Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar on popular feminisms in Latin America.
On March 8, 2017, a diverse group of many women produced an extraordinary moment. That day something ruptured and something was (re)started. Several million women mobilized in at least fifty countries and in hundreds of cities to repudiate the violence that permeates everyday life, projecting it on public life. Their steps and voices made it clear that from below, from the most denied and silenced sites of social life, a magma-like force of transformation is brewing, the scope of which we can hardly glimpse. March 8 was a day of joy and of struggle, and also of pain turned into anger that, when it was collectively expressed on the streets, made the whole world shake. Above all, it made the most intimate structures of domination tremble: those that organize the reproduction of social life according to variants of the heteropatriarchal pattern of conjugality that is thoroughly enmeshed with capital accumulation and its violence.
On March 8 something ruptured and something was (re)started. Using somewhat stagnant analytical keys will not suffice for understanding what is brought into play as a challenge to the capitalist and colonial social order whose backbone is violence against women and feminized bodies, as Silvia Federici has explained to us. In the following pages, I will undertake an initial reflection on the contents of the ongoing social transformation initiated by the real insurrection of women, linking that content to the practical scope of those struggles. ((The theoretical strategy I use in this paper to understand the unfolding horizon of meaning that is nested in the ongoing insurrection of thousands of women consists of contrasting its practical scope – documenting how it transforms and challenges the social order on different planes – with the internal horizons that are developed and can be glimpsed in the heat of the struggle itself – the political contents of the challenge to the economic and social order that are at stake and the challenges to the command-obedience relationship. This strategy serves to shine light on what is being produced, almost always at a dizzying rate, in moments of the condensation of massive efforts of struggle. I have reflected at great length on this “methodological artifact” in Rhythms of Pachakuti: Indigenous Uprising and State Power in Bolivia, trans. Stacy Skar (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014) and Horizontes comunitario-populares. Antagonismo y producción de lo común en América Latina, (Puebla, México: ICSYH/BUAP, 2015).)) To do so, I will focus on how March 8 was experienced in two cities—Buenos Aires and Montevideo—because those spaces concentrated the force of the tectonic displacement that is being produced on the planet as a whole, and especially in Latin America.
I will start with some questions and intersperse narrations of events with broader and deeper reflections, also by way of questions. I cannot do it any other way. The wave of rebellion and practical criticism of sexist violence, in all its forms, is still reverberating in the social structure, down to its foundations. What follows then are notes on the fly presented in an effort to encourage new dialogues.
Rejuvenated struggles in defense of life: A torrent of insurgency that challenges all levels of the violence-capital knot
The uprising of March 8 was forged from the most neglected, attacked, and obscure locations of the social world in Latin America. I suggest calling it an uprising or an insurrection because no other words can do it justice. That massive, festive, and radical coming together from many diverse places is more than a “social movement”: it is a collective and vertiginous displacement occupying public spaces and opening up a time of rebellion. It is a revolt that has been slowly gestating in the households of young precarious couples and their always threatened unstable equilibrium, in houses in peripheries where the harshness of precarious, informal or illegalized everyday life is managed, stretching that hard earned cash, and where dreams are truncated time and time again. The rebellion has also been brewing in the dangerous unpaved streets of the so-called “urban peripheries,” transited by exhausted women, carrying and caring for children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, whether “fictitious” or blood relatives, carrying the food that they will have to prepare in houses. Other young women walk on those same streets, fighting hand to hand against harassment and threats, going to schools where increasingly less is taught and more is graded and examined. The insurrection has gestated in a wide variety of women’s groups, some of which are explicitly feminists – and some of which are not – that have learned to weave alliances on many planes of existence, and have created spaces that enable diverse lives to encounter one another, to share the suffering that has been experienced individually.
It is precisely in those thousands of encounters where the uprising has been maturing, regenerating organizational practices that are more similar to the process of boiling a liquid than building a structure. The collective refusal of the multiform violence that every woman suffers and tolerates has been the key to unlocking all of that vital energy contained in the exhaustion and anger of millions of women. Each woman, in her own way, has accumulated her dose of aggression, frustration, and affronts through unpleasant experiences, each of which is unique and, at the same time, similar. Now, we collectively reject that continuum of violence. That terrestrial, deep, ancient energy has been unleashed, fuelling the uprising. Thus we know that “we are the granddaughters of all the witches they could not burn,” as was sung over and over in a multitude of plazas. The murdered women’s presence was felt with each shout: although tortured to death, they still live on with us.
