National Women's Liberation Conference

(circa 1969) A description of the various women's groups who participated in one of the first national women's liberation conferences. A good introduction to the diversity of 2nd Wave feminism. (circa 1969)

(Editors Note: This is a description of the various groups who attended an early national women's liberation conference. We believe that it was the one held at the University of Washington on January 31 to February 1, 1969. Here is a link to a flyer from the same conference: Women's Liberation Conference flyer, January 31-February 1, 1969

Flyer for Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 1969 conference on Women's Liberation, sponsored by the Women's Liberation Committee of SDS at UW. Digitized with permission from the personal collection of Joe Felsenstein.)


Many people, especially those new to the women's movement, have asked for a pre-conference summary of the basic issues and positions that have already developed in various groups so that they will be prepared to participate and know what the "old hands" mean with their jargon and sly comments! Basically, we hope that the first day and the mimeographed descriptions of what groups are doing will provide this context for all.

We have also been asked for a report of what happened at the Sandy Springs conference in August, 1968, a report that has never been written. So, in response to both these requests, we have mimeographed the agenda outline of the basic issues discussed at Sandy Springs. While this is mot a full report of the meeting, it should give an idea what was discussed there and help introduce new people to what were at that point seen as important issues in the movement. This conference should fill everyone in on the rest.

Sandy Springs Agenda Issues:

I. What is each group doing? etc. .........

II. What are the common threads among groups? ... through What is a Liberated woman? What is it we would like to be?

III. Goals and priorities in building a women's movement.

IV. What are our political and ideological assumptions? .....

V. Where can we work together?

VI. Who are our constituents?

VII. How do we relate to the rest of the Movement? etc. ...

VIII. How are we reaching out now??????etc.

IX. Ideas and suggestions for specific projects....

We hope that this list and the following descriptions of what different groups are doing will help provide a common background for all. (Please note that the descriptions do not by any means include all the groups, but may be considered as representational.)


Womens Liberation Group Gainesville, Florida
The Women's Liberation Group from Gainesville, Florida consists of women who all intend to become "organizers" for our movement. At this point we conceive of ourselves as a small consciousness-raising cell. We meet as an all-female group; we take action only when there is group consensus through consciousness-raising planning; that is, we ask of ourselves: how does this issue make me feel about myself as a woman; when we've answered questions such as these, we feel more certain that any public action we take will communicate better to other women because we designed it in accord with the feelings and experiences of our group as women, not as new leftists' SDS'ers, etc.

We discourage "academic" discussions of books, etc. In each meeting we address ourselves to specifically women topics such as vaginal orgasms, money (where we get it, where it goes), marriage, masturbation, and relate our personal experiences as political expressions to our own racism, to the capitalist system, to the way we view other women. We are self-conscious about the fact that vie are trying to arrive at the correct analysis of our condition; we speak "pain to recall pain", and we examine the personal data of each meeting in order to understand its political implications for women. We view the male domination system as the core of our oppression, and we see war, racism, capitalism, etc. as impediments to be cleared away en route to our liberation.

We think that there is no personal solution to a long history of oppression. Consequently, we explore the ways in which we "shuffle'. through our jobs, marriages, etc., and at the same time attempt to avoid shuffling among ourselves. The only solution we accept is through a liberation movement of women.

We have no leaders and pass around the "shit work." Our Group consists of students, several professionals, a welfare recipient, several waitresses and some of us have children. At this point we are an all-white group, and we are expecting to expand with a race and class analysis. While many of our members put in their time with civil rights or SDS type organizations, for some this is their first participation in a group which considers itself "radical" and intends a basic reorientation of the cultural and economic systems.

Women's Group -New Orleans, La.
About ten of us have been functioning as Women Strike for Peace pickets and draft counseling. Whenever we got together and weren't talking about action plans, we talked about how dreadful men are... What a few of us would like to see our group turn into is an action group -completely women; that is more or less drop out of activities with men unless acting as a women's unit. -And women's liberation as just a part of the meetings. Others who are radical in thought though not action, prefer just discussion ... we will see what happens.

Simon Fraser University- Women's Caucus Vancouver, CANADA
We began as a caucus of Students for a Democratic University, a radical student group, but our interests quickly became much broader. We have used campus issues, such as the establishment of a birth control center on campus and women's place in the student power movement, as organizing issues. We are now an autonomous organization and have concentrated mainly on building broad university strength. our membership is somewhere between thirty and forty and includes undergraduates, graduate students, wives and faculty. We have tried to build membership on radical principles rather than broad appeal. Our goal is to form a politically conscious, militant force of women to participate in the radical movement here. The group is about six months old and has been active, meeting once a week at least, since inception.

We are working on campus now primarily through classes. Simon Fraser U. has the system of two hour tutorials in the social science courses--these are small discussion groups and we are invited now to many of these to discuss our position. We usually send a team of two; as a method of building speaking ability and confidence it is excellent. We are helping and encouraging newer groups on other B.C. college campuses and just beginning to try to organize high school groups. One abortive. attempt was made in the summer to try to make contact with office workers in Vancouver; we are hoping that our next try will be more successful. It will be made soon.

The Feminists: Oceanside, New York group
We are an offshoot of the N.Y. radical women. We have only five members and a few transient members who meet regularly are putting together a newsletter, discussing strategy, planning action, and having general discussion.

We have been meeting together for several months. We occasionally have weekend meetings which are divided between group discussion on a specific topic, putting together a magazine, deciding strategy or what form action should take, and reading papers we have written. Our main focus other than the magazine, has been strategy and we find that good, solid plans aren't formulated overnight.

Northside Radical Women's Group -Chicago, Illinois
First and still number one on the north side of Chicago is the North Side Radical Women's Group. Our Group, pure theorists, is seeking to find in literature and movies, etc. the ideal woman --for reasons obvious to all. We are seeking the one cultural heroine who will be able to bridge class distinctions, to unify ethnic groups, to destroy regional differences. The woman who combines intellect with action, finesse with fortitude, strength with subtlety. The woman who will heal our cities, smile on the harvest of our farmers, leap tall buildings with a single bound. The New American Woman. THE NEW AMERICA. Yours Truly,
Katherine Hepburn Acting Secretary

The New York Consciousness Awakening Women's Liberation Group -NYC
Our group is focused around awakening the latent consciousness that we and all women have about our oppression. Our "therapy sessions," as they have been badly misnamed are aimed at searching out those things in our lives which we share by being born women. We have blamed ourselves for the unhappiness in our lives. We have believed that these were our "personal problems."

The "bitch sessions: as we like to call them because we affirm bitching as a resistance tactic of powerless women in the past) help us to see our oppression as women as social problems that must become social issues and fought together-rather than with individual personal solutions. Through bitching together and searching for common ground, we also gain the feeling of unity -sisterhood-that is so necessary to our struggle. We began to see we need each other, even to think. We begin to really like women.

An analysis of our oppression, therefore, must come from the concrete reality of our own experiences. From this reality comes our theory. Action will flow from that theory. An example of this was the Miss America Protest. From our consciousness that every day of a woman's life is a walking Miss America Contest came the idea for the action. To plan the protest, we went around the room and each woman told how she felt about the Pageant, recalling the pains it had brought her. From this discussion we decided to crown a docile sheep Miss America and to auction off a replica Miss America to the highest bidder.

We use the going around the room technique with questions which Tie think will raise but consciousness. Some questions: Which do you prefer to have, a boy or a girl and why? Who did you prefer, your father or mother and why? What does it do to your relationship with your man if he makes more money than you? If you make more money than he?

We believe that the seeds of the new society are in women's consciousness.

TELL IT LIKE IT IS ----------The Black Revolution
BITCH, SISTERS, BITCH --------The Final Revolution

Our Actions

Our first action was the burial of Traditional Womanhood at the Jeanette Rankin Brigade Peace March in Washington, D.C., in January, 1960. A, complete description and the Funeral Oration appears in NOTES, which we consider our next major action. The 36 page publication was put out in June, 1968, as a public statement of what the group had been thinking and talking about for the past several months. We distributed about 1,000 copies and have requests for several hundred more.

After the Columbia Strike, Roz Baxendall went to the Columbia Strike Liberation School at the request of a friend with plans for a Women's Liberation Class. A struggle ensued to get the course recognition and to keep men out of the class. Some militants from the Strike Committee tried to keep women from coming to the class. The Committee later admitted that the Women's Liberation Class lasted longer than any other course and had the largest and most consistent attendance.

Out of our bitch sessions came the idea for the Miss America Protest. All the New York groups joined together for this action and women from Washington,D.C., New Jersey and Florida participated. We crowned a live sheep Miss America, held an action of an All American Girl replica, threw objects of our torture into the freedom trash can, picketed, and talked to women spectators. At night, we hung a Women's Liberation banner from the balcony and shouted "Freedom for women -No more Miss America" until the cops forced us out. Peggy Dobbins was arrested and charged with spraying a "noxious element" on the Pageant floor. (See the paper "What Can Be Learned a critique of our actions.")

We asked to have a speaker at the International Revolutionary Student's Conference at Columbia because the women's struggle was not represented Anne Forer got up to give the speech amid boos and jeers and was only allowed to speak after a hassle.

As the result of our actions, especially the Miss America protest, we were invited to appear on several radio and television talk shows. We made several appearances on Barry Farber. Roz Baxendall and Kate Millet went on the David Susskind Show with two other women who at that time were affiliated with NOW. Listener-owned WBAI radio has given us time in addition to interviews and news stories. These programs have brought new women into our groups.


In addition to our own actions, we joined several planned by other groups. Shulie Firestone gave a speech at an abortion rally sponsored by Parents Aid and a number of our group marched and picketed (see NOTES). Some of our group attended a support rally for Bill Baird and Pope and the Pill rally. Some joined NOW in its protests against unfair employment practices by Colgate Palmolive and against the New York Times for segregated want-ads. Some of us joined the WITCH action on Halloween in memory of the nine million witches (feminists) who had been murdered during the Middle Ages. The WITCH hexed Wall Street, a men only bar, some nudie shows, and a few other places.


We are planning to open a storefront on the Lower East Side which would serve both as out office and a place where neighborhood women could come and rap.

We plan to put stickers which say "Women's Liberation" and our address on advertisements that are anti-woman. We see this action as a way to raise consciousness and a way -to put us in contact with other interested women.

Cleveland Women's Groups

There have been sporadic discussions and meetings of women in Cleveland over the past year, but without forming any basic groups until this fall -'68. At present, there are two kinds of groups, both just beginning to develop.

Case Western Reserve University University Women's Liberation
Related primarily to campus SDS. Some campus women have met a few times to work on specific projects around women's liberation issues on campus. This has included so far: A Guerilla theater action and leafleting during a slave auction held by Angelflite, the women's auxiliary to ROTC; A counter-homecoming queen, .fashioned somewhat after the Miss America skit; and a drive to eliminate all dorm hours for women, including efforts to persuade women that they do NOT need the "protection" of dorm hours (this is still in process.).

City-Wide Radical Woman's Discussion Group. A varied group of women from different parts of the city -from West-Side workers (poor white area), Movement for Democratic Society, Radicals in the Professions, Peace Action groups, graduate and undergraduates, etc. have just begun. weekly meetings. This group plans to discuss the women's movement as it relates to Cleveland together first and then develop other project and constituency groups as seems appropriate to our analysis of needs and possibilities here. So far, its discussions have been general exploratory ones.

In addition, there are plans being made for a free university course and/or a series of forums on women's liberation, including both history of women and discussions of our present situation. These will be for-people both on the campus and off-campus and will begin next semester, probably February.

New women's group-- New York City.
We have barely gotten off the ground as we'd just had a first meeting when the NYC teachers' strike hit us --most of us have kids and thus spent the next month keeping our schools open, organizing for community control and organizing support for Ocean-Hill Brownsville.

We are 16 very political women of middle-class & working-class origin in our mid-20's to early 40's, who have all been active in the union, peace & civil rights movements, and all consider our primary goal the destruction of capitalism. We have come together as women to do this and intend to focus on the limited role of women as producers (built-in job discrimination) and on raising the political issue of society's responsibility for children, from birth,

Regarding the so-called "personal" aspects of womanhood --the particular problems and forms of brainwashing to which we are subject --we don't believe they can be solved through discussion alone --but only through group action, and especially as it involves working-class and poor women.

Women's Caucus of the New University Conference Chicago, Illinois
Currently, the policy states that radical women and radical university women who have a commitment to women's liberation should make up the constituency of the caucus. Thus the caucus does not speak for all women Within NUC. It is the hope of the I caucus that women can be radicalized upon the basis of their exploitation position within academia and. within the Movement Our primary purpose is to contribute to NUC by recruiting and radicalizing women so that they become an important and active segment of the total movement... There is every hope that in the future the promise of women's liberation may be fulfilled. I appeal to all the Sisters, to join our effort for significant intellectual and organizing contributions to the NUC and to the total movement.

BOSTON WOMEN (Excerpts from)
All of us had been involved in the movement, we had no group where we could discuss what was going on in our personal lives--was our work satisfying, why was the movement so competitive, what was the pressure, on us

If we had families, how hard was it to participate as an equal in the movement if you were a single women and competing for the available men?

..... Our beginning talk, often dealt with how the present movement for change reflects the larger society's work ethic,competition, labeling of: people, and status seeking. When your politics are your life style, its too threatening to consider either critically What we realized as a group was that even though we wanted to continue to meet and free ourselves as women, that we could relate our liberation in two ways towards the men we knew. Either we could use it to gain power as women in a struggle with men; or we could use our freedom and knowledge, to be supportive as well as challenging to men so that we could struggle against the society oppressing all of us. For many reasons ( some good and some bad) , we committed ourselves as a group to the second course. In practice , that means we've tried to create the freeing growing atmosphere we've found in our women's group in other relationships-instead of lecturing about our "unique state" ......Being in a group where

People can express their emotional feelings openly has been very important to us....We are freed from worrying about how we appear to other people--both men and women. Because of the warmth often shared in the group., we have begun to see barriers fall inside of and between people.

We've found that we've spontaneously made connections between our lives and what somebody else has related... Thus rather than drawing connections that are abstract super "political" conclusions, we've made tentative social connection that are organic and personally important to us---that have changed the way we perceive things, and therefore changed the way we lived. This group has also changed the level of communication that we're satisfied with., Most of us are much less willing to put up with fakers or ego trips in other groups ...nobody in our group assumes that our problems as women will all disappear once we're sensitive to each other .... We do not see our present group as the nucleus of organizers for the women's liberation movement in Boston .....

Women's Liberation Front -Los Angeles Calif.
June 1968-class in the "Experimental College" (a "free university" concept offering student-originated classes without credit) at UCLA was started on Women in American Society by Alena Jech, a Philosophy senior long bothered by the "woman's problem". Participation was from 3 to 5 women all summer.

September -The Experimental College class was continued with a new name: The Feminist Rebellion and more publicity in the college paper. Alena Jech and Ann Herschfang took charge of the seminar-type class. Attendance was between 12 and 13 women, many of whom had been with the radical political groups on campus. There was a lot of introspection, definition and identification of "the problem", leading to solidarity among the participants.

October -The result was a student organization on campus: Women's Liberation Front and its counterpart which meets outside of the University one night a week. (Total of 20 members).

November -WLF is sponsoring general meetings for coeds on campus to create awareness and incite participation The group has joined in a collective effort to gather and originate related material, to type, xerox, mimeo and otherwise print relevant papers for general distribution on campus. Plans are being made to extend the same to the community. Many projects are in the planning stage, and the group is groping for a general statement of more defined goals and purposes -there are ideological and some tactical differences among individuals and an overall anxiety about ACTION.

WLF is also sponsoring an interdisciplinary class at UCLA (to be given during the Winter Quarter), for credit, through the faculty-student Committee for the Study of Education in Society (CSES), which will focus upon the problem of sexual prejudice in all human areas and will explore alternative possibilities of new life-styles. The class will be offered to both women and men students, and will consist of lectures and discussion-type ("student interchange" sessions.

Women's Group -Durham, North Carolina
A women's group has been going since late summer '68 and is doing fairly well at trying to isolate the issues affecting women in the South. In conjunction with SSOC, they hope to have a Southern Regional conference in February --for women.

Women in Madison, Wisconsin
There isn't an on-going group here, but there are workshops and free university courses on women (last spring and this summer). many women there are aware of the problems, therefore, and interested in liberation (like us all).

W.I.T.C.H. -Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy From Hell-New York Group.
We are WITCH We are WOMAN. We are LIBERATION. WE are We. The hidden history of woman's liberation began with witches and gypsies. For they are the oldest guerrillas and resistance fighters, the first practicing abortionists and distributors of contraceptive herbs.

We are the WITCHES, ex-Tuesday night group that has been meeting regularly in New York for almost one year. Our coven consists of approximately 13 heretical women. Some of us will be making contact with you at the conference.

WITCH is a total concept, a new dimension of women.

It means breaking the bond of woman as a biologically and sexually defined creature. It implies the destruction of passivity, consumerism and commodity fetishism.

WITCH is also a strategy, a medium of subversion : witchcraft.

Who is the enemy---,

Witches must name names, or rather we must name trademarks and brand names.

