A Political Memoir

I’ve been writing a memoir for years. Who knows if I will ever finish? Until that day comes, the following must serve as a promisary note.

In April 2012, the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University celebrated the acquisition of my papers with a two day conference called “Acting Across Borders: The Future of the Feminist 1970’s,” where I gave a keynote about my own process of political development, and a group of other feminists—Trude Bennett, Mandy Carter, Jacqui Friedman, Anissa Helie, Amber Hollibaugh, Mia Herndon, Ynestra King, Pat McFadden, Gita Sahgal, and Ann Snitow gave talks about what they made of their own trajectories. These talks can be heard at LINK This is an updated version of the text of my own talk, given April 13, 2012. It is a political memoir, not a personal one, and thus skimpy with information about my personal life and children. It also says almost nothing about my writing. You can read about that elsewhere on this site.

I was born in Milwaukee to an upwardly mobile Jewish family. My father was a doctor. My mother was of the Betty Friedan generation, angry and bitter about her deprived childhood and her own crazy family, but too fearful to try to expand her horizons. Today she would be diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder; she was afraid of everything and couldn’t stand having anybody around whom she couldn’t completely control. She was both terrified and furious that I wanted more from life than she did, and we were at war from the time I was eight. Our worst fight was when I was eleven and she made us move to the suburbs—white flight. I was already inspired by the kids fighting for civil rights in the South, whom I saw on newsreels, and I knew this was segregation. I fought the move as hard as I could but I lost.

My father’s family were less crazy but they had very traditional ideas about women. They said I was too smart for a girl. “She’s too smart; nobody will ever marry her.” Could I possibly tone myself down? This kind of thing was everywhere in Milwaukee in the 50s. It made me feel really bad and I spent a lot of time in my room crying, but I also knew from reading that other ways of life were possible and if I did well enough at school, I could get out of Milwaukee. And I did.

I went to Brandeis, when it was still new and full of rebels—I was in the 12th graduating class. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing by then but, though I was deeply moved by it, my plan was to become a famous writer and live in Europe. So instead of going to Mississippi in the summer of 1964, I went to London. I didn’t really want an academic career, but I got a Fulbright and then a Woodrow Wilson and doing graduate work meant I could stay in England for four years, where I ended up rooming with Ann Snitow. We diligently went to the British Museum to work on our theses every day.

For most of that time I wasn’t political. Dr. King was killed, Malcolm was killed, Bobby Kennedy was killed, and I got more and more upset about the war but I was frozen in a little glass cage of intellectual alienation that was supposed to protect me. But in the spring of 1967, I came back to the US for a visit and everything burst in on me: the war, the racism, the violence, my family’s craziness. The glass cage broke and when I got back to London, I couldn’t sleep; I kept hearing the screams of Vietnamese children. Finally I realized I was having a nervous breakdown and unless I did something to change my life, I would go crazy. So I plunged into the antiwar movement and began to study the world instead of English literature.

A year later, I was doing fulltime antiwar work and living with an American red diaper baby who had dropped out of college to become a union organizer. By then my antiwar politics had become socialist and anti-imperialist, based on solidarity with the Vietnamese instead of just wanting peace, because I could see that the war was not an aberration from American ideals but part of an historical trajectory of conquest by a system that would not change its nature without great pressure. That spring, in 1968, the whole world, or at least everyone under 30, came out in the streets to protest, from Paris to Italy to Czechoslovakia and Poland to China to Japan to to Mexico to Berkeley to New York. Clearly our generation’s task was to bring about what the Czechs called “socialism with a human face,” and since we were Americans, we should do it at home.

I got a one-year job teaching English back at Brandeis. That winter, the black students occupied a building and demanded a black studies program. The president of the university refused to negotiate. The faculty supported him, except for a handful of us who sympathized with the students. Most of the others had tenure, but I didn’t. In spring, when I started to apply for other academic jobs, I couldn’t even get an interview. Turns out there was a nasty letter in my file. Rather than try to get the letter removed, I decided this was fate. The women’s movement had already begun; I wanted to be an activist and write a book about women’s history instead of finishing my thesis; the fact that I couldn’t get a teaching job was a sign that I should do what I really wanted.

