Three hundred feminists blanketed the concrete in Washington Square Park last night, their attention focused by the now-familiar mic check. The “Raging Grannies” had just performed. A banner, framed by the park’s iconic arch, declared that the first NYC Feminist General Assembly, presented by Women Occupying Wall Street (WOWS), was in full swing.
After seven months of reporting on feminism and the work of women activists in the Occupy movement, I wanted to know: could this meeting be a model for how OWS collaborates with other social movements? Might I witness the forming of a new activist coalition, bringing SlutWalkers, Occupiers, second-wavers and radicals together to fight back against the assault on rights we know as the War on Women?
The assembly gathered activists of a wide range of ages, ethnicities, abilities and gender presentations, with a noticeable majority of cisgender (that is, non-transgender) white women. Not a single police officer looked on, a rarity for an OWS event.
We began in consciousness-raising knots of three. Facilitators from WOWS instructed us to speak in turn without interruption about our personal involvement with feminism. In my cluster, blushes and downturned eyes in response these big questions gradually turned into animated conversations when we fell into small talk: “When did you move to New York?” “Wasn’t May Day awesome?”
Later, we broke into larger circles to brainstorm goals, leading into an hour of intense discussions. As the sun set, speakers from each breakout group shared their results, echoing over the human microphone. Soon, the usual Occupy hand signals dissolved into vocal responses: applause, hoots and shouting.
A few themes emerged: first, the need to fight the assault on reproductive freedom; and second, the need to make feminism more inclusive of trans people, the disabled, incarcerated women, women of color, and those with “different discursive styles.”
Many goals presented were big-picture. We should fight capitalism, reclaim our history, unite with labor and educate our kids about misogyny. There were some Occupy-style solutions: those whose voices dominate should “step back” for an entire meeting. Let’s have more feminist tweets from Occupy’s account. We should distribute free condoms, as an art project, all over the city. Men should notice when they are “mansplaining” (this one got a thunderous ovation).
Occasionally, the conversation got a little jargony: my group’s representative announced our rejection of the notion that we could even come up with a set number of goals in a timed scenario. “It’s a temporality that’s… anti-feminist!” she said, getting knowing laughs.