Recently,we formed a Witch Guerrilla Theatre. It grew out of the realization that a small group must be skilled in the use of masks and crafts. It also evolved out of two actions already taken. On Halloween, WITCH went trick or treating on Wall Street. We hexed the Corporations, damned the banks, exorcised as well as blew some minds, advised anyone who asked us about the stock market and sang the home-made tune of Up-Against -the-Wall -Street. Since then, we freaked out at a Wellesley Alumni Fund-raising Bridge party. Our short-term purpose is to become better Witches, attack where we are least expected, to possess other women with witch fever, and to reveal that the routine of daily life is the theatre of struggle.

Women's Caucus in People Against Racism -Detroit.
We see ourselves as a Women's Liberation Caucus within PAR (Detroit Chapter) We met for the first time a group of about 15 women who recently began to become interested in questions of Women's Liberation. We hope to cooperate with but remain independent from another Women's Liberation group in Detroit. Most of us are mainly concerned with questions like---How we can more effectively play a role within the home and the movement, What is femininity, What is liberation for Women, Men, Children. We all feel certain problems, however the main impetus for getting together isn't however getting that we feel PAR to be tremendously male supremacist . I suspect we will begin to feel more oppression within PAR as we begin to talk about it. Our concern with Women's Liberation is partially a national outgrowth of our concern with "New Culture" -- white identity e.g. Men and Women in PAR began planning a nursery with PAR kids long before we began talking about Women's Liberation. Most of our organizing efforts have been with Middle class liberals and high school kids.

Washington Women's Liberation Groups

Northwest Group I
We began last year as the first group here in DC after the Jeanette Rankin Brigade. Most our our members had been and still were involved in full-time movement work. We spent most of the spring and winter working out an analysis of the specific kinds of alienation we felt in our movement and our ''straight'' jobs when we had them, and tried to understand the ways in which women's work was particularly alienating under Capitalism. We spent long hours discussing what would be meaningful work and what kind of, society would have to exist for work to be useful.

Our group grew very quickly and it soon became necessary to find ways of splitting into smaller groups so more people could talk and share experiences at each meeting. Several project groups were set up. These are now on-going groups that people from all the area groups participate in. Other groups began that meet in specific areas of the city.

We are now discussing the ways that women's roles are outlined for us by this society and how that fits into the larger economy and shapes us.

Northwest Group II
We began as an experimental group consisting just of "professional women" or women who worked in the "straight" world. We've been spending much time talking about our jobs as well as the conflicting obligations women are taught to live with -- mother, wife worker...and the psychological havoc these. contradictory roles wreck on us.

Southeast Group
We've just begun to meet and have been trying to outline the general ways each of "what women's liberation might "be" and the kinds of experiences we've felt in our lives that makes this necessary.

Project Groups

City Birth Alternatives Center
We are going to open a store front where birth counseling abortion information, birth control advise, etc.) will be talked about, where classes on the history of women will be given, where general. meetings will be held, etc. We are setting up a child care coop for women in our group to share the responsibility (along with men) of caring for kids so we can all work on this and other group projects.

Public Information Group
We have been working on an outline of a course of the history of women and have been working out "blitz" speeches to go around to give on campus" and to other groups about women's liberation.

Writing Group
We've been working on preparing a bibliography on women from references in the Library of Congress. We have, along with some women who teach at nearby colleges, amassed a 90 page bibliog. soon ready.


by Terry R. and Lucy G. (1969) A strategy paper for organizing the growing women's liberation movement. by Terry R. and Lucy G. (undated but probably 1969-1970)

(Editors Note: This essay was written as the Chicago Women's Liberation Union was being organized.)  

As the growth of the Women's Liberation movement has so far produced very little in the way of coherence strategy or organization, many radical women have come to feel a need for a way to have contact with others interested in doing similar kinds of organizing, in the context of a women's organization. Experience has shown that the pattern too often is that Women's Liberation groups become either vehicles for personal grievances or, if they are activists are dominated exclusively by the needs of middle-class women and without a political perspective. Thus many radical women (the "politicos") turn back towards male-dominated political groups, and in doing so submerge their skills and their potential to organize other women, and neglect the struggle against male supremacy.

We now have the opportunity to break this pattern. To do so we must develop a theoretical-strategic perspective that will give our organization focus, in helping us to decide who and how we want to organize, and around what issues. What we present here are neither programmatic suggestions nor a substitute for more thorough analysis, but a way of beginning to build that analysis.

The oppression of women is fundamentally tied to the same economic and social system that oppresses blacks, launches imperialist wars, and values private property above human life. -vie must deal with it not in isolation but rather as it interacts with both race and class oppression. Women are oppressed both culturally and economically and while it is false to separate the two, it is crucial to understand the ways in which each operates in different class and race groups. Women as sex objects, women as consumers, women as a cheap and exploitable and reserve labor force. Women as unpaid laborers in the home, women as transmitters,of bourgeois ideology, women as social mediators between their families and the system: the result is not a simple scaling of differences but a complex interaction between sex, race and class oppression that we are only just beginning to understand. Such an understanding would be a step towards eliminating the barriers which militate against collective action and class consciousness as well as against the liberation of women.

In this light we can begin to examine some of the dangers and pitfalls of an organization for women's liberation whose constituency and membership is based overwhelmingly in the middle class. The first problem is one many of us are already familiar with. Middle class women who become aware of their own oppression as women, still realize that they are not, in fact, the most oppressed people around, and lacking a sense of legitimacy in organizing, turn inward to focus on personal experiences. Failing to make the connections between the heavier oppression of working-class women and their own oppression with a political analysis, women sometimes simply define "women's liberation" in terms of their own needs. Their demands and the ways in which they raise issues will often not appeal to working-class women, particularly black women, who have a very different perspective.

Also, when middle-class women get turned on to women's liberation from a subjective focus, they may exaggerate the relative importance of oppression by sex. They are "revolutionary," though not necessarily socialist (since after all, they say, socialism has not yet fully liberated women). But sometimes they believe the revolution they are working towards is a female revolution and completely divorce themselves from any struggles other than women's struggles. This is really a silly idea; but the fact that anyone takes it seriously indicates the lack of hard thinking in our movement.

These pitfalls are made more serious by the existence of a huge constituency of women that is now just waiting to be organized: the professional women who are increasingly enraged at being fucked over in their jobs, and the increasing number of college-trained young women who are finding they were educated in high style to be full-time wives and mothers. In professional organizations and universities, women's caucuses are being formed. Groups like NOW that include quite militant women are growing and will continue to grow. To many (not all) of these people, "women's Lib" means little more than tenure for women professors, more women in certain high-level positions, etc. (Female capitalism?) These groups are not to be condemned, but we must see their shortcomings and construct radical alternatives.

A movement that does not have a broad base among working-class women, both black and white, must constantly beware becoming a special-interest group for relatively privileged women.

Okay. Okay, one might respond, but we are really a bunch of serious radical women who want to organize broad constituencies and who relate to anti-imperialist struggles# anti-racism struggles, etc. Shouldn't we go ahead and get ourselves together? The obvious answer is yes we should. And in light of the above-mentioned problems, the following solutions are offered:

  1. Where possible we should work extra hard to broaden the base of over movement by talking to working-class black and white women; in addition, we must 'find a all -possible ways of trying to understand the oppression of black and brown-women, and show in practice that "women's liberation" is not a white thing, but a revolutionary thing.
  2. When organizing in a student or middle-class constituency, to concentrate on demands that both speak to those women and to their sisters in the working-class (free day-care, free abortions, equal wage scales) rather than those that,will simply sharpen the class differences between women (tenure for female faculty, groovy day-care centers for affluent communities).
  3. Our attitude about what liberation means, and what women need, should be put forth tentatively, with the understanding that these ideas will change as our movement grows and learns.
  4. We must constantly struggle against the artificial separation of "women's issues" from the entire struggle for a new society. This does not mean subordinating women's liberation to a bunch of other issues. It does mean understanding the ways oppression of women and other forms of oppression are mutually reinforcing, building a clear and political analysis, and forming demands that bring these connections home to people. Women are people;we deserve better than to have to choose between women's liberation and ending the Vietnam war; between women's liberation and socialist revolution.

Our growing understanding of women's oppression can help us in raising all the basic issues to women. And our experiences can help us in building a clearer analysis and strategy; we badly need both theory and practice, and ,the one will help us in the other.

Proposed Statement of Political Principles

(1969) A proposed statement of unity circulated while the Chicago Women's Liberation Union was first being organized. (1969)

(Editors Note:This proposed statement of political principles with accompanying preamble was circulated as the CWLU was first being organized.)

I. [As radical women] we demand the right of all women to control all aspects of their lives.

  1. Women must have control over their own bodies, and therefore over childbearing and medical care and research affecting them.
  2. Women must no longer bear the major burden of child-rearing and domestic tasks. These should be clearly the public responsibility of the total community.
  3. Women must have full participation in the control of an educational system that will guarantee the realization of their fullest human potentials.
  4. Women must have full access to all meaningful and satisfying work and, like all workers, must control the profits and administration of their own labor.

II. Our commitment to self-determination and people's control demands that we work towards a society in which priorities are determined by genuine human needs as defined by the people themselves. We will therefore work to end capitalism and all forms of exploitation and corruption growing out of the capitalist system; we will struggle for the establishment of a socialist society.

  1. We support the struggles for self-determination of all sectors of the population.
  2. We demand workers' control of the means of production.
  3. We demand people's control of the institutions which serve them.
  4. We demand the establishment of a scientific and technological system which uses the resources of nature to the greatest benefit of humankind while at the same time reestablishing and maintaining the balance of nature.
  5. We are committed to building a movement that embodies within it the humane values of the non-exploitative and non-manipulative society for which we are fighting.

III. As radical women we demand an end to all forms of oppression in American society.

  1. We will work to eliminate all forms of class oppression.
  2. We are committed to ending all forms of caste oppression, in particular to the desperate struggles of the black a brown communities for self determination and we will work to end white racism.

IV. As radical women we unequivocally condemn and will organize against all forms of imperialism; we will devote special effort to the destruction of American imperialism and its oppression of peoples abroad.

  1. As women fighting for self-determination, we will do all in our power to support the struggles of women throughout the world for freedom and self-determination. We support liberation struggles of people throughout the world for control over the destinies of their own countries.
  2. We violently condemn the role of American imperialism in all third world countries and in particular in Vietnam. We support and salute the struggles for independence and freedom of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front and of the Vietnamese Women's Liberation Union.

To these ends we join together to form the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.

Proposed Preamble TO The Statement Of Political Principles

The oppression of "women is the oldest and most widespread form of caste oppression." By caste oppression, we mean a social system which divides the population into groups on the basis of characteristics over which the individual has no control -- e.g. sex, race, age, intelligence -and then distributes power and privilege among those groups; further, a caste system delimits the behavior of all castes, and, through an ideology justifying those delimitations, teaches the members of the lower castes to acquiesce to the authority of the upper castes. Women are played off against each other by divisive factors such as ago, race, class, marital status "intelligence" and "beauty." We are unified however by the common victimization of sex oppression.

America is a class society. One of the major functions of caste and other structured inequalities of power is to support the domination of the corporate elite over the majority of the people.
As radical women we demand the identification and elimination of all forms of oppression -- class, caste, and colonial -- and to the formation of a socialist society in which all individuals have equal access to the material and experiential wealth of their world.

The CWLU Fact-Finding Trip

by Estelle Carol and Mary M. (1972) A report of a cross country trip taken by CWLU members to discover the state of the women's liberation movement in America. by Estelle Carol and Mary M.

(Editor's note: This article is a 1972 CWLU conference account of the fact- finding trip taken by Estelle Carol, Tibby L. and Mary M. Traveling across the country in Estelle's orange VW bug, they met with many women activists. It is a snapshot of the women's liberation movement of the time.)

The idea of this trip began when Tibby and Estelle from Graphics Collective decided to travel the country with their posters. Then a few women in the Union realized that this was a good opportunity to really see what the women's' movement was doing nationally and to share our experiences of the Chicago movement. So, Mary came along for the East Coast trip to New York, New Haven, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. Then Tibby and Estelle continued on the West Coast trip to Eugene and Portland, Oregon, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Albuquerque, plus a short stop in Champaign, Ill. We brought with us the paper on the Union, papers on workgroups, and Womankind, as well the Socialist Feminism paper for those women who were interested in action and the paper's politics.

The trip was mind blowing. It was incredible meeting all these women committed to getting personhood back for themselves and their sisters. Just like us in Chicago, they have been working in isolation. So, when things got rough they couldn't even cheer up on the successes of their sisters a 100 miles away. Despite the lack of communication among cities we discovered a pattern. There were tremendous similarities in the way groups functioned, in the questions women asked, in the method of getting women interested, in the political ideas, and especially in the kinds of projects. For example, most of the cities had a women's center which had information on different groups, which was run by a staff of volunteers, and which often was struggling to survive. Many cities had a liberation school and most had a health service project. We discovered that both our news from Chicago and the cities already visited was enthusiastically received.

There were lots of differences between cities, too, of course. Sometimes a common problem like conflict between gay and straight women was getting totally out of hand, like in N.Y., but at other times had been worked through, like in New Haven and Seattle. Yet the thing that really hit me and scared me too was the general frustration and unsure-ness that touched everybody. So often we found ourselves in conversation about things like: Where do we go from here; More groups are disappearing than forming lately; Women aren't coming to our center as much as they used to; Women just aren't committed enough.

It didn't take us long to stop taking CWLU for granted. No where else did we find a citywide women's liberation organization which provided city-wide communication and resource sharing. No where else did we find a unity (amorphous as it is at times) among such different kinds of groups with such different priorities and political ideas. We just couldn't take for granted anymore our office with its reliable staff who keep reliable hours. And no more passing lightly over steering committee which doesn't always work to everybody's satisfaction, but still is a good system for democratic decision making based on representation by groups. The organization closest to ours was in the process of being formed in Washington D.C. There were lots of independent groups wherever we went, rap groups, work projects like abortion referral), common interest groups (like film or theater groups), skills classes (like karate), and women's centers. Some were solid and growing like the Liberation School in Boston. Some just managed to survive like the women's center in Baltimore.

From what we saw it seems that only in Chicago so far, is there centralized organization made up of autonomous groups who more or less do what each pleases, but who work together when they want to or need to. The groups and individuals who have chosen to be members of CWLU have put their common goals and common work first, their political, personality, and work priorities second. Maybe its because we put our work first that we are able to put aside our other differences.

Before the trip I used to worry about the problems and mistakes -- like not having ways for more women to work with us, I worried alot about the bad feelings between Lesbian Liberation and the Union. But now I worry about the Union in perspective, because not only does the women's movement in other places have a worse time with these two issues, but usually they have neither the communication, the resource sharing, the unity, the democratic decision making, nor the office with reliable paid staff. In Seattle there was communication, a hardworking paid staff of four, and a beautiful big office. But policy was made by the staff and the board of the YWCA (the University Y served a the women's center). On the other extreme. NYC and Boston had none of these structures for a city-wide movement. Our organization was strong and growing -- women wanted to know how.

We gathered so much information on these l4 cities, including their history, present situation, and future plans, that I can only give a short run down on four of them. Then for the sake of the questions facing this conference, I'll use examples from all the cities in a discussion of three major issues: organization, program, and political ideas. For the short run downs I'll do two east Coast and two West Coast cities - N.Y.C, because it was one of the worst experiences, Boston because it has some great workgroups, Los Angeles because it is both typical and has some unusual problems, and Seattle because it was one of our best experiences.


In Boston we found five projects. Three were healthy and doing exciting work: the Liberation School, the Day Care Coalition, Female Liberation, and the Somerville Women's Health Clinic. The fourth, the Women's Center in Cambridge was having heavy financial problems.

The Liberation School was into its second term this summer. Last Spring they had 350 women and this summer 250. It's a workgroup of about 15 women, some of whom were in Bread and Roses before it folded. They got the idea of a liberation school from some Chicago women. Although they hold their classes in the Women's Center there is bad feeling between the two groups. The school women think it was a bad idea to put so much money and energy into this huge house which the Center group bought. The School women feel even stronger about this now that the house has been repeatedly vandalized. A fire and no money for repairs means there's has been no electricity for months. No one lives in the house and not much was happening there except liberation school classes. Unfortunately we don't have the story from the Center side because the staff woman for the Center was not there the afternoon we expected to meet her.

The Day Care Coalition is a workgroup of 15-20 women (and a few men too) who are trying to force the city of Cambridge to implement a referendum that voted in favor of child care. The city doesn't want it to be community controlled. They have many supporters who come to their forums and actions. In fact our Action Committee for Decent Childcare was very similar to them except that ACDC had many neighborhood chapters and they have one big work group. They seemed determined and enthusiastic.

The third group, Female Liberation, puts out a magazine called Second Wave that has many well thought out articles on important issues. They had worked hard on the child care referendum and were thinking of working on the implementation struggle with the Day Care Coalition. They are 20-30 women who are action oriented, but who have set up some rap groups as well. They have an office with lots of literature and a staff person.

The Somerville Women's Health Clinic was the best equipped, best staff staffed, best organized, and not surprisingly, the best funded of the women's clinics on the East Coast. They were interested in direct action against Somerville Hospital, a private hospital and the only one in the community. The Clinic limits its service to residents of Somerville, a working class suburb of Boston.


