Thursday, March 08, 2007


From CounterPunch

Women's Day, Lenin and a Riot in Copenhagen

For the past few days the European press has been carrying reports of riots and firefights between anarchist squatters and police in Copenhagen, Denmark over control of a 19th century building now called the Ungdomshuset or "youth house". It appears that this municipal building was given to young people in the 1970s and since then has been the site for a vibrant "alternative" youth culture in Copenhagen.

The Guardian makes a brief mention of the fact that this building was constructed by the Danish labour movement in the last years of the 19th century and hosted Vladimir Lenin. We'll come to that later, but what is most interesting, ironic even, for me is that two days before International Women's Day the building where this idea was first conceived is being pulled down.

At an international conference of working women organized by the Second International in 1910 in this building the German Communist Clara Zetkin proposed organizing meetings and demonstrations in all countries on one day to highlight the slogan "The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism". She later explained the idea of an International Women's Day in Die Gliecheit (Equality):

"In agreement with the class-conscious, political and trade union organizations of the proletariat of their respective countries, the Socialist women of all countries will hold each year a Women's Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women's suffrage. This demand must be handled in conjunction with the entire women's question according to Socialist precepts. The Women's Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully."

This proposal was accepted by an overwhelming majority of those present and March 19, 1911 was decided upon as the date for holding the first International Women's Day. Alexandra Kollontai tells us that March 19 was decided as it was on this day in 1848 that the King of Prussia agreed, in principle and in the face of intense working class revolts, to universal suffrage. This was, perhaps, the first time in history that a ruling class had agreed to give equal political rights to women. Kollontai, who was living in exile in Germany at that time, informs us on March 19, 1911:

"Germany and Austria on Working Women's Day was one seething, trembling sea of women. This was certainly the first show of militancy by the working woman. Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings"

What many of us forget is that the Russian Revolution too started off with the demonstrations of International Women's Day in 1917 St. Petersburg, where over 10,000 destitute working class women marched the cold, snow-bound streets to demand bread for their hungry children and the return of their men from the War. International Women's Day (March 8) fell on February 23 by the old Julian calendar followed in Russia. Within days Moscow had joined this rebellion and the Tsar had to abdicate.

This unfortunate building in Copenhagen also hosted the Eighth Congress of the Second International (The International Socialist Congress In Copenhagen) from August 28 to September 3, 1910. It was attended by 896 delegates representing countries in Europe, North and South America, South Africa and Australia.

Five committees were set up for preliminary discussion and drafting of resolutions on various questions: co-operatives, trade unions, international solidarity, and unity of the trade union movement in Austria; the struggle against war; labour legislation and unemployment; miscellaneous, including socialist unity, capital punishment, Finland, Argentina, Persia, etc. Lenin was on the co-operative committee, one of the most important ones.

The resolution on the struggle against war--"Arbitration Courts and Disarmament"--confirmed the resolution of the Stuttgart Congress of 1907 on "Militarism and International Conflicts", which included the amendments motioned by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, calling on the socialists of all countries to make use of the economic and political crisis caused by war to overthrow the bourgeoisie. The resolution of the Copenhagen Congress also bound the socialist parties and their representatives in parliaments to demand that their governments reduce armaments, and settle conflicts between states through arbitration courts, and urged the workers of all countries to stage protests against the threat of war.

Lenin held a conference of Left-wing Social-Democrats attending the Congress to rally the revolutionary Marxists in the international arena.

As the anarchists and police fight it out over control of this historic building, let us take time to remember the real earth shaking history that is associated with its bricks and mortar!

Judi's Work and Warnings Prove True
By Mike Roselle

Today (March 2) is the 10th anniversary of the day Judi Bari died on March 2nd in 1997 from cancer. On May 24, 1990, Judi was severely injured by a motion-triggered pipe bomb which exploded on the floor directly under the driver's seat of her car as she and fellow Earth Firster Darryl Cherney traveled through Oakland, California, on an organizing tour for Redwood Summer, a campaign of nonviolent protests focused on saving old growth redwood forests in northern California. I first met Judi in San Francisco at a rally against Pacific Lumber; now know as Maxxam in 1989. She was a dedicated lefty labor activist, not the usual type of organizer who goes up against the timber industry over logging in a small economically depressed logging town. Yet she worked tirelessly until her death on behalf of both the workers and the forest. At the time of the bombing she was attempting to break the deadlock that had developed in Humboldt County over the fate of California’s last large stand of unprotected Redwood trees. The situation was dire, and local activists had exhausted every avenue to keep Maxxam from liquidating the ancient forests to service the debt Charles Horowitz had acquired during a hostile takeover of the venerable Pacific Lumber Company, which had been locally owned and operated for over a century.

