to fool yourself, especially if you are white, that racism had ended. Actually, racism got more complicated, more extra-legal, and more insidious.



On Being White


I am not sure James Baldwin is nuanced enough when he says that being white is an attitude more than a color—that you are as white as you think you are and therefore it is a choice; and that for Blacks their color is a “condition”, and not a choice. http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/interviews/a23960/james-baldwin-cool-it/ But I like the lack of equivalence, making whiteness a choice, and that whites have an added responsibility for the times “we” ALL live in. What does this mean for white anti-racist/abolitionist feminists?


It means challenging white privilege at the core of everything while being white. Otherwise I/we walk around enforcing the white racist hetero-patriarchal capitalist state, privileging its whiteness. This is where white “choice” comes in.


I could not begin to ask these questions if I had not been in the struggle for years with Black feminists, side by side—when the white women’s movement was being openly and doggedly indicted for its racism. bell hooks, and Angela Davis, and Barbara Smith, and Audre Lorde, and Hortense Spillers and Beverly Guy-Sheftall were part of my earliest anti-racist feminist experience and work.   I continue to learn more recently with and from Brittney Cooper, and Tamura Lomax, and Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and Salamishah Tillet, and from Black Lives Matter Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, to name just a few. http://thefeministwire.com/2014/10/blacklivesmatter-2/


So I tell myself to not “be/act white” and use this privilege of “choice” to help make a revolution that is structural but also an individual affair. If Franz Fanon and Frank Wilderson are right, and white people function in their own corporeality as deputies of the state, we must destroy this unauthorized “deputization” that is as misogynist as it is white privileged.




“New-Old” and “Newest-New” Racism


I use the phrase “newest–new” racism to call attention to the fact that violence towards Blacks has a too-long history. Everything new is also old, and yet not the same, even if similar. The “newest-new” of racism replaces homogeneity with complexity, and fluidity, and modernization of the slave relation itself. Black slavery as Saidiya Hartman would have it, was an ultimate form of dehumanization and severing of people from their family, especially their mothers, and their sense of place. Although racism is no longer articulated in a system of chattel slavery, it is enforced through a prison/police state of carceral punishment that has shattering likenesses to the slave system.


Whiteness as it exists still makes being Black irreconcilable with safety, and possibility. Afro-pessimists like Wilderson see the continual dispossession of Black life; Jared Sexton calls this hatred of Blackness “captive flesh”; Hortense Spillers writes of the Black woman’s body as a “hieroglyphics of the flesh”. And, yet, Blackness remains captive but defiant in #BlackLivesMatter and #KnowHerName.


Saidiya Hartman writes that she is living in “an afterlife of slavery” and in a “future created by slavery”. She reminds us to remember “the present was created by people in chains” so that “slavery feels proximate rather than remote”. http://www.amazon.com/Lose-Your-Mother-Journey-Atlantic/dp/0374531153


Freddie Gray’s killing by Baltimore police harkens back to this past. His neck was broken. He was killed with no “trial, without a jury, without a sentence”. State Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby determined that the arrest was illegal at the start. Former Black Panther Eddie Conway says that the police were a lynch mob. “There was a body, and no trial, but rather an execution.” This was a modern day carceral lynching, in its newest form. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Amno2Ukn_k0


Slavery exists in its “new-old “ and “newest-new” form in the prison system today. Black captive bodies reside here in similar and also different fashion, but the dehumanization that is/was essential to chattel slavery remains in its more modernized form. It is interesting that the capitalism of today, which is very differently formed than its early beginning is still named capitalism. Patriarchy as well, no longer resides in most of its earliest legal forms, but still retains its name. Yet, although there are new forms of slavery and lynching these names are not readily applied to their more recent incarnations. There is continuity and restructuring here to be recognized in this present moment of neo-liberal misogynist racist slavery.