Our first problem in N.Y.C. was that we couldn't find the women's movement. Their one information clearing house, the Women's Center in Manhattan, had just moved, was disorganized and had few contacts for us. The staffer we met there felt that the N.Y. women's movement was very fragmented and suffered from splits within groups and isolation between groups and projects. She felt that the Center's isolation was caused by tension between gay women and straight women. Even though the Center's minority of straight women worked well with their gay sisters, there was a problem with Center women not being interested enough, or not being able to relate to new women with lower consciousness then their own. She said there was also a strong resistance to defining responsibility or devising organizational structure by a majority of Center women, which resulted in decisions falling on a small group, and work not getting done. After a few days we tracked down some women active in Radical Feminists, the two and a half year old organization which has set up 100-150 rap groups throughout the city. It too doesn't define responsibility. Decisions are made by those who show up at the coordinating committee. They sponsor large monthly meetings on specific topics, like sexuality. Recent developments include a follow-up committee to the rap groups, and a few issue committees like one on abortion.

In the Radical Feminists there has been a lot of anti-money, anti- structure sentiment to the point where they cannot get women to pay $3 for their organizational newsletter. A few women find this a handicap and were excited about how the Union operates -- that we have an office, paid staff, collect dues, and have both an organizational newsletter and an outreach newspaper. Some Radical Feminists were concerned that the Union had a left, that is anti-capitalist, orientation. They believe that sexism is the issue not capitalism. Some women there also felt that they shouldn't work around traditional women's issues, like child care, because women have done that too long.

They also discussed the issue of the fragmentation of the N.Y. movement. One woman felt that one reason for the splits was that there are a lot of strong women who think of themselves as theoreticians and leaders, who disagree with each other and leave if things don't go their way. The media aggravates this by encouraging the star system, that is only covering things where name women appear. Many R.F. women feel very handicapped by the enormous influence of the media in N.Y., including their own emphasis on media.

We weren't able to talk to many other groups because of the great difficulty in locating them. We did talk to women from Up From Under magazine over the phone. They are a group of left oriented women who find it impossible to relate to the rest of the N.Y. women's movement and decided for that reason to have nothing to do with it in order to better put out their magazine.


L.A. has two centers which are home base for service and education projects. The Women's Self-Help Clinic is the largest project and has done more to bring women to the Center than any other. We arrived a few days after the Self-Help Clinic was busted. They are a year old and are the same group that traveled around the country starting self-help groups by giving public presentations of do-it-yourself pelvic exams. They get enough money from their abortion referrals (all done in hospitals) to pay for a big house and eight staff. They were busted for doing menstrual extraction. The L.A. Center started 2 1/2 years ago as a coordination center for women's groups, using $1500 given by UCLA women students. An intergroup council met monthly, but gradually became meaningless and died since the staff really made all decisions. Besides, in many cases the staff and the representatives were the same people. The Center projects like legal referral and liberation school, are handled by one woman alone. When she is drained out, no one will takeover and the projects die. The newsletter, on the other hand has six people and is one of the stronger projects. There is a Radical Psychiatry group and a lesbian feminist group, a media group, and a guerrilla theater group that was starting. Staff meetings are open, any volunteer staff who comes can help make decisions for the Center. Politically left women don t work with them according to Center women because the Center is too middle class, and because there was once a fight between the left-women and the non- left women. Six months ago a second center opened in a western community L.A., which holds classes, does referrals, forms rap groups, and shares a page in the older centers newsletter. It has a good size volunteer staff, does its own fund raising, and rents a house.


Seattle was a pleasant surprise. We found at the same time an unusual movement and one very similar to our Union. The women's center is a YWCA that is independent from the typical community Ys that we familiar with. Yet they they are funded like other Ys, so have a huge office and four paid staff. They are very committed to the independent women's movement and encourage women to start projects using the Ys space, phone, and resources. Y projects include a liberation school abortion referral, divorce counseling, rape counseling and a gay resources center. Two other projects began at the Y, a women's car repair collective and a women's newspaper called Pandora. Both left the Y when they felt strong enough to be independent. The staff and the Y board make policy decisions. There is so much happening at the center that the staff are under heavy work pressure The four of them work collectively.

There is a women's health clinic named Aradia affiliated with the Y and funded separately by HEW. The clinic shares resources with the free clinics. The gay women's group which is about a year old is on great terms with the Y and the staff. (which is gay and straight). There is a a women's bookstore that manages to support itself and is run by a collective. The women's movement on the University of Washington campus has an office and paid staff funded by the university which has done research on student and faculty women. Lastly a coalition is forming of all women's groups in the city to pressure the city government to decide in favor of women's issues.


We tried to get a sense of citywide organization: from the women we met, but don't know what we missed. We had little contact with women working on women's issues who considered themselves outside the women's movement. One key to the puzzle was finding out how much communication and sharing went on among groups. In Eugene and Portland, Oregon, the women's movement was so small (the cities are small) that the whole movement was basically a community of friends. In Eugene the groups were in touch because many of the same women belong to the same few groups. Both L.A. and N.Y.C. had problems with city wide communication because of their size, that was not counteracted by some conscious effort at coordination. N.Y. couldn't bridge the gap due to divisiveness, and L.A. couldn't due to transportation problems in sprawled out L.A. coupled with a lack of neighborhood spirit. The second center in L.A. tried to deal with this transportation problem. In Berkeley on the other hand, it was much easier to find out what was happening and where, not because there was a center or organization pulling everyone together, but because things were close together and people just knew what was happening. A few strong projects like the Women's Crisis Center, A Woman's Place Bookstore, the Women's Health Collective, the Radical Psychiatry Center were communicating informally. In San Francisco across the Bay there was a women's switchboard that had extensive files, and a woman on duty answering the constantly ringing phone.

Another factor we tried to look for was how much groups work together, shared resources and identified with the importance of each others work. Take a project like Liberation School, which in Chicago is one of the important ways women get involved in the Union. It is often the first contact from which women can join other CWLU groups. In Boston and Berkeley, the liberation schools are independent and did not seem to plan their classes in relation to other women's groups in the city. The liberation schools in L.A. and New Haven (only has an introductory and an advanced course) were projects of the women's centers there, like in Chicago.

Decision making was another organizational issue we asked about, usually when it was a case of a center or a group functioning as the base of activity for other groups and service projects. The New Haven Center had a steering committee like ours. Even though ten groups were members of the N.Y, Center responsibility fell on the few individuals committed to the survival of the Center. Washington was in the process of creating its Center, which would be run by a steering committee of member groups. Chicago was one of their models. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and L.A. the volunteer staff made decisions.

Integrating new women is an organizational problem that the Union has never figured out, and it is facing us again at this conference. In Baltimore, where the women's center is very small and not much is going on, the center sponsored a women's assembly earlier this year which a lot of people worked hard on. It was great. A lot of women attended, but it didn’t lead anywhere. The Center women didn't know how to involve the women they had attracted to the assembly in an ongoing way. The bigger problem was a lack of things for these women to do.

Money is the last thing I want to talk about under organization. It's not accidental that the two most together women's centers were in the best financial position. Seattle has money because the Center is funded by the YWCA. Washington Center women are probably getting the grant which they had applied for while we were there. They were also seriously pursuing the possibility of a benefit concert by a female singer like Baez or Collins. One drawback with the grant money is that runs out, which happened to Women In Transition, in Philadelphia, a counseling center for women separating from their husbands. It was the most active project in Philadelphia last year and paid most of the rent for the Centers house, as well as paying four full time and some part time staff.


CWLU's approach to program has been guided by the idea that it is important to do service, education, and action simultaneously. In the other cities we found that service projects predominated. Education was next common, and action was the least.

There was a lot of counseling and referral. Almost every city had an abortion referral group or a women's health collective. The only exception was Baltimore where these services were done by the large free clinic in the same building as the women's center. The Philadelphia health group was not functioning while we were there. The only women's clinics with independent facilities were the ones with money -- Boston, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Other health collectives used space at a nearby free clinic, as in Washington and Eugene. The Berkeley women's health collective had its own storefront but used a Berkeley free clinic for the actual exams once a week. The Washington health collective wants to set up in their new Women's Center, and have used free clinic space up til now.

Psychological counseling was very common too. Berkeley's project is part of a men's and women's anti-professional counseling center called Radical Psychiatry. The Washington Center's Feminist Counseling Project included individual and group counseling done all by non-professionals. New Havens therapy project refers women to trained therapists which they have previously screened. The rape counseling groups in Washington and Seattle are relatively new and really exciting. Washington's is a 24 hour hot line which has white and third world women on its staff.

Divorce and separation counseling sometimes was legal counseling, as it is here in Chicago. Other times it is psychological counseling and aid, as in the Women in Transition project in Philadelphia.

Day care co-ops were a common alternative institution-service project.

Educational program included rap groups, newspapers, film and theater groups, press and graphics collectives and liberation schools. Rap groups seem to continue to be the main way that women get involved in women's liberation, though women are becoming more disillusioned with what rap groups can accomplish. They are of short duration and in cities where there is little program women do not move on to anything else. There is a feminist press of some kind in every city. If nothing else there is a center newsletter as in Philadelphia. The Radical Lesbians in Philadelphia have their own newsletter because they are one of the most active groups there. In Washington there was no center paper but two independent papers: Off Our Backs, which is nationally oriented and feels little commitment to the local movement, and the Furies, which is a well known lesbian vanguard paper. In Baltimore, the strongest women's liberation project is the nationally focused, left-oriented Women:Journal of Liberation.
Not including legislative actions done by N.O.W, or actions on women's issues done by women who don't think of themselves in the women's liberation movement (who we unfortunately had little contact with), most action projects were around day care and health. There is significant direct action against city government in Berkeley and Seattle which we will have to find out more about. Besides the Day Care Coalition in Boston, the day care group in L.A. includes action in its future plans. A New Haven group was doing a class action suit against the Connecticut anti- abortion laws. The Somerville Women's Health Clinic is an important example of an action -service education project. It started out as a service-alternative institution, added classes on women's health, and is now planning to build community support in order to make demands on Somerville Hospital.


We do not think that it is an accident that our Union is multifaceted, unified, larger than most women's movements, and growing. We think there are political ideas underlying the creation of the Union three years ago and others we have learned from experience since then, which are responsible for our success. One of the most important ideas that has been around from the first is that we are flexible and tolerant toward each others political ideas and projects. A lot of this comes from a belief among many Union women that political analysis largely follows from experience. In other words, if we think we have a good idea it is far better to do than discuss and rediscuss it hoping to find an ideal strategy for the women's movement. The NYC's women's movement suffers badly from intolerance. It desperately needs some cohesion to its frustrated fragmented parts which will never happen until the groups with opposing theories sad strategies unite on the basis of program. Many Radical Feminists do not want to fight for traditionally female concerns, like child care, and most of them do not consider themselves part of the left. Yet probably the Radical. Feminists could use the connection with child care groups or action projects run by left women, now that they are feeling the need to go beyond their consciousness raising groups. Probably service and action groups would benefit from the ability of the R.F. to reach large numbers of women via their city-wide consciousness raising groups.

Another political difference between CWLU and other women's movements that appeared over and over again is that from the beginning in the Union women with left politics (anti-capitalist) have worked with women who are feminist but not left. In Los Angeles, Baltimore,Washington, and New York, left and non-left women avoid each other. The non-left women resent being pushed to become involved in opposing imperialism and capitalism, which to them would be wasting their time on building a different movement. They feel that only women's issues will build a women's movement. The left women are patronizing to the non-left women who do not agree with or understand that capitalism and imperialism are major reasons for the oppression of women. We were surprised to find that the staff of the Baltimore Journal (who are Marxists) have hardly anything to do with the Baltimore Women's Center, even though both offices are in the same building. The left women often know how to organize, plan actions; and build ongoing movements because they have done it before. The non-left women are deeply concerned with meeting women's needs and making personal into political. They also communicate much better to apolitical women, which is after all,is most women.

Finally, we found a lot of resentment against structuring an organization, against recognizing women with leadership and other skills, and against the idea that money is important for building organization. This was most true in NYC and in the Northwest (except Seattle). We went to a conference in the Northwest which had been planned beforehand by a handful of women. Even though to us it seemed to have a loose planning many women complained that still it was too structured. These women felt that there was a clamp on their freedom, a limit on their growth. The existing social structures in our society are clamps and limits, not because is the nature of the structure, but because those who hold power have created these structures to keep us cramped, ignorant and uncreative. Many women in the Union believe that for women to feel comfortable, to participate, to learn skills, to gain confidence, there must be a conscious plan to make sure that these things happen. Sometimes women who oppose structure in theory still like our Liberation School classes because they move smoothly and spontaneously (of course they don't always), without realizing the hard work and planning that made this possible.

We found that the problem many women have with leadership works the same way. These women feel that it is wrong for some women to have more knowledge, more experience,or more skills at running meetings, planning actions, writing down their ideas, speaking to large groups or talking to women about our movement. We feel, that women with these skills must be recognized so they teach them to other women. In Philadelphia many women in the Radical Lesbians were against leadership because they had a bad experience with a woman who wanted to control things and would not share her skills. But after the group forced her to stop this power trip, many of the members chose to deny leadership altogether which only leaves a leaderless vacuum for some other person, not chosen by the group to slip into.


It was clear to us from the cities that we visited that it is not possible to build a women's movement without organization. But we should remember if we do national outreach that the specific form of that organization depends on the size of the city, the size and composition of the women's movement, the number and kind of groups in a city,the way other groups that relate to the organization, the needs of women in that city, and the political awareness in and outside. These same criteria should be a lesson for us in Chicago.

Our own structure should change as our needs and our situation changes The structure proposals at the conference are responses to new needs.

It seems to us that lack of program, that is, a lack of a variety of things for women to do on many levels of responsibility and commitment, is holding back the growth of the women's movement nationally. Women get their consciousness raised and then don't have a way to act upon their new ideas. Although lack of program is a problem for us too, we are in a much better position to deal with it. Our three year old organization and the programs we do have have given many Union women skills, confidence, and invaluable experience. We can afford to adopt a position like the Socialist Feminism paper because it provides a direction for much needed program here as well as other cities. To really understand the possibilities of this strategy many women's groups should use it. The Union should continue to try out out ideas, and learn experience rather than deciding that any political theory or strategy either correct or incorrect. Many cities have begun to look to Chicago as a model because we are ahead. Many of our political ideas work. We should write these up just as the Socialist Feminism paper was written, so that women's groups can benefit from them.

Confusion over the role of leadership is another issue that is holding back the women's movement nationally Although we have dealt it better than other places in our practice, we have not yet clearly defined what a responsible leadership for the CWLU would mean. This Steering Committee Proposal is an attempt to do this.

Our trip taught us the importance of gay and straight women working together in the women's In many cities, gay and straight women have not been able to work with each other. Sometimes the gay women predominate and set the tone. Other times it is the straight women. In most cities, the woman whose sexual preference is the minority will feel uncomfortable and leave the movement. Instead of sharing, learning together, and helping each other get the most out of the women's movement, the gay:; and straight women use their energy to argue and resent each other. Straight Union women still have to learn how to make gay women feel comfortable. Only then will large numbers of gay women will work with our present Union groups or form their own chapters and workgroups to deal specifically with the needs of gay women.

The last issue has hardly been mentioned so far, yet should not be ignored. Some women asked us how the Union related to black and third world women. This has been a problem for the women's movement nationally, which has up til now been predominantly white middle class. Since the Union has resolved many of the unresolved questions in other cities, we have a responsibility to take into account black and third world women in relation to programs being developed.

We were both were personally changed by this trip. The information alone has made us far more aware of where the women's movement came from and where we should go. The warmth, trust, and enthusiasm we received from women we met more than made up for the exhausting car trips from city to city, and the long hours of explaining the Union over and over again. Women went out of their way to make sure we had a comfortable place to sleep and something to eat. They set up meetings for us at extremely short notice and helped find us contacts. This trip has shown to us the deeply felt sisterhood among women in the women's movement nationally, and convinced us that the Union should start playing a national role.

November, 1972

A Proposal for Community Work

by Vivian Rothstein and Mary M. (circa 1971-1972) A proposal to focus on neighborhood organizing to bring the CWLU closer to Chicagoland's working class women. by Mary M. and Vivian Rothstein (circa 1971-1972)

(Editors Note:This document advocated a community based approach to the CWLU's work to help make the organization more relevant to Chicagoland's workingclass women.)

“This movement might best preserve its revolutionary promise by broadening its base and truly serving women wherever their oppression is most acute."- Edith Hoshino Altabach, From Feminist to Liberation

There is growing concern within CWLU with the need for us to bring to development womens liberation programs and actions which deal with the day-to-day oppression that ordinary women feel (i.e. on their jobs, in needs for childcare, in medical care, in relationship to the husbands and families, etc.). Our organization is together enough and we have had enough collective experience to realize that if we do not begin to deal with the real needs of all women, our movement will be at best a bohemian subculture and at worst irrelevant to all but a handful of women.
Despite the growing concern of us all for outreach, we have found it difficult to concretely propose and experiment with new ideas for program. This proposal is an attempt to begin an experiment with community based program which we feel will begin to accomplish many of the political objectives that are all hoping for -- reaching out around the city, initiating struggles on a community level around the basic needs of women, involving a growing number of women in day-to-day moment work.

Why Community Work?

The lives of most women are centered primarily around the community they live in. That’s where they do their shopping, take their children for recreation, go to church, send their children to school, get their medical care, and often make their money if they have jobs, If we are interested in reaching less privileged women (and by that we mean not only less privileged economically, but also less mobile, less literate, less independent of their husbands, more tied down to their children, less confident of themselves, we must offer service and programs within the communities that women relate to. 