Judi’s idea was an organizing campaign based on Freedom Summer, the Mississippi Civil Rights campaign that brought in activists from across the country to break the deadlock on voting rights for African Americans in the South. After hundreds of arrests, demonstrations and the death of several activists, the civil rights workers of Mississippi were exhausted, and put out a call for outside help. Three of those who chose to answer the call were later found buried in an earthen dam in rural Mississippi. The uproar over these brutal killings helped galvanize support for the eventual passing of the Voting Rights Act in Congress in 1965. As in Mississippi, Judi understood that this campaign would have to be nonviolent, but that did not mean it would not be dangerous.

The night before Judi and Daryl were bombed, I was at a meeting with them at the Seeds of Peace house in Oakland. Seeds had volunteered to help with, among other things, the logistics of the campaign, primarily the care and feeding of the hundreds of expected activists who would arrive that summer. The meeting went late into the night, and I left early for my home in Berkeley. I had a river trip planed on the Wallowa River with Mike Howell the next day, and we had to drive north early in the morning. We stopped in Chico to see Michelle Miller, another organizer on the campaign, who had also been receiving death threats from various anti-environmental groups over the last few months.

When Howler and I pulled my VW bus into Michelle’s driveway, she came running out the front door in her night clothes. I will never forget that moment.

We knew something big was up even before Michelle uttered those words that would change the course of the campaign, and change the lives of everyone who was working on it. “Judi and Daryl have been bombed in Oakland. They are in the hospital. The FBI has arrested both of them and raided the Seeds of Peace House”. I spent the next six hours at Michelle’s house answering phone calls from reporters from around the world. We had a small office in San Francisco with one phone line so it made more sense to stay put and work the phones than to spend the next four hours on the road incommunicado. When we caught up a bit on some of the hundreds of phone calls we would field that day, Howler and I drove back to my house in Berkeley.

The rest, as they say, is history. Daryl escaped serious injury but Judi’s pelvis was fractured in many places. She would be able to walk only with the aid of a cane for the remainder of her life. Whether the injuries she suffered in the blast cause her early death from cancer we may never know. Her attacker has never been identified. But even from her hospital bed in Oakland, Judi’s remained involved in the campaign, working tirelessly to build a bridge between environmentalists and timber workers in her community.

In 2002, after a lengthy campaign by Judi, Daryl and a team of pro-bono lawyers a jury in their federal civil lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland Police Department exonerated Bari and Cherney by ordering four FBI agents and three Oakland Police officers to pay a total of $4.4 million to Cherney and to Bari's estate for violation of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and for false arrest and unlawful search and seizure. Unfortunately, Judi died before her exoneration.

Of all of the people who have been involved in the Earth First! Movement, Judi’s story is the most complicated. A divisive and combative figure in life, in death she has achieved a degree of martyrdom seldom seen in the environmental movement. Depending on where you stand, she is either a working class hero or an environmental extremist. An energetic organizer, or the one responsible for the end of the Earth First! movement. Redwood Summer was a tremendous success or it was a total disaster. But it’s not that simple. It never is.

Judi did not fit the mold of the early Earth Firster. A self described eco-feminist red-diaper baby, she clashed often with the Buckaroo faction of the western conservation movement. While she devoted her life to working with labor, labor never came around to her way of seeing things. And at the time of her death, much of her work remained unfinished. Yet today, she has been exonerated by a jury of any involvement in the bombing that maimed her. Later activists such as Julia Butterfly Hill and John Quigley would be inspired by her life to continue the struggle. Maxxam filed for bankruptcy last month and the company’s employees are just now wishing they had paid more attention to the warnings of Judi and the other conservationists that the company planned to cut and run, leaving the workforce high and dry.

I spoke with Daryl Cherney yesterday and he thought that Judi would most want to be remembered as someone who fought the FBI and won. Indeed, she identified strongly with the victims of police repression around the world. But I also remember her as a hippy girl, the mother of two wonderful children, musician and soapbox preacher, a firebrand with a wicked sense of humor, and most importantly, a friend of the trees.

Mike Roselle is the publisher of
From Green Left Weekly:

Afghanistan: No gender equality under occupation
Ramani Desilva, Kabul

The new constitution of Afghanistan formally grants equal rights to women and men. The government has also endorsed the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which, according to development agencies, is significant progress on gender equality "policy advocacy". The first time I arrived in Kabul the women I saw on the streets were wearing scarves on their heads and those wearing full chador were a minority. Maybe, at a superficial glance, the situation had improved for the women of Afghanistan?

The propaganda of the NATO occupation forces made the "liberation" of women synonymous with the "liberation" of the country from the Taliban. The ministry of women's affairs was set up and much publicised for international consumption as the changing face of a "liberated" Afghanistan. The ministry has become the pet project of many development agencies. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Laura Bush are patrons of the US-Afghan Women's Council, which supports women's "leadership" training and micro-credit projects.