So in the summer of 1969, I went back into fulltime movement work and began the research and writing that resulted, ten years later, in my first book, The Rising of the Women. Bread and Roses began that summer, and my collective tried to figure out what it meant to be a woman, drawing theory out of our own experience, building a community more intimate than we had experienced before. I wrote “Woman and Her Mind,” during that period and a lot of songs.

The official narrative of the women’s liberation movement is that it was split between radical feminists and politicos, but that’s because the narrative was shaped by New York sectarianism; I worked in women’s liberation groups in both Boston and Chicago, and that split did not exist in either place.

In 1970, Nixon escalated the war by invading Cambodia, a national student strike ended with students killed at Kent and Jackson State, and women in Bread and Roses started calling ourselves revolutionary feminists. But we had no idea how we were going to make a revolution. I wanted us to put our money where our mouths were and have some kind of systematic approach to figuring out how we were going to actually do it. How could we make sure women didn’t end up behind the 8 ball as we had in all the other revolutions? I kept asking the question. Nobody knew the answer. Most people didn’t seem that worried about it. But I was.

By then I had done enough research on working class women’s history to feel that our inability to figure out what we needed to know had something to do with class and race. We were trying to derive our ideas from our own experience but our experience was very narrow. Most of us were middle class girls. A few, like Amber Hollibaugh, were working class but they didn’t talk about it.

My husband, a hereditary Marxist, knew all about class. He was working in a factory, trying to figure out how to organize workers, and on the underground newspaper The Old Mole, while I spent all my time at Bread and Roses meetings. I hadn’t thought of marriage as something you had to work at; I saw it as something to get out of the way so I could get on with my real work. Then I found out he had been screwing around while I was at all those meetings and I realized I was going to lose him unless I paid more attention to what he wanted. He wanted to live in a more working class neighborhood, so we moved to Jamaica Plain.

Soon after, we went to hear a talk by Ann Tompkins, an American who had just come back from five years in Beijing and was touring the US, showing slides at house meetings and talking about the Chinese revolution. Nobody in the US knew much about China at that time, because it had been cut off from the rest of the world for years. Her stories blew our minds. We went home and started reading Mao Tse Tung. I hated to read political economy and Marxist Leninist polemics, but Mao was different, easy to follow; he wrote in a calm rational voice and seesawed from thing to thing like poetry, subtle and complex thinking explained in a simple way. I got terrifically excited: I had been longing to learn how to think strategically about revolution, and for the first time, I began to have a sense that I could really do it.

So we started a study group and in 1973 we all climbed into a van and hit the road, doing a tour of little Marxist-Leninist study groups around the Atlantic coast and Midwest, some already doing factory work—the idea at the time was for middle class students and radicals to “integrate with the proletariat” and thus build the basis for a new communist party. The Georgia Communist League in Atlanta were the most established of the groups we visited; they had already led a major strike at Mead Paper factory. Most important, they had some black cadre.

We saw racism as a central problem in the US and believed that African Americans had a special role to play in the revolution we were hoping to make, but since the breakup of SNCC in 1965, black and white radicals had worked separately, with little contact. You can’t imagine how segregated the world was in those days. I went to high school in an all white suburb and had never even met any black people. The new communist movement was determined to bridge this gap by taking a principled stand on racism, living in working class neighborhoods, and working with black workers. This was a strong selling point.

But there was an obstacle to our group’s joining the Georgia Communist League—me. I was a known feminist —Could I leave my bourgeois ideas behind?

I said I would try.

People have often asked me since, how could I betray myself like that. And how could I take such a risk, when communists always hate dissidents and I was exactly the kind of person bound to get in trouble? I knew it was a risk but I wanted so much to learn how to think strategically. The Chinese had made a revolution; they clearly knew things we in the women’s movement didn’t, and people in the Georgia Communist League were emulating them. In my heart I hoped to learn what they knew without forgetting what I knew myself. And that was the problem. They could tell.

My husband and I and a number of others moved to Chicago, in order to be in a more industrial working class city, and a few months later joined the October League, which was a merger between the Georgia Communist League and a group from Los Angeles. Many of the leaders of the October League were red diaper babies who had absorbed authoritarianism at their father’s knee. They had been honchos in SDS with that macho swaggering style I had always hated.