In slightly longer temporal terms, the uprising has been brewing in the slow fire of thousands and thousands of formal and informal meetings and encounters among women, to name what occurs when we overcome the paralysis produced by the violence that, in the last instance, imposes brutal feminicides on us. Let’s explore this further, because an uprising does not occur like a bolt of lightning in a clear sky. The time of rebellion that we are now inhabiting has been created from at least two sites. On the one hand, many women who have experienced – or been threatened with – the dispossession of their means of existence, as well as ferociously exploited, have played a key role in initiating and, in some cases, leading a wide range of struggles that could be generalized (without erasing their specificities) as struggles “in defense of life.” Yes, of life threatened by capital. Defense of life is an intransigent refusal of the negation of dignified life and a rejection of the death imposed by the destruction of the necessary conditions for – human and nonhuman – reproduction, caused by the intensified cycles of capital accumulation in the countryside and in cities. Thus, in recent years hundreds of struggles have taken place against dams and mines and in defense of water, against fumigation with glyphosate and the other poisons used on the genetically modified crops of the new colonial plantations; and against the destruction of public or common space for the construction of highways and real estate projects. This constellation of struggles “in defense of life” has been an intensive school for many women who strive to ensure the immediate reproduction of their own lives and those of their loved ones.
The massive presence of women in these struggles has been understood as a resurgence of reinvigorated “popular feminisms,” ((The formulation of “popular feminisms” has been collectively discussed in Latin America since at least 2014. That year in Quito, Ecuador, there was an “Encounter of Popular Feminisms” that brought together women activists from diverse sectors (from urban-popular movements, to use the Mexican term, to communities affected by different types of extractivist projects, from the so-called “informal economies” or “popular economies” as they are called in Argentina and, to some extent, Bolivia) and from a variety of countries (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, and Costa Rica, among others). That gathering was sponsored by the Andean Office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.)) given that, by deploying their actions in defense of life and quickly politicizing themselves, the protagonists confront the historical articulation between patriarchy and capitalism. Women fighting “in defense of life” have had to face increased domestic violence in their homes, aggression in public spaces by “comrades” who attack those women who dare take the floor and defend their points of view; they see their positions ignored and have a deaf ear turned to their words. This is why we can speak of a renewal of “popular feminisms”: old problems of women being disciplined and contained by their supposed “peers” have reappeared with great intensity. And, a reinvigorated debate about these questions has sparked a discussion about the need for a specific articulation of women to engage their struggles. The apparently ancient issue of women’s “specific and autonomous organization” to guarantee the conditions for their own participation in the “general struggle,” as was discussed at length in the 1970s and 1980s, has made itself present again in multiple and diverse concrete experiences.
Secondly, several years ago the resurgence of these “popular feminisms” or feminisms “from below” started to defy and overflow the practices of containment of women’s insurgence, organized by the two major institutionalized agendas of official feminism: the agenda of equity and the agenda of social and reproductive rights. By no means am I saying that those agendas have become useless because their proposals and demands have been met. Social life, despite differences in some of the features of the sex/gender structuration, continues to be as inequitable and harsh for women as it was decades ago, despite the existence of moles, some women in positions of power or representation; women who, for the rest, most of the time turn into “honorary men,”9 behaving as such. In turn, the question of sexual and reproductive rights has managed to inscribe some, always negotiated, rights into law, while there has been a generalization of social and institutional violence that seeks to discipline women.
Varied constellations of popular, autonomous, communitarian, indigenous, decolonial and other feminisms have overflowed and challenged institutionalized feminism and, in the process, have given birth to an enormous enterprise of collectively producing meaning. Recently, we have seen the unfolding of a rainbow of struggles in defense of life, in which thousands of women play a key role, and sometimes lead. We have also seen hundreds of groups of young women emerge that return to older methods of gathering among themselves to name their shared discomforts, creating all types of “women’s spaces.” These “women’s spaces” have slowly rehabilitated the radical critical practice of rebellious feminism from decades ago: the among women.
