secret storm 1976

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.