The “Newest” New-Old Slavery


The violence today towards Blacks has new publicity. The violence itself is not new. The history is continuance. The murders of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice exposed police violence anew before the more recent killing of Freddie Gray. The present noise often inadvertently silences other recent violences: towards Abner Louima, Rodney King, the Black teenagers falsely incarcerated for rape in the “notorious” Central Park 5; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2380247/not to mention the more recent egregious jailing and beating of Kalief Browder, a young Black teenager jailed and beaten for 3 years in Rikers Island with no trial. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/06/before-the-law


Structural/institutional racism is the problem, but is not specific enough to clarify the meaning of the particularly racist-structural relations of today. The knowing and really caring is in the details. Mass incarceration and carceral expansionism locates the new racism within much of the civil rights legislation that was meant to address racial inequality. Instead, according to Naomi Muakawa, the present/new police state grew out of the criminalization of the “race” problem. Bill Clinton was a recent architect. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-first-civil-right-9780199892785?cc=us&lang=en&


White Anti-Racists Against White Misogynist Privilege


Racism is as intimately patriarchal as it is race based. Reproductive rights are not color specific. Each and every woman of every color needs to be able to determine her own body. Yet, the mobilization against racism assumes Blacks are men. Barbara Smith decades ago spoke to the problem that: “All the Men are Black, All the Women are White, and some of Us are Brave”. Misogyny assists the killing of all people and with no accountability.


Militarized policing focuses an unrelenting surveillance of Black bodies, especially Black boys and young men. They are criminalized and in part killed because of a hyper-sexualized fear of Black maleness. But Black women’s bodies are also surveiled and beaten and raped and incarcerated in disproportionate numbers to white women.


However, racism also has new complexity.   White privilege has learned how to be more flexible than during chattel slavery. The present feels both really different from the past and also too similarly tied to it. So the present is a way of seeing and knowing with a connection to this erasure, re-wiring, redefinition of slave life.


There is a new visibility of Black women with Michelle Obama as first lady, and Loretta Lynch as the new Attorney General, and in Baltimore with a Black woman as mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and key prosecutorial state attorney Marilyn Mosby. There is no simple inside/outside as new “colored” identities and borders are crossed.   This visibility contrasts deeply with the invisibility of the Black and Brown women who are disproportionately beaten, raped, killed and incarcerated.


There is supposedly new accountability and transparency with a Black president and the new technological capacity, through cell phone cameras exposing police violations. And yet, there is the concentrated 1 percent and condensed and concentrated power that curtails resistance and insurgency. The established borders of inside/outside that denote the notions of reform and revolution need reimagining. Even though her spirit remains with us it would be wonderful if Audre Lorde were here to talk about the “masters tools”.


#Black Women/Trans/Gays Matter


The new slavery, the “newest new racism” demands a more complex resistance because the problem is complexly layered and in contradictory fashion. Misogyny still masquerades within the anti-racist rhetoric. Rekia boyd, Natasha McKEnna, and Tanisha Anderson are black women who have died at the hands of police. Yet, there are no marches in their name. Twenty percent of unarmed Blacks killed in the last fifteen years by police are black women. Sexual violence and rape are the more usual forms of racist treatment of Black and brown women. Marissa Alexander was jailed for defending herself against an abusive husband, as are countless women in domestic abuse situations. Accused serial “rapist” police officer Daniel Holtzclaw has continued to escape the media limelight.


The new resistance and organized movement(s) of Black men and women are more inclusive and radical than earlier leaderships in the 1960’s and 70’s civil rights movement. This may in part be because racism itself has become more exposed in its complex forms. The leadership of Black Lives Matter, Million Hoodies, Hands Up United, Dream Defenders, etc. is staffed with people of all genders and sexual orientations. http://billmoyers.com/2015/05/04/meet-woman-behind-blacklivesmatter-hashtag-became-civil-rights-movement/?utm_source=General+Interest&utm_campaign=c7a89a47d3-Midweek12171412_17_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4ebbe6839f-c7a89a47d3-168294985


I think it is especially important for white anti-racist feminists to have the backs of our Black and Brown sisters especially in this moment. Kimberle Crenshaw and her leadership with the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) have been relentless in bringing an inclusive view of anti-racist work to include Black women. http://www.aapf.org They have critiqued and re-imagined Obama’s initiative of “My Brothers Keeper” (MBK) to address the needs of Black and Brown girls of color as well as boys. Racism cannot be fully addressed with the exclusion of Black girls and women.


Black women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Black and Latina women are suspended from school at a higher rate than white women. They are also murdered and unemployed at higher rates. Without dealing with racism misogyny stays in place, and without attacking misogyny racism marches on. Police violence, sexual violence, domestic violence is implicated with each other as are racism and misogyny in their different class configurations.