The among women basically consists of the everyday and intentional practice of generating bonds of trust between diverse women to generate force and clarity, with the goal of challenging the many forms of violence and negation through which everyday patriarchal domination is exercised in private and public spaces. The practice of the among women enables the exercise of self-awareness: it allows each of us to reflect on others’ experiences and understand that the unease that we feel and inhabit – which is always distinct, but also similar – originates in the violent negation that makes us into a world organized around a dominant masculine rationality that structures the economic order as the negation of the world of the reproduction of life, and structures political life as the practice of representation. The process of self-awareness that springs forth in the among women, calling us to “start from ourselves”—that is, to express what we ourselves perceive and think—reaffirms our different ways of feeling everyday social events and assigning them meaning. It pushes us to name the varied modes of mistreatment and hierarchization that are invisible and “insignificant” from the perspective of another rationality.
Thus, the formal and informal among women has spread recently, in thousands of reiterations of that practice that are never identical, although they always share some similarities. It has named the violence experienced in private, defying the heteropatriarchy’s rules of silence; it has clearly distinguished the constant aggression experienced in formal and informal workplaces, in the comfortable masculine confusion between the public and private spheres, which can be separate or overlapping depending on the situation. We have reflected at length on the irritating disparity between the tasks to be completed, on the institutional violence that hides how difference becomes inequality and denies the everyday violence created by the absence of spaces of equality. It is in that breeding ground and with those tools that rebellion has been cultivated and sparked off.
The generalized among women practiced at different levels in the polymorphic and heterogeneous struggles in defense of life – in all of its varieties – in Latin America, has produced the necessary energy to start up the insurrection. These are struggles in defense of life in its totality, and above all struggles in defense of our own lives that have been brutally negated in the contemporary epidemic of feminicides. Defending life and the everyday and systematic refusal of colonial capitalism’s dominant-masculine rationality that threatens life: it was from those two torrents that the energy that made the earth tremble on March 8 was generated. Generalized violence, the brutal aggression of capitalism and its dominant-masculine rationality, the anger and desire for uncontrolled power of some men who murder women and destroy their bodies, the “masculine pact” that guarantees impunity for aggression – from the “lightest” acts to disappearance and feminicide – have operated, in this occasion, as a catalyst for all of this energy produced in everyday struggles, in women’s self-awareness and renewed bonds of trust.
A rebellion against sexist violence: What is the scope of this struggle?
We inhabit a time of rebellion against violence, against all forms of sexist violence and against the capitalist violence that negates and attacks the sustainability of life.12 It is a time of rebellion against violence, against all the violence felt in bodies and endured in everyday life and public spaces: homes, schools, streets, markets, factories, offices, and universities have turned into sites of dispute. The revolt does not only take place in cities, but is also fuelled by the millions of women who live in the countryside: in the immense plantations of products that will not be daily food but rather export goods listed in distant stock markets, in territories attacked and degraded by toxic substances for the obtainment of minerals, or around rivers that are dammed to impose uses of water determined far away. Therefore the struggle against all of this violence is a struggle against capitalism and its social order, against the negation of life as a whole and of dignified life in contemporary societies. That is its practical scope13 that does not fit into any platform of claims, that cannot be expressed as manageable “demands” to some institution. Although it does require, of course, the opening of paths and signaling of steps that allow for its continued deployment.
The multiple protagonists of this rekindled wave of revolts do not always inhabit women’s bodies, although they tend to be placed in the feminized places of the world that are territories of aggression, threat, and, frequently, death. Not without difficulty, through the among women that strives to achieve equilibrium between emotion and reason, we have produced harmony between women, lesbians, and trans women learning to (re)weave bonds between young and old, among those who inhabit diverse feminized bodies, among formal and informalized workers, between those living in cities, urban peripheries, and the country. On cultivating closeness without homogenizing, distinguishing ourselves and retaining distance in what we do not share, regenerating relationships of respect and opening us up to possibilities for friendship, we are creating strength among us all. Not in vain, in the last March 8 mobilization in Madrid, a relevant slogan affirmed “Together and strong, always feminists,” a sufficiently comprehensive slogan to include all of us.
This flexible and powerful agreement has been produced with considerable difficulty through many conversations, which are not always free of tension, where we have collectively recognized the similarity of what attacks and threatens us in so many different situations; which, nevertheless, are structured and organized from a dominant – capitalist and colonial – masculine rationality that interweaves and combines multiple variants of exploitation, dispossession, insolence, contempt, and death. Not all positions that are debated are fully compatible, although until now harmony has been produced by practicing a form of creating agreement that consists of cultivating closeness – among the diverse – and simultaneously managing distance.