But I didn’t worry about that too much at first. I was too busy working on my own skill set. As I said, I had led a completely segregated life; now I was working on a moving assembly line at Zenith TV, where all the other workers were either black or Latina. The first thing I had to learn how to do was hard physical labor; the second was to shut up. I had always been such a bright girl, in love with my own ideas. Now I had to learn how to listen very deeply, listen the way people do when they are in the minority, taking in not only what people said but what they didn’t say, the changes in their voices, their body language. I spent the next three years working mostly with black women and some Latinas, to begin with at electronics factories where I encountered the same horrible working conditions and occupational hazards as everyone else, including exposure to lead and mercury. In 1974, I began to work as a nurses’ aide, which I liked much better.

After work there were meetings every night, and on top of everything else, I also wanted to work in the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. I had to really fight to get to do that but eventually I won and together with Diane Horwitz and Caren van Slyke organized the first women’s liberation coalition that crossed Chicago’s lethal color line. The 1973 March for Women’s Equality and Economic Justice included all the women’s organizations, labor unions, and even Operation PUSH, and was the biggest women’s rights demonstration in the city anyone could remember. But very few of my comrades from the October League came. I was furious but when I complained about this lack of interest, they turned the criticism back on me: instead of agreeing that they should have given the project more support, they said I was trying to take all the credit for the demonstration when in fact the organization’s line rather than my work had led to its success. Time for more criticism and self-criticism.

As far as the leaders of the October League were concerned, I had a bad attitude. I couldn’t turn off my mind, couldn’t stop thinking, and I kept pointing out things I thought were mistakes that should be corrected. This meant I kept challenging leadership, especially about sexism. You don’t do that in a Leninist organization, not if you want to survive. Occasionally my criticisms would prevail and I would be briefly thrust into leadership but never for long. And the worst thing was, somehow my husband and I were always on opposite sides of these struggles. Whenever he was in trouble, I was good, and vice versa. This was very stressful and at one point I thought about leaving the organization and Chicago. But he said if I stayed, we could go ahead and have a baby, which I had wanted for years. Our daughter was born in 1974.

In August, 1975, the inevitable happened and I was thrown out of the organization. The leadership had decided it was time to form a party; I asked why, since nothing was different from last year except that our main rival, the Revolutionary Union, had just declared itself a party. That did it; clearly none of the criticism and self-criticism I had done had worked; I was still hopelessly petty-bourgeois and opportunist. My husband was completely disgusted with me; he said, “why do you always have to be a lightning rod, sticking your head up.” I was made the object of a major rectification campaign and subjected to weeks of criticism, then kicked out. At that point, my husband left me. He and a friend returned to confiscate my organizational papers; that’s why there are so few papers from those years in the Duke archive.

I was now the single mother of a one year old child, working as a nurse’s aide at minimum wage in a hospital. At the same time my father, who had never forgiven me for my leftwing views, was dying. It was a tough year. I think I had PTSD for a while. I had a lot of trouble sleeping and got carpal tunnel from clenching my fists while I slept. The weeks of condemnation I’d gone through were so like things my mother always said that the message kept echoing in my head, an endless stream of criticism from all the people who should have loved me, my mother, my husband. What kind of a person must I be to elicit such contempt?

Three things saved me: my baby, my job, and writing. My baby lit up my cold apartment and my life. My job kept me busy during the day. And at night, I began to write again. I would put her to bed, sleep for a few hours, wake up at two and write until four, then crash until six, when I had to get up for work. I completed the first draft of The Rising of the Women that way.          

When my father died, we found he had taken out life insurance policies on each of his kids when we were born, policies we could now cash in. He had taken out $50,000 policies on my brothers; that was enough for a down payment on a house in those days. He had taken out a $5000 policy on me. That was the difference in what he thought a boy and girl were worth. I cashed in the policy, sold his car which my mother gave me, and used the money to move to New York, where I had friends from the women’s movement, like Sarah Eisenstein. Sarah suggested we form a women’s group, which proved to be a huge help to everyone in it except her when she got breast cancer and died two years later, at the age of 31, a devastating loss. The group also helped me gradually emerge from the fog of trauma. So did therapy.

In July, 1977, the Hyde Amendment which cut off Medicaid for abortions was being considered by Congress and a call went out to come to an emergency meeting to plan a counter-attack. It was a huge meeting in the basement of the Village Vanguard. Everyone from NOW to the SWP were there and the political lines were muddy, confused by past battles and organizational jockeying. NOW and NARAL had always treated abortion as a single issue and clearly planned to continue that strategy. The downtown radical feminists, exemplified by Ellen Willis, wanted to do what they had done before Roe vs Wade, and call for abortion on demand and sexual liberation.

