As organizing for social justice reverberates across the US, many of the movements engaged in different forms of resistance are rooting themselves in at least two ways: in having deep understandings — both historical and current — of multiple and interacting systems of oppression, and in learning from struggles and movements for justice that have resisted those systems and are building toward new futures.
Part of this visioning requires laying a foundation for work that is principled, both broad and specific in nature and scope, and grows out of the lived realities of communities challenging violence and injustice at the hands of the state and its institutions as well as within all spheres of our lives.
A new undertaking of scholar-activists Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Linda Carty couldn’t be timelier. A multimedia archive project aptly called Feminist Freedom Warriors, it is designed to help ground and inspire today’s movements for justice. Immersed in anti-capitalist, transnational feminist movements for decades, Carty and Mohanty wanted to expand on the work they had done together and with the wide networks they have built in the US and globally.
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Both women share feminist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist politics rooted in their experiences growing up in post-colonial contexts and in the Global South. Their work together has always been rooted in collectivist thinking and in an understanding, as described by Mohanty, that the “political must be collective.”
After years of writing together and pushing projects within the academy that build genuine university-community partnerships and collaborations and that meaningfully integrate social justice work into the classroom and well beyond, they decided to embark on Feminist Freedom Warriors. Mohanty and Carty explained that what began as a video archive project now also includes a book.
Feminist Freedom Warriors makes visible some of the scholar-activists whose ideas, scholarship and activism have been key to movements for justice, and whose work can deepen understandings of the processes that will enable ongoing organizing for justice to be more sustaining and more liberatory.
The themes are wide-ranging throughout the video and book projects. The interviewees in the project embody strategies and examples of what is needed to create multi-issue, multi-dimensional movements, and radical and transformative spaces.
For instance, educator and activist Margo Okazawa-Rey, who was a member of the Combahee River Collective, speaks in the book about the importance of the inter-relationship between political work and caring for ourselves: “We, as feminists, need to develop a methodology that includes a much more conscious way to think about personal growth, personal development, dealing with the contradictions we face in our lives — in the ways we haven’t taken care of each other and of ourselves.”
In another chapter in the book, Angela Davis, whose history of revolutionary activism is an inspiration across the globe, reflects upon the impact of the work we do and the ways that it is, in essence, collective in nature. “For me, I never imagined that impact has been confined to the work that I do as an individual,” Davis writes. “I always see it as a collective process.” The importance and centrality of the collective process is a theme that runs throughout the book and is reflected in the lives and work of all those who are interviewed.
In her interview for the project, poet-activist Minnie Bruce Pratt considers what is needed to bring us together, to address the challenges we face and to move forward collectively. She asks how we can build “from the ground up, and across the generational gap of people who have been through this struggle before.” And she stresses that these structures have to “be built by the people that are in motion together with the people who have been in motion, not just theoretically.”
These are just a few of the powerful voices resonating throughout the book and videos. One of the striking characteristics of many of those interviewed is how deeply they have grown with — and been impacted and shaped by — today’s social justice movements, bringing their histories and knowledge with them and weaving those histories into new ideas and strategies and ways of thinking together with those organizing today. It is a powerful back-and-forth between and among generations of activists.
I was anxious to speak with Mohanty and Carty about what motivated them to develop this project and what they hoped, through their work, to bring to today’s justice struggles.*
Donna Nevel: I know that many of those included in Feminist Freedom Warriors had been part of an earlier article you had written in 2015. What was that article about, and how did it relate to your current project?
Chandra Talpade Mohanty: We didn’t want that article to be yet another theoretical piece about transnational feminism based on what the two of us thought. We wanted multiple voices present, speaking to the lived reality of transnational feminism in different geopolitical spaces.
What do you hope people might learn from listening to the archives and reading the stories in the book?
Mohanty: We were interested in exploring the multiple ways movements happen, the organic processes that grow out of moments of tension. It was clear to us there were histories our students didn’t know. We wanted to be able to show concretely through this work and the video interviews not only how deeply the personal is political, but also — and, significantly — how the political is always collective. That is, people whose ideas and activism have been key to our movements have been aware of the choices they have made within collective, collaborative spaces. So, fundamentally, it’s a profoundly feminist project.
As described in the book’s introduction, the interviewees speak about “their different and similar place-based genealogies of political engagements in anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist, LGBTQ, women’s liberation and Indigenous feminist movements in the United States, Canada, Mexico/Latin America, India, and the Asian and African diasporas.” What do you feel is the particular relevance of these conversations at this moment in our history?
Linda Carty: As we write in the introductory remarks, “these narratives are necessary at this historical moment, as they help sustain radical struggles against neoliberal, transnational capital, carceral national-security-driven nation-states,” as well as the rise of right-wing, racist, authoritarian regimes in the US and across the globe.
Given these realities and the conditions we are facing, how do you think about the call we often hear expressed at this time to be inclusive (in our movements and organizing), and what does that mean for you?
Carty: A movement has to have principles, values and visions — all of which need to be collectively brought about. Inclusivity seems to mean something very specific in the US. Let’s take a step back. We are talking about anti-capitalism and anti-racism, and what is necessary in this moment of white supremacy walking with impunity and marginalizing the majority populations around the world. Inclusivity shouldn’t mean closest common denominator. We’re often called upon to compromise on basic principles we shouldn’t be compromising. You can easily become a neoliberal cog in the machine.
We need to think about the ways that appropriation of language and culture come about. The US state has been a genius in the appropriation of the language of radical social movements. Building together is about genuine collectivist thinking and ideology, and about work that grows out of a set of clear principles. That is very different from the particular notion of inclusivity often put forth in the USA.
It is perfectly clear from listening to the archives and reading the interviews that you both interact meaningfully with the interviewees and want others to have the opportunity to do so as well. Can you speak about your process and what you’ve thought about in creating this project?
Mohanty: Part of doing the project the way we’re doing it is through sharing individual stories and narratives. The stories are rooted in deep experience and connections, and it’s precisely within those stories that people can see some of those connections. Hearing and learning about people’s lives provides knowledges that can be mobilized in different spaces, in different ways — you hear what collectivity and connectivity means in a number of ways…. [The interviewees’] values, their ideas, and their commitments, they have produced knowledges that have been key to movements for justice. They have all lived their scholarship.
What do you think the stories in the book and videos reveal about how we can think about moving forward?
Mohanty: I’m hoping the stories and narratives show that we need to have courage, need to take a risk, need to go against the grain, need to think deeply, and that we need to understand our location/space, that we are not in this alone, and that we must bring people together with us…. These are politics about transformation, about socialism and fundamentally about the way we live our lives. What are the choices we make? Do we treat other people in ways that are not about the use (or abuse) of power? Do we understand and deconstruct our own privilege?
Is there anything more you would like to share about this undertaking, again, anything that speaks to this moment?
Carty: It’s not just multiple stories being told — they are multiple and, significantly, they are all deeply connected. Even in these dark times, we know another world is possible. It’s a hopeful project.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
*Full disclosure: The author is included in the Feminist Freedom Warriors archives.