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Interview with La Alzada—Acción Feminista Libertaria
bolivia / peru / ecuador / chile | gender | interview Thursday February 13, 2014 18:09 by Lyudmila - Workers Solidarity Alliance - WSA
“The hallmark of La Alzada, unlike other feminist spaces, it was initially designed as an organization that conceives feminist work from concrete practice”
Interview with La Alzada — Acción Feminista Libertaria
Since its inception a year ago, and its initial public announcement as an organization on International Women’s Day, La Alzada has gone through many collective experiences, changes, and continual redefinition. Can you describe some decisive moments, experiences, and thoughts that have helped define La Alzada during this period?
Since the formation of La Alzada, we have gone through a process of constant growth and maturation, whose origin lies in two concerns: to insert feminism in the public space from a leftist and revolutionary perspective, as well as position issues such as sexism and patriarchy within organizations of a militant character. At the time in our definition as feminists and anarchists, we set out with the idea of recovering the historical memory of the women’s liberation movement, building our own vision of what we mean by the feminist movement. Also, from a process of self-education, we found ourselves with a theoretical and practical challenge: to provide analytical content to anarcha-feminist practices.
If our first months were decisive in terms of design, formation, and definition, the months following our public appearance were even more dynamic. During this period there was a lot of interest from people nearby, from feminist academic spaces, asking us to share our viewpoint. The hallmark of La Alzada, unlike other feminist spaces, it was initially designed as an organization that conceives feminist work from concrete practice, from actual work with workers, students, urban women, etc. Besides the search in how to position the issue of feminism as an absolutely valid element when talking about the current situation, our organization is understood as a space for reflection and action, of concrete work within labor, community, and student spaces, both within secondary and post-secondary education.
Thus, throughout the course of the year, we have been able to take an anarcha-feminist position within the popular movement. From these discussions, we have managed to sketch an outlook in how patriarchy was embedded in Chilean society, while focusing on four areas in particular: education, work, health, and gendered violence. In addition, there are other important issues for our organization such as abortion, symbolic violence, sexism in education, etc. These issues have made us come together with other feminist’s organizations, as was the case with the abortion marches and other events related to issues of body sovereignty and female sexuality. Chile, being a highly conservative country, possesses at its base a cultural tradition that impedes the real and open discussion needed to address these problems.
This is why a new outlook for the feminist movement in Chile is being redrawn. We seek to be part of this, while inserting a class understanding to the issues: the precariousness situation of women in the workplace and clandestine abortions that end with death (while those with greater resources can abort in private clinics or abroad). These are a few examples of feminist issues that must be read from a class perspective.
The group is currently discussing the principles, tactics, and strategies of the organization. I find it interesting that La Alzada decided to form and participate in actions first before “defining” itself. This appears to be a very organic way to create movement and build an organization. Since the purpose and objectives of the organization are now more intimately being discussed, what are some of the major points of discussion and why?
When we created La Alzada a year ago, we were really starting from zero, due to the lack of a real political-theoretical viewpoint of ‘anarcha-feminism’ in Chile. Because of this, everything needed to be built, even the most basic definitions. Instead of relying on abstract theory, we decided to build it out of liberatory practices themselves to see how to forge and develop our struggle against patriarchy from those practices.
In La Alzada, we believe that social and political discussions must be practiced simultaneously in order to advance the struggle against patriarchy, and against all power of domination in general. That’s why it started to become urgent to develop a strategic guideline that will help us to combine these two objectives. In this sense, it was important to define the conditions in which we were immersed as an organization. Politics can be understood from multiple perspectives, however, it should always be understood within a particular place and time. A place and time that confines us within a framework of delimited action, requiring us to understand and plan what we should do and what we can do as an anarcha-feminist organization in Chile today. Because of this, it was necessary to define two issues: the objectives of our organization and our capacity to achieve those ends. We diagnosed the scope of action and set objectives that are constant, collaborative, horizontal, and long-term endeavor. Clarity and transparency within the project prevented a processes slowdown that occurs when discussions become repetitive.
Finally, it’s important to note that that clarity and transparency is made possible when our actions are in conjunction with a feminist liberatory perspective — via work strategies such as horizontality, mutual aid, solidarity and sisterhood, self-governance, and direct democracy. From these basic precepts, we have sought to establish relations without domination or authoritarianism, where we practice sovereignty within and from our own bodies, our own circumstances, interests, perspectives, etc. Without these principles and constant practices, the clarity and transparency of our project would not be concretely possible.