This is an important inversion in how relationships are generated for struggle. We do not start from distance to later, with difficulty, negotiate closeness, which is the basic schema of connection for the dominant-masculine rationality of capitalist modernity. Rather, we are expanding our capacity to politicize the discomfort nested in our bodies in all of the places we inhabit. We set off a massive repudiation of the systematic violence that we suffer, because among ourselves we are enabling the regeneration of unexpected and unusual relationships: the sex worker with the teacher, the indigenous woman with the informal worker, the lesbian with the mother with a daughter in prison for having an abortion, the domestic worker with the doctoral student who will not find work when she gets her degree, the journalist with the prisoner, the union activist with the young punk, the trans woman with the overwhelmed housewife in a heterosexual marriage, the secretary along the worker in a clandestine workshop or maquiladora… and so on.
If extreme segmentation for particularist bargaining over rights is one of the apparatuses of containment that has established empty procedural democratization in the public sphere, the rebellion is rapidly moving in the opposite direction: we put what we share before us and we maintain our differences and specificities. For this reason, we are learning to cultivate closeness without ceasing to manage distance, which avoids homogenization. We do so in order to confront an issue that is particular and concrete in each instance, while at the same time ubiquitous and generalized: the violence carried out against us, against all of us women.
Looked at in this register, it is the brutal threat of the very possibility of ensuring the material and symbolic reproduction of life that has put many of us in a state of alert. The negation of that guarantee is fomented by the voracity of capital and by the hollowing out of political life and its sclerotic formal-democratic mechanisms. We are collectively opening a time of rebellion, while brutality seems to turn into the everyday norm: we repudiate all types of violence that destroy us. Millions of us – who, I insist, are not only women, although we are mostly women – experience the everyday brutal difficulty of guaranteeing life, our own and that of those close to us. We are fed up with enduring increasingly intense exploitation and extreme violence, in streets, in homes, in formal and informal jobs.
Over the past forty years, the exploitation of all of our activities, the dispossession of almost all our creations and the barbaric and multiform violence against life as a whole, regularly travel those same dark streets, enter our homes, and make existence oppressive and dangerous. In this context, the feminist cry, in the form of creative plebeian insolence, has reappeared en masse after a period of our anger being captured by agendas that were as ordered and “decent” as they were impotent and useless. Life in all of its noisy and exuberant variety has returned to the streets with us, shouting, again and again, “we want ourselves alive.” It has done so, additionally, in a time when the “progressive cycle” seems to have exhausted itself and the government of the country that has the most capacity to kill, to produce war, to crush freedom, is occupied by a millionaire who is also a caricature of the patriarch. It is now, in this threatening time, when our uprising reappears in defense of life, against all forms of violence, to protect and expand autonomy over our own bodies and over those of our sons and daughters. It also reappears in the form of the strike, regenerating an old tool from labor’s struggle against capital. In this regard, Verónica Gago, a participant in the Latin American “Ni Una Menos” assembly, states very clearly:
Since October , we have established the idea of the strike as a tool for the women’s movement. We gave it a new use, we updated it, and we expanded it. We redefine the strike to include the heterogeneous realities of formal, informal, domestic and reproductive labor and the itinerant trajectories between popular economies, unemployment, and different forms of precarity. Thus we managed to link the new forms of exploitation with sexist violence. That allowed us to get out of the “ghetto” of gender discourse, which seeks to convoke us only to speak about feminicides and situates us women as merely victims.
The March 8 International Women’s Strike is, then, an important milestone in an open path of rebellion that is ongoing. Since the beginning, the struggle against feminicide – that irreversible and brutal form of violence against women – has been at the heart of the wave of insubordination and mobilization of large numbers of women.
We started mobilizing when the murders of women became increasingly familiar and frequent, a lethal epidemic: expressive violence that issues a warning – in blood and tortured bodies – against bodily autonomy, as well as our symbolic and material autonomy. In Argentina the shared anger willing to intervene in public space has been made fully visible starting on June 3, 2015 (#3J) – repeated a year later – bringing together very broad sectors of women who decided to occupy public space to connect and manifest their shared anger in common, turning pain into strength. Anger against brutal murders and also against the institutional violence that leads to impunity for those murders, pain for the senseless deaths, and energy to generate self-defense. Anger against the permanent and multiform violence that threatens our dignity, as well as willingness to connect in order to deactivate it. In Uruguay, in turn, starting in 2015 and throughout 2016, there was a proliferation of noisy and creative actions collectively repudiating the murders of increasingly more women: no feminicide, without repudiation, “if they touch one of us, they touch us all.” And that “all of us” includes increasingly more women of all ages and professions.