When Black women are killed in police encounters they do not mobilize the same kind of media coverage or anger/resistance/outcry. There is a silence about these deaths of young women: Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey, Shelly Frey, Darnisha Harris, Rekia Boyd. Their lives matter, and yet like the Combahee River Collective said all those years ago, in Boston during the serial killings and rapes of Black women– they died because they were women and black. http://www.sfu.ca/iirp/documents/Combahee%201979.pdf


Black women’s lives have been silenced when chattel slavery is described singularly as a racist system, rather than as intimately sexual as well. Chattel slavery was a racial and sexual system of exploitation, brutalization, and oppression. Slavery today remains implicated in both racism and misogyny. Its intimate “intersectional” relationship continues through new more present forms.


Patriarchy, for Black women may liken them to white women, as in less dangerous than Black men. But racism is not exclusive according to gender; it is filtered through it. If racism is to be fully addressed a specific yet shared focus across male and female borders is needed.


So, “we”–white anti-racist feminists—must stand in support of our sisters of color against the brutalization of Black male bodies while also standing with them against their own invisibility. To keep Black women invisible is to assist the patriarchal and misogynist support systems of racism. White masculinity, militarism and misogyny props up racism.


Racism should not be allowed to make the sexism in/and/of racism silenced or ignored. To do so makes Black women invisible in both the practices and resistance to racism. As white anti-racist feminists we must stand with our sisters of color exposing, not allowing, not “choosing” our own white privilege by being close, really close—in neighborhoods, schools, parks, restaurants—everywhere, to Black and Brown lives that always matter. And then be ready to abolish racism and misogyny by redistributing white wealth through a (tax) system of reparations that will rebuild infrastructures of everyday life in communities of color.


So, I am not sure being an ally asks enough of us. It might not be getting close enough to our Black and Brown sisters, or our own whiteness.


#Know Her Name, #We Can’t Wait, #Say Her Name, #Black Girls Matter, #Her Dream Deferred


#Hands Up/Don‘t Shoot, #Hands off/Don’t Rape, #White Abolitionist Feminists For All Black Lives



HRC and US Exceptionalism



HRC and U.S. “Exceptionalism”

Zillah Eisenstein

March 10, 2015


It was supposed to be a busy week for Hillary’s roll out towards her 2016 campaign. March 8 was International Women’s Day. March 9 was the unveiling of the Clinton “No Ceilings” report. March 10 was meant to be Hillary reminding us all of her “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech in 1995 in Beijing at the U.N. Instead, all the media wanted to talk about was her email.

But this past week was also about Selma, Alabama and the 50-year anniversary of bloody Sunday, the day that mainly Black civil rights activists were beaten crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge fighting for the right to vote. Lots of new activists from Black Lives Matter were there to commemorate the day, as was Michael Brown’s mother, representing her murdered unarmed son, shot by a white police officer.

Instead of wondering about Hillary’s email I wonder why she did not take the opportunity to go to Selma to stand against the rampant racism in our country, then and now. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/100-set-retrace-selma-montgomery-march-29508106 Where were you Hillary? Why did you not offer Michael Brown’s mother your arm to walk across the bridge together—as mothers, and as women standing against racist bigotry and murder? Why don’t more of us wonder this?

Why? Because of the narrative that says that the U.S. is “exceptional”, in our opportunities, and commitment to democracy. This “exceptionalism” appears to cover over our indecency whenever it occurs, as an “exception” rather than the rule. To think that repeated violations towards humanity are an exception, allows the lie of US “exceptionalism”.

So, it is said that “we do not torture”, even though “we” do. And Ferguson, Mo. has a completely corrupt police department, but Obama says this is not the usual. And, the U.N. reports that rape and sexual violence operate in every society at record numbers. The U.S. is no exception here.

When 90 percent of those who are stopped for jay walking and stop-light infractions, are Black, it is time to say that racism is not an exception, and that the U.S. is not exceptional, as in a racial democracy. It is often said that US women have reproductive rights even though too few counties in the US have abortion clinics and most medical schools no longer teach the abortion procedure.

