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Friday, October 31, 2014


October 26 to October 28, 2014

By Carol Downer

Background: Advisory Committee met one day and the next day a planning meeting for the January 22, 2015 events in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. took place.  I met with Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the WitchBecky Chalker and I attended the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) Awards Event.

  1. 10-26-14: Meeting of Advisory Committee
  2. 10-27-14: Meeting of members, Advisory Committee and community activists
  3. 10-27-14: Meeting with Silvia Federici
  4. 10-28-14: National Women’s Health Network 7th Annual Barbara Seaman Awards for Activism in Women’s Health; Meeting with Adriane Fugh-Berman
  5. 10-29-14: Meeting with Ninia Baehr 

New York City 10-26-14 - Meeting of Advisory Committee: Members present were myself, Mary Lou Singleton, Merle Hoffman; also present were Sunsara Taylor, initiator of Stop Patriarchy, and Mary Lou Greenberg.  We had a free-ranging discussion: (1) to deepen our understanding of the objective situation we confront--where we are in the war on women with a particular focus on the concentrated battle over abortion, and (2) to get off the losing trajectory and forge the kind of politically uncompromising, mass independent political resistance.

No one else is doing this on a national level.

Topic: The main slogan of Stop Patriarchy, “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology”. The members that were present had consensus on this slogan, and have found many people in the movement and in the public who wholeheartedly respond favorably to it, but we discussed the concerns that some have made that the slogan may be too strong.  I reported that many abortion providers are dedicated to abortion rights, but do not want to offend those who have mixed feelings about abortion in their communities, and they want the support of the Democratic Party which has a pro-choice platform, but sometimes endorses candidates who are anti-abortion.  Without more members at the meeting, we couldn’t fully explore these concerns.

Topic: Slogan - “Enforced Motherhood is Female Enslavement”.  This slogan drew fire from the ad hoc group, “Texans for Reproductive Justice”, because it is not the type of slavery that American Black slaves experienced, but the Committee does not agree that this slogan is racist.

Other topics: Planned Parenthood’s (PP) taking over leadership of National Abortion Federation; it’s negative impact on independent abortion providers; its domination of community “pro-choice” coalitions.  I told the group that, although I have known of PP’s negative impact on the abortion movement; that I, along with other feminists and abortion providers, have kept silent, because “we didn’t want to give the anti’s more ammunition”.  But now, as I see how disastrous this course has been, I feel compelled to speak out and share the information about PP’s harmful activities.  Others did not dispute the truth of my specific allegations, but did not want to attack PP, but rather to chart our own course and put forth a more feminist, aggressive strategy.

Role of Advisory Committee Members: We wrestled with and developed a clearer sense of what it means to be on the advisory board of Stop Patriarchy.

Bill Baird called and shared his advice on what Stop Patriarchy should be doing.  Bill, who is a pioneer in the abortion rights movement, continues to be active.  As always, Bill is inspirational and his comments helped up to get perspective on the battle, especially with the Catholic Church.

We all felt that the opportunity to meet and discuss things in a relatively unstructured setting allowed us to have vigorous discussions, especially where we had minor differences in our political views, which reinforced those areas where we were in total agreement.  We did get to know each other better, and I’m sure it will help me on our future conference calls.

New York City, October 26, 2014: Community Planning Meeting for Actions on January 22, 2015 in San Francisco, CA and Washington, D.C.
Attending: Stop Patriarchy Advisory Board Members, others within the abortion provider community, activists with Stop Patriarchy, other women's liberation activists, and several students.  We had lively discussions around such questions as:

If we have a low turnout at our events, might this show our opponents our weakness and be counter-productive? 

We know that we will be outnumbered, because the anti-abortion movement annually brings busloads of church members from several states to their rallies.  They have about 10,000 marchers.  So, how many do we need to have to create a credible force.  My thinking is that we only require the number of people it takes to stage a dramatic event that puts forth a powerful message.  Others speculated 100-200 people.  Of course, we’ll get out as many as possible.

Many good ideas were suggested for building for the march and using signs and other visual materials and socio-dramas that would make our points.  Since this report is going out online, I will not be specific, but I can say that I was impressed with the creativity.  Various tactics were discussed to make sure that our message would be clear.  So, great progress was made.  It was wonderful to be working with these women.

A future meeting date was selected – November 21st.  If you’re interested, please contact me or

I talked with Fran Luck, of WBAI and others about Planned Parenthood.  They were surprised and shocked at some of the specifics.  I will be following up on those contacts.  The independent providers in attendance were not surprised at the facts I was reporting.