In Mexico, itself plunged into a spiral of violence – also enabled and fueled by the state – on April 24, 2016 (#24A) an enormous number of women mobilized to repudiate the growing number of murders and disappearances of women. There were denunciations, forums, marches, and mobilizations in Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador. Latin America then, has been starting to move, again, putting a name to the wave of death launched against our bodies, repudiating that pedagogy of cruelty17 that seeks to paralyze us. No aggression without response. Not one woman less. We want ourselves alive. Voices and cries interlinking, resounding in the streets and in the plazas, in a reinvigorated practice of encounter and mutual aid. We are not alone because we are together.
The scope of this subversive and transformative force is immense. Silvia Federici helps us understand the profundity of the ongoing challenge to the dominant-masculine order of capitalism with a colonial origin, providing us with a point of departure for critical arguments: one that makes visible the set of doings, efforts, and labors – and for that matter, struggles – to guarantee the conditions that enable the dignified reproduction of human and nonhuman life. Moreover, Federici suggests that the feminized social sphere, rejected and despised by capitalist modernity – the sphere of multiple creative and productive processes that guarantee the reproduction of life – is where social transformation can be thought about most radically. The International Women’s Strike on March 8 reaffirms this view. Federici’s arguments and the lived experiences of March 8 forcefully impact many of us who, if we respond to their call, stop seeing ourselves forced to segment the life that we live, the only one that we have, between public and private spaces and times, a distinction that characterizes a basic feature of the processes of accumulation of capital and state power.
Why are so many of us, in so many countries, experiencing Federici’s arguments as a real toolbox to construct bridges between differences and different people? I use the word to “experience” because I seek to allude to a situation that is simultaneously intellectual and affective, corporeal, and rational. In Caliban and the Witch, ((Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia, 2004).)) undoubtedly her most well-known, most translated, and most reprinted book by the number of independent publishing houses that have published and distributed it, Federici criticizes Marx for ignoring the activities and efforts that occur in the multiple material, emotional, and psychic processes that, following the initial wave of violence that enabled capital’s primitive accumulation, continue to mediate between production of goods and consumption – which is also commercial – of other goods. Additionally, these are processes and efforts that historically have been largely, although not only, carried out by women. That is, once the worker has been separated from their means of existence and has entered into the wage relation – “the worker” in this argument can just as well be a man as a women, gay, a trans person, etc. The important thing here is not gender, but the abstract and emptied place that they occupy in the capitalist social relation: they receive a monetary amount in exchange for their labor power and, with that money, they must guarantee their reproduction. However, as some feminist discourse said decades ago, in tune with what is also expressed by some people from indigenous communities: you can’t eat money, money doesn’t take away the cold, money doesn’t heal, etc. A large continent of efforts, doings, calculations, and energies – the reproductive labor that seems to be an “invisible space” from certain perspectives – mediates between the process of production and the process of mercantile consumption.
Silvia Federici, in her work, names that place, and thus makes it visible; later, she explains why and for whom it became invisible and recuperates the terrible experiences that many women had to suffer in order for that negation to be imposed as an everyday order. She remembers the witch hunts, she shows how they silenced the voices and abilities of many women who came before us, she makes visible the brutal expropriation of an immense set of feminine knowledges that were deposited in other sites. On naming and illuminating all of this, on constructing an explanation that “makes sense to us,” as diverse women express time and time again, it nurtures all of us, collectively and individually, giving us a renewed capacity to speak and express that which, without those arguments, is tremendously difficult to enunciate.
The March 8 strike has been boosted by that enormous quantity of vital energy released by millions of women to guarantee the sustainability of life. Therefore it is not easy to understand the practical scope of the challenge launched against the economic and political order in all of its complexity. The mobilization of women, the repudiation and systematic denunciation of violence, disorders everyday life as much as its interrupts the production of goods; it alters the violent everyday of informal hierarchies in public life, at the same time as it repudiates the murder of women. It challenges the dominant masculine rationality that is, at the end of the day, the rationality of capital accumulation, and it allows us to glimpse profound paths for the general reorganization of social relations through the infinite ways through which we know how to relaunch the production of the common. The ongoing challenge to the dominant social order is so broad and so deep that it suddenly alters hierarchies in homes and at work, in public space and in bedrooms. The extent of the ongoing rebellion of women will have to be tracked – and produced – in the cultivation and care of the contents and horizons of desire that are put in play.