Proposal for Community Work

We propose that the CWLU initiate the formation of four community “outposts”, or centers, of the Union in communities around the city. (Two are already at some stage of development -- the Rogers Park Center and the beginnings of an Edgewater project. Also the Hyde Park Center has opened again recently.) We propose that with the immediate purpose of building up a base and contacts in the neighborhood (using Liberation School and Womankind contacts), and aim towards the opening of outposts which would be financed 50% by the Union and 50% through community support. The centers would be outposts for ongoing and developing program and would as well initiate their own community-oriented program.
We conceive of the outposts having both service and struggle programs. Example of possible program could include:


  • Legal counseling (on divorce, defense of illegal day care centers, discrimination against gay women,welfare cases, etc.)
  • liberation school classes
  • children's clothing exchange
  • pregnancy testing
  • birth control information
  • breakfast program for children
  • educational forums
  • medical referral, abortion counseling
  • food pantry
  • offering meeting space for womens groups in the community ( e.g. general rap groups)

Direct Action

  • defense of illegal day care
  • creation of “tot-lots”
  • action against discrimination in housing, jobs,welfare cases
  • against sexism in local public schools (e.g. sending observers to classes, review textbooks)
  • “women’s brigades”- a group of women to come to defense of women in the community against landlords, husbands, local merchants, hospitals, etc.

The outposts could fit into Union structure by being initiated and run by a union work group of CWLU members. But the outposts would offer program to community women who would not necessarily join the organization. The outposts could help develop local bases for Union program such as ACDC and the new health program, as well as anything which would develop in the future (e.g. work around gay women’s oppression, welfare program, educational work, etc.)

We feel that only through the initiation of local community program can we really involve the several hundred women who have contacted us and who are interested in becoming active in the womens movement, but for who we have very little concrete program to get involved in,
We would hope that communication between the developing outposts would be a regular thing, not only through the steering committee, but also directly to give each other ideas and support.

Liberation School

(authors unknown 1972) An assessment of the CWLU's successful Liberation School, one of the nation's first Women's Studies programs. author(s) unknown

(Editors Note: This article, reproduced from a 1972 Women: A Journal of Liberation, was an assessment of Liberation School one year after its highly successful beginning.)

  "What we don't know we must learn; what we do know, we should teach each other."

Women in Chicago are learning to tell a distributor from a carburetor, the clitoris from the vulva, good healthy food for survival from the plastic, often poisonous variety being sold of the shelves in supermarkets. Women are learning - or relearning - the theories of Marxism from a feminist perspective, how to get a divorce without a lawyer, how we can move with freedom and joy - together. And we're learning why we never learned any or all of these things in the course of our lives.

These revelations are all part of the Liberation School for Women, a project of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. In writing about the Liberation School we want to convey our enthusiasm, our optimism, the growth and sharing we've experienced. The positive vibes are hard to describe, but they're very much present: the strength and solidarity that comes from a group a of women learning about their bodies - gaining knowledge that up to now we've been systematically denied; learning to accept - and even to like ourselves even if we don't fit into the Miss America mold. We've struggled together under the hood of a car against the female inferiority complex in the presence of things mechanical. We've studied the American family as and institution and women within it, trying to use our own living situation as basic data. And we've turned many women on to our movement, because for the first time they feel that our movement includes them, has something to offer them, and perhaps they have something to offer us.

Planning for the School began in the fall of 1970 when a group of women from CWLU wanted to develop a program to respond to some of the needs of the women's movement in Chicago. The first need was to bring more women in contact with the ideas of women's liberation through a source other than the established media, giving these newly interested women an overview of the movement and their own possible role within it. The second was the need for political education for the members of the Union and women in the women's movement in general: we saw the School as a place to develop our analysis and strategy as well as do research. Thirdly, the School was intended to provide a place to learn skills, both of which are necessary for survival but have been considered out of the sphere of the "women's role" and/or those of which are essential to build our movement.

The response has been fantastic. Since the first six-week session began in February, 1971, we have grown steadily through three sessions, both in terms of the number of classes offered and the total number of women involved: we began with eight classes in which 120 women were enrolled, this term we have 20 classes and 220 women enrolled. The growth has been organic - new classes have evolved from earlier ones; for example a class on Free Children led to a class on Education, and one on Women and their Bodies led to a class in Nutrition. And in the classes that are repeated each session, such as Introductory Readings, The Family, and Women and their Bodies, we have tried to build on our experiences to improve and sometimes experiment. An Introductory Reading class offered in the fourth session centered around the four areas of women's oppression as enumerated by Juliet Mitchell in her pamphlet: "Women: The Longest Revolution" : production, reproduction, sexuality, and socialization of children. This focus lent structure to the course without detracting from its rap-group nature.

Specifically, in the three areas mentioned earlier, how well have we succeeded? The School has introduced many women to the Women's Liberation Movement. Taking one or two classes one night a week for six weeks is a good way to see an overview of the ideas and projects of the movement while not involving a high degree of commitment. Classes offered as introductory courses have included Women and Their Bodies, The Family, Introductory Readings,and women's liberation for specific groups such as older women, high school women, and a course for men, convened by men.

The women who have taken the introductory classes have been largely white, young and middle-class, many of them mothers with children. They have been helped to come to the School through a policy of co-operative childcare run by the workgroup. At first we began by trying to pay for sitters collectively; now we have a system where by everyone taking a class is asked to volunteer to sit the evenings she is free. Women who need sitters are given the master list and can call anyone up to three times.

We have not been able to find such an easy way, however, to help and encourage women who are not "school oriented" and/or those for whom study or school is a luxury they cannot afford. Many of the women who feel excluded from the women's movement as a whole, such as poor and working class women, have so far not been reached by the School. We are trying to deal with this problem by offering neighborhood extension courses outside the central location of the School, which is at a church in a largely young, white, middle-class, student or ex-student section of the city. We have already offered most of the introductory courses as extension classes in various communities, and we are planning to expand the idea as an organizing tool around job oppression, probably beginning with a course for secretaries in the "Loop" or business district of the city.

Similarly, the School has offered a place to do serious study on questions relevant to the women's movement. It shows a new, woman-controlled approach to women's studies which we hope will provide a model for other institutions. Women have been able to work with other women and learn from other women in such courses as Psychology of Women, Fiction By and About Women, Racism and Women's Politics, "Women's Liberation is a Lesbian Plot" Marxism as a Way of Thinking, College Organizing, and Organizing for Direct Action. A six-week session, however, has sometimes seemed to short for an in-depth study, and classes structured for six weeks find it hard to keep going for a longer period. In the next term we are going to experiment with an eight-week format. Another problem has been that not all students are serious--they seem unwilling to put in the time and reading necessary to make a class really worthwhile. This may be an attitude retained from student days in straight schools when the object of the class was to often to do as little as possible while still making the grades. We see it too as reflecting the way in which we have been taught not to take ourselves or our activities seriously.

As far as the third need is concerned, the School has provided a place to learn skills. Some of the classes in this category, which also function as introductory classes, have been auto-repair, fix-it, silk screening, photography,and prepared childbirth. The main criticism here has been that many such classes have concentrated on teaching the skill to the exclusion of any personal exchange among the students. Also, there has been the danger that in skills classes the political rationale behind the classes and behind the School as a whole have not been discussed. Some of us feel that women teaching and learning auto mechanics, for example, carries in itself a very clear implication about the reason for offering the course in the Liberation School; others feel that such a rationale should be more explicit.

In the months since the first session started, we have worked through several problems in different areas of the school. In keeping with the organic nature we feel the School should maintain, we have decided that only when two women want to work together to convene a new course should it be offered; that is, we should not formulate a course that we would like to see the school offer, and then look for two women to convene it. In the past, courses put together like that have tended to be disorganized and less valuable to the women involved. There are certain courses, however, such as Women and Their Bodies, that we want offered every term, and if necessary we do solicit for conveners for them. We have decided that two conveners are important so that they can share work and responsibility for the class. More than one convener makes the class less teacher-pupil oriented.

Another thing we have learned is the more we can connect the work of the School with other organizing projects the more valuable it becomes. This is shown in a minor way in the participation and enthusiasm of the work group, the fifteen women who are responsible for running the School. We have recently divided the group into committees which are responsible to the School for the needs and resources in their particular area. The five committees are: health care, political analysis and strategy, skills, extension courses, and women's studies. People have joined committees according to their organizing interests and are now able to see their work much more as an integrated whole.

More broadly, we see part of the School's importance in the fact that it is attached to an on-going organization, which can use our resources for study and reaching new women and bringing them into organizational programs. The interrelationships between the School and the Union could be seen perhaps in projection for the future which could possibly be one that made as a condition of membership in the CWLU that members take at least one class a year in the School. This would insure that membership was dealing with political questions, reading, and being serious about its commitment. In addition, the School can be used for cadre training for perhaps a particular program of the organization. Last summer, for example, we had a course on organizing which dealt, with questions such as how to organize and what it means to organize rap groups and other programs. Another idea might be to have a course on daycare which would feed directly into and serve the growing daycare work of the Union. The School is not merely an isolated counter-institution, but one that is directly involved in meeting the needs of a growing organization.

Two practical aspects of the School that have evolved through our experiences are the Orientation and Evaluation. The first takes place at the beginning of each session. It is intended to give prospective students an overview of all the courses offered, the better to decide what she wants to take, and to give everyone a feeling for the school as a whole and as part of the women's movement. The Evaluation is held about midway through the session to give women a chance to talk about their dissatisfactions while there is still time to act on them before the session ends. During an Evaluation it was found that students felt that in one class there was too much structure, and in another too little. By having students and and conveners talk frankly about their expectations for a class, adjustments can usually be made. Of course this is the time for positive feedback, and if the Evaluation for the fourth session is a true indication, the School has a fantastic success. We as women are challenging each other to fulfill our human potential, and supporting each other to make it happen. We are building self-confidence in ourselves as individuals and the legitimacy of the School as an expression of our needs and desires within the women's movement.

We hope to see participation in the School become a springboard for students to a deeper commitment for social change, a deeper commitment to the movement and to the CWLU as part of that movement. We have described earlier some of the ways in which that is happening or can happen. But it is not happening enough yet. We feel that we must involve each class in some kind of action project. One model might be to involve people in Women and Their Bodies classes in pregnancy testing or abortion counseling; another may stem from the Prepared Childbirth course, which offers a service otherwise unavailable to many women, raises consciousness about our oppression in the healthcare system and our lack of control over our own bodies, and offers the possibility of direct action closely related to the course content. In this case, women in the class plan to demand that various clinics and hospitals start offering prepared childbirth courses. With this kind of action, the Liberation School will not be co-opted by institutions representing ways of life to which we are opposed but rather will challenge such institutions in meaningful ways.

Our goal is to create positive dissatisfaction in the participants in the Liberation School, a realization of the dissatisfaction many women fell with their lives, not a dissatisfaction which grows silently within each isolated woman and sours her life, but one which leads her to question her situation, to challenge it, to grow with other women to an understanding that sisterhood is powerful. The only given is that we will keep growing.

Chicago Women's Liberation Union

by Naomi Weisstein and Vivian Rothstein (1972). A detailed report on the CWLU's organizing strategy. by Vivian Rothstein and Naomi Weisstein

(Editors Note: Women: A Journal of Liberation published this article in 1972. Written by two of the founders of the CWLU, it is a snapshot of the group's organizing strategies during its second year.)

The women's liberation movement in Chicago is in good shape. This is surprising, since in many places the women’s movement appears to be in critical condition. We feel that we have learned certain things from our work in Chicago, and have ideas about why we have been relatively successful. We don’t know exactly why the women’s liberation movement here remains relatively healthy, and we are not arrogant about it.

However, we think it is important for us to begin to understand what has or has not happened to our movement, so we can figure out how to work to make it strong, stable and lasting. So, in what follows, we will try to characterize the Chicago women’s liberation movement and discuss its health, its illness, and its recent history.

The Chicago women’s liberation movement can be characterized in the following five ways:

  1. There is a radical, citywide women’s liberation organization, the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (CWLU). This is more than merely an umbrella of various projects. The Union has its own decision-making mechanisms, its own staff, a defined membership, a broad but definite politics, and a developing program.
  2. Sectarianism in Chicago is not heavy.
  3. There are a large number of serious, committed, full-time organizers who see women’s organizing as their highest priority.
  4. There are a number of on-going programs which have developed over the last two years which are reaching large numbers of previously inactive women.
  5. The movement is not university- based; there is a surprising amount of diversity in the life situations of women in the Chicago women’s movement.

Consider some of these in more detail:

  1. The CWLU—- The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union—— is an explicitly radical, anti-capitalist, feminist, city-wide organization committed to building an autonomous, multi-issue womens liberation movement. There are from 40-50 highly committed women who form the core of our organization, and about 150 women who are somewhat active on a regular basis in Union programs. Leadership abilities--by which we mean an assertiveness about what needs to be done and a commitment and responsibility toward doing it--have been developing throughout the CWLU membership. In particular, a large number of women participate or have participated in the steering committee-the decision-making body of the Union.
  2. The CWLU organizational structure has enabled us to survive slack periods when work seemed futile and morale was low; it has enabled us to feel that our work has a cumulative effect, and it has enabled us to broaden our constituencies in ways that single- issue, university--based groups, and small--group federations could not have. We feel that the Union is probably the single most important reason why the Chicago women’s movement is in good shape and that the other reasons, below, in some ways follow from and/or depend on the existence and activity of this structure.
  3. For instance, There are a number of on-going programs in Chicago right now, most of which have strong ties to CWLU. What this means is that effort on any one program is seen in most cases as cumulative; that is, as adding to the development of CWLU and, therefore, to the development of women’s liberation in Chicago. This means that we have something of a common political history and experience to draw on. There are several on—going programs; three of them—The Liberation School for Women, the Action Committee for Decent Childcare (ACDC), and Womankind newspaper——are discussed in detail in this issue of the Journal (Editors Note: The links will take you to those articles). Our other programs include: 
    a)A graphics collective has been functioning for about a year. The collective produces women’s posters and greeting cards, and also provides a context in which women who see graphic art as the center of their lives can work and create. 
    b) The Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band has been performing for a year and a half. The band wants to liberate rock from the sexist evil which pervades it; to produce beautiful music; to celebrate with Its sisters and to make real the vision of women’s liberation; and eventually, to reach every 14-year-old girl in the city of Chicago and in the country with its vision, its music and its politics. There is a sister band in New Haven. The two bands are in constant communication and do a lot of the same material. The band feels, especially through its collective efforts with New Haven, that they are involved in the process of creating a revolutionary women’s culture. 
    c) The oldest and perhaps most respected project in Chicago is the abortion counseling service, which serves all women who need abortions. The service is widely known, so that increasing numbers of third world and young women are using it. The service involves over 30 women in counseling and sharing medical skills.
  4. The Chicago women’s liberation movement is, by and large, not sectarian. With the exception last year of the standard Socialist Worker’s Party versus autonomous women’s movement fight (described in more detail below) denunciation of our sisters has been kept to a fairly inaudible mumble. The revealed--truth dividers that have come up elsewhere--straight/gay, male-identified/female- identified, feminist/socialist--have come up in Chicago, but they have not led to any serious splits in our movement. This is not to say that we have a uniform movement. We have a tolerant and moderate movement. We have straights, gays, celibates, women who are more male-identified and those who are more female-identified; women who consider themselves feminist—socialists and those who consider themselves socialist-feminists. We expect next year that a new division will arise; the year after, another. We also expect that these divisions will not have to lead to splits any more than our current divisions do. In other words, we live with all of us, not only because we have to if we are to survive, but because we believe in building a pluralist movement which understands that differences are inevitable and desirable. The work women do, and the diversity of skills and imagination that they bring to this work is more important than whether they (or we) have the “correct” political analysis and/or life-style.

We can think of two main reasons why we have avoided extreme sectarianism. The first has to do with CWLU. As we will describe below, it was founded in the midst of a sectarian storm, and it is possible that its initial response to that sectarianism laid the groundwork for handling later forms. Second, we think that our lack of sectarianism has also to do with the fact that the Chicago women’s movement, although started quite early, was never in the vanguard in terms of ideas, situations, or life-styles. In particular, the politics of women active in CWLU have remained fairly consistent since it began. There have been no theoretical breakthroughs from Chicago; we didn’t figure out very early about sexism, about violence toward women about nuclear families, and so forth. But when those breakthroughs finally arrived in Chicago, they didn’t appear in the form of ultimatums.

As we have remarked, many of the characteristics discussed above follow from the presence of CWLU. We have provided structures and programs——like the Liberation School and ACDC——which are medium range things, in the sense that one doesn’t have to have impossible revolutionary credentials to participate. None of this means that we hide our politics; but all of it means that we are able to keep broadening, rather than narrowing, our base, since the criteria for participation allows for entrance, development and choice. Finally, our understanding that people are at different places and that that fact adds to, rather than subtracts from, our movement, has helped us suppress our own individual sectarianism.

