Friday, April 09, 2010

Report from Last Night at UCLA -- from Sunsara

UCLA last night – some 200 to 250 people turned out for my talk, “From the Burkha to the Thong: Everything Must, and Can, Change --- WE NEED TOTAL REVOLUTION.” 

I was impressed by the audience – they were very serious and impassioned to understand and not accept the many forms of women’s oppression that plague every corner of this planet and eager for ways to be part of changing all this.  When I spoke of the massive rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military I could see young women nodding their heads furiously – no doubt there are students here who have studied this, but also those who have friends or relatives who have experienced this.  When I spoke of how the U.S. military is the biggest purveyor of terror around the world, the audience burst into applause.  When I told the story of a mother of three who is currently serving a long prison term for inducing her own (illegal) abortion in El Salvador I could hear the audience gasp.

People listened intently when I got into revolution and communism and why these are completely germane, and, in fact, the only way that women’s liberation can be achieved.  When I mentioned the name Bob Avakian, to let people know about this leader and what kind of communism I was talking about, an Iranian woman and then a whole section of the audience righteously burst into applause and I had to pause before continuing.

There were other highlights of the speech itself – especially because people were extremely responsive throughout and there were moments you could tell there was relief to finally hear someone calling out so much of this oppressive shit and talking about how it could be different.

During the q&a, things got even more interesting and engaged.  A young woman spoke very movingly about the limitations of “personal autonomy” and “personal choices” and voiced her own frustration with the idea that no one should criticize anyone else’s culture.  She told a story of a friend of hers who grew up in a region of the world where women’s clitorises are cut off and their vaginas are sewn up.  While her friend made the decision herself to undergo this cutting, it was only years later that she came to understand that even though she made “her own choice” that choice had been pressured and determined largely by living in a culture where there really was only one acceptable choice.  Now that woman regrets her choice, but it is too late.  The young woman at the event asked, “How do we get the revolution to people like this – so that they know they have another choice?”

A young man asked how it is that women are oppressed by men if often the women are acting out these cultural standards themselves.  He picked up on an example I give in my speech about Beyonce and argued that “no one is holding a gun to her head” forcing her to market herself the way she is.  A woman asked whether revolution is also possible in other countries, particularly mentioning Pakistan.  I spoke about the volatility of that country as well as that whole region and the crying need the masses of oppressed people have for genuine communist leadership that can actually enable the masses to break through with a liberating vision and movement (as opposed to the many reactionary “choices” that so many are being forced to choose between).  In this regard, I highlighted Bob Avakian’s re-envisioning and revitalization of communism and revolution and that this is something that people with ties to other countries should be part of helping spread throughout the world.

Another young man united with my outrage over the forced veiling of women in large parts of the world and the terror that backs this up, but asked what I would say about women who veil themselves voluntarily.  [Since I am not summarizing all of my responses in this post, and since this q comes up so often, I will refer people to these two youtubes where I speak to this question: ]

A young woman wanted to know where I draw the line between religious tolerence (respecting people’s right to believe what they do) and opposing fascist religious movements.  A guy asked what the environmental catastrophe facing the planet has to do with the revolution, how we would and whether we could address this looming disaster.  And a young man from China asked how I could uphold the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution led by Mao Tse Tung when it has caused so much upheaval and chaos, though he did admit that it accomplished some revolutionary advances (including for women) in the process.

There were other questions – and people stayed, and stayed, and stayed.  I ended the night together by acknowledging that they wouldn’t have come out and certainly wouldn’t have stayed so long if they weren’t sincerely passionate about understanding and ending the horrors that women have to face daily, hourly, by the minute and challenging them to follow through on that conviction, to fill out their questionnaires, to give a way to stay in touch, and to pick up a copy of the Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity as well as Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage -- A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party before they left.

Before I headed out, I spoke for a few minutes with the students who came and crowded down at the podium.  They raised questions about determinism, individual choices, religioun and certitude, and whether it is really possible to get people to think critically (versus just shutting down) about communism.  Some just wanted to say hello and express what the evening meant to them.  A young woman walked up and said, “I don’t have anything to say, really.  I am just proud that you exist, that a person like you exists!  You are speaking to us in a language that we have never heard before.”  When I told her I was recruiting she smiled and nodded vigorously.

When the whole thing was over and I finally got back to where I was staying, I shared a bottle of wine with a few friends and we poured over the questionnaires that members of the audience filled out.  Several said they came to hear about women’s liberation and were not interested in communism, but after hearing the speech realized they’d never learned anything but negative things about communism and now were interested in learning more.  An anthropology major said they’d come in disagreeing with the idea of criticizing someone’s culture, but that they’d been very challenged and possibly persuaded by my argument that culture is not sacred.  In my talk, I give the example of how, when Black people rose up against slavery and then against Jim Crow segregation, they had to upset the culture of white supremacy and that it was a damn good thing they did upset this culture.  Another audience member scrawled in all capital letters on their questionnaire, “UPSET THE FUCKING CULTURE!”  Indeed, there is a LOT about the culture of this male supremacist, me-first, torture-state society that needs to be upset.  A woman who grew up in a Muslim family wrote that I gave the best argument against the veil she’d ever heard.

A lot of people remarked on the huge amount of blatant forms of enslavement and oppression of women they had just never heard of before.  Several people wrote that they had no idea that women used to walk around in Iraq uncovered and that it was only with the U.S. invasion and the subsequent strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism that women have been forced there under the veil, including through massive terror and widespread beheadings of women who refused to cover themselves.   Others knew nothing about female genital cutting.  One woman wrote that she wished I had brought out that the parallel to female genital cutting in this country is vaginoplasty in this country (plastic surgery on their vaginas).  This is a growing trend driven both by the desire to be “tight as a virgin” and to have their vaginas appear like the air-brushed (and plastic surgery adjusted) vaginas featured in pornography.  While there is not time to discuss ever vile and shocking cultural expression of women’s oppression, I was appreciative that someone brought this up and definitely unite with her horror at this practice.

Many people wrote that they were really inspired by the vision of how women can be liberated, of how human beings can relate and that they truly hope this becomes reality.  Some were over the top with enthusiasm and appreciation that I called out the Christian fascists for what they are (Christian fascists!), while others questioned whether that was a fair assessment.  One comment I particularly got a kick out of was, “I don’t know if it is fair to call all Christians fascists… but it does seem that some of them are extremely close minded.”

Okay, this has been written on a hellishly long flight – it is not the most comprehensive report, but it captures some of the highlights and the themes, and it is all I am prepared to do right now.

Gonna get back to my novel now (I cannot bear to watch The Blindside).  It is called “Little Bee” and I highly recommend it.

posted by Sunsara Taylor at 10:38 PM


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