by Sue Davenport, Paula Kamen and the CWLU Herstory Committee — CWLU workgroups were the independent committees of the Union organized around particular interests and activities.
CWLU Work Groups and Personal Transformation by Sue Davenport, Paula Kamen and the CWLU Herstory Committee
(Editors Note: This memoir is adapted from a talk that Sue gave at Women and Children First Bookstore in 1999. Paula Kamen transcribed Sue's remarks. The photo shows Sue at a 1999 fundraiser for Jane: Abortion and the Underground)
CWLU workgroups were the independent committees of the Union organized around particular interests and activities. A well known CWLU workgroup was ACDC. (Action Committee for Decent Child Care).They set up a seasonal review of the licensing processes for daycare centers, and they actually got the city to allocate $1 million for child care. A group of women could go up against the city and get something real, a reallocation basically of wealth and power, that would benefit ordinary people and/or people's needs, and particularly children's needs.
We also had DARE, Direct Action for Rights Employment. For the women who were really concerned about women in the workplace, the Women's Union had a very dedicated group of women who worked with women in various largely industrial and service settings, where they were basically being very fiercely discriminated against, either by their management or their boss, or their union, or both. They worked and collaborated very closely with the women janitors, who were for the most part African American, and they met in their homes on Sunday nights in the South Side and slowly built up a campaign.
It was hard , no one of us up here wants to glamorize the conflict and the struggle, because people put real things at risk- people's psyches, people's bodies, people's energies. Susan Bates, the woman, the janitress who was the lead in the case had a cinder block was thrown through her window shortly before the case was won, and it hurt her. So DARE was the group that took on the workplace in the most serious kind of way.
We also had neighborhood organizing of women doing outreach with the newspaper, called "Secret Storm." Reaching out there to the passions of young women and their hearts and urging them again, to play sports and to ask for equal time on the courts and in the fields, and they got it from their local park district. And if any of you have spent any time dealing with park district bureaucracies you know it's not easy.
The gay and lesbian chapter, Blazing Star, organized among gay and lesbian women and did a tremendous job within the Women's Union of I think, helping us hold together so that we, unlike a lot of women's unions around the country, did not split along gay/straight lines. We held together.
ON PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION:
I would just like to say a little bit personally about how I think that the experience of being in the Women's Union was a consciousness raising affair that just permanently changed every single one of us. You know, the lenses in your eyes aren't the same anymore. When I think of Estelle's talking about the Graphics Collective posters, the one that I just kept being stunned by every time I sat in office for a meeting was the one of a young American woman and a young Vietnamese woman back to back.
The young American woman, very attractive, young, is putting on bright red lipstick. And the Vietnamese woman back to back to her, is bleeding the same red out of her nose. Anyway that poster captured for me the sense of living in a corporate society where it was the agenda of the large corporations who really determined the wars and the allocation of resources.
That our whole government was mobilizing our whole society to fight, and that the price of that war for a Vietnamese woman was not that she didn't have any lipstick, but that it was pulling her family, her children, her villages, her way of life, all of the social fabric within Vietnam, and just turning the world upside-down.
And so that poster was very powerful for me, and some of the lessons that I took away from the Women's Union I think have been very important to me and all the rest of us. Because many of us found jobs where we could continue, surprisingly enough, to discover injustice was all around us. If we just opened our eyes to these schools we were teaching in, or the hospitals, or the, any of the big huge bureaucracies, or little small companies, or wherever you worked, you saw the injustices that were just innate in our democracy.
And so, there was always work to be done. Another one of the lessons that I could never forget is really what other people have said tonight. But it's basically, 3 to 5 people can get together and do just about anything. The final area that I think a lot of the changes were made in, were in our personal and family lives, and how we chose to live, and what kind of relationships we chose to live in, and that it was okay to be married or not to be married, or to be in a lesbian relationship, or to be lesbian for a while and to go back to men, or you know, whatever. There were just lots and lots of possibilities.
It enabled me to do a joint custody with my former husband, and so we could raise two sons, and two sons who turned out well. And that was one of the contradictions a lot of women were faced with: what are we doing having all these sons? And so my son's here tonight and I'm happy about that, because not only is he here but he's also taking a feminist theory class and a Marxist theory class in college this semester, and we have the feeling things are going to continue.
Sue Davenport was active in the CWLU workgroup HERS(Health Evaluation and Referral Service) and worked on the CWLU newspaper Womankind. She now works for Designs for Change, a Chicago school reform organization. Paula Kamen is a Chicago based writer and author of Feminist Fatale and Jane: Abortion and the Underground.