I didn’t agree with either strategy. I had gone through a lot in order to learn how to think strategically and to my own surprise, found that I had gotten better at it than I had been in Bread and Roses. The essence of strategy on any question is figuring out the lineup of forces and who your allies are; how do you isolate the hardliners on the other side and win as many people in the middle to your side as possible? Looking around the room, it was clear that the NY women’s movement, or at least the part of it willing to come to meetings on the Hyde Amendment, was made up of white middle class women and students; this was not a broad enough base to win a major struggle. So the strategic question was, with whom can we ally and along what lines?         

An alliance has to be based on issues that everyone in it agrees are critical; only then is there a strong enough basis of unity to overcome barriers of class and race. You can’t do what I have seen white feminists do over and over and over, which is to decide what’s important to them, call a meeting, invite their friends and then say, oh, we need more diversity and try to get some women of color to come. Not only does that show lack of respect for other people’s own priorities, it doesn’t work. A strategic alliance has to shaped by mutually urgent concerns and an explicit basis of unity.

In July, 1977, there was an obvious basis for such an alliance in the issue of sterilization abuse, which had been much in the news. And there was an organization with which to ally, CESA, the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse, founded several years before by Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, a Puerto Rican pediatrician. So a number of us pushed for a strategy of linking these two issues and by the end of the summer of 1977, we had formed CARASA, the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse. By linking abortion and sterilization abuse, we made it more possible to reach Latinas but we lost the mainstream abortion rights groups.

Eugenics ideas, with a strong racist flavor, were still strong among mainstream abortion rights advocates at that time and NARAL was allied with the population control movement. They had been running ads saying people should support abortion rights to save tax dollars spent on welfare, while Planned Parenthood was planning to establish sterilization clinics at a time when there were no clear rules on informed consent.

The first regulations of sterilization abuse came out of the alliance between CESA and CARASA —first in NYC, then NY state, then federally. The regulations said that before any woman was sterilized she had to be told what the oepration meant in her own language, sign a consent form in her own language, and have a 24 hour waiting period before the procedure, since a common abuse was to tie a woman’s tubes at the same time her baby was delivered, sometimes without even telling her. But these regulations were controversial because of the strength of population control ideas in the women’s movement—NOW went two different ways over the issue, with NY NOW supporting federal regulations and California NOW opposing.

Today the thinking that CARASA pioneered in the US is called a reproductive rights analysis. But in 1977, we did not yet use the language of human rights; the way I used to put it was to say we wanted whatever women needed to have children and not to have children—meaning a full range of health services, abortion and contraception, health insurance, good and affordable childcare options, decent public schools, maternity leave, and adequate welfare. A similar approach emerged in women’s movements in other parts of the world and in 1994 was codified at the UN’s Cairo conference on population and development, though it is still being bitterly fought by a conservative alliance led by the Vatican, fundamentalists of all faiths, and the Republican Party.

All the time I was working in CARASA, I was making a living as a secretary, doing adjunct teaching and weekly book reviews on the side. I barely made enough to live on and spending all my spare time on CARASA sure didn’t help, since it didn’t occur to us for some tome that we needed a staff and nobody was getting paid. After I had been co-chair of CARASA for two years, I got a book contract to write an historical novel, Rivington Street. This meant that I could actually live on what I made from writing for the first time in my life. So I took a break from political activism in order to write.

I’m not going to talk much about my writing today, except to say that culture has always been central to my idea of social change and in my fiction—and I am still writing fiction—I try to write about women like me, women who want to change the world and the kinds of problems they run into. The advance I got for the novel enabled me to rewrite The Rising of the Women, which had been dropped by McGraw Hill but was now picked up by Monthly Review Press, and then write Rivington Street which was published in 1982 and made enough of a splash so that I got an even better advance for a sequel, Union Square. I was also writing a lot of essays for the Village Voice and the Nation. That summer, I got married again to writer and professor Marshall Berman and in 1984 had my second child, a son.

Since I was now a somewhat established writer, I joined all the writers’ organizations, and in 1986 decided to attend a Congress of International PEN being held in NY and chaired by Norman Mailer. That was a culture shock. The atmophsere was so white and male dominated it was like walking through a time warp into 1950— one male voice after another droning on, with barely a handful of women speakers. Grace Paley and I organized a protest which hit the front page of the NY Times; from there, despite heavy opposition, we founded a women’s committee in PEN American Center.