Since, as we have pointed out, we think that the presence of CWLU is the most important factor in the relative health of the Chicago women’s liberation movement, we would like to describe its history. It started at a time when the organized mixed white left had just hit the fan (i. e. the collapse of SDS as a relevant political organization). We felt that the women’s movement in Chicago was in danger of being destroyed in the wake of factional convulsions. We also felt very strongly that we needed an autonomous women’s movement that would work towards its idea of the revolution. In fact, even if the mixed white left hadn’t started to go crazy at that particular time, we still needed an organization for these reasons:

  1. Access to the women’s movement was pretty exclusive. It was very hard for new women to find women’s liberation activities and become part of them. It was necessary to know a friend who knew a friend who was in a rap group in order to find out what was planned. With this kind of limited visibility we knew that we could never build a very large, diverse, or strong movement.
  2. Leadership was developing in the women’s movement which was responsible to no one, or perhaps only to a small group. We wanted to have some way to develop democratic leadership——that is, leadership and spokeswomen who were part of a larger women’s movement whom we could talk with, criticize, etc. In essence, we needed a democratic structure so that active women could have some say over women’s liberation program, strategy, direction, etc.
  3. There was no communication between existing women’s groups, and there was little or no distribution of written articles, pamphlets, or magazines.
  4. Women’s liberation was never represented politically in coalitions and mixed political events because we had no organization to represent us.
  5. We needed programs in order to build the women’s movement. Because there was no centralized organization, it was very difficult, and often impossible, to find women who were interested in getting new program ideas off the ground—-and there was virtually no place to discuss and criticize program ideas. And a program, once developed, could not have a cumulative effect since communication of its success was limited.

In essence, we wanted women’s liberation to become a political force with a significant base, the ability to act and organize, and with a strategy and program to win power. In order to do these things we ‘realized that we would have to build an organization which made sense to a large number of women.

There are reasons why this particular emphasis developed in Chicago, while other parts of the country focused more on the’ “small group” and on consciousness—raising as the major political thrust. It has to do with the population of Chicago and the kind of movement which the new left had built here prior to the women’s movement. For one thing, Chicago has a relatively small university student population. As a result there are very few radical, counter—culture enclaves in the city. Chicago also has a relatively small left-liberal adult population. Given these conditions, radicals were left with the task of building a movement out of new local constituencies, often centering on community organizing efforts, or activities around small colleges and high schools.

The composition of the left was largely people who had experience with serious full—time organizing in one movement project or another. It was out of this base of committed movement activists that women’s liberation began to grow.

It is in the context of this background that one can see the initiation of the CWLU. In the fall of 1969 a conference was called to organize an "independent, multi—issue, radical women’s liberation organization."Our first conference turned out to be largely a debate among various sectarian groups on the left, and a defense of the right to form an independent women’s organization. All politically active women were invited. A number of political sects came to the conference intending to discourage the formation of an all—women’s organization because it would be "inherently counter— revolutionary." Our response to these attacks seems to have laid the basis for our response to sectarianism ever since. We were open to all women who wanted to work for an independent, radical, women’s liberation movement and were eager to discuss the issues involved in anyone’s politics. In other words, we wanted, and still believe in, a pluralist movement.

The outcome of the conference, besides much frustration, was a tentative set of political principles around which to build a women’s organization. The principles have remained essentially unchanged since then. They are:

  • The struggle for women’s liberation is a revolutionary struggle.
  • Women’s liberation is essential to the liberation of all oppressed peoples.
  • Women’s liberation will not be achieved until all people are free.
  • We will struggle for the liberation of women and against male supremacy in all sections of society.
  • We will struggle against racism, imperialism, and capitalism and dedicate ourselves to developing consciousness of their effects on women.
  • We are dedicated to a democratic organization and understand a way to insure democracy is through full exchange of information and ideas, full political debate and through the unity of theory and practice.

We are committed to building a movement that embodies within it the humane values of the society for which we are fighting. To win this struggle, we must resist exploitative, manipulative and intolerant attitudes in ourselves. We need to be supportive of each other, to have enthusiasm for change in ourselves and in society and faith that people have unending energy and ability to change.

After the conference a series of large meetings were held which struggled over an organizational structure and program for CWLU. The structure which was decided upon was a general chapter structure with a steering committee made up of one representative from every chapter and work project. Two women volunteered to be part time unpaid staff until the Union could afford to pay two women for this work (which happened the next year). CWLU now hires two part time staff workers and pays them $50 a week each. The Union rented a small office and slowly set up the coordination center for our organization.

From the first conference to the present, CWLU has gone through several important struggles and changes. All have added up to a collective attempt to more adequately define the type of organization we need by making membership definitions clearer and making a more democratic structure, developing new democratic forms to ensure participation and the expansion of leadership functions, and more recently, by developing outreach program.

Two particular events in the history of our organizational forms seem to have been crucial was a democratic speakers bureau policy, and the other was a struggle with women from a Socialist Workers Party Orientation, who argued for a somewhat undefined, non-structured, non—centralized organization.

The speakers policy arose shortly after the CWLU was formed. It was the time when people were interested in getting a women’s liberation spokeswoman on every talk show, church forum, and college campus in the country. When requests came to the Union we would at first suggest women representatives from our membership who volunteered to speak publicly. All this did, essentially, was reinforce the kind of elitism which had previously existed. By promoting women who already had the confidence in themselves as political speakers, a star system was developing. This policy was criticized, and a new speakers policy was suggested which still functions in our organization. The policy is that all women who are members should learn to speak about the women’s movement. All speaking engagements are filled on a rotating basis. Each chapter has a turn to fill a request and must find a woman member willing to do it. This has ensured that most women in our organization have spoken at least once about women-related issues, and it has ensured a more active, committed, self-confident membership. The speakers bureau was an example to us all of how we could develop "liberating structures." It was popular to say then in the women’s movement, and still is today to some extent, that structures can only be oppressive. The speakers policy is an example of how this is not necessarily true and how, in fact, one can structure out elitism. t was the first innovation to really bring our organization into existence.

The second year of life of CWLU was composed to some extent of its defense. At that time, in different parts of the country, women who belonged to the Socialist Workers Party or who adhered to SWP politics, began to get active in different women’s liberation activities. From what we understand, similar arguments were made by these women in different cities, which were essentially that most of the existing women’s organizations were elitist, that all structures must be wide open to "all women", that the women’s movement must focus on mass rallies and demonstrations and popular "mass issues", and that women’s organizations should not try to take over the “Chicano, black or anti-war movements” but should stick to "women’s issues"(i. e. abortion, day care, equal pay for equal work, etc.) Many of the criticisms of the women’s movement which were raised were important, and a political struggle began. In Chicago we were able to debate these criticisms in a relatively open way and the results were very positive ones for the CWLU. Through long meetings and a constant attempt to bring out the "real issues"involved, the majority position in the CWLU became that the SWP women were pressing for very nebulous, indistinct, "mass organizations"of women with little political definition and self-determination because they saw the political leadership for the women’s liberation movement (and all left movements) coming from their party, the Socialist Workers Party.

But for the majority of women, there was no party to which we belonged, and we were committed to building an independent women’s organization with enough political sophistication and centralism to make the necessary political decisions, have the important political discussions, and develop the needed political strategy to build a successful women’s movement. The result of the long struggle (which was a losing one for several women’s organizations in other cities) was a heightened seriousness about the CWLU among a large number of women, the tightening of membership requirements (including participation in program, dues, as well as public speaking), heightened responsibilities for the steering committee, and a new energy and commitment to developing outreach program.

Of course there are many problems with our organizational structure. We have by no means overcome all traces of elitism, intimidation and cliquish-ness. Our structure never functions in as democratic a fashion as we always hope. Our chapters are often changing and representatives are often not responsible and consistent. And programmatically we have many of the problems common to women’s liberation throughout the country—we have developed virtually no “struggle oriented” programs which are designed to gain power over institutions which oppress women. Nevertheless we have a forum in which to constantly discuss, argue and debate these problems. We have an ongoing communication network to keep us all in touch and informed. We have a permanent women’s liberation presence in the city of Chicago. And our organization continues to learn from its mistakes and to grow.

International Women's Day March

by Kathy Mallin (1974) A report on the highly successful 1974 women's march for economic justice. by Kathy Mallin of the Guardian Chicago Bureau Chicago(1974)

(Editor's note: This report on the highly successful 1974 women's march for economic justice originally appeared in the Guardian, a leftwing newspaper of the time.)

The Chicago women's movement reached new heights this week when over 2500 people marched through the Loop March 9 to celebrate International Women's Day. At the same time, at the. headquarters of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), some 3000 women took part in an all-day celebration honoring Black women. The two actions were 'seen as supporting each other. The march, demanding "Equality and Economic Justice,". was called by a coalition of about 40 groups including the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, October League, Chicago Welfare Rights Organization, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, United Farm Workers, Rising Up Angry and more.

A host of demands set forth by the group included: Pass the ERA; no forced sterilization; roll back prices on food, fuel and other necessities; adequate welfare grants; impeach Nixon, and support women's struggles in other countries.

Two days before the march, Operation PUSH and the women's coalition held a joint press conference to announce their plans. Then some 80 women marched to three targets of women's oppression: the Federal Milk Market Administration where they demanded public hearings on the soaring cost of milk, the City Hall, where women employees are paid less than men for doing the same work, and the State of Illinois Building where the women demanded increased welfare benefits. The "mini actions" brought good publicity for the March 9 actions.

The Operation PUSH celebration saw six Black women receive awards for outstanding achievement in their fields. Among them was actress Cicely Tyson who was chosen for her refusal to act in any of the current "Black exploitation" films. Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer, outstanding civil rights activists, were not present to receive their awards.

Planning Committee 1975 Conference Report

(1975) An assessment of the CWLU 's work by an important decision making body within the Women's Union. (1975)

(Editors Note: The CWLU Planning Committee was an important decision-making body in the CWLU. In this report to the 1975 CWLU Annual Conference, the Planning Committee discussed the renewed emphasis on community organizing, the outreach to other organizations, and the general strengths and weaknesses of the CWLU.)

Good Evening, everyone, and welcome to the 6th annual CWLU conference. All of us on Planning Committee are looking forward to a conference where we can analyze what we’ve done in the last year, and where we want to be going for tomorrow. We also hope that differences in ideology and style of work will be discussed freely and openly, and that through principled discussion we will understand what these differences mean and how we can move forward together.

The report of the Planning Committee to open this conference is meant to be an analysis of lessons we have learned from our work in 1975. We are going to talk about overall successes and failures.

One of the main lessons the CWLU learned this year was a renewed understanding of and respect for community organizing and community organizations. In other words, a renewed respect for base building. But we cannot forget the lesson of direct action when we go back and rebuild our bases. We must remember the struggle and getting people involved in a struggle that will change a part of their lives is the primary goal of community organizing.

Historically we have gone full cycle. First, the CWLU tried to do community outreach, in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972 with the establishment of the Sister Center, the Edgewater Women’s Center, and the attempted establishment of Alice Hamilton Women’s Health Clinic. But it was all abandoned in 1972 when the direct action strategy came out and people rushed to do direct action for three main reasons:

  1. the new members in the CWLU didn’t see themselves as long term community organizers, which is a commitment to live in a certain area and is a slow and hard process.
  2. partly because some CWLU members didn’t see how community organizing could build the CWLU, and
  3. direct action was a new approach for doing needed struggle strategy.

However, the direct action strategy was never done where we had been doing community organizing; we only tried it in the programs that were new to the Union, that didn’t have a community base, like DARE, Abortion Task Force, and HERS. Although the strategy itself was sometimes successful, it was never seen as a strategy to involve contacts in a struggle that would change a part of their lives, and also build these contacts as CWLU members. Now that we have gained a new respect for the base building that needs to be done, it is equally as important not to forget to develop progressive struggle campaigns as one of the most important parts of solidifying the contacts and making changes in the way things are.

We have gained this respect for base building by many events that occurred this year. The first was International Women’s Day itself, where many people in the CWLU saw that we really had a base ourselves. The 700+ people there were our community. The lesbian workgroup decided to do the kind of base building that Secret Storm workgroup had been doing for a few years, and found that this outreach and visibility with a newspaper and Liberation School class and new campaigns have made their work among the most successful lesbian organizing in the country. For Prison Project members, their work around the work release center showed them the potential for community organizing around prison work, and gained them new members. The bilingual health project, which has evolved into a different form as CESA, taught those of us involved that health work cannot be done in any community without a community base. We learned that you can’t come in like gangbangers into a community and announce an educational program and disregard the community organizing already going on. That CESA is now going around to different community leaders, and asking them if they will help us by initially figuring out how to use our information in their community, and then later, when we have developed a base of interested people, develop a whole campaign. Lastly, the Chicago Women’s Health Center was founded this year with several CWLU women involved, and they intend to use the center as a focus for community organizing. These we all see as important that the CWLU is once again taking seriously the task of base-building.

The other major lesson that we learned this year is that if the women’s movement is not to remain all white and middle class we must begin the act on building strong alliances with black and other Third World organizations. We did better in some communities than in others, with the best results coming for our increased involvement with Latin organizations and the Spanish-speaking community. Whereas last year we had no contact with Latin organizations, this year it was our major coalition work.

Dr. Helen Rodriquez coming to Chicago for the CWLU and talking mainly in Spanish for our event was the first time we ever took seriously having a Spanish speaking constituency and making some of our events bilingual. Helen’s speech and her subsequent discussions at the Socialist/Feminist conference was important in uniting PSP, Mujeres Latinas En Accion and the CWLU in beginning CESA.

Simultaneously, PSP and CASA (an organization that works with Mexicans and deportations) were planning their May Day parade, and chose Esther to speak because of her work in the Union and her work in a factory. Again, this is the first time this has ever happened - that Third World organizations had responded to the women’s movement, or the part of the women’s movement we represent, in such a positive way. At the Socialist-Feminist conference, the Third World caucus said that they were a vital part of our movement and that we should work together to build the socialist-feminist movement in Third World communities as a major priority.

So by doing CESA work and the two PSP coalitions described in the analysis of our coalition work, at the same time, we have the beginnings of doing both political work around the independence of Puerto Rico, and community work, on the nature of sterilization abuse. Of we can do this work better next year, we will have learned our lesson well, and have done what our Third World sisters said we should do. And the ultimate survival of our movement depends on us doing this well because if the women’s movement cannot relate and respond to the specific needs of Third World women, then we will not make any lasting changes either for feminism or socialism.

Also, all this work with both community organizations and Latin organizations has made us part of a network of organizations that can come together and support each other in health care struggles, All our contacts and working relations with Latin organizations and other community organizations was crucial for the community meetings that have been called around the situation at Cook County hospital. It is important for us to help build and expand this network, because it makes us stronger, and in situations like the recent one at County, we need all the strength we can muster.

Another lesson that The CWLU learned this year was that theory and study are important. We all know we need to study in a more consistent way, but this year proved a breakthrough in may ways. The study groups for the Socialist-Feminist Conference were the most popular the Union’s ever had, and integrated us as an organization studying together more than any other time in our history. The continuation of that class and the two Marxism classes has set the stage for developing a program of internal political education which should be a priority for the Union next year.

This was also the year we say the for and size of a national socialist-feminist movement, and although there might be strong differences, there was a lot more unity and a lot more of a national movement than we ever dreamed. Through the conference we built a network of Socialist-feminist groups with which we have unity in terms of class and the need for an organization. There is particularly a feeling of much unity within the Midwest, between Dayton Women’s Center, Twin Cities Women’s Union, and Milwaukee Women’s Union (a new organization). The conference also was a recognition of national leadership. It showed us that we socialist-feminists had developed national leadership in terms of both individuals and organizations. And the CWLU came out of the conference as the organization that was being used as a model all across the country. It was also an important knitting of the S/F movement and Third World women, and was the beginning of our relationship with the Asian Women’s Study Group.

The conference was a powerful to realize our strength as a movement. This is increasingly important as we look around and see the demise of NOW. NOW was always a middle-class organization in which some of us may have felt comfortable and some of us didn’t. But on a national level, NOW is presently disunited, without program in most chapters, with the effective live of the organization over. It is important for us to understand what some of the forces were that brought this about, and what it means for us.

What it looks like is that for the last two-three years, NOW has been set up for failure. By the capitalists, by the FBI, who knows? But the lesson is if you’re not clear about your political direction, and sure of what kind of movement and society you’re going to try to get to, and if you’re not sure about who are your allies, and who isn’t, then you can be destroyed. It seems clear NOW never did this when we take two recent examples:

1. The woman who was for years the vice-president of NOW, is employed as the affirmative action lawyer for Sears and Roebuck, hired to help the corporation dodge meeting affirmative action guidelines, when NOW’s biggest national campaign is against Sears and Roebuck. Within the Sears campaign, thousands of dollars have been spent on NOW members in the campaign suing each other.

2. The second example is the Alice Doesn’t Day, which called for a national strike by women, with no base-building and no analysis of what women’s lives are like in this country. As everyone knows, it was a horrible failure, and totally discredited the woman’s movement. The lesson is that even progressive people sometimes make horrible ultra-left mistakes like Alice Doesn’t Day, but if they are serious about building a socialist society, they do a lot of internal criticism and learn from their mistake. NOW, on the other hand, celebrated their failure as a victory publicly, and further discredited the women’s movement.

What it means specifically for us here in Chicago is not yet clear. However, it does mean publicly, with this Alice Doesn’t Day and the defeat of the ERA in Illinois, and the probably dissolution of NOW, we have a vacuum to feel and challenge before us. We can not only show that the women’s movement is alive and well, we can show our kind of women’s movement with our kind of demands. This is the time to show visibility, but also to show to our working class and Third World sisters that we are a movement that will meet their demands. This is the time to move forward.

