Feminist Contradictions

Former radical and Black Panther advocate, now prison abolitionist, Angela Davis, is “very excited” that Senator Kamala Harris is a Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in the current US election.  She admits there may be “problematic areas” with Harris’ political record, like her support of the death penalty, (or perhaps her opposition to a California bill when she was attorney general that would have had her office investigate all fatal police shootings?) but Davis has said feminists have to make “pragmatic compromises” and Harris might be “amenable” to future “progressive radical pressure.”  Davis then explains that it’s “a feminist approach to be able to work with these contradictions.”  When you are a Black “radical progressive” woman who has devoted years to abolishing mass incarceration and the police state—that’s one massive contradiction!  A radical for Black and Brown and female rights should not support such a candidate, especially a Black candidate like Harris.  It is not “a feminist approach” to totally deny everything for which a feminist—especially a “radical” feminist—stands.

Feminism is a philosophy of human rights, equality, democracy and justice.  Feminists do not, as Harris did as San Francisco district attorney, punish Black mothers for their children’s truancy by jailing them when they couldn’t pay the fine.  Feminists who support prison abolition certainly should not.  President Trump’s lunacy does not change Harris’s cruelty.  She, like Hillary Clinton, is no feminist, and should not be someone supported with on-line fund-raisers.  She, just like Vice President Joe Biden, who was a major architect of the present police/prison industrial complex, is not “palatable” if you’re a feminist or radical or any sort of dissenter against a police state.

The American police state has jailed dissenters since its beginnings, and it certainly shows no sign of ending that enterprise with the capitalist oligarchy now in control.  The longest-jailed woman political prisoner for fighting against police brutality, Reverend Joy Powell, wrote me a few weeks ago that for Black Americans, “the system is working exactly the way it was meant to work.”  It was meant “to keep their feet on our necks, by either killing an individual based upon the color of their skin. . . or trumping up charges on one with a voice and making tag team efforts to silence us.”  Joy Powell knows all about that.  And so do all the hundreds of women political dissenters today.

To highlight just a couple of recent cases, and there are way too many to choose from, we have only to look at the Denver police/district attorney repression of the organizers of the ongoing protests against the police murder of Elijah McClain, and the arrest of a Black female Kentucky legislator at the protests erupting in outrage after no justice was achieved for Breonna Taylor, killed in her bed.  On September 17th, a number of organizers of the Elijah McClain protests were arrested by Denver police, including Eliza Lucero and Lillian House of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.  Lucero thinks the district attorney has a personal vendetta against them, as they were refused a bail hearing, and held for eight days. The women observed the unsanitary and cramped conditions that existed for themselves and their fellow women prisoners, who, if menstruating, could, without supplies, bleed through their pants, and have to wait for the weekly laundry day to do anything about it.  In a week, Lucero and House were allowed one anti-virus mask, and no shower. The Denver women only got a bail hearing after an international outcry fueled by social media.  They’ll have a preliminary trial on November 10th to face bogus felony charges including “inciting a riot,” “kidnapping” (encircling a police precinct during a demonstration—apparently the police felt threatened), obstructing a highway, and stealing a sign.  They face up to 40 years in jail.  Their crime is to publicly and loudly object to the police torture and murder of the very young and innocent Elijah McClain.

As with the protests surrounding Daniel Prude’s killing in Rochester, NY, people took to the streets a few days ago to show their outrage about yet another documented case of murder over compassion in the case of Walter Wallace, whose family had requested an ambulance and instead got men with guns, more than ready to kill another young Black man who posed little threat.  His mother and others were trying to defuse the situation, but the police have other much more deadly ways of dealing with situations.  During the resulting protests, a video was shown on social media which highlighted an officer arresting a young Black woman.  He wrestled her to the ground and “punched her repeatedly.”  This is the police state in action.

To say that protesters against the lack of accountability for the killing of Breonna Taylor are frustrated, despairing and very angry, is to put it mildly.  Many have been arrested in numerous demonstrations, some with felony charges threatened as in Denver. At the end of September a grand jury– two of whose number, in an extraordinary action, spoke out against the charges not made—led along by the (Black) Kentucky attorney general, declined to bring charges against any police officer for killing Breonna Taylor.  Even knowing by now the lack of influence they would have, people took to the streets.  Two of those people were Kentucky representative Attica Scott and her college student daughter Ashanti.  Scott, the only Black female in that body, has submitted “Breonna’s Law” to the legislature to forbid “no-knock” warrants.  She felt she needed to be part of the demonstration after no charges were brought.

