FIST members attended the the Women’s Declaration International – USA conference , which took place in Washington DC, September 23-25, 2022. The theme and title of the conference was “Reigniting the Women’s Liberation Movement”. The gathering lived up to its “national” title with women having traveled to the conference from across the country; we spoke to women from at least 11 states. Relative to the female population in the U.S., there was good representation of black and brown women (including in the leadership) and a large lesbian contingent. Some of us estimated that 2/3 of us were older and 1/3 were women in their mid-30s or younger. The feeling was very warm and welcoming, it was truly wonderful to share a weekend meeting 100 like-minded women (or so we assumed).
The conference was very well organized, there were back-to-back plenaries and breakouts for a full two days, in addition to the introductory plenary on Friday night, where members of the Board of WDI-USA introduced themselves and the conference–plenaries took place in the dining room so we were able to continue eating and have our dessert even as we took in all of the ideas presented. The food was good and plentiful. Everything ran on time. It took place in a swanky hotel and we sat in a ballroom complete with sparkly chandeliers and white tablecloths. There were many good presentations with some time for questions afterwards but there was very little actual discussion. Very little exploration of how far our assumed like-mindedness went.
Plenaries included those on the Second Wave of the WLM, Radical Feminist Structural Analysis, Nonviolent mass Action as a strategy for Resistance, the history of feminists “trashing” each other in the women’s movement and strategies to combat it, Women’s writing, Grassroots Organizing, Women in Leadership, Women’s Community, Stories and Land, Ethical Communication, and finally “What Would Victory Look Like?”.
The plenaries were interspersed with smaller breakout sessions on Reproductive Rights, Opposition to the Sex Trade, the Value of Lesbian Only Spaces, Consciousness Raising, Gender and Feminism, Misogynoir (“Black Patriarchy”, facilitated by Black women) and Legislative Advocacy.
Some of our differences became evident during the last session of the conference. as all women in attendance were asked to present their visions of what “victory” would look like. Otherwise differences were not discussed at all; we never touched upon feminists taking money from Christian Nationalists, or the WDI-USA promotion of Women’s Bill of Rights, or their opposition (or at least WoLF’s) to the ERA (see our ERA-FIST brochure) or the WDI statement in opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act or their former work on their Equality for All Act which is a watered-down version of FIST’s Feminist Amendments to the Equality Act or the history of the right wing trying to co-opt feminism through groups such as the Independent Women’s Forum. Nor was there any discussion of how WDI/WDI-USA is funded or how the conference itself was funded.
The conference centered on the issue of gender and there was a great sense of relief in being at a large gathering where gender-critical views could be openly discussed. However, it did eclipse other crucial issues, such as the recent catastrophic loss of legal abortion in the U.S. Reproductive rights and justice was not a major topic at any of the plenaries at which everyone in attendance was present. After the conference, FIST members and other attendees from NY had a discussion about what the place of gender should be in terms of women’s liberation as a whole (we reached no conclusion and consider this an ongoing discussion).
This one meeting might not reignite the Women’s Liberation Movement but it certainly demonstrated that the embers have not burned out. The great deal of warmth and openness—really great spirit—gives us hope for bringing the different “factions” of feminism together on mutually agreed upon campaigns.
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