This year also saw the irreconcilable differences between the CWLU and the RU come to the fore, and the members of the RU leave the Union. We see this as positive, because there was such a wide difference of opinion as to the role of reform, questions of the family, lesbianism, and the importance of women’s issues in general.

Although legislative work is outside our area of work, two important and extremely negative things happened in that arena this year. A terrible abortion bill passed both the Illinois House and Senate that requires a woman to have her husband’s permission if she wants an abortion, or a minor to have her parent’s consent. And the ERA failed again. We should consider if there is some way in our ongoing work that we can deal with these setbacks.

We also think that we failed theoretically to solve the problem of exactly what kind of organization we are trying to build. We know that we are trying to build a mass organization, but we need a way to unite service, education, outreach and struggle into a more unified program. We need the structure to be as broad and flexible as we are now, but we also need to unite all the members and programs in a more consistent, programmatic way.

Furthermore, we need to have what has been called struggle programs, or mass action campaigns, that are always a part of our work. It was a failure that the aspects of struggle in the Prison Project and Secret Storm sports program were our only struggle aspects for the year, but we needed to learn that struggle programs must rest on a base, and the consequences of struggle campaigns must be evaluated.

It was also a failure that a stronger program of internal political education was not fully developed, but it should follow naturally form the beginning we made this year. We should build on the S/F study groups, and the one night membership educationals (Stephanie Urdang, Lourdes Vasquez, etc.)

We failed to set up a way to deal with and solve our internal childcare needs, and we hope it can be taken seriously this weekend.

We also failed in developing stronger organization leadership. Although we have been good about developing program leadership, it seems that our program suffers when a person is taken out to do organizational leadership because the central organization is not centralized enough to back up our programs. Planning Committee also criticizes itself for not working harder with the steering committee in helping develop their organization leadership ability. It is a trend of steering committee reps to be very passive in steering committee in taking responsibility both for guiding the organization, and for initiating discussions of their workgroup or chapters work in steering committee. We also suffered greatly from lack of an outreach person on planning committee, and should have pressed harder for someone in the organization to fill this position when Elaine resigned. This resulted in lack of a coordinated outreach program for the Union. Having an outreach person could have meant better follow-up on March 8th, development of better outreach literature, and development of the office for outreach to a greater extent than staff is humanly able to do, better coordination of openhouses, and the rap group program, and the outreach person could have taken charge of the community organizations we’re contacting.

In general, we feel the Union has matured greatly in the last year, is in good shape for further growth and anxious to cooperate more together as an organization in developing theory, strategy and practice, and continue to serve as a model for revolutionary women’s liberation organizations across the country.

Lesbian Group 1975 Conference Report

(1975) An assessment of the CWLU Lesbian Group's work.

(Editors Note: This is a 1975 conference report from the CWLU Lesbian Group explaining their organization and their work.)

These are answers from the Lesbian Group to some of the "Prison Project" questions, for Conference Planning Committee. We have not yet answered some of the questions since they require a fuller discussion than we’ve already been able to have.

1. Because the Lesbian Group has been small and fairly informal, the work that we’ve done in the six months of our existence is a little hard to summarize. Mostly we’ve talked about various aspects of lesbianism, both from the point of view of personal experience, and that of the institutionalized oppression of gay people. Specifically. we’re planning to write a series of articles on these subjects, for use in Liberation School classes and other introductory and outreach situations. We also do speaking engagements when requests come through Speakers Bureau for such topics as lesbianism, or the relation between the gay movement and the women’s movement.

We were also originally planning to sponsor a city-wide meeting on some aspect of lesbianism, but then decided not to do that just yet, since we felt we needed more education and preparation among ourselves. We also weren’t too sure what purpose a city-wide meeting would serve at this time.

As for why we do this work, we believe that it is important for lesbians to get together as a political force, both in separate organizations, and as caucuses or groups within other organizations, especially women’s liberation groups. In CWLU, we can function to make sure that the Union implements those aspects of our Political Principles which relate to the right of sexual self-determination and support for the rights of gay people.

4. We have both lesbian and bi-sexual members. Aside from that, there isn’t much need to answer this question, since what it deals with is the whole point of our group, except to say something about our relations with other groups.

Most of us as individuals have had some contact with women in such groups as the Lesbian-Feminist Center, Chicago Lesbian Liberation, and the LAVENDER WOMAN collective, but our group as a whole has not.* However we have to remember that other groups will probably see us as the inheritor of CWLU’s prior conflicts with them. On the other hand, many of the individuals who are now active in these groups were not necessarily around at the time of previous conflicts, so hopefully they can relate to us without prejudice. We haven’t really made any approaches to these groups, nor they to us, but casual conversations between various individuals would seem to indicate an interest in furthering good relations.

5. We are white and mostly lower—middle class . Presumably we have the potential of reaching out to lesbians beyond this, including Third—World and working-class lesbians, but we haven’t really done so yet, in part because our group is almost entirely composed of active CWLU members, and thus reflects the class and race make-up of the Union. We’ve had no relations with other groups yet, Third-World or otherwise,

6. As a group we haven’t really talked much about imperialism, etc. Most of us have an implicit understanding that imperialism affects us all, and some of us have quite a bit of familiarity with certain anti—imperialist struggles (e.g., China, Vietnam). Probably the main reason why we haven’t really discussed this is that most of us have had the opportunity to deal with this in other groups (particularly the Liberation School Work Group, to which a majority of us belong and therefore there hasn’t seemed to be a pressing need to discuss it.

We will probably discuss this further, and we might do some writing on this subject. We might try to revise “Lesbianism and Socialist Feminism” to include more. anti-imperialist material.

7. Information-sharing and decision-making are pretty informal, due to the small number and close-knit nature of the group. What problems there are seem to be resolved by talking things out til a consensus is reached. However, we seem to have an unresolved problem in getting and keeping new members.

There are no formal positions of leadership (with the possible exception of SC rep.): chairing the meetings has been more or less rotated, although there’s one person who’s done more than her share of this, by default.

We see the responsibility of our Steering Committee rep. not only to represent our group in a minimal way (i.e., to bring information back and forth between our group and SC) , but also to raise issues of importance to lesbians, to raise the consciousness of SC about lesbianism, and to raise the consciousness of CWLU through SC.

8. We’ve tried to get new members by putting notices in the Newsletter and by word of mouth without too much success (we know there are more lesbian and bisexual women in CWLU than just the six or eight of us). There’s no decisions to be made on new members—we’ll accept anyone who expresses interest. We integrate new members by giving them a run-down of our previous work, and by answering any questions they might have.

*That is, not the Lesbian Group that’s been in existence since this spring. In our previous reincarnation, the Gay Group of 1972—73 had some contact with CLL and to a lesser extent LAVENDER WOMAN.

Women Talk Back

(Undated, but probably 1975-1976) A report on the CWLU Outreach Committee's work in battling discrimination in Chicago's parks. Originally published in the newspaper Secret Storm. from Secret Storm (undated but probably 1975-1976)

(Editors Note: The CWLU workgroup Secret Storm organized sports teams in the Chicago Parks against the opposition of people who felt women did not belong in sports.This article from their newspaper-also called Secret Storm- is a report on the progress made in the parks.) 

Even though your entry fee has been paid, which ranges. from $150 - $200, that alone doesn't entitle your women's softball team to voice an opinion or raise a question. Each year at the beginning of the season, the men's and women's leagues at the Chicago Parks have league meetings, which supposedly entitle them to discuss the rules and regulations. A change can be called for and a vote is usually taken. This year, however the Welles Park supervisor didn't consider it necessary to have a women's softball league meeting, but did find it justifiable to raise the women's teams’ entry fees.

But if you were on one of the women's teams at Horner Park you were told to stand along side the wall while the men’s meeting continued. You probably heard something like this in the brief 15 minutes that were allotted to the women. 'If you aren't satisfied with the way things are now, we will gladly refund your money and just drop the women's league.' Meanwhile, the men were receiving their game schedules, and the women were being told that theirs would be ready in a week or so (we were supposed to begin playing the following week.)

Horner Park did a little back-bending this year, but just far enough to pocket a mere $1200 from the eight women's teams that play there in a league. We understand though, that this being the first year women have played softball at Horner, John Parker, Park Supervisor, has to be given time (but how much?) to sit down and consider that women's teams are equal with the men's and Little Leagues.

We spoke with many members of the women's teams at various parks and found, interestingly enough; that procedures differ a great deal. For instance, Welles found it easy enough to up the women's fee to $165 from $135, but couldn't afford the time, to have a meeting among the teams.

Kosciuszko Park seemed to have the nicest people employed at their fieldhouse. It was the only park out of those we went to that actually has a female supervisor of the women's softball league. All the others apparently felt that only men were capable of doing some light organizing. Why, Grosse Park doesn't even feel that women umpires would be able to handle the women's games, 'cause ‘women are just too emotional.' But Grosse Park hurriedly pointed out that the DePaul University team, which plays in the Grosse women's league, umpires at Horner Park. We have yet to see them. Do they umpire at Little League games?

Many women have small children and can only sit by and watch their husbands play. Aren't the parks for the whole family? These women would love to play softball and use the facilities at their neighborhood park, but unfortunately there's no organized childcare inside the fieldhouses. It’s been hard for the women with small children who do manage to play on a softball team. They too, would appreciate some childcare. Then they could relax enjoy the game instead of always looking around to make sure children are OK.

A member of the Covettes a women's team which plays Welles Park on Wednesday nights told us that out of 15 women her team, only two have children. One has children old enough take care of themselves and one has a husband who watches the baby. The lack of child care means it's very hard for young mothers to play ball. The women are there who want to play and take part in other activities at their local parks, the sponsors fees are easy enough, to obtain therefore all the park district has to do is provide childcare and take half the interest in women that they take in men boys, and then the parks might really serve all the citizens of Chicago.

The Sports Struggle Continues....

(Undated, but probably 1975-1976) A first person account of the struggle that women waged to play sports in Chicago. Originally published in the newspaper Secret Storm. from Secret Storm (undated but probably 1975-1976)

(Editors Note: The CWLU workgroup Secret Storm organized sports teams in the Chicago Parks against often fierce opposition.This article from their newspaper-also called Secret Storm- is a report on the progress made in the parks.) 

They retired my number when I was thirteen. After that the only softball- or any other sport for that matter - that I played was what I was forced to play in gym in high school. You see, at 13 I got interested in boys, and everybody knows boys don't like girls who might beat them. But if I had wanted to play, as I do now 18 years later, I would have found it very difficult.

In most schools and parks, women are lucky to get any facilities at all, much less equal ones. Schools spend lots of money training, equipping and outfitting and fielding boys teams. Girls teams, where they exist, get little. Most parks, when they have women's softball at all, schedule us into the worst time spots, giving priority to men's softball and boys little league. Even when we do get leagues, we often get unequal treatment. Frequently women only get to play 5 innings to men's 7. In at least one park, the women's league isn't even guaranteed a five-inning game; if the men get there, the women have to leave the diamonds. In the parks (though this is true for men too), there is also great confusion about dates - when do teams start signing up? When does league play begin? What's the final date for rosters? What are the fees? These vary from park to park, and often within a park no one is quite sure what's going on.

The lack of little league and equal sports programs in the high schools, combined with inadequate facilities in the parks, means girls and women have very poor training in sports. Many women might enjoy playing softball, but they feel they're not good enough. But men weren't born knowing how to play. They were taught, and people invested a lot of time and money to teach them. The lack of child care also makes it difficult for many mothers to play. It's hard to focus on a fly ball when your 3 year old is screaming her head off. If all these handicaps don't keep women out of sports, often the general attitude that sports aren't feminine will. Young girls who could compete with boys in little league may be held back by their parents' fears. Or they may not care to deal with the hostility of their managers and teammates. High school girls may get laughed at or labeled tomboy for playing sports.

One final handicap women face is getting teams together. While men may be able to get a company or local tavern to sponsor their teams without any trouble, these same companies and taverns may be reluctant to sponsor a women's team. Many women do not work outside the house, which makes it even harder to get a sponsor. It's also difficult to get a team together when you're a housewife. In your daily routine you may not see enough women who would want to play. And even if you do work outside the home, your schedule will often be tighter than a man's, if on top of working you do all the housework take care of the children, etc.

Secret Storm believes women should have equal sports facilities, equal training, and equal treatment with what men have. Sports give great pleasure, both social and physical. While we have a lot of handicaps to overcome, we're starting to work on them.

Last fall we organized a very successful volleyball league at Kelvyn Park, and during the winter we organized a basketball league at Hamlin Park. This summer we are organizing softball teams at several north and northwest side parks for both women and high school girls.

You can join one of our teams without having a whole team yourself, and without feeling you have to be excellent before you start. We hold skills clinics (May 18th at 1 p.m. and May 22nd at 6:30 p.m. Call 953-6808 for places) so women can learn to play; we arrange sponsors (the sponsor pays half or more of the fee and team - make up the difference - no more than $5 per season). Also it's a good way of making new friends. We emphasize friendship first, competition second, because we want to see women's sports take the best, but not the worst aspects of men's sports. We also provide child care for all games, so women with children can play, knowing their children are having fun too.

We've taken on a few struggles along the way too. Last summer at Horner Park we met with the park supervisor to express our anger about only being allowed to play five inning games. He promised that this year a captain's meeting at the beginning of the season would decide the length and rules of the game. We also helped some parents and girls who were trying to open up the male dominated little league and won a compromise which can pave the way for the full integration of girls into little league.

These are all starting measures. In order to get real equality for women in all areas of sports, we're going to need organization. Sometime this summer we hope to start a women's sports rights organization that can get teams together and fight for women's rights wherever the fight must take place, whether it's the parks, the schools, the little leagues, or even city hall itself. If you'd like to be a part of starting this organization, let us know. Women deserve fair play.

Women's Liberation Builds Strong Bodies in Many Ways

(Undated, but probably 1975-1976) Another first person account of the battle against gender discrimination in Chicago's parks. Originally published in the newspaper Secret Storm. from Secret Storm (undated but probably 1975-1976)

(Editors Note: The CWLU workgroup Secret Storm organized sports teams in the Chicago Parks against the opposition of people who felt women did not belong in sports. This article from their newspaper-also called Secret Storm- is a first person account of that struggle.)

"In 6th grade, I won a blue ribbon for the 100 yard dash. I beat all he boys in my class. When I was a sophomore, I raced my boyfriend down the block, and he beat me by 10 feet! He was in my 6th grade class." What happened to her in those four years?

"All my brothers love sports. So do I and my two sisters, but every one thinks that girls are nuts. And they make us stay home a lot while the boys get to play ball. That makes me really mad." Has this ever happened to you?

What happens to women and girls when we play sports? Some of us close our eyes when the ball comes right to us. Some of us "know better" than to arm wrestle with our boyfriend because he goes crazy when we beat him. If we're children, we're told not to mess around because we'll get dirty. If we're older, we're told it's simply unfeminine In basketball and other sports, we're forced to play "girl's" rules. We're told boys' rules are too strenuous and we're trained throughout our lives not to try very hard. Just like we're told we can't hold certain jobs because we're women, and not strong enough. So instead, we carry around 30 pound kids on our hips all day and 30 lb. grocery bags. There's the girls' gym, with little equipment and usually no sports competition for girls. In the city park board, the men have basketball, softball, and volleyball leagues. The women have ladies conditioning, ballet, and charm classes (remember how hard it is to keep your knees always touching while you sit?). The difference between women and men in sports opportunities begins with blue and pink baby blankets, and goes to little league baseball versus girls' T-ball, football player vs. cheerleader, and basketball players to "conditioned lady." Can you guess who gets the most action?

Theses differences between men and women sure don't exist just in the wide, wide world of sports, we're taught them through out lives. Women in our society are taught as we grow up to be passive, dependent, weak, and to feel like we're not very smart. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged to be aggressive, physically strong, rough, and independent and to remind women that they're smarter. We call these ways to act "sex roles." These sex role differences end up making a big difference in whether we're trained to make a living for ourselves or trained to be dependent on someone else's salary. This difference means who takes care of the kids all the time, and gets to do all the housework, whether or not we work a job. It means inequality in hourly pay, the kind of education and training we get, and often a lot in the respect that is given us as people. It's the main purpose of a woman's movement to change those differences in our jobs, our families, our lives.

It's the main purpose of a woman's movement to change those differences in our jobs, our families, or lives. One place we want to make things equal is in sports.

We realize that there is a lot that happens in men's and boys sports that we wouldn't want in our women's sports program. We think that teamwork, sharing what we know, and friendship are more important than competition. Sports should be fun and give people self-confidence, not be a threat to their ego.

Women deserve to have equal opportunity to enjoy sports, play the sports we like, and develop the strength and coordination of our body. Sometimes how our body feels to us can mean a lot in how we feel about ourselves, and knowing our strength can go a long way when someone tells us we can't do something because we're too weak. Being able to move quickly can do a lot for a woman on the streets these days, and demonstrating that women on the whole are pretty strong can get people to wonder why these separate roles for men and women are really created!

As women, we see it's a real priority to make changes in sports programs where there is discrimination between girls and boys, men and women. This is in the grade school, especially in the high schools, and where adults play sports - mainly in the park board programs of the city.