Revolutionary and queer women involved in building social movements have always faced a push and pull in terms of where to invest their political time. Revolutionaries have explained gender work in the past as secondary to structural or political work. While there is more awareness of the importance of feminist and gender issues, people who are “double militants” often feel the pressure of double the work, double participation in meetings, and double the demonstrations in which to participate. Has this been discussed and/or acknowledged as a group or individually?
La Alzada was born by the very need to position feminism as a place of militant thought and action. Although there were anarchist organizations that defined themselves as anti-patriarchal, this did not translate into actual practice and politics. Therefore, within these organizations, the feminist struggle was seen as the younger sister of the larger anti-capitalist struggle. This binary has been characteristic of leftist organizations with revolutionary intent. Our work places gender at our center, in which we can function from a place interpolating the contradictions arising from the economic system. Gender is intertwined with capitalism, making it necessary to understand it. For this reason, our work is directed towards a common criticism of patriarchy and capitalism as systems of domination. It is a contradiction to declare oneself a feminist and not fight against capitalism and vice versa. In La Alzada, being an anarcha-feminist organization, our intent is to be a part of both fights.
At any rate, we have activists who participate in student organizations, for example, whose time is respected but whose constant participation in our various activities is still demanded from them. Undoubtedly, being part of two organizations at once carries a toll. Many people put aside their personal projects, studies, and even family to meet the various commitments of militancy. La Alzada requires an even stronger and reliable commitment, to constantly think in two dimensions, from a daily and personal practice, to a transversal and real operation at the societal level. We aim to imprint feminism within society, and this requires a coordinated and holistic response in order to meet our objectives.
In the last interview done with the group in March 2013, you clearly indicate an intersectional approach with gender, sexuality, race, and class. How have you been able or intend to put into practice these theoretical and social issues as an organization? Why do you think it’s necessary to create a theoretical cross between sexual dissidence and the class struggle?
We understand this intersectional (or multi-sectional) approach by how social and political relations are intertwined in the current conditions of domination, exploitation, and oppression we experience in Chile. It is important to understand these conditions within this totality, which affects different areas of our lives. It is in this framework that we position ourselves against all forms of domination and exploitation, and therefore see them as part of the same struggle. An example of this can be seen in how economic groups who have power exploit natural resources in order to enrich themselves, using up the lands of farmers and indigenous peoples.
Those same economic groups, backed by a conservative constitution acceded from the dictatorship along with a closed democracy, maintain a sector of society impoverished by low wage jobs and minimal job security. These [marginalized sectors] are removed from a quality education that allows for the tearing away of inequalities. [The capitalists] ally themselves with religious groups, while imposing laws that prevent us from having a choice over our bodies. We believe that disputes with powerful groups are not thematic, rather they respond to a common enemy, and that this fight positions us in a particular social class.
However, because we are an emerging organization we lack the forces to cover all these sectors. For now we have decided to base our work on contingencies and/or the relationships we have built with other organizations. These two instances gave us concrete opportunities to establish ourselves as a feminist organization, this in relation to the zenith of this year’s abortion campaigns, as well as the relationships we’ve sustained with other organizations.
As someone who has participated in many marches for women’s rights and pro-abortion rallies in the United States, I was struck to see the great participation of men in feminist marches in Chile in recent years. In the U.S. we have the argument that men should not participate because “it’s not their space.” What is the feeling here (personal or as an organization) about the presence of men within feminist organizations, rallies, and marches?
Within La Alzada we believe that both men and women must participate in the struggle against patriarchy in order to achieve a real social change. Within the organization we don’t conceive of the issue separately between men and women, even if at first we were made up only of women. With the passage of time and in our collective formation, we confronted a social reality that is transversal for women as it is for men.
Patriarchy configures social relations for all society. Men are also subjected throughout their lives to a moral and social system that forces them to fulfill a specific role, that judges and isolates them if they step out of its bounds, encouraging them to subjugate women. Lately, there has been a growth in men’s movements and organizations, particularly in Argentina, claiming and working on demasculinization. They seek, on par with feminism, to break the pattern of what is understood as masculine and to free themselves from the oppression of patriarchy exerted on them as males. Furthermore, patriarchy affects all of us (men and women) in imposing heteronormativity, restricting our right to make decisions concerning our bodies, in the field of sexuality as well as contraception and abortion. In this regard, the submission to heteronormativity is much greater in women, as it is the female body that has been subjected more deeply than men.