After that, responding to the same desire to deal with international politics I had felt in the Vietnam movement, I started trying to organize a similar committee in International PEN. That was a much tougher struggle. Many of the leaders in International PEN were elderly European men whose sexism was epic, while few of the women could even be called feminists because in Europe, where most of the organization was based, feminists tended to stay away from PEN.

PEN was the first mainstream organization I had worked in, and it was a stretch for me because the organization was run in such a glitzy, formal, old-fashioned way I sometimes felt I was at the 1919 Congress of Versailles. It took three years of organizing before we had enough strength to bring a vote in the PEN General Assembly to establish a Women Writers’s Committee. I was the Committee’s first chair. For a minute, I felt we had triumphed—women had made a space for ourselves in the international citadel of high literary culture.

This was in 1991, a time when transnational feminism was just starting to make a dent on international politics, three years before the UN human rights conference that declared women’s rights were human rights. PEN had not yet taken up many censorship cases involving women and I wanted to change that. In our first few years, the Women Writers Committee developed censorship campaigns on behalf of Nawal el Saadawi of Egypt, Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus, and the Five Croatian Witches, among others. In 1993, Taslima Nasrin of Bangladesh was targeted and I worked with not only with PEN but with feminists around the world on her behalf.  

To me, these cases were just the tip of the iceberg, for while writers like Taslima were persecuted if they spoke out against religion, government policies, or the treatment of women, in many countries there’s an invisible system that prevents most women from having a public voice at all. I wanted to understand the broad outlines of gender-based and economic censorship around the world, but it was impossible to do that kind of research inside of PEN. My committee had no money and there was still a great deal of opposition both to it and to me personally from conservatives, anti-Americans, and PEN’s International Secretary, whose line on me, never explained, was that I “wasn’t suitable.” In 1993, he began to orchestrate a campaign to drive me out and I had to spend more and more time fighting for my life. Then, at his urging, some conservative women tried to stage a putsch and, while I fought them off, I found that no one had my back and I was forced to agree that I would not run for a second term as Committee chair.

I was devastated, disgusted and incredulous. Why did this kind of thing keep happening to me over and over? There I was being a lightning rod again, sticking my head up so it could get hit. Once again, I had tried to carve out space for women in an organization controlled by men, but the beachhead I had established was so fragile that I was unable to use it to expand the work. I knew that, if I ceased to be its chair, the Committee would never develop research or a bold program on gender-based censorship. Instead it would become a venue for the women in it to promote their own writing. That tendency was already there.

But I couldn’t do anything about it. I was in deep trouble myself. These years of work I had done on free expression had been a financial disaster, for it was against the rules for an officer of International PEN to earn a salary. I had also spent an enormous amount of time starting a parent-initiated public elementary school for my son, and the school wasn’t working either. And in 1990, I had separated from my second husband because I just couldn’t do everything—he was the kind of man who needed a lot of looking after and I didn’t have the energy to take care of him and two kids and write and also do political organizing, let alone take care of myself. So I was once again a single mother, with no job, no money and two kids—and now the work in PEN was falling apart.

The way I work is, I try to carry out a plan one way, and if that doesn’t work, I try to carry it out another way. Now I was determined to to keep working on gender-based censorship but I also had to make a living. Fortunately this was the year before the UN Conference on Women in Beijing and there was a little window of opportunity in terms of foundation funding for women’s projects. So in 1994, Paula Giddings, Ninotchka Rosca and I founded Women’s WORLD—the Women’s World Organization for Rights, Literature, and Democracy—with a board of feminist writers from around the world including Grace Paley, Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana, Ritu Menon of India, and Mariella Sala of Peru. I was able to raise enough money to set up an office, earn a modest salary, and begin to develop a global, independent free speech network of feminist writers.

Over the next ten years, Women’s WORLD built a flat, non-hierarchical network very different from most American NGOs, and did innovative programs to strengthen women’s voices in Africa, Eastern Europe, India, and Latin America. I also kept doing defense work for individual writers under attack, and was able to save a few lives and keep doing the research and analysis I loved. But there was never very much money and in the years after the financial crash that followed 9/11, it became impossible to sustain Women’s WORLD. In 2003, I had to close the office. I kept working without a salary through 2008 but could not raise any money to do the work and finally had to admit that, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t carry on any more.

