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I ’ve been having these flashbacks recently while I’ve been teaching. Not really acid flashbacks (well I guess they could be), but vivid split-second memories of where I was and what I was reading between 1964 and the mid-1970s. The iridescent quality of the images is sometimes startling—the acute memory of being on an uptown train with friends discussing Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex in November of 1971; the visceral sensation of hearing about the first TV reports of the riots in the mostly Black, Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey (where I was slated to go to college two months later); being at an SDS meeting in mid-September 1970 discussing Angela Davis’s possible whereabouts after she fled California with the FBI hot on her trail. The emotional power they carry is weirdly out of proportion to the meanings I usually ascribe to the actual events.
Maybe this isn’t that surprising—these past two months I’ve been teaching (for me) two new courses: “Introduction to Women’s Studies at Dartmouth” and “Power to the People: Black Power, Radical Feminism, and Gay Liberation” at Harvard. In each course I’ve relied not only on a vast amount of texts, films, music, and images that would be useful, but also on my own experiences of the period. I haven’t been teaching a long time (I came to it late in life after years of writing and activism) so this is probably not a new feeling for people who have combined activism and teaching. But for me it is slightly unsettling, but in a nice way, sort of.
What is curious, is that these memories are quite different from those that I have when I teach gay-themed courses—“Introduction to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies” or “Queer Marriage, Hate Crimes, and ‘Will and Grace’: Contemporary Issues in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies” in which we cover a great deal of history.
It occurred to me that there are two curious aspects to what I was
experiencing. The first is the general oddness of teaching events
that are so central to my own experience as “history.”
To me they feel like “a while ago,” not “history.”
But that is probably the nature of what we end up calling history;
it takes a while to transform itself from something that happens
to people to being historical record.
Of course, my first thought was “this is perfect, this is material I really know.” But I never took into consideration that “what I knew” was, by nature of my experience, an often limited view of the material. I have visceral reactions to much of what we have been discussing—I read Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics the month it was published, and followed the complicated fighting and maneuvering of early second wave feminist community formations. While an invaluable starting point, this is a small fragment of the larger picture. I can, and have, easily filled in the larger framework with other materials and narratives, but the fact remains that in the classroom my view takes precedence. This has meant that I’ve actually had to work twice as hard to convey a more accurate historical picture and analysis of the times. The process has been a complicated one as I need to (psychologically and emotionally) locate myself in this history and then simultaneously view it from the outside.
As a progressive, I have always seen these experiences as transformative; they are embedded in my core identity and refiguring them is disquieting. But the flip side of this is that these acts of disengagement can also be liberating as I lose track of my “self” and begin to see my friends and I as minor players in this amazing, larger tapestry. There is something bracingly good for the ego to realize that, in the larger Works Progress Administration mural of social change, you are a small speck in the left corner.
I never have these vivid flashbacks in my LGBT courses, which is odd since in class we sometimes read about specific meetings at which I was present. But what has become clear to me is that, although I’ve worked within the gay liberation movement since it’s inception in 1969, my central political commitment has never been as radically formative to me as those early years of the black power movement and radical feminism, of which I was never a central player. And it is true that when teaching “Power to the People,” the material that really excites me in the classroom are works such as Eldridge Clever’s Soul on Ice and Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex . This is, I think, because the thinking and the theorizing of the gay liberation movement, while vitally important almost all emerged from the early work of the women and men dealing with race, gender, and sex.
My own history with this was that the radicalism of black power and early second wave feminism—from self-empowerment to consciousness raising to disruptive social actions—were completely transferable to the needs and the aims of the gay liberation movement. By 1969 and 1970 my work in gay liberation felt like a simple extension of what the other groups had started several years before.
A s I have been teaching these courses, I’ve been amazed at how much the students, some of whom were born in 1988, do not know. But also, more satisfyingly, how eager they are for this information. To a large degree this is all new to them: many students have never heard of the Black Panthers, the concept of Consciousness Raising Groups, the involvement of the gay liberationists in the anti-war movement and any of the coalition work (successful and unsuccessful) that occurred during this time. The students who sign up for these courses usually have progressive politics, but they often have no sense of history. I feel as though I am bringing this past to people who want and need it, but who experience it at a distance. I wonder what it means to them? Is it like my hearing about World War I in grammar school, a distant echo of events that have only some vague relationship to today? But I also know that when I am teaching ideas and events that occurred 40 years ago, I feel there is a link beteween the past and the present to the future.
I am not quite sure what it is or what it means to the students, but it is there. And it is important.
Michael Bronski teaches at Dartmouth College. His latest book is Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps (St. Martin’s Press, 2003).
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.