Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Feminism’

Anarchist Symposium Topic, Understanding the Kurdish Women’s Movement in Syria & Why it is Important


Because of my interest in anarcho-syndicalism and my connection to Swarthmore College, a participant in the Tri-College Consortium, I could not miss the opportunity to attend this Mellon Symposium. Andrew Cornell, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies organized the event, which featured a group discussion on “What We Mean When We Say . . . Anarchism, Decolonization, Radical Democracy,” and then broke into three panels: Limits of Liberal Democracy, Self-determination without a State? and Putting Principals into Practice.

Anarchist Symposium

Event organizers moved the overflowing crowd into the auditorium. Students, professors, staff and members from the West Philadelphia anarchist community participated in the discussions:

“Slavery and the Anarchist Rejection of Democracy”
Ruth Kinna, University of Loughborough, UK

“From Anarchism to Ranciére: Radical Democracy as Active Democracy”
Todd May, Clemson University

“Nothing Common about ‘the Commons’: Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Difference”
J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Wesleyan University

“Liberating Democracy from the Premises of the Dominant Global Order: The Rojava Revolution”
Dilar Dirik, University of Cambridge and Kurdish Women’s Movement

“‘Making power’: Another Politics, Democracy, and Radical Movements”
Chris Dixon, Anarchist social justice organizer

“Decolonizing Borders and Undoing Border Imperialism”
Harsha Walia, co-founder No One Is Illegal Network

Each discussion began with an acknowledgement that we occupy the lands that once belonged to the Lenni-Lenapi tribes that lived in eastern Pennsylvania before being driven out by the Europeans. The organizers and scholars presented compelling presentations, explaining the extent to which colonization frames the social and economic circumstances that we find in societies today.

The YPJ in Syria

I was not familiar with the current events surrounding the Kurds defense of their homelands against ISIS in Syria so I was very much interested in learning more during Dilar Dirik’s presentation. Dilar, A PhD candidate in the Sociology Department of the University of Cambridge, is an activist and advocate of the Kurdish Women’s Movement. Dilar is from Rojava territories within the borders of Syria.


Territories held by Kurdish forces, jihadists, by the Syrian Army, FSA, or contested in northern Syria, as of October 2014.

The Kurds in Syria are fighting to prevent a takeover of their homelands by the Islamic State militants or ISIS, but the YPJ in Syria is loosely associated with the PKK in Turkey, who oppose and resist Turkish rule over the northern Kurdish region. The United States maintains a policy that is favorable to Turkey, a NATO ally, and in support of Turkey, rejects the self-determination of the Kurds because Turkey does not want to lose territory to a Kurdish independent state. In addition, the PKK originally had a communist ideology.

The Kurds’ attempt to organize stateless communities in Norther Syria, called the Rojava Revolution, is often compared with the Zapatista’s experience in Chapatas, Mexico. The YPJ has made efforts to initiate democratic reforms that represent the interests of the people.The Kurds in Syria and their YPJ Star militias are making heroic efforts in a war-torn country for self-determination and receive no support from the Western powers.

Kurdish-inhabited_area_by_CIA_(1992) Wikipedia

Kurdish-inhabited_area_by_CIA_(1992) Wikipedia


According to Infoshop:

The US is now maintaining that the PYD is a separate organization from the PKK, so Washington is not breaking its own law by backing a State Department-listed “foreign terrorist organization.” In November, left-wing German lawmakers actually unfurled the PKK flag inside the parliament building to protest the EU’s listing of the group as a “terrorist organization.”

Now that the US, of necessity, is backing the PYD against ISIS, what will become of the Rojava autonomous zone? Once ISIS is defeated (insh’allah!), will the PYD ultimately be crushed in deference to Washington’s ally Turkey? It can seem that the PYD stands an almost inevitable chance of being betrayed—as both anarchists and Kurds, two groups that have historically been subject to serial betrayals.

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The Term “Terrorist” Becomes Coopted

When the US labels a group as terrorist, we think of al-Qaeda and ISIS, and yet our diplomatic corps has deemed that the Kurds in Syria should also be labeled “terrorist.”  The YPG considers itself a democratic people’s army and conducts elections to select their officers. What most of the West does not realize is that the women, long marginalized, have begun to organize around feminist issues. The YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) is the female brigade of the YPG. They do not however, want to perpetuate the old forms of government and power, and are seeking to establish communities that achieve equality with men.

Dilar’s answer to the question: What can we do in the United States to support the Kurds in Syria?:

Dilar’s Webpage: Post, Why Kobani did not Fall



For Women who have Resolved to Work for the Common Good of Humanity.


The world enclosed and darkened inside my head
Not even dreams materialized as I lie in bed
Discord delivered echoing despair
And yet . . .  guided me to your sheltered lair.

I found you, though you were there all along
You entered into my soul as an enchanting song
With leonine magnificence, so noble, so sublime
Intrepid lover of art, beauty, truth and rhyme.

This miracle then cleansed my mind
Reborn to a new life refined.
I laughed and learned to forgive.
My heart opened­–I began to live.

And yet what you are is an illusion in time.
This noble ideal can only exist in my mind.
Never to feel your warmth that a Lover knows
Or touch the fabric of your roughened clothes.

But how to create harmony again from sighs.
To feel the exhilaration of the highs
And experience truth from melodious lows.
Not to be played out as a duet but as a solo.

Embraced by the power of this measure
Hearing music of souls joined together
Triumphs in splendor as shimmering sounds
With knowledge and passion that knows no bounds.

I arise from this dream and rebirth
Resolved to become a heroine on earth.

Appreciating the Needlework of our Grandmothers: Part II

Several months ago I wrote a post for International Women’s Day, Appreciating the Needlework of Our Grandmothers, in which I described how I sorted, then displayed, my Grandmother’s needlework and quilts. Her fabric art had been left in an attic trunk; with renewed appreciation, I researched different pieces in the collection.


In this post, I’ve included several more photographs of my Grandmother’s quilts and added history on the subject. My friend, Kay McGinty, lent me several books on quilts and needlework. For her graduate work, Kay completed a thesis entitled, “Miriam Schapiro and the Language of Quilts,” which offered an informative study of Shapiro’s artistic creations. Schapiro, a leader in the feminist art movement, used elements of quilting in her creations and brought quilting into the “realm of high art.” Using the quilt as a model, Schapiro incorporated quilting patterns and designs into her collages.

Brooklyn Museum: Anonymous was a Woman

Anonymous was a Woman
Miriam Shapiro
Acrylic and Collage on Paper
Brooklyn Museum

The early 1970s saw a flowering of popularity for quilting as art historians began to appreciate quilts as art. Also contributing to the interest, artists began to focus on American crafts, and the feminist movement brought attention to the culture of women’s lives. Artists began to use elements from the heritage of quilt art that women had been practicing for over two hundred years.

Years ago, my father-in-law asked if I would like to have the sewing machine that belonged to his wife. The veneer top had been terribly warped; I was taking a woodworking course at the time and decided to rebuilt the top on the treadle foot cabinet.

1910 Red Eye Treadle Singer 66

Although women mostly quilted by hand, the sewing machine could also be used. This machine, over a hundred years old, can still handle most heavy-duty sewing. Internet sites include those that support human-powered sewing machines; this page displays treadle and vintage sewing machines.

A uniquely American institution, