Our Life, Work, Struggles

— Chloe Tribich

AT THE TIME I joined Solidarity about a year and a half ago, I had been involved with activist and organizing work for about five years, which comprised most of my post-college life. Specifically, I was active in an organization called Jews Against the Occupation (a Palestine solidarity organization) and working as staff organizer for a housing group. I wanted a way to understand what I was doing in a bigger context, and to be around people who were thinking about how their current work fit in to a much longer term struggle.

At its essence, Solidarity believes that people who make the wealth have to control it, that this can only happen when oppressed people get organized enough to make it happen themselves — it also means that there can be no such thing as racial justice or feminist justice under capitalism.

We are looking at ways in which white supremacy, patriarchy, and heterosexism intersect with capitalism and other types of oppression that are related to, but not always fully explained by, class oppression. We have been using the word “intersectionality” to describe this overlap. Intersectionality really means, at least to me, finding a way to describe what most people experience every day: multiple identities and oppressions that compete with each other and feel more or less significant depending on the context.

We are trying to make sure that our class analysis takes this fully into account. Intersectionality comes up a lot in normal day to day organizing work, even though we don’t necessarily recognize it.

Lessons from Experience

For example, my first major experience with leftist activism was with Jews Against the Occupation (JATO). We first formed as a Jewish-identified Palestine solidarity group at the beginning of the Intifada in 2000. Most of the founding members were long-term queer activists who had experience with ACT UP and other AIDS movements and radical politics in general.

We had some discussion over whether to take on the Palestinian right of Return as one of our main demands, which is the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is now considered to be Israel. In 2000, the right to return was emerging as the main demand of the groups in the Palestinian diaspora. Most Jewish peace groups were not supporting it, at least not explicitly. Some felt it would alienate liberal Jews and many were worried that it threatened Israel’s right to exist as a state that privileged Jews.

We adopted the right to return fairly quickly as a JATO point of unity, mostly because people were committed to being a real solidarity group that took its lead from Palestinian liberation struggles instead of doing what made us comfortable. I think what allowed this to happen were people’s real critiques of citizenship and nationalism.

This was not just an academic critique; it came from experience of being queer and politically radical in the United States in the ’90s, from understanding that being a citizen of a country doesn’t mean that that country cares about you.

JATO has never identified as a queer group — whether or not that’s a good thing, and even why this is, should be the topic of another discussion — but it’s obvious that our politics would not be the same, or as good, if they weren’t heavily informed by queer experiences and activism that is about radically contesting queer oppression.

One of JATO’s accomplishments as an organization is that it has managed to function in practice on principles of intersectionality. This means, for example, that when we introduce ourselves we say which gendered pronoun we want used to refer to us (either a pre-existing one or one we have made up). This helps set the tone for the meeting, so that acknowledgement of gender/sexual identity oppression gets woven into our work around Palestine liberation.

How Capital Controls Us

In Solidarity, we’re now paying more attention to this intersectionality. For example, we are trying to understand how the institution of marriage reinforces not only heteropatriarchy but also white supremacy and class privilege. To be effective as socialists we need to understand how capitalism organizes what we consider to be private life — childcare, housework, etc. — just as we need to understand how capitalism dictates the terms of paid work.

Socialists pride ourselves on our ability to articulate the contradictions of capitalism in the workplace: how it simultaneously drives workers apart and pushes workers closer together, how it creates the conditions for workers’ self-organization and then destroys them. But in order to better envision what a socialist world would look like and in order to understand how to get there, we also need to understand how capitalism controls so-called private relationships, childcare and housework.

In preparation for our last convention, some comrades reflected on how gender functions in their workplaces, both as a mechanism for management to divide workers and as a rallying point for self-organization. One woman who is a technician wrote about how she used socialist feminist politics to understand how men at her workplace deal with safety rules. (See Lynne Williams, Feminism at Work, ATC 127, March–April 2007 — ed.)

She analyzed the culture of her male-dominated workplace and saw how the masculinized culture that dominated her workplace encourages men to ignore safety rules as a way to prove their “manhood” even as management often encourages safety violations and then punishes workers for getting hurt.

One of her conclusions is that gender politics is always present and we should look for it not just when sexism happens — but also when adherence to gender roles interrupts class solidarity.

ATC 130, September–October 2007