However, this greater degree of intervention toward the female body does not mean that the male body is not also involved in imposing heteronormative power structures. But even the subjugation of bodies and sexuality results in heteronormative regulation of our bodies, categorizing and defining them as male and female. One cannot escape from that dichotomy or definition, and ends up oppressing the self in order to be molded into one of these two definitions. Hence, the added importance of the sexual dissidence struggle. In order to break this patriarchal logic, it’s necessary to include everyone in a process of transformation that must be built in a collective manner, so that men and women can emancipate themselves together, transforming social reality and the roles reproduced within it.
About a month ago, there was a demonstration in favor of abortion in which demonstrators entered the main Catholic Cathedral of Santiago. Since then, the cathedral has been well protected with bars and police. Do you think this action was important and why?
While La Alzada respects Christian beliefs represented in the church, we share the unease generated by this institution in the feminist world, given the continuing moral interference that the Catholic Church constantly unleashes in our country. We must remember that it is the Church that throughout history and along with colonialism forced its morals upon various Latin American communities, condemned homosexuality, and omitted information about the sexual abuse of children. If we put aside the personal actions of some priests who have dedicated their lives to workers and the community, the institution of the Church has contributed to the submission of popular groups through, as an example, the use of guilt.
The intervention in the Cathedral was a landmark in the feminist struggle and an added step in the growing discrediting of the Catholic Church. Although powerful groups criminalized this action, it gave visibility to the issue of abortion within Chilean society. Thus, when speaking of violence in protesting while entering a church, you have to first consider the moral, cultural, and structural violence exercised by the Church, along with the State, over our bodies and lives.
Since the formation of the group, what could be described as its greatest successes and difficulties? Do you still believe that an anarcha-feminist organization is necessary today in Chile?
The somewhat subjective, organizational, and programmatic reconstruction of the Chilean popular movement is where anarchists gradually have more and more to say. This is how La Alzada today frames itself, as a cohesive and strong organization, establishing itself both within Chilean feminist and popular movements—earning our space. Today, Melissa Sepúlveda is a feminist who leads the most important social organization as president of the Federación de Estudiantes de una Universidad de Chile (FECH) [Student Federation of the University of Chile]. This is an example in how our positions and organizations have advanced.
Also, the major difficulties are in trying to install gender issues into existing mass organizations, within student organizations as well as labor unions. The development of gender issues within these movements that do not dedicate themselves entirely to gender has been minimal. This is something that we must continue to build by gradually opening up spaces for this to happen.
As the first anniversary of La Alzada approaches, what are some of its main aims? How do you further plan to insert yourselves into the groundwork?
La Alzada currently projects gaining greater influence within the popular movement, and has made the necessary adjustments to its organizational body and objectives. When March 8 arrives in a few months — Women’s Day, the day our organization became public — it will be a time to take accounts and reflect on how we started and where we are going. At the same time, it will be an opportunity to set new goals and demonstrate that we are an important and relevant organization, not only to the anarchist movement, but also to the social and popular movement.
Indeed, in celebrating our one-year of existence, our organization has grown and matured, as much inwardly as outwardly. Recently, we decided to completely restructure our central body. As anarchists, we believe that a well-structured body and a good distribution of tasks allows for better horizontalism, as it prevents most of the tasks from becoming centralized amongst a few militants.
While some groups close to anarchist thought reject these forms of structured bodies. We believe that this is just the foundation of a horizontal division of tasks within an organization, provided it does not become hierarchical, everyone has about the same workload (or as much as one can commit), and that all political decisions are made in the open (plenary meeting, with all members).
This maturation process has led us to increasingly prioritize the social part of La Alzada, the part of feminist action, which from the beginning we wanted to develop. In working with labor, indigenous, and student organizations, we have used various methodologies from popular education and participatory techniques, such as Theatre of the Oppressed, in particular image-Theatre and forum-Theatre. These tools allows for the awareness of an oppressive condition by experiencing the problem through physical expression. They have contributed to our internal development that aided our discussions and reflections on strategy and tactics—either organic or theoretical. Over the last several month, we have worked with the domestic housekeepers’ union. Our workshops with union members have allowed the enhancement of the public speaking abilities and physical expressions.
The new challenge now is to develop work in conjunction with workers and labor unions, as well as establishing more links with regional organizations, community groups, etc.
[Note: Since this interview, La Alzada actively participated in a port worker strike. They wrote a pamphlet titled “Feminist Solidarity with the Port Workers Conflict: Towards a Fighting, Working Class Syndicalism.”