Brooklyn, N.Y. October 26, 2014 - Meeting with Silvia Federici
Federici graciously agreed to meet with me, Becky Chalker and Kinyofu Mlimwengu, on short notice, even though she had spent the weekend at a conference.  She served a wonderful repast of soup, bread and salad and delicious cheesecake!  Any fears I had that somehow we wouldn’t hit it off disappeared, because our dinner conversation showed how much we all agreed on a variety of topics.  Because our time was limited, I kept bringing back the conversation to how Caliban and the Witch provided the historical explanation of how women’s knowledge about our bodies was purposely and systematically destroyed, and that I believe that the self-help movement emerged as a powerful antidote to the poisonous effects of patriarchal capitalism.  Silvia completely respects our work, but she wanted to know more of how I saw self-help being used to turn around the subjugation of women’s bodies.  She gave us autographed copies of her book, Revolution at Point Zero, and Becky and Kinyofu left with copies of Caliban and the Witch.  I proposed we three start a book club!

Silvia is well-travelled.  She told us about how Italian social welfare agencies take away immigrant women’s children, put them in “group homes” until the women can prove that they have enough money to maintain them.  I’m going to get more specifics.  If you’re interested in learning about this, let me know.

I left Silvia’s with a head full of ideas about how to carry my new understanding that even though Patriarchy has a long history, the creation of capitalism in Europe depended on wiping out the traditional knowledge that women then had, making “modern women” especially alienated from our bodies and dependent on the medical profession.  Furthermore, this primitive accumulation of capital enabled the European nobility, the church and the capitalists to expand their “empires” over many other peoples, along with using many of the same techniques to destroy women’s knowledge, in addition to plundering the resources by forcing those peoples into slavery to extract the resources.  Just realizing this history doesn’t ensure that we European white women will make the necessary effort to unite with the descendants of colonized peoples to fight against imperialism and capitalism, but I think it will give us a sound basis to do so.

Kinyofu told me about the upcoming Reproductive Awakening program.  This is part of a series of meetings she is curating.

Washington, D.C., October 27-28 - National Women’s Health Network 7th Annual Barbara Seaman Awards for Activism in Women’s Health
I attended with Becky Chalker.  Becky’s most recent book is The Clitoral Truth.  She is an adjunct professor at Pace University in New York City.  It was a reception.  We were late because it had no readable signage for an out-of-towner to see.  Food and drink were provided.  The presentation had started.  We couldn’t see the program and I couldn’t hear it, unfortunately.  Afterwards, we were able to chat with old friends.  I saw Clare Feinson, who was in the Women’s Caucus at the American Public Health Association (APHA) during the time the health centers were active in that organization.  Clare is free-lancing, doing proposals, writing and research, etc.  She also works part-time at a synagogue; Clare has done amazing work in a Jewish group bringing an awareness of women’s health issues and sexuality issues to the community.  Unfortunately, Clare has some mobility problems, but otherwise she is very vital and involved.
Meeting with Adriane Fugh-Berman: After the reception, we walked with Adriane, a board member of NWHN and a reporter to a nearby Chinese restaurant.  Adriane is an associate professor at Georgetown University and a director of  The reporter is focusing on information about the FDA and the regulations of pharmaceutical companies.  Adriane has written a book, Alternative Medicine: What Works: A Comprehensive, Easy-to-Read Review of the Scientific Evidence, Pro and Con.  I told her about Holly Grigg-Spall’s book, Sweetening the Pill.

10-29-14:  Meeting with Ninia Baehr
Ninia Baehr is on the board of the NWHN.  She is Deputy Director of the ACLU in Montana, and she wrote the pamphlet, “Abortion Without Apology, a radical history for the 1990’s”.  She wrote about Lana Phelan, Pat Maginnis and Rowena Gurner, and she also wrote about the Self-Help Health Movement.

Presently, Ninia is working on her PhD.  She is interested in comparing the politics and approach of the Self-Help Health Movement and the Right-to-Die movement.  She sees many parallels, in that they both are movements demanding body autonomy.  She, Becky and I had breakfast; our meeting actually consisted of a discussion about how “gender politics” has taken over women’s studies and is creating a direct challenge to radical feminists, especially those who want women-only spaces for women to explore their common oppression and to develop anti-male supremacy strategies.  We also talked about pornography and whether there can be a feminist position to support pornography.

I asked Ninia (as I have also asked Becky and other associates I have who are in academia) if she knew how Women’s Studies departments came to become “Gender Studies” departments.  She didn’t know, as do none of the other people I’ve talked to.

Ninia will be interviewing me in the near future regarding early history of self-help.

Sharing of Resources:
  • Abortion Without Apology, a radical history for the 1990‘s, Ninia Baehr, South End Press, Pamphlet No. 8, 1990
  • Revolution at Point Zero, Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle.  Silvia Federici, PM Press, P.O. Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623
  • Stop Patriarchy -
  • Caliban and the Witch, Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Second, Revised Edition, 2014,,