My Brothers Keeper and feminisms

Meanwhile President Obama initiated a racial opportunity program entitled ‘My Brothers Keeper’ (MBK) this past year that focuses on black boys and men and the injustices they suffer while excluding girls– their sisters, and mothers, and wives and cousins. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/100-set-retrace-selma-montgomery-march-29508106 What do you think about this Hillary? The injustice of racism is always threaded through the misogynist underpinnings of racism. Slavery was a sexualized and racialized system even though black enslaved women and girls are most often sidelined in the depiction of slavery as simply a racist system. Racism is never just about race because any race is made up of genders and sexes as well. The severing of this connection denies girls and women of color, especially Black ones their particular punishment because of their race. Hillary you must have an opinion here. Why is it left to Black feminists to query and challenge this initiative?

And then both Obamas this past week endorsed an international initiative called “Let Girls Learn” that will enhance education for girls across the globe, in clear distinction to MBK that excludes girls. http://www.whitehouse.gov/LetGirlsLearn How does it make sense to single out girls for education elsewhere and ignore the fact that Black girls suffer in similar ways to black boys in US schools and society. Black girls are punished in our schools, compared to white girls at an outstanding differential; Black girls are suspended at much higher rates than white girls; and suffer unequal punishment and incarceration also at much higher rates. Or as Kimberly Crenshaw says: we are now looking at the embodiment of intersectional erasure, the “all the blacks are men, and all the women are white and all the women of color live outside the US”. Again, Hillary, what do you think?

Similar erasures of women of color exist in the narratives of police violence when Black women such as Aura Rosser, Tanisha Anderson and Michelle Cusseaux suffer at the hands of white police and yet the discourse speaks mainly of violence towards Black men. Should you not be weighing in here Hillary in order to help make a more inclusive racial justice movement; and feminist movement as well?

And while I am wondering Hillary does your belief in US exceptionalism keep you silent on the pressing issues facing all women in the US? Instead of looking to improve women and girls elsewhere, what about safe-guarding abortion clinics, demanding a living wage, improving day care, lessening incarceration rates, increasing contraceptive coverage and paid maternity leave for the women of all colors in the US.


Laura Flanders of GRITtv hosted a meeting at the United Nations the same day that Hillary was at the UN this week. At Flanders’ session members discussed the question of reproductive and sexual rights. It was a chance for delegates to hear from domestic workers, sex workers, a trans woman, a disability advocate. HRC spoke in the hall next door, at the same time.

Too many white feminists—in imperial and neoliberal form–speak on behalf of women’s rights, but for elsewhere, not here. Critiques of women’s rights in Egypt, in Venezuela, in Nigeria, and so on so often overlap with similar indecencies here.  Data shows that the US is well behind many countries when it comes to day care policy, family leave rights, rights to health care and reproductive rights for women. There are women presidents now in several African and South American countries. We are hardly exceptional; but rather trail here as well. Increased poverty among women, increased incarceration of women, and increased health crises for women, bespeaks a lack of women’s rights in this country.

The “No Ceilings?” report says that there “has never been a better time to be born female”. http://noceilings.org/report/report.pdf Really? in Syria? in Northern Nigeria? in Ferguson, Missouri? Violence against women is at epic proportions in every single country in the world according to Lydia Alpizar, director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development. Campus rape is an epidemic at the rate of 1 in 5 women in the US. So what is exactly so great about being born female today for most women?

Young Black women are some of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement. We need coalitions between them and progressives of any and all genders and sexes and races to formulate challenges to the structural racism and hetero-patriarchy that denies democracy to us all.

The findings by the U.N. on the status of women, twenty years after the 1995 Declaration to bring equality, are an outrage. The growing disparities of wealth are a women’s issue for women of every color. When it comes to torture, abortion access, equal pay, hunger, homelessness, a living wage, available day care, etc. millions in the U.S. suffer. This suffering negates exceptionalism.

Hillary—what are you thinking? Forget about 1995. Be present now. What are you willing to do? This is what I want to know. These are the silences that you must address. You have been too silent these past months of racial injustice in the US. You emerge to talk about the promissory of the 1995 Beijing Women’s U.N. conference and your “No Ceilings” project as though the recent racist tragedies at home are not connected to women’s lives.


This country needs a feminism that is inclusive of us all—across racial and class divides and against hetero-patriarchal white privilege. Then maybe we could start a really “exceptional” justice movement, at home.



Brief Bio Statement


Zillah Eisenstein is a well known anti-racist feminist author, activist, and professor. She has written more than 12 books and hundreds of articles detailing the continual struggles for social justice by women of all colors across the globe. See her: https://zillaheisenstein.wordpress.com for details.