Scott was, with her daughter, seeking sanctuary in a church before curfew.  A few minutes before curfew began, they were arrested.  She had been taking pictures with her phone, always an impetus to anger cops.  She asked the arresting officer, “Where did you want us to go?”  He only told her to turn off her phone “so it doesn’t get broke.”  They were held overnight and Scott said she was “traumatized.”  But, she said, she has “the responsibility as a woman, a Black woman, a mother, to keep the fight going.”  As a Black woman, and a mother, Representative Scott needs to keep the fight going.  Senator Kamala Harris (also a Black woman and a mother) is very definitely on the other side of that fight. Harris jailed Black women and is a staunch friend of the police. Is it “palatable” enough then, for feminists, for radicals and leftists, to vote for Biden/Harris?

A few years ago (quite a few), I wrote a book about militant feminist suffragists called Iron-Jawed Angels. These were women political prisoners who lost jobs, husbands, and reputations; who were beaten, jailed and forced fed:  all to gain the constitutional right to vote, a step on the road to full equality with men.  That success was going to be quickly followed by a constitutional Equal Rights Amendment, clearly recognizing female equality.  Well, that hasn’t worked out as yet.  Who knows what a strange Christian rightist/female inferiority advocate, the new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, may harbor regarding the Equal Rights Amendment.  But even the vaunted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not believe the unprecedented ratification time limit that ERA campaigners faced should be set aside, meaning perhaps they should start over.

So women have their right to vote, if not citizenship without rights forbidding sex discrimination.  What did years of campaigning for woman suffrage, including violence and jail time, glean for women?  They can vote in a 2020 election that presents them with no choice at all:  one out-front lunatic candidate of the capitalist-controlled nation, or another better-mannered candidate, scion of traditional Clinton/Obama Wall Street/imperialist/Big Lobbies.  Both campaigns applaud the police/mass incarceration state. Both shudder at the thought of “defunding the police” and out-man each other to make China/Iran/Cuba (and on and on) pay for daring to challenge American hegemony in any way.  Both support jailing political dissenters—especially dissenters who reveal the “contradictions” of the great US of A (Julian Assange), or dissenters against the police/mass incarceration state (Joy Powell, Eliza Lucero…).”Liberal” social media censors any word against Joe Biden’s obvious long-time influence peddling, done alongside Trump’s deal-making.  Biden, like Trump, has numerous women who have accused him of sexual wrongdoing.  Just as establishment feminists were willing to overlook that side of Bill Clinton’s character, so are they willing to ignore, vilify and eventually silence Biden accuser Tara Reade.  Not a lot of choice here for actual feminists.

Except that the Democrats have Kamala Harris, who spent a career  “locking up Black and brown people.”  Harris refused to reduce prison overcrowding.  She fought “tooth and nail” to uphold wrongful convictions because of “official misconduct” and opposed the use of police body cams.  Unabashedly capitalist, she wanted prisoners kept locked up to use them for cheap labor.  Senator Kamala Harris is the poster girl of the police/mass incarceration state.  But radical Angela Davis, who has called Obama part of the “black radical tradition,” argues:  “Perhaps she will be amenable to the kind of progressive radical pressure that we can exert in the future.”  Maybe.  And maybe this is one of Davis’s “pragmatic compromises.”  And feminist contradictions.

How about, as a radical feminist, or real leftist, forgetting the compromises and contradictions?  There are choices:  leftist third party choices who have managed to get on a number of state ballots.  Gloria La Riva is running for president as candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the party of Denver’s Eliza Lucero and Lillian House.  La Riva has travelled from protest to protest:  from Rochester, NY to Portland, OR.  She finds “resistance and dedication” in these demonstrators.  She advocates free healthcare, adequate housing, a guaranteed annual wage and social equality.  She is a good feminist/leftist female candidate.  Then there is Angela Walker.  Walker is the African American running mate of Green Party/Socialist Party’s Howie Hawkins.  Walker, a bus and truck driver at present, describes herself as a “Fred Hampton/Assata Shakur socialist.”  She’s been a civil rights activist from an early age, in Occupy and union fights.  She ran as a socialist for sheriff in Milwaukee in 2014, raising issues of systemic racism and mass incarceration, and got 20% of the vote.  Walker is “a fierce advocate for the rights of Black, Brown and indigenous people, the LGBTQA community, Labor and the Earth itself.”  Here is another good feminist choice, with no compromise, no contradictions.

I am a radical feminist and I vote.  I voted for Howie Hawkins and for Angela Walker, the fierce advocate for human rights.

Linda Ford is a retired history professor living in Madison, NY. She is the author of Women Politicals: From Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart and Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party. Read other articles by Linda.