The lucidity of the organizational novelties that we have created and how they fuel the internal horizon of the ongoing rebellion
Building the bridges between so many and such diverse women has not been simple. It has not been easy to open up the channels of dialogue and joint action closed off by a certain institutional feminism, which is stagnant and functional to the existing order of things; and is even more difficult if almost all of us are buried by endless obligations at home, at work, at school. Rough and long meetings, mistrust that has only been dismantled bit by bit, immense efforts to move ourselves out of the place that had been fixed for us: that of demanding impossible securities and rights. In crossing that immense forest of difficulties our rebellion has been reborn: through our words, agreements, and precise expressions of what we want and what will no longer allow, we have opened up the most powerful contemporary torrent of challenges to the order of violence, dispossession, and exploitation. Overcoming the fragmentation imposed by the state and so-called “international agendas” has been very complicated. Thus we must turn our differences into the harmony of diverse women who launch their voices in varied scales, in a pluralized choreography that nurtures and does not separate: “Together and strong, always feminists.”
On October 19, 2016 after the torture and murder of Lucía Pérez in Mar del Plata, Argentina, a cry of heartbreak broke out in the south of the continent in repudiation of the affront of infinite pain that Lucía endured until her death: we are carrying out a strike “against those who want to stop us” said the statement released by the “Ni una Menos” assembly, right after the thirty-first National Women’s Meeting. We stop the world so that our presence is felt, politicizing our absence. “We strike so that they do not stop us with their criminal pedagogy” the communique stated; adding that “freedom implies definitively dismantling the patriarchy.”
The Argentinean compañeras highlighted, converting the horror of Lucía’s murder into indignant collective strength, the intimate relationship between violence and capitalism, illuminating it from renewed registers:
We strike. Because it pains us and angers us that in the month of October [of 2016] there are already nineteen dead women. We strike because in order to detain femicidal violence we need to root ourselves in the autonomy of our decisions and that is not possible while abortion is not legal, safe, and free for all. While the economic variables continue reproducing sexist violence: because our workday is two hours longer than that of men, because the tasks of care and reproduction fall on our shoulders and do not have value in the labor market.
The displacement in the mode of enunciation opened up enormous possibilities for weaving together the threads of ongoing struggles in another way: we stand together in public space against the violence that is carried out on our bodies and we do so based on the autonomy of our decisions. We name our enormous capacity for reproductive, productive, and affective labor, and through those words we assume our own strength. We assume and exhibit our own force. We weave together the struggle against feminicidal violence with the other multiple and (re)hidden forms of violence that threaten and annihilate our everyday existence, that capture our capacity for enjoyment, that impose a life that has been has been ripped apart, which we will have to continue nourishing if we do not subvert it. We will not do it: we strike. Enough. We will not continue this way. The negation of all that is given and the prefiguration of the new, the two threads woven together in the collective action of “striking.”
Joining together the struggle against different forms of violence, whether strident or covert, and linking it to the struggle against the everyday and systematic exploitation of our enormous capacity for reproductive, productive, and affective labor has been a collective success. Yet we still do not understand the radicality of its transformative capacity. It illuminates a renewed internal horizon, allowing for an immediate comprehension of what is going on, generating increasingly broad harmonies, although at the same time it is very difficult to express. It is a horizon of desire that, for now, simply expresses that we seek to change life as a whole. Life must be changed, not only the political regime or the economic model. The way of doing everything must be changed to guarantee the sustainability of life, to continue producing new relations. What name can we put on so many desires? How do we express that collective clarity in words that will continue to make sense? These are questions that are beating in our bodies, connecting us in order to persevere in the effort to renew paths of social transformation in all planes of existence.
This is a gigantic task that has produced a renewed form of political intervention that is demonstrating its immense power, overcoming all of the limits and compartments established to contain the life course and vital energy in accordance with the dominant-masculine order of capital and the state form of structuring political affairs. How do we change everything? That is the question that the women’s insurrection faces. Nothing more. Nothing less.
