Becoming involved in the women’s movement means moving from isolation as a woman to community. Through telling my story, I reach out to other women. Through their hearing, which both affirms my story and makes it possible, they reach out to me. I am able to move, gradually, from defensiveness to openness, from fear of questioning to a deep and radical questioning of the premises from which I have lived my life. I experience relief; my anger has been heard, and I am not alone. But I am also frightened; I am undermining my own foundations. The walls come tumbling down. – Judith Plaskow, The Coming of Lilith
Lately, I’ve been thinking about this blog – what it does – in relation to my life, as it promotes the intersection between scholarship, activism, and community. I notice these three elements in most, if not all of the FAR posts, but I’ve been wondering what exactly it means to really embody a life that allows scholarship, activism, and community to mutually mix and inform each other.
Though the movement has spread nationwide (and now worldwide) like wildfire, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in the #OccupyWallStreet movement in New York City these past couple of weeks. Like the critical scholar I’ve (hopefully) trained to be, I prepared for my involvement in the movement by stocking up on anti-corporate narratives and flipping through my ethnographies on consumption, including “Bloomberg’s New York.” However, while mentally gathering my critiques of neoliberalism, over-privatization, wealth, luxury, and consumer-obsessed subjectivities, I didn’t feel the adrenaline rush I had anticipated. Here’s what did give me that blood pumping excitement:
- Watching Peter Yarrow at Zucotti Park (of Peter, Paul and Mary) singing a lovely rendition of “Puff the Magic Dragon” with a group of small children holding proportionally sized protest signs
- Perusing the books of the “library” that the OWS community set up, full of novels, Marxist critique, poetry, and everything in between
- Listening to the “General Assembly” discuss concerns through a “people’s mic” – a process where everyone within earshot repeats what the speaker said to spread the word to the edges of the crowd.
- Reading a cardboard sign with the words “tzedek, tzedek,” meaning, “justice, justice” in Hebrew
- Marching down to the Courthouse with my NYU cohorts and faculty, donning my Rosie the Riveter t-shirt screaming “We are the 99%”
- Feeling like for the first time in New York I was part of a community
Some may disagree with me, or see me as trite, but I see some fundamental crossings between this movement and the feminism and religion movement, and the one that jumps out the most to me has to do with a communal feeling – the high energy that comes from a collaboration of diverse people coming together to celebrate equality and condemn oppression.
I don’t want to in any way reduce the feminism and religion movement by drawing connections to OWS. Although Heidi Hartmann’s “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism” could be useful in this context, my move toward Judith Plascow is one of feeling or affect, not a move to intellectualize power. Plascow’s quote above is one of my favorites – to me, it signifies both her fear and hopeful ambition of the earliest years in the groundswell of feminist theology and Jewish feminism. She’s talking about consciousness raising. She’s talking about community.
One of the elements that make the OWS so effective is that it is undefinable – yes, we are fighting against the power of money, as opposed to people, to rule our nation, but the movement is about recognizing our similarities within the greater pluralistic whole. The movement, like feminism, is complicated and problematic – it requires constant self-reflexivity, constantly widening its lens even as it focuses its goals. The fluidity inherent in the bridging of feminism and religion is exactly why it is so desirable – it accepts its universal drive to unite women and condemn gender and sexuality inequality, while recognizing that the particularities of religious and cultural communities must inform and question the methods and values of the drive itself.
I’ve had lot of people question why I’m protesting at Wall Street. Many are asking how the movement will actually “change” anything, and I start to panic, in the same way I do when someone asks in a snarky way, “what’s wrong with patriarchy?” I try to gather my thoughts, picking my brain for the best way to explain androcentrism in the bible or the commodification of ethnicity, and then I remember something: I have a right to be upset. With the work of scholarship and activism, I realize that there is a community of like-minded people full of anger and contradictions, looking to change consciousness even before we change laws, because in the words of Plascow, “it’s our oppression.”
Categories: Feminist Theology