Our experience in the park board field houses on the north and northwest sides of Chicago, is that they seldom offer seasonal sports (like softball basketball, and volleyball) for women. Some parks have real good gymnastic programs for girls. But in many cases, especially Horner Park and Welles Park, they have a real thorough program of seasonal sports for men, often extending into the women's gym and pushing us out. In a few cases, like Kelvyn and Brands Parks, they never had a women's program until we came in and proposed to them and organized the league ourselves. We look forward to playing at these parks in the future.

Our goal is to create Year-Round Sports' Programs for girls and women in schools and park board programs. If you are interested in helping us in your school or park, or have had trouble playing the sports you want to, get in touch with us and we'll see what we can do. We'd even be glad to listen to you gripe!


Announcement of the first National Conference on Socialist Feminism

(1975) A description of the Conference sent to prospective attendees. Published in the June-July 1975 issue of CWLU News.

(Editors Note: This is an announcement for the Socialist Feminist Conference that was held in Yellow Springs OH in July 1975. The Conference raised hopes that socialist feminism would grow and prosper.)

We believe that the time is right for a national conference on socialist feminism. Gains made in the past decade have held out to American women the promise of real improvements in their lives, in increased job opportunities, more effective anti-discrimination laws and a dawning cultural awareness of the nature of sexism. In 1974, we saw more labor militancy among unorganized workers than in decades, with women often providing leadership as well as forming the majority of the rank and file. In the face of these rising expectations, women have been particularly hard hit by soaring unemployment and the continuing economic crisis. In addition, recent highly organized attempts to stop passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and outlaw abortion seem to symbolize a dangerous opposition to the goals of the women's movement. FBI harassment of lesbian and feminist activists in the past year make it clear to us that a unified women's movement, with a socialist feminist analysis of patriarchal oppression, is essential.

The strengths of the women's movement are clear. As one of the most powerful forces for social change in this country today, we grow by leaps and bounds. More women identify as feminists and are organizing as such on their jobs and in their communities. In moving beyond individual solutions, feminists are creating new cooperative lifestyles and a women's culture which can challenge capitalism at its roots. The rise of feminist consciousness and the need to gain rights for women who work led to the formation of the Coalition of Labor Union Women by segments of the labor movement. Groups like the Third World Women's Alliance, the National Black Feminist Organization and the Black Women's United Front have more recently affirmed the importance of building a broad based women's movement.

While our numbers swell, our practice has yet to reach out to these emerging forces of women. We have yet to effectively integrate our understanding of the common oppressions of race, class, sex and lesbianism with our daily practice. If our movement is to realize its potential, it is time to organize for power. We need to turn our analysis to action, choose priorities for our struggle and come together to win.

Across the country women are discussing these issues. Many are building socialist feminist unions, study groups and organizing collectives. In fusing and building on the politics of both feminism and socialism, we are developing theories which make sense, and strategies which are effective. We want to nurture this collective process. That's why we're organizing this conference.


The conference is being organized by a planning committee, supported by and made up of representatives from the following socialist feminist unions and collectives: Berkeley/Oakland Women's Union, Boston Area Socialist Feminist Organization, Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Lexington Socialist Feminist Union, New American Movement Women's Caucus (represented by the C.P. Gilman Chapter of Durham, NC, and the Dayton Socialist Feminist Group), New York City Women's Union, Radical Women (Seattle), Twin Cities Women's Union (Minneapolis/St. Paul), and Valley Women's Union (Northampton, MA). As fairly large, experienced women's organizations, these groups have been meeting since November, 1974, to plan and organize the conference collectively. It is scheduled for July 4, 5 and 6 at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.


The conference will facilitate communication among the growing numbers of socialist feminist and activist women and seriously examine major questions of theory, strategy and practice. With a variety of practice, the women's movement has yet to develop long range strategies for building a mass revolutionary movement which offers realizable alternatives to capitalism. We believe that socialist feminists with a developing analysis and a history of activism are cutting new strategic directions within the women's movement and the left. The conference will be a place to share our organizing experiences, broaden our perspectives and assert socialist feminism as a strategy for revolution.

We see it as a working conference, which can help socialist feminists join with other activist women to spur the women's movement on in realizing its potential. We don't believe that the time is right for setting up any kind of national organization, although we do want to develop regional and national communication networks. Neither is the conference planned as an introductory debate on the merits of either feminism or socialism.

In order to provide a beginning point for discussion, the planning committee has agreed on three principles of unity for the conference which follow:

1. We recognize the need for and support the existence of the autonomous women's movement throughout the revolutionary process;

11. We agree that all oppression, whether based on race, class, sex or lesbianism, is inter-related and the fights for liberation from oppression must be simultaneous and cooperative; and

Ill. We agree that socialist feminism is a strategy for revolution.


The conference is open to any woman who is in general sympathy with the three points of unity and the goals of socialist feminism. Women who are actively working on issues of concern to women in their communities, at their work places, in alternative institutions or in feminist and non-sectarian left organizations are especially encouraged to attend. We expect 600 -800 women to attend.


The projected format for the conference is designed to provide equal time on theory, strategy and practice, while recognizing that it is unproductive to discuss one without relating it to the others. The planning committee has made special efforts to plan a humane schedule and an environment to reflect women's culture. Music, dance, drama, art and films will accompany political presentations and discussions. Large meetings of the whole have been minimized and interspersed with extended workshop times and small group discussions.

Most of the collective work of the weekend will go on in strategic workshops. We have planned these around the three primary areas in which activist women have been organizing and applying strategies: 1. Work Place Organizing; 11. Community Organizing; and 111. Building a Socialist Feminist Movement. After an initial session, each of these will be subdivided into four or five smaller groups which will then meet three more times during the conference. In this way each conference participant will have the opportunity to meet with the same group of women throughout the weekend, developing strategies for organizing.

We need diversity as well as intensive work. For this reason we've planned for numerous small workshops which will offer time to share skills, exchange information and ideas, and provide practical examples of various organizing techniques. Topics for small workshops will include: Art and Revolution, Feminist Therapy, Women and Radio, Wages for Housework, Health Advocacy, and others.


We on the planning committee believe that this conference is going to be one of the most exciting, creative an productive feminist gatherings held in years. We've got major questions to discuss, programmatic successes an failures to share, songs to sing, fun to have, plays to watch and skills to learn. That's why we've planned this conference. Come share with us, celebrate our victories and plan with us for a better tomorrow. Come to the conference!


9:45-10:00 Break for group exercise and song

10:00-12:00 Systems of Oppression (discussions of the common oppressions of race, class and lesbianism.

12:00-1:30 LUNCH

1:30-3:30 Subdivided Strategic Workshops

3:30-4:00 FREETIME

4:00-5:30 Small Workshops, Films and Recreation

5:30-7:30 DINNER

7:30 Play Presented by CIRCLE OF THE WITCH, Twin Cities Women's Union

8:30 PARTY

Sunday, July 6th

7:30-9:00 BREAKFAST

9:00-10:30 Subdivided Strategic Workshops

10:45-12:00 Small Workshops

12:00-1:30 LUNCH

1:30-3:30 Regional Meetings

3:45-4:00 Final Meeting of the Whole - Brief Wrap Up of the Conference

Friday, July 4th

9:00 -11:00 REGISTRATION

11:00 -12:00 Welcome to the Conference

12:00-1:30 LUNCH

1:30 -2:30 Meeting of the Whole: Where Do We Go From Here?- Socialist Feminist Theory and Practice

2:45-3:45 Small Group discussions of above presentation

4:00-5:30 Small Workshops, Films and Recreation

5:30-7:30 DINNER

7:30 -8:30 Strategic Workshops: i. Work Place Organizing; ii. Community Organizing;and iii. Building Our Movement.

8:30-10:00 Each of the above Strategic Workshops subdivides into discussions of major strategic questions.

Saturday, July 5th

7:30-9:00 BREAKFAST

9:00 -9:45 Meeting of the Whole: Confronting the Economy as Socialist Feminists

Letter from the Socialist Feminist Conference Organizers

(1975) A letter sent to prospective attendees to help them prepare for the Conference. Published in the June-July 1975 issue of CWLU News. (1975)

(Editors Note: This is a 1975 letter that went out to perspective conference attendees to prepare them for the Conference in July.)

Socialist Feminist Conference
1309 North Main Street
Dayton, Ohio 45406
March 25, 1975

Dear Sisters,

While the rest of this mailing is about the Conference in the future, this part is about NOW: What you can do now to build for the Conference. The following suggestions are aimed not only at encouraging your group to help spread the facts about the Conference, but also at spreading the politics and ideas of socialist feminism, and at the same time doing work that would benefit your group.

Following are our suggestions: If you are engaged in significant local organizing it would be good to consider doing a workshop. As you can see from the agenda there can be a wide variety of strategic, tactical, skills -building or special interest workshops. We need women with experience to give such presentations. If your groups or certain individuals would like to put together a presentation, or speak in one of the strategy workshops, let us know.

We are expecting women to come to the Conference having done some preparation. A short term study group could be an excellent activity for some groups. This will help develop people's understanding of the issues to be presented and discussed, and bring women closer together. It also might be good to draw in some women not in your group, but who are interested in socialist feminism. This could help build relationships with other women's organizations in your city. Following are some suggested readings. As the Conference draws nearer, we expect papers to be circulated for discussion in advance. Also, a lot of papers will be generated by the Conference, and could provide the basis for continued meeting of your local group, after the event itself.


WOMEN, RESISTANCE AND REVOLUTION -Vintage Books -by Sheila Rowbotham

WOMEN'S CONSCIOUSNESS, MAN'S WORLD -Penguin Books -by Sheila Rowbotham

SOCIALIST FEMINISM STRATEGY PAPER -available from Chicago Liberation Union

DIALOGUE BETWEEN BARBARA DEMING AND ARTHUR KINOY ON PARTY BUILDING available from M.P.P., 156 5th Avenue, Room 812, New York, New York 10010.

SOCIALIST REVOLUTION -the Eli Zaretsky series. Volume 13-14, and Volume 15.



THE LONGEST REVOLUTION by Juliet MitchelI -New England Free Press

Use the fact of the Conference to reach out and have discussion with a wide variety of women in your city. We suggest you call a meeting, or a series of meetings, for people or groups who might want to come to the-Conference. Or, get on the agenda of groups who have regular meetings. You might give a presentation on socialist-feminism, have some discussions of political questions, describe the Conference plans, and also talk about each group's local work. The Conference plans call for major sessions on various kinds of community and workplace organizing, as well as theoretical discussion. Examples of the kinds of groups we will be interested in having participate:

Third World women's groups, or women's caucuses of Third World left groups
Women's Centers
Other alternative institutions such as -Women's Health Services, Free Clinics, Counseling Services,
Daycare Workers and Clients
N.O.W. Chapters
C.L.U.W. groupings (there will be a major discussion and analysis of C.L.U.W. and, hopefully, some formulation of left strategy)

Women in unions such as -AFT, 1199, AFSCME
Women working in working women's support organizations -such as Union W.A.G.E., 9 to 5, W.E.
Women organizing community struggles such as utilities, tenements, health care
Lesbian groups
Women's caucuses of left organizations or collectives
Non-Socialist feminists who seek a more activist orientation
Women's studies faculty and students

The Conference could provide a good opportunity for you to speak before and with such groups. As you read the detailed Conference agenda, perhaps even more ideas of who in your city would be interested in the various workshops will come to mind.

Finally you should try to get our press release and agenda into any local newspapers, newsletters of organizations, campus newspapers, etc.

The success of the Conference depends a great deal on the local work we all can do. If women come prepared, and we have real representation from Third World, working class, and lesbian women, we will have a much more meaningful Conference. So, do your best to work locally between now and July 4th!

In sisterhood,



Report on the first National Conference on Socialist Feminism

(1975) The 1975 Socialist Feminist Conference held in Yellow Springs OH brought 1500 women together. This report was from the August 1975 issue ofCWLU News. (1975)

(Editors Note: This is a 1975 report on the Socialist Feminist Conference held in Yellow Springs OH. The Conference raised hopes that socialist feminism would grow and prosper.)

It's been just one month since over 1500 women from all over the country met in Yellow,Springs, Ohio, to discuss theory, strategy, and practice for the women's movement. A lot happened!

There were over 100 special interest workshops which dealt with topics ranging from Women in Prisons to Women in Guinea Bissau to Nonsexist Teaching in Elementary School to Women Filmmakers. Over one-half of the women attended strategy sessions in workplace and community organizing sharing practice from hospital work, rape lines, schools, union organizing, welfare rights organizations child care centers, and housing campaigns. Other women talked about working with the mixed left, about how to build women's organizations, and ways of developing a women's culture.

A central issue raised at the conference was the question of how to build a multi-racial movement.. A Third World. caucus formed and presented a statement to the conference as a whole and to a panel representing the Black, Chicana, Puerto Rican, and Asian communities. Madonna Gilbert of the American Indian Movement (AIM) also spoke to the conference about the crisis at the Pine Ridge reservation. Other panels dealt with socialist feminist theory, the economy, and lesbian women, including a presentation from the CWLU Lesbian workgroup.

What did it all mean? What did the conference tell us about where the women's movement is at nationally? What did we see as its strengths and its weaknesses as reflected in the conference? What are the major political questions confronting the women's movement?

Those of us who helped plan the conference feel that we're not yet able to answer those questions in a clear way. But we think that a political assessment is crucial. Many of the women who went from Chicago are doing evaluations. All of the socialist feminist study groups set up for the conference have met, as well as the CWLU Steering Committee. Chapters and workgroups have had their own summaries. Both the New American Movement (NAM) and Rising Up Angry are talking about it with their own members.

Conference Followup

We are planning a Conference Followup for Sunday, August 17, to continue this political assessment. The meeting is open any woman who attended the conference and to women who, were not able to go because of enrollment-limitations.. It will be held at the Puerto Rican High School, at 1520 N. Claremont (I block east of Western and I block south of North Avenue), from 9:30 A.M. to 5:00-P.M.

The meeting will focus both on the key political issues that were raised at the conference and the meaning of the conference to future women's organizing in Chicago. Evaluation and discussion questions (to be used in preparation for the meeting) ,are being sent to conference participants, or you can pick up a copy at the office.

Childcare will be provided. Bring a lunch for yourself.

Fundraising for the Conference

Expenses for the CWLU and the conference planners from Chicago totaled over $700! Please volunteer to be on a fundraising committee which will be set up on the 17th. We're also-going to take donations that day, so bring along a little bit extra.

Some Special Thanks

We appreciate all of the hard work which many women put in during the weeks before the conference, but special thanks go to Judy M., Pam Z., and Della L.,who handled all of the registration and transportation. And also to the CWLU staff, who had to put up with a million extra phone calls and interruptions.


CWLU NEWS asked members who attended different of the workshops at the conference to write up their personal impressions. More analytical and In-depth reporting will come out of the August 17 meeting. Be sure to attend!

Organizing the Unorganized

Over 75 women attended strategic workshops on organizing unorganized women.The women that came were mostly hospital,clerical, and childcare workers. Although most of the women were involved in regular unionization drives at their workplaces, there was a good deal of discussion about additional forms of organization which support the union organizing. Both childcare workers and hospital workers are developing ways to make links to the communities that they serve. One model discussed was BADWU (Boston Area Daycare Workers Union) which has members drawn from parents, the community, and childcare workers at a variety of different centers. In both Chicago and. New York, feminist office worker organizations (Women Employed and 9 to 5) support and often pave the way for unionization among clerical workers. (Reported by Diane H) .

Education Workers

The direction of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was the main issue of this workshop. A thorough report from a member of People Against Racism in Education, from New York City, gave a graphic picture of the conservative and reactionary direction the union is heading under the leadership of Albert Shanker. Increasing undemocratic procedures, the rise of racism (particularly in hiring practices and in the teachers union's relationship to Third World communities), a lack of emphasis on women's rights, and strict, top-down bureaucratic control were seen in all of the locals represent ed by conference participants. The workshop was just beginning to get into how to combat this trend--sharing practice on developing rank-and-file caucuses, women's committees, and teacher-community alliances--when time was up.

There were a number of women from Chicago present, representing substitute teacher organizing, GED (high school equivalency teacher organizing, and both teachers unions--Local 1 and Local 1600. The workshop made clear the need for national communication among socialists working in the union! (Reported by Diane H)

Women in Prison

Prison Project convened a two-part workshop on Women in Prison, around the relationship of prisons to the struggles and concerns of the women's movement and around concrete problems of doing political work in prisons and in the community. Workshop discussions were great; a strong sense of shared direction and that we face similar contradictions around our work. A national newsletter is planned to help continue discussion, We came back re-energized There's a lot of work to be done and we need more women to help do it. Please call us if You are interested. (Reported by The Prison Project.)

Lesbian Organizing Strategy

Women from about fifteen cities participated this workshop., All regions of the country were represented, and the cities ranged from large metropolitan areas to medium sized rural cities, to university towns. We discussed in-depth how our organizing efforts were influenced by our environment. The women from New York City, Chicago, and Berkeley-Oakland had several different lesbian and/or socialist-feminist organizations to work with. However, we all have difficulties, in moving from organizing the smaller base of political lesbians to doing outreach in the broad, nonpolitical lesbian community. We discussed the different programs that we had developed--newsletters, sports teams, consciousness raising groups-and their strengths and weaknesses.

Lesbians from Atlanta, Georgia, talked about their experiences in organizing gay women through sports leagues. A lot of lesbians played on mixed (gay and straight) softball teams, but most of them were "in the closet." In 1973 and 1974, gay women started to.form their own teams, sponsored by the, gay bars. The Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance(ALFA) grew out of there sports teams. ALFA is not a political organization, although some of its members are socialist feminists. ALFA has organized gay women around support work for the ERA and has monthly membership programs,. as well as social activities.