But the situation outside Kabul and the heavily guarded zones of the development agencies, whose staff are penned in day and night due to tight security provisions, is extremely unstable and volatile. There is a constant feeling of uneasiness that the situation could explode at any moment, including in Kabul itself. During my stay there was a mortar attack on Jalalabad Road, one of the main highways and army convoy routes out of Kabul. There are reports of Kabul airport coming under frequent gunfire attack. The plane that was flying me out of Kabul taxied down the runway ready for take off, then suddenly slowed down, U-turned and returned to the terminal. The pilot explained that there were some "technical difficulties", which we found out later was a broken windscreen. "Maybe someone took a shot at us", said a UN security officer, wryly. But no-one was laughing.

The government has no influence or control over the country and President Hamid Karzai is laughingly referred to as the "mayor of Kabul". Almost half the country is deemed high to extreme risk areas, i.e. in UN parlance "volatile" to "hostile environment". This includes almost all of the southern and eastern parts of the country along the borders with Pakistan. These are war zones where there is ongoing fighting between NATO troops and Taliban forces, drug lords and other Afghan-style criminals and gangsters.

Gulsha, suffering mother of 11-year-old Sanuba who accuses Malom Zafar (district chief) and Commander Mehmood, a local warlord, for kidnapping her daughter who later was exchanged for a dog in North of Afghanistan. (RAWA photo)
Movie Clip of Gulsha RAWA report
According to some workers I spoke to, the resistance is widespread and not only limited to the Taliban, due to the inability of the government to deliver any improvements to the lives of the vast majority of the population. Poppy production linked to the drug economy has resurfaced with a vengeance, and many government officials are implicated. Some development agencies are reluctant to set up banks as these could be used for laundering drug money.

Afghanistan ranks 173 out of 178 on the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index (2004). Life expectancy today is approximately 44.5 years. One out of five children dies before the age of five and maternal mortality is among the highest in the world. Some 90% of adult women are illiterate. Some 75% of girls attending primary school drop out before grade five. Newly re-opened girls' schools are closing down due to violence against women and girls. Stories are told of how young women today are less educated than those belonging to their grandmothers' generation. Sexual violence against girls, institutionalised through "traditions" such as child marriage, continues to be rife. Suicide among young women is said to be increasing. A May 2006 United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) survey on violence against women in Afghanistan indicates that it's widespread, extreme, systematic and unreported.

Women development staff working outside Kabul frequently receive death threats. Some have even been killed. In September 2006 Safiye Amajan, the provincial head of the women's ministry in Kandahar and a respected women's rights advocate, was shot repeatedly outside her home as she was leaving for work. It is a well-known fact among development agency circles that Afghan women staff are targets and routinely put their lives on the line as a result of their work.

The Taliban used the "women's question" to enforce its own agenda. The imperialist occupation forces have also used the agenda of gender equality to ultimately pursue their own interests: the occupation of Afghanistan for strategic geo-political reasons. In the eyes of many people, the ministry of women is associated with the occupation. A meeting with the minister, referred to by the title "Her Excellency", who sat behind an enormous, glittering desk accompanied by an entourage of some half-a-dozen minions, was like an audience with royalty — clueless and out of touch. Meanwhile, life for a majority of the women and girls in Afghanistan is one of desperate suffering under extreme forms of oppression.

Gender equality can only be meaningful when the cause is championed by a politically independent movement of women. This is the hard-learned lesson of the international women's movement, the militant sections of which have campaigned for the autonomy and independence of the movement since its inception. The cause of gender equality that aligns itself with the imperialist occupation, whether clothed in development or some other pseudo-democratic rhetoric, is bound to harm the interests of the majority of women in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. And, as the situation in Afghanistan indicates, it's a failing strategy.

From Narco News:

Zapatista Women: “We Are What Holds the Community Together”
By Ginna Villarreal

December 31 2006, Oventic, Chiapas: “As a woman and as an indigenous person I have much to learn and much to teach.” These are the words of Zapatista Comandanta Sandra when she opened the session dedicated to speaking about the struggles of women within the struggle for all people. For Zapatista communities, and other indigenous communities already involved in external struggles, their internal struggles can sometimes be overlooked. On this occasion the people of the world were invited to listen to these women’s stories, their resistances and their triumphs.

The table is lined with the ski-mask-covered faces of the women of the Zapatista movement. Their expressive eyes emphasize the words they speak. These women represent a movement to free the indigenous people of Chiapas from discrimination with dignity and respect. They also represent a struggle for the dignity and respect of women in those same communities, and though there are many there are still few who have a voice. Gathered at the table are women civilians and insurgents both. They are members of the five Caracols and work in all areas of government, they are promoters of health and education. They are also insurgents and commanders of the army EZLN. Today they use their voices to speak for the many other women who demand their rights and recognition.

