In New York City in October, 2013, a little over a year after the death of Redstockings’ legendary co-founder, Redstockings, with the help of National Women’s Liberation, held the Shulamith Firestone Women’s Liberation Memorial Conference on What Is To Be Done. In honor of “Shulie” as her accomplices called her “back in the day,” we wanted to bring together a range of radical and feminist female organizers to take a hard look at how much progress had really been made in the thinking and the concrete gains toward freedom for humanity’s “second sex.”
As the call to the conference said: “The jolting finality of losing her was a powerful reminder of all that she had given us, she and a revolutionary era of feminism. How fast we moved forward in the late 1960s—how fast we’re losing ground these days in so many of the fundamental areas. Why? At the memorial for Shulamith last September, Kate Millet said that the movement had lost its nerve. But how to get it back? Deeper theory and creative strategy seemed a way forward…
“We thought that the first part of the conference should be about theory, in its simple, useful sense. What is the problem that women have been up against, what’s the cause, who benefits? And after some women’s liberation movement experience, have new answers emerged for you or old ones grown deeper?…
“`What is to be done?’ is about strategy, which logically comes from theory, and the experience of trying to put it into practice. So we thought that the second part of the conference should focus on our experience of testing women’s liberation movement theory against movement results.” (Read more from the call to the conference)
The conference was an exciting, day-long consciousness-raising session on the learning process of the Women’s Liberation Movement and our developing thinking: Founders of SNCC’s Black Women’s Liberation Committee were in discussion with new-generation black feminist Loretta Ross, who was part of coining the important new term “reproductive justice.” 23-year-old Rachel Ivy of the new radical feminist group Women’s Liberation Front spoke alongside veteran radical feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson and Chinese Cultural Revolution veteran Bai Di. Gail Dines, analyst of the relationship between the rise of “neo-liberal” capitalism and the explosion of pornography, was in conversation with Peggy Dobbins, auctioneer at the Miss America Protest of 1968. All had a go at what caused and maintains women’s oppression, and what to do about it, along with longtime Redstockings and many others.
One day of discussion could, and did, only give us a tantalizing debate over these big-picture questions. We are working to get permissions for making the video footage of the conference available for whoever wants to mine its insights; until then, an album of still photos is on the Redstockings Facebook page. A strong sense of the conference’s spirit comes through in the biographies of the women who attended, the conference evaluations that some completed, and the preparatory readings for the conference — all available on this blog.
But we want this blog to be more than just an archival site for documenting the conference. We will be working to make it a home for continuing the conference debate and for reporting on the ongoing work, discussion, and action of many other radical, feminist women and their organizations, who are carrying on the work of the women who revived the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and who continue in hot pursuit of answering, through ongoing struggle experience and evaluation, the conference’s burning question: What Is To Be Done to win women’s liberation?