Growing Up An Outlaw Woman - Page 4
You characterize yourself as a militant organizer. I wanted
to know what you meant by that.
It's hard to know what to call yourself these days. I like the
Rather than progressive or organizer?
Progressive I like, too. Organizer I'm never sure about. It has
the connotation of superiority. I think people are very capable
of organizing themselves. They don't need a whole lot of top-down
organizing. They often need knowledge, information, and tools sometimes – you
know, a computer or connections. Chiapas is a really good model
for that. The Zapatistas have changed the whole nature of organizing
in the world by their model of what to ask of people who are in
solidarity with them. They've refined that in a way that no other
liberation movement has been able to. I remember doing solidarity
with the Guatemalan resistance movement. There were four different
organizations and they all hated each other. It was impossible.
They had us up here organizing four different groups that hated
each other. It was ridiculous. They were all competing with each
So you became the ombudsmen for the revolution?
It was absolutely absurd, and for me, trying to do the UN work,
it was just impossible. I said, "You guys have got to get
a consensus statement together to present, because no one wants
to hear about your differences." If you want to divide up
into four different countries, we'll present that, but the Zapatistas
have really found the key to how to request solidarity. In the
past, the North – US and Europeans – have had a tendency
to intervene in these struggles and take over, creating a kind
of dependency and distrust. I think that they're teaching us how
better to behave within the imperialist countries and I think people
learned a lot, and then in the so-called anti-globalization movement,
the people so quickly developed the knowledge and expertise on
very complex economic issues, people without degrees in economics.
The way people were able to grab that and put it in a form that's
understandable, it's just remarkable. We who were Marxists in the
'60s and '70s never could quite get our language down to where
the layman could understand what we were talking about. Deconstructing
capitalism is quite a task.
So it's primarily a matter of organization?
These things are cumulative. Many different experiments were done
in the '60s: the idea of the collective, for instance. The lessons
we learned were that people can find ways of working together without
either a dictator, a guru, on one hand; or an absurd level of ultra-democracy
on the other, where everyone has to decide on everything and has
to dress alike and do everything alike – that Red Guard mentality
that some of us had in the '60s. These things have become distilled.
As much as the system has tried to stamp it out and kill it, it's
only grown and matured. I think in the younger generations – especially
young people of color – we're beginning to see this flourishing.
They don't have to start at zero; they start already with a base
of knowledge that can be picked up and run with. But as for what
I call myself, I like the term militant or revolutionary. Organizer,
I'm not sure. I'm not sure, even in the technical sense, if that's
what I'm doing now. I don't really think so. People who are really
organizing are working in labor unions and such, really putting
things together. I'm much more of a transmitter and a writer. I
think writing is something that we really don't take seriously
enough in the United States. Unlike Latin America and Europe, we
really don't have enough respect for the art and how it solidly
contributes to liberation struggles. I'm not just talking about
designing a political poster but about a person's art and what
they want to present, and how that then merges with a consciousness
and creates a movement. Writing, poetry, music, all of it is important.
I've kind of asserted the contribution of writing is equally important
to organizing. It's what I'll probably be doing for the rest of
my life and what I can best contribute.
At the end of Outlaw Woman you make explicitly clear that
storytelling is really what this has been about. I wonder what
in particular do you want people to take away from these stories?
Well, the value of storytelling itself. Not just the valiant,
heroic stories, but the stories of pain and suffering and loss
and addiction, of bad relationships – all of those things.
It's about being able to be fully human and validate other people's
being fully human. I think in the '60s, we too often only told
heroic stories and stories to inspire, but that that can have the
opposite effect of making someone feeling diminished: "Well,
I can never be like that," rather than constantly feeling
that "I'm doing the best I can," or "I'm doing what
I can." We should be able to value that. That comes more naturally
now for the younger generation, but we tended toward burn-out and
a kind of obsessiveness and policing each other so that we allowed
no cracks in the armor. One of the reasons I called the book Outlaw
Woman – people keep calling it "Warrior Woman." A
warrior is someone admirable, someone valiant, someone above the
fray. I'm not that and I don't want to be that. An outlaw is a
much more ambiguous term. You really are living outside the acceptable
norms and you want to build a community of people there who have
the strength to keep resisting because at any time you want, you
could climb back over that fence and be back with the crowd and
blend into acceptable society. We need to validate the imperfect
nature of what we're doing. I was very inspired by Che Guevara's
diaries of both Africa and Bolivia which are very very despairing
and sad, and of course he died. His last entry was about five hours
before he died, saying that they were doomed. That, to me, doesn't
make the stance he took and what he was doing any less important
as a model. He was really messing up. They were in the wrong place
and they weren't going to get out of there. It was a mistake, but
people make mistakes. You have to take risks. There are lessons
we can get out of real human stories, rather than stories about
idealized people who never really existed in the first place.
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