Women from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Rochester, New York, talked about their experiences organizing lesbians in a university atmosphere. People in college towns are looser about politics and there is generally less "queer fear" than in other environments. This makes it a lot easier to have open gay meetings, centers, dances, or coffeehouses. However, there is the traditional split between "town and gown" that carries over into the lesbian community. Older gay women, or younger lesbians who are not affiliated with the university, are suspicious of the radical student lesbians. There is very little intermingling or communication between the two groups. So far, there has been no program or issue that has united the two distinct communities that exist in both towns.

There were lesbians from many other cities who attended the workshops to find out what was going on in other areas of the country. They did not have any lesbian organizing experience, but were interested in trying to begin to build outreach programs in their cities. In order to give each, other support in expanding existing organizing efforts, or in building new ones, we decided to correspond regularly. We will exchange newsletters, but we will also write personal letters describing our experiences and talk about issues in our cities. We will give each other feedback and support in our work through a national communications network.

There was a real sense of sadness when our time ran out on Sunday. We met for three hours and felt that there was so-much more to be said and shared. We all felt a remarkable sense of closeness and sisterhood that gave us real up feeling. Most of us felt that this workshop was the highlight of our conference. We spent an hour at the end talking, about our personal lives and experiences. This mutual sharing cemented the bond of support-that had been built during-the two sessions. We all decided that "Sisterhood does feel good!" (Reported by Eileen W.)

Health Organizing

Discussion of health issues at the conference suffered from the initial division of the strategy work shops into community and workplace organizing. There are enough problems in trying to bridge that gap strategically without compounding them by separating the two groups of organizers. However, one of the most exciting discussions of health issues came in the community organizing health workshops on Saturday afternoon. After a series of presentations from Healthright (NY), the Santa Cruz Women's Health Collective, and HERS, women from different parts of the country began to focus on exactly those strategic questions of building bridges between healthworkers and community people actively organizing around health issues . This is an area into which the women's health movement has never moved successfully, and which seems important for the application of socialist feminism to health issues.

The other community organizing health workshop was less successful despite a useful presentation from a representative of the Fritzi Engelstein People's Health Center. Women active around health issues meet so infrequently (even on a citywide,let alone a regional or national basis), that it was hard--and maybe not correct to try to steer discussion away from nitty-gritty problems of financing and women' clinics etc., to broader questions.

Possibly the most important part of the conference, for health people, turned out to be the workshop given by the New York Committee to End Sterilization Abuse. The room was packed, and as the New York women gave specific details about their work, women from Seattle, Boston, Vancouver, and other cities added,". pieces to the national and international pattern of abuse which emerged. This should be an important focus for the socialist feminist women's health movement nationally. Work in Chicago on the issue is already becoming an important part of the followup of the conference. (Reported by Jenny K. and Lauren C. )

Blazing Star 1976 Conference Report

(1976) An assessment of CWLU lesbian organizing as well as a proposal for future action.

(Editors Note: This is a 1976 conference report of the CWLU Lesbian Group, better known as Blazing Star, a name taken from their highly successful newsletter.)

1.1976 Conference Report: CWLU Lesbian Group.

Work With Other CWLU Groups
Work With Other Groups
Writing, Speaking, and Outreach


How Does a Union—wide Issue Fit Into a Strategy?
How Would a Union—wide Issue Work?
What Should the Union-wide Issue Be?
How Would Equal Rights Fit Into Our Work?

The above outline indicates what follows in this report. Part 1 is a description of our activities over the past year. Part 2 is a discussion of some ideas that have been raised within the work group. They are an effort to address some of the problems we see in our work. We do not see these as a finished product nor is there unanimity within the group around them. We hope that, they can be a vehicle for discussion at the conference.


In the year since the last CWLU Conference, the Lesbian Group has had some ups & downs. At the time of last year’s conference the state of the Lesbian Group was pretty good. We were publishing BLAZING STAR with some regularity: we had plans for some Liberation School classes; we fielded some sports teams in the leagues organized by SECRET STORM and we had some fairly ambitious plans for sponsoring some educationals and doing some writing and publishing.

However, the internal disputes & political split this spring had a pretty disastrous effect on us. Politically we were clearly on the side of Planning Committee—-no way would we support the politics of “smash feminism, oppose homosexuality”—but the Lesbian Group was in danger of falling apart because a couple of our most active members were burned out by their intensive involvement in the Union—wide struggle. There were several other people who had just become active in the Lesbian Group at the time, who dropped out or became less active, because they had a hard time dealing with the struggle and had not really become well integrated into the group yet.

Throughout this spring & summer, we held almost no meetings & did very little work. Since about mid—summer, we have begun to get back on our feet. We have several new members, & have been meeting regularly. The rest of this report will deal with each of our projects:

BLAZING STAR: One of our major projects has been publishing BLAZING STAR on a fairly regular basis. We had one issue in January but then didn’t do another til July. Our last two issues (July & October) have been much larger than past issues. We’ve included more articles on work & health, as well as legislation, lesbian mothers, & upcoming events. Our circulation seems to be increasing, & we’ve been praised for recent improvements in graphics.

Educationals: At the beginning of the year, with money from the American Issues Forum, we planned several educationals: with Elaine Noble on politics: a slide show on health from the Gay Nurses Association; lesbian mothers: and gay workers. The one on gay workers never came off. Of the others, Elaine Noble was probably the most successful—it drew the largest audience. The one on lesbian mothers drew the smallest audience, but the Lesbian Mothers Group started out of it.

More recently, we are trying to start up again on a series of educationals. We just did one on gay rights legislation--it was not too well attended, but the people who were there learned a lot.

Work with other CWLU groups: The main groups we’ve worked with have been SECRET STORM with sports teams and some educational work; and Liberation School, with our class, “The Lesbian Experience.” With SECRET STORM, there have been teams sponsored by lesbian bars & partially organized by us in several leagues throughout the last two years. In LS, we did “The Lesbian Experience” last fall & this spring, & we had plans for other courses (e.g., Lesbian Literature) which fell through because there were not enough conveners for both courses. We’d like to do “The Lesbian Experience” this spring, either as part of LS or on our own.

Work with other groups: We work with the Gay Rights Task Force and with the Gay & Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago. GRTF is primarily concerned with legislation—-our involvement has been minimal, but will probably increase when more work had to be done. We have played a fairly active role in the Coalition (considering that only two of us from CWLU are involved), but we’ve often had a hard time dealing with the sexism and racism. The Coalition is just now trying to do some education to combat sexism and racism, and we are taking a leading role in that effort.

Writing, speaking and outreach: We have some unpublished material (our coming— out papers) that we have been meaning to publish but have never gotten around to, as well as some other ideas for writing. We hope to publish them this year.

As usual, we have been the main resource people within CWLU for speaking engagements on lesbianism. We have done several speeches, and also one program on CWLU’s radio show. Our outreach, aside from what’s listed above, is mostly hanging out in lesbian bars & coffeehouses & going to other lesbian activities.


BLAZING STAR was formed almost two years ago out of the old CWLU lesbian group. Our group reports in this and last years conference packets and our reports in the CWLU NEWS indicate the kind of work we’ve been doing. Our group was started purposely as a part of CWLU: we felt that it was important, even vital, to the work we wanted to do, to be part of a “socialist-feminist” (or whatever you want to call it) women’s organization. It was important because we believed that the oppression of gay people is related to that of women and all people, and that link had to be made clear through both our theory and practice. We also felt that as lesbians with socialist oriented politics that we had an important role to play in educating the left about gay oppression and liberation. Finally we wanted to put into practice the ideas we had learned about mass work from others in CWLU, particularly SECRET STORM: we also recognized that we had much to learn about mass work both from our own work and that of others.

These points are still important to us, and, with some variations, we think they are important to all Union groups. One of the slogans we’ve used is “unity is our strength” — by being a part of one organization, our work and ideas can have more effect than if we act as individuals or small groups. But in the past this unity has often been strained in many directions; the most obvious is at times like the recent split where there are clear theoretical differences within the CWLU. However, the less obvious strains of unity can be as destructive to the organization as the obvious fights. One way in which this disunity can occur is through the existence of a “small group mentality” and lack of coordination and communication of our efforts. This proposal tries to develop a strategic way to surmount this problem: the institution of what has been called in the past a "union—wide issue."

How Does a Union—wide Issue Fit Into a Strategy?

A strategy is basically a plan that tells you how to “use what you got to get what you need.” To develop a strategy you need to know what you’ve got and what you need. What we, the CWLU, have got can be summed up by three things: 1) Our organization and its history and experience, 2)Our society and its “concrete conditions” like the international situation, working conditions, what’s happening with women, what’s happening in Chicago, and so-on, and

3) Ourselves — our time, energy, knowledge, experience. What we need ultimately is women’s liberation as a part of a total change in society; we may call that socialism or independent socialism or socialist feminism or something else — whatever we call it we know that we need to change things for women and that means changing things for all people. Based on what we know so far we recognize that there are a lot of steps we have to take before we can come even close to our goals. We need to: 1) Work on making changes in existing institutions, 2) Reach many women and make it possible for them to join us in our fights — and for us to join them in their fights, and 3) we need to raise our consciousness and understanding (and others as well) about socialism and women’s liberation.

Even these goals are pretty big things and in order to be able to work towards them we need to be able to use our organization effectively. This is where a union—wide issue comes in; one of the ways in which we weaken our work is by being scattered. We don’t know what we’re all doing, we don’t have a common goal, and so we don’t reach as many women as we could. Those we do reach have a hard time getting a sense of the organization. It also means that we can’t be very successful in any fights we take up because our energy and resources are scattered all over. Finally we don’t grow together, we don’t learn from each other’s experience. By having a union—wide issue that we would all work on we would be able to focus some of our energy, we would have a common goal, we would have a link that would make us one organization.

How Would a Union-wide Issue Work?

If the CWLU were to unite on a union—wide issue, all core members and work groups would participate in activities around the issue. The exact nature of the work would depend on the issue, but could include things like petitioning, program meetings, organizing “block club” type groups, raising the issue where appropriate in other political work. Groups could continue with other work specific to their project, but would coordinate that work with the union-wide issue. CWLU coordination of the union—wide issue would be done by the Outreach Secretary and her committee and by Steering Committee. Core members would meet together (about quarterly) to share experience and do political education and plan for the future.

What Should the Union-wide Issue Be?

We propose that a possible union—wide issue is equal rights. This would mean support for equal rights for all people and not just work on the ERA. The situation now is that there are three levels of civil rights legislation: national, state, and local. On the national level there is the gay rights bill originally introduced by Bella Abzug, and the ERA. There is also a statewide focus for the ERA? and there is a state gay rights bill (the Catania/Mann bill) . Locally there are the city code amendments on gay and women’s rights There are several groups already involved in these issues; in Chicago the main ones are the Gay Rights Task Force and NOW. Other groups are working at state and national levels. We have a working relationship with both Chicago groups especially the Task Force.

We think this issue has several important strengths:

  1. The majority of women are for women’s liberation. In order to attract them we need to start with an issue that has the support of many women and equal rights is one of them.
  2. It is an issue that can be worked on by anyone and just about any group in the Chicagoland area.
  3. In working for the liberation of oppressed people the first step is in civil or democratic rights (sort of like the main contradiction.) Work here can be the basis for work in other areas. This is most clear in the gay situation where many, if not most, gay people cannot be organized— because they have no rights. The main protection, as well as the main oppression of gays is the closet and until this situation is resolved we get nowhere fast.
  4. Because the issue has broad appeal and city—wide possibilities it can be used as a basis for or in conjunction with community and other work. We can investigate, work in and build community ties and groups that will be sustained beyond this project. In part this means that our role is not just to get equal rights passed, but to educate people through our work as to how women’s rights is linked to other issues.
  5. We can work on equal rights in many ways — petitions, community groups, educationals, block clubs, newspapers rallies, etc.
  6. by having a general equal rights issues we can broaden our work on gay rights to include straight people We can educate folks around gay issues . This would make it clear that gay issues are not issues only for gay people. We also could make clear that gay people are interested in more than just “gay issues.”
  7. We have the responsibility, given the state of the left, to develop an understanding and analysis of sexism - “the woman question” and “the gay question” —and socialism. If we (a generalized we - CWLU, NAM, other women’s groups and so on) don’t do it, it won’t get done by doing common work on a basic issue of sexism, we can begin to develop our political understanding of it.

How Would Equal Rights Fit Into Our Work?

Each group would have to consider exactly how work on equal rights would fit into the project work as a whole. For BLAZING STAR this is comparatively easy since one of our interests has been work on gay rights through our links with the Gay Rights Task Force. Adopting this as a union—wide issue would have two primary effects: we would expand that work to include equal rights issues beyond gay rights, and we would put more energy into some of the aspects of equal rights that have been a low priority so far. Our work to date has been to have a representative on the Task Force, to circulate petitions, to talk about the issue in BLAZING STAR, and to have two educationals on gay rights legislation. Much more could be done .

We think that it is important for CWLU to find some way to coordinate our work better and to increase the level of cooperation and communication in the organization. Having a union—wide issue on equal rights seems to be one way; we are eager to hear responses and other ideas that people have.

Secret Storm 1976 Conference Report

(1976) An assessment of the CWLU sports organizing as well as discussion of changing priorities.

by the Secret Storm Workgroup (1976)

(Editors Note: Secret Storm organized sports teams in the Chicago Parks in the face of determined resistance by people who felt women did not belong in sports. This 1976 conference report summarizes the group's accomplishments and suggests strategies for the future.)  

Secret Storm is a workgroup of eight CWLU members who run a women's outreach program concentrating in park districts and neighborhoods on Chicago’s Northwest side. When the program started in January, 1972 we organized junior college and high school women in these same working class areas. Then, as now, our primary focus has been the political development and organization of the women we meet through our outreach. Many of them have become CWLU members. We feel that our work is important both because of the constituency we reach (working class, gays, housewives) and because we concentrate on the political development and mass organizing style of our workgroup members.

We shifted our emphasis to sports in June, 1974 because we wanted to reach older more stable women than we were able meet by working around schools. The neighborhood park districts offered, us one of the few areas where housewives get together outside their homes and women get together off the job.

In the past several months Secret Storm has been re-evaluating its program and priorities. In the past the long-range goal of Secret Storm has been the development of a city-wide women's sports program The short range goal was to fight against: the unequal facilities equipment and programs offered to women who play in leagues in the park districts. Many of the people who become interested in our sports teams do so for several reasons. For some it is a chance to learn or relearn sports skills that were once discouraged or never developed. For others, it is a way to be with and meet other women to participate in an activity that is enjoyable, and to be able to get out of the house(some for the first time without their husbands!) For many it, is a way to become involved with women’s liberation for the first time.

We reach a large number of women through our paper Secret Storm through our monthly educationals (attended by 25-30/ month), and through our sports leagues. This season, in two parks some 140 people are playing on teams organized through us. A large part of these women are blue collar; a fair amount are gay; many are mothers; some are Third World. We are making contact with women the Union wants to reach.

Recently, Secret Storm has been re-evaluating our strategy of building a sports organization, and our emphasis on sports as an issue. We realize that many of the women that play with us and consistently come to our forums, do so because of their interest in feminism, and our broader politics, not necessarily because of their interest in sports. Our question is - should we concentrate on sports or more on women’s issues in our future work? For example to concentrate on sports could mean a further focus on winning victories from the parks, childcare facilities, more sports for women, lower fees for the teams, keeping the same teams together season after season, and building a regional then city-wide women’s sports organization.

If we decided to emphasize women‘s organizing it could mean still playing in the leagues as a means to get to know women, but we would go on instead to form rap groups and possibly concentrate on developing women's community groups in one or two neighborhoods where a large amount of our workgroup members and contacts live, like Hamlin Park or Norwood Park. And these community groups could coordinate their focus of activity with another CWLU program. More on this later.

There is a difference among the members of the workgroup as to which of these directions the group should pursue. For the next season, we have decided therefore to develop both types of work. That means right now that we are struggling with the Park District around fees and childcare provision and at the same time doing educationals on general woman's issues and starting rap groups We hope at the end of the season to make a more informed decision about which direction to take, and thereby focus our energies in one direction.

What role does Secret Storm play in the Union a future organizational strategy? The first step the Union has to take is choosing strategic issues, while the second step is the development of program around mass organizing around those issues. Although our future focus is undecided, our overall strength is a well developed method of mass organizing that our work is and will be based on. Which direction we move in will be affected by the Union's strategic decisions. For example, if Secret Storm moves towards neighborhood based women's organizing; (like Hamlin Park) we could concentrate on an elementary school and relate to the Union’s schools program. Or we could develop another local women's program, strategically important to the Union. Or if the Union has a healthcare program, we could organize around neighborhood healthcare problems. This can be further explored.

In the last six months we've been the only program of the Union doing general women's liberation outreach work. This has meant we've had to develop some of the things; ourselves necessary to an outreach program, like monthly educational forums, and our outreach newspaper, because the Union did not provide these functions. In the future we hope the Union can develop some of these educational and propaganda functions that will be necessary for the success of our program and any other outreach program. We also encourage and look forward to the Women's Union developing programs for us to direct some of the women we organize into.