Women’s work and women’s presences are often dismissed and devalued. The work of this gathering was, in part, to acknowledge that much of the production and reproduction of the home, family, and therefore of the community is the work of women. ‘We work at the ranch, we work the cafe, the cornfield, the collectives, and the bakeries,” says one.

A letter from the women of the Caracol (the Zapatista term for autonomous municipal seat) of Roberto Barrios details the daily work-day in the communities: “We rise at three or four in the morning, to start the fires to feed the family, to make the coffee for breakfast for our husbands and sons … Later we work the corn to feed the animals. We wake the children and give them breakfast and prepare them for school.”

Washing, cleaning, preparing food, and feeding are all tasks completed before noon. It is only after all have eaten the afternoon meal that the women have a few free moments for themselves to shower, only to come back home to begin to prepare the evening meal. This is the life of a woman from the country of indigenous communities. In the words of one of the women represented by the letter, “we are what hold the community together.”

Despite the long list of responsibilities that is the work of women, there is still an overwhelming lack of respect for the labor and needs of women in indigenous communities. The assembly expressed the ongoing struggle for the space of women in their communities. One of the barriers to women’s balanced position in their communities mentioned by the representatives was a lack of public visibility and public performances. “We staying in the house because we have to work and we work alone. When we work [in public positions] they laugh at us, but there are those of us that have fought despite all.” Thought there is still lack of representation of women’s voices in public positions and cargos, these women are the strength of a movement that by its own principles calls for the true participation for all, by all and in all parts of the society.

Like most discussions of women’s position in the EZLN and its civil communities, at this table and at other meetings of the New Year gathering in Oventic, the work and leadership of Comandante Ramona was sited as an illustration of what women can achieve within the movement. She has inspired so many other women: Zapatista, non-zapatista, indigenous and non-indigenous. As one of the movement’s most important figures, this small in stature Tzotsil woman was known and respected throughout the nation and the world before and since her death in January 2006. As an insurgent fighter she lead the battle in which, on December 31, 1993, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) took the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. As a diplomat, Ramona was one of the principle drafters for the EZLN’s Women’s Law. She later lead the 1996 delegation to Mexico City for peace talks and co-founded the Indigenous National Congress. The power of this woman and the legacy of her work is felt at meetings such as these, where the cry rallies “viva Ramona, viva.” As a testament to the international appeal of her work, a representative from Kurdistan spoke of a solidarity bridge being built in her name.

Women like Ramona, and the numerous others that have taken on the struggle for women’s place alongside men in the struggles for their communities and families. They have opened up spaces for women in these communities. Magdalena and Elena from the Caracol II, in Oventic, speak of the gains made through the collective workings of the Zapatistas. “In our zone before the Zapatista struggle things were different. We had no right to decide who we married. And when we married we were mistreated, beaten and humiliated by our husbands, and more when they were drunk. But we can not blame our grandparents, this is the legacy that was left to us by 500 years of conquest.” Instead of normalizing women’s suffering, or against casting blame, these women have taking to searching out where their marginalization comes from and where it gets demonstrated. Importantly, they also celebrate their rightful accomplishments in all sectors of the community.

For women in these communities the opening of cooperatives has been one of the ways that they have taken to reorganizing for themselves. One of the main sources of income for many families is the artistry of women’s weaving. A quick walk through downtown San Cristóbal and other highland Chiapas towns and one is sure to be flooded by the colors and textures of the textiles produced by women’s hands. For many women the work is done among a multitude of other tasks, and comes from hours of dedication to detail. Though the work is as valuable and beautiful as the culture that makes it, there is much exploitation of women’s labor by charging for piecework or work on contract. These women’s cooperatives have reclaimed the right decided for themselves, the way they work, and the wage they earn for it. The organization is by and for the women. As such new programs following the structure and success of the artist cooperatives have been started with animal, horticulture, and bakeries, and collective stores.

On one side these cooperatives are a way for women to reclaim the right to control their own means of production. It is important, however, to realize that the creation of these collectives, though they place the fruits of labor back in the hands that produce, and encourage the public life of indigenous women, is also a reminder of how women are yet again asked to add extra work to their day to maintain the family. Where the family was once able to provide for themselves what they needed, now added income is needed to provide for even the basics. These projects also serve as a reminder that capitalism has struck again at the fabric of a culture. Where once the women wove for themselves now they sell their weaving and commercialize their labor.

Magdalena and Elena, representatives from the highlands of Chiapas of Caracol II, Oventic, where the gathering was hosted, remind us in their own words that “with this participation by women, we demonstrate our value and our anger at the evil government, and against the injustices…”

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