We know that it is a reinvigorated time of struggle and transformation. We know that we need to reject, impede, inhibit, deactivate, confront, and blockade the multiple apparatuses of dispossession that attack our most intimate and decisive creations, everything that allows us to care for and regenerate life as a whole, both human and nonhuman life. Therefore we require multiple actions on almost all fronts and we need to be able to harmonize them in an enormous choreography. How will we manage to express and create a space for all of this? We know that there is no platform or agenda that can contain our deepest internal horizon, although we perceive that perhaps it is worth outlining some type of partial synthesis, taking responsibility for the danger involved in the exercise of synthesis – which always leaves something out, which never manages to include all of the threads of desire – and never forgetting its partial, incomplete, character, which encourages new openings.
If it is immensely difficult to find words to express the horizons of desire and the most intimate contents that are bubbling over in the ongoing insurrection, some steps we can take to not avoid the task are, on the one hand, carefully reviewing our regenerated capacity to name – and illuminate – the world that we inhabit, and, on the other hand, paying equally careful attention to the forms of connection and ways of producing relationships through which we have opened this time of rebellion.
In relation to the former, Silvia Federici again gives us an eloquent example. In multiple conversations with her, we have managed to name how the generalized, sometimes diffuse, sometimes virulent, violence against us in private spaces is also the everyday exploitation of our reproductive-productive and affective labor: “what they call love, we call unpaid work.” Exploitation of affective and reproductive labor and violence against us in the private sphere are one and the same and are thus projected toward public space. The feminicidal wave also takes place so that things are kept that way. Dismantling that link between “love” and unpaid work, then, is a pending task that we must think more about. Is there a way to “translate” that into an activist agenda? No, and yet we must do so. How do we position ourselves in the face of that disjunctive? How do create collective dialogues that are sufficiently fertile to take on this task? We must fight for the recognition of new types and classes of families, understanding it not only in terms of individual rights in the framework of respect for sexual preference, but rather as a dispute over the legitimacy of other types of fundamental social units to guarantee the immediate and everyday reproduction of life. The important thing is for it to not entirely collapse into an agenda of demands that segments and separates us, as it reestablishes us in the position of claimants. How can we express it then?
Let’s review how we reached this point, how we produced the force that led us to March 8. First of all, we shared the affronts we have experienced and made them public. By publicly repudiating that which we will no longer tolerate and massively supporting one another, we build collective strength among diverse women. Sharing the affronts that we have experienced in order to resignify and politicize them them is an essential element the among women. This is how we exclaimed on a mass level that the widespread violence endured in public spaces is linked to the aggression against our collective creations and makes use of our growing exhaustion from living ultra-exploited lives in fields, workshops, markets, factories, offices, and schools. Thus we have illuminated and understood that the increasing exploitation of all of our abilities and forces and the brutal violence against us are part of the same thing. Are we then forming some sort of “social union” of women integrating all job sectors? That could be one path, but it would also certainly not be insufficient.
We reached the International Women’s Strike of March 8, 2017 based on our self-produced knowledge, the form of renewed comprehension that allows us to anticipate attacks, produce agreements, and make ourselves strong. We created that knowledge in the in the among women: not in the formal organization of differences. Overcoming the loss of focus that turns the among women into into private spaces of mutual aid, we have generated collective abilities for political intervention. Yet I do not seek to detract from the importance of those private spaces of mutual aid that, in more than one occasion, have been vital for every single women. What I want to emphasize is that an accelerated politicization has been made possible by an invisible network of interdependence, which is primarily experienced a support network in the face of the adversity imposed by exploitation and violence.
One extraordinary case this has been led by the compañeras grouped in the Minervas Collective, a popular feminist space in Uruguay. Initially started in 2014 as a “specific and autonomous space” made up of women who were then activists in a mixed leftist organization, they initiated a fresh autonomous feminism “from below” created based on weekly consciousness raising meetings. Their meetings covered a wide range of topics: from the political conjuncture of some specific point or the increasingly certain closure of the openings achieved during the so-called “progressive cycle,” to the ubiquity of forms of violence in public spaces or the informal hierarchies in leftist organizations; yet they always started with each participant sharing how they were feeling. This form of generating links, of balancing and signifying perceptions felt by the body, and producing reasoning and critique anchored simultaneously in emotion and reason, is one of the most powerful organizational (re)creations of recent years. That was how they started politicizing life as a whole and designing their public interventions focusing on the repudiation of feminicide, of each one of the feminicides that has occurred in Uruguay during this time. Women from the Minervas Collective recount that in the Feminist Encounter of Uruguay, held in November 2014:
We resolved that in the face of each feminicide or episode of extreme violence against one of us, we would take to the streets to show our indignation and our rebellion […] Against the barrage of sexist violence there were times when we took to the streets at the rate of once a week.