This defeat left me feeling exhausted and sick. I had been having auto-immune problems for many years, including unusually severe arthritis at an early age, and now, in 2008, I finally paid enough attention to my own problems to discover the underlying cause—very high levels of both lead and mercury. I have been getting treatment for this environmental poisoning for the last four years and am finally starting to improve and get enough of my energy back to feel I can undertake one last good fight.

For the last year [2011], I have been working with Gita Sahgal and Anissa Helie and others to start a new global thinktank called the Centre for Secular Space. Our goals are to fight fundamentalism, strengthen secular voices, and promote universality in human rights. Part of that mission is developing a strategy to combat the religious right and other conservatives, and the other part is making sure that our brothers in the left and the human rights movement don’t sell women or sexual minorities out.

A number of themes have run through this piece.

One of them is the relationship of feminism and the left, and the problems of women working in organizations shaped by a non-feminist or even anti-feminist agenda, whether they are corporate boardrooms, leftwing sects, or international human rights groups. Many women have written bitter tales of struggle in such settings and they are all true. And unfortunately there are also always some women glad to trample on the rest of us.

A second theme is reproductive rights and women’s health and the way the conditions that shape us, including economic need and the decisions we make, write themselves upon our minds and bodies, leaving us pregnant, or stressed out, or with lead poisoning. As in 1977, we are facing an onslaught by rightwing politicians and fundamentalists determined to prevent women from controlling our own health and reproductive lives. As in 1977, we must fight back.

A third theme is work, love, and motherhood, or, as people put it these days, can women have it all? The answer is no. But which slice of it you want the most, and how much of it you can get, is an individual thing. When younger women activists ask me how to sustain kids, a job, political work, a relationship, taking care of your own health—I have to say, you can’t, not without a lot more social and economic and community support than we have in the US.

I did not follow a conventional career path because I wanted to spend my life working for the emancipation of women and all people, but I also wanted to have kids. This choice shaped my life and work, for economic survival has always been an issue for me. But my children were not only my first responsibility, they were one of the great joys of my life. They were also a connection between me and lots of other women, whole communities of women, whom I never would have met but for my kids. On the other hand, the combination of political work, writing, and kids can be lethal to marriage or a romantic relationship, especially for someone as headstrong and work-obsessed as me. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

A fourth theme that emerges from my story is justice—social justice, liberation, the emancipation of women, whatever you want to call it—setting both soul and body free. Throughout history human beings have been thirsty for justice—as the Bible says, “Let justice pour down like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream”–—but justice and human rights require for their realization a certain standard of living, a job, an education. I believe we are at the start of another period of open struggle for these social goods and a rebirth of movements for justice such as I was part of in my youth. I hope the presence of my papers at Duke will enable people to learn things about that kind of struggle that are not in books and may never be.

My last theme is the importance of the individual voice. Since I was a child fighting with my mother, I have felt that speaking the truth is the most important thing you can do, even if you get in trouble for it. Of course, anyone who does this will get frequently slapped down and called all kinds of names, or worse. But if you don’t speak the truth as you see it, what are you here for?

Sometime in the early 1790s, William Blake wrote “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” in which he told a story saying he had dined with the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel and asked them how they had the nerve to say God spoke to them and were’t they afraid people would say they were lying. “Isaiah answer'd, ‘I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in every thing, and as I was then perswaded, & remain confirm'd, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote.’” Movements start with a few voices speaking in honest indignation. When enough people do that, we can move mountains.


At the time of the 2012 Duke conference, for which I wrote this account, I was 70 years old and, as you can see if you watch the video, my arthritis was so bad I was walking with a cane. Not until 2015, after two knee replacements and with serious degeneration in other joints, did I get a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, a serious inflammatory auto-immune disease that has eaten away at a number of my joints, limiting my range of motion, making many ordinary tasks painful, and leaving me very tired.

Despite this, I have continued to do as much political work and writing as I can, and have been engaged in two serious organizing efforts since 2012, one to set up the Centre for Secular Space in London, the second to support the Rojava Kurds and their model of a revolution that makes feminism central. I have written two books related to these issues: Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights (2012), and The Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State (2016). I will continue to write, do my best to remain active, and try to find ways to pass down what I have learned.