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Vets for Peace
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Beyond Same-Sex Marriage
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Venezuelan Women’s Organizing
I stand in an ocean of women, an ocean that I am accustomed to swimming in these days. Women from all over Venezuela have gathered in Caracas, proudly wearing red, the color of revolution. They join in solidarity to protest a ruling that has annulled a law designed to protect women and the family against violence. Maria León, president of the government-supported women’s organization, Inamujer (National Institute of Women), offers hope to the other compañeras: “We will win because we have it in our hearts. We will have justice.”
In 1999 the people and the Chavez government collaborated in writing a new constitution for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Venezuela became the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to include a gender perspective within its constitution. Little pocket-sized constitutions and booklets of laws are sold on every corner and the majority of women I know proudly carry a copy. The people strongly believe in these rights, such as the constitution’s Article 88, the Equal Opportunity Law for Women, and the Law Against Violence Towards Women and the Family. Influential governmental women’s organizations, such as Inamujer and Banmujer, play an important role in women’s liberation work, helping to ensure the implementation of laws and programs supporting women through groups like Madres del Barrio (Mother’s of the Neighborhood).
These, among other laws and services, are great achievements in the struggle for women’s rights. But when government laws and protections serve as the source for organizing among women, does this take away their assertiveness to claim/take our own power that we, as women, rightfully deserve? As a woman, I have had little faith in the laws of my country or in a constitution written by “white men” in the 1700s, which continues to be interpreted by new generations of white men. The system of government that I know is historically rooted in hierarchical/patriarchal structures. These penetrate every aspect of our lives, be it social, political, or economic.
“Women are always the ones who have to pay. This is how machismo works, but it will not always be like this. We need to work for our own respect. We have laws that protect us, people need to respect the laws and respect us,” Lezly Belkys Lopez explains to me during a women’s protest.
The law, passed in 1998, was written and implemented by Inamujer, which officially holds the main responsibility of “supervising and evaluating policies related to the condition and situation of women.” The annulled articles prohibited the perpetrator/violator from visiting the home or workplace of the survivor. Inamujer mobilized their locally organized groups of women throughout Venezuela (Puntos de Encuentro) to protest these annulments, which were decided by five male Supreme Court judges in May 2006 and cannot be lawfully reviewed. Therefore, within the blink of an eye, the law has changed, leaving women vulnerable. This example shows us that although Inamujer and other groups fought incredibly hard to write and pass this important law, five men holding an immense amount of power were capable of completely destabilizing populations of women at risk. Here, I would suggest that the reliance on “protective laws” is not enough.
T hankfully, Venezuela has more to offer than just “protective laws.” The government encourages people to create changes from the base. Banmujer, founded on International Women’s Day 2001, supplies micro-credit loans to cooperatives consisting of 5-20 women to start their own business. Each woman receives 2,000,000 Bolivares ($930) with a 12 percent interest rate (6 percent if agriculturally related) to be repaid within 3 years. These services have reached approximately 50,000 women each year, supporting the economic independence of poverty stricken women throughout Venezuela. Not only is this institution helping to decrease the feminization of poverty, it is also supplying valuable empowerment skills to its users while fostering the idea of a popular economy. The users have also formed local support networks (Red Usuarias de Banmujer) to organize within the community and patronize one another’s businesses. Women in Venezuela are being offered opportunities that no government in their past has given them before.
Equally impressive and empowering is Article 88 of the Constitution, which “recognizes work in the home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth.” The article also states that women working at home are entitled to social security. Article 88 is not only the result of women’s hard work, but also the work of women fighting for this recognition all over the world. The words alone are strong, but little had been done to implement this article until March of this year when the government initiated the Madres Del Barrio Mission. Created by the work ministry, Madres del Barrio began a 6-month trial period in which almost 200,000 women in “extreme poverty” received between 279,000372,000 Bolivares ($120$173) a month to help eradicate poverty.
For example, at the opening lecture for Madres del Barrio, the creator, Ivan Espinoso (a man), gave a PowerPoint presentation to an auditorium full of women. After he finished, verbal fights broke out among different women’s groups over who was going to receive the aid first. The answer: those in “extreme poverty.” Then women began arguing over which communities were the poorest. Since the mission asks women to quantify their level of oppression, they are placed in competition with one another for aid. Furthermore, in this case, a man was instituting a program to help women gain empowerment skills, but the women were not included in the formation process.
Madres del Barrio is one example of the Venezuelan government’s good intentions, but it is also an example of the lack of connection that the powers-that-be can have with the people they are trying to help. I feel the government programs and protections cannot serve as the catalyst for women’s organizing. Empowerment does not come from laws and government programs.
The women of Venezuela are truly the backbone of this country. They are incredible organizers and are always looking after the wellbeing of others.
I have found much of the focus within groups of women to be primarily based on women’s education of their rights and the laws, and/or fighting for the protection/realization of such laws. I do not devalue this work, as I believe it is important and necessary. But the repeal of protections by the Venezuelan Supreme Court have shown us that laws alone cannot protect us from the patriarchy within our cultures. The necessity for such protections points to problems deep within our cultures, cultures that breed violence, where inequality is “normal,” where women must continuously struggle in order to be respected and safe. The spaces for such discussion exist here in Venezuela, but I have not seen these spaces being used to challenge the roots of our oppressive, cultural norms.
W e need to create more self-sustaining changes from the base that do not force women into situations where we must constantly fight to protect and pass laws that grant us safety. Of course, we can benefit from protections and programs, but they are not solving the real problems. We must not accept uncritically programs and protections given or approved by a powerwielding institution. We must be the creators and the implementers of these changes ourselves. We know what changes need to be made, so we must claim our power, unite ourselves, and win back the right to name and create the world we want to live in. I know that if any women are up to this challenge, they are the courageous luchadoras of Venezuela.
Sara Yassky has lived in Caracas, Venezuela for the past six months learning and working with various women’s community groups. She is currently in Mexico continuing such work.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.