“There started to be quite a few of us in the street rejecting violence. We went from 15 people to 200 and later thousands and thousands,” Mariana Menéndez adds. The feminist group Minervas later connected with other more formal – and not so formal – groups as part of the Coordinator of Feminisms of Uruguay. Regardless of whatever else they are doing or what new struggles they are participating in, they retain the space and time for their periodic among women. They had to adapt when there were too many of them to fit into a single space.
Their experience was reiterated in other cities in Uruguay where the connections and agreements to produce meaning and capacities for struggle is produced in a way that is similar, although specific to each situation. That is how they have been navigating problems and gaining composure and the ability to challenge the given order, as their work and clarity grows. ((An important part of their experience is contained in the magazine Escucharnos decir (Hear us Speak), whose first issue was published in June 2016. Escucharnos decir is an independent magazine with the subtitle “Popular feminisms in Latin America,” that was created thanks to the Minervas Collective in Uruguay and the Women in Struggle of the Popular Movement for Dignity in Argentina.)) They were vital to the power of the March 8 mobilization in Montevideo: perhaps the largest mobilization in living memory in that small country on the La Plata River.
I highlight the experience of Minervas in Uruguay not because they are unique and exemplary – which they are – but because their experience condenses and expresses, in a very clear and openly intentional way, fundamental features of organizational practices that have been generalized wherever women’s insurrectional challenge to the dominant-masculine rationality has emerged with force.
The dynamic of connection for the collective production of March 8, in most cases, is similar to what has been described for Minervas, although perhaps not explicitly understood in the same way. This is why we have discussed our unease in so many different ways and expressed it in diverse slogans that put reason and emotion in tension with one another. The differences that converge and cooperate are collectively cared for so that they do not turn into hierarchies and inequalities. Then it has produced a renewed capacity for including (ourselves), for collectively producing inclusion without necessarily collapsing into “authorized” and “unique” voices, although that threat is always present. Thus it rejuvenates politics and the political by providing us with unprecedented organizational figures that are both flexible and clear, that demonstrate a great capacity for political intervention, and that have produced a wave of contestation to “common sense.” In this way, they open up the possibility of consolidating a new “common sense of dissidence” that, based on voices uttered from multiple feminized places of social reality, proposes to “change life.” Repoliticization of the struggle in the street from life as a whole. Life as a whole repoliticizes the struggle in the streets; the challenge goes to the root of things.
Something very deep is occurring then, as Rita Segato expresses, “until we dismantle the patriarchal foundation, which lies at the base of all inequalities, no significant change will be possible.” And, it is precisely together in the streets – discussing and generating new relations in homes, markets, workshops, and plazas, learning from what we feel, implicating our whole bodies and not only reason in order to create convocations and manifestos, confronting violence step by step in all of its varieties – that we will dismantle the patriarchal foundations of the capitalist and colonial social order.
For that same reason, our collective actions acquire the form of excess and disorder. What we want does not fit into the law and much less into this or that public policy, although we recognize the importance of enshrining rights into laws, which we will late have to continue being fought for; of challenging hierarchies in public space and defending material resources that make existence less hard. A path that therefore is full of difficulties.
To continue exploring, linking, and connecting our desires initiated in the struggle against violence, learning from what was experienced as freedom during moments of mobilization, as a recuperated joy in the middle of pain and anger, is vitally necessary in order to continue illuminating and specifying the internal horizon of our own capacity of struggle. It allows us to clarify its contents and design multiple steps, the necessary displacements that move us out of the uncomfortable places that the patriarchy has assigned to each one of us. Thus a renewed “politics of desire” emerges that is different from and in contradiction to the current “rights-based politics.” The politics of desire, politics spoken and practiced “in feminine,” that is, that that subverts the reasons and creations of a history narrated in the “dominant-masculine” register proposes overturning everything. This is the time we inhabit; those enormous challenges lie before us.
– Translated by Liz Mason-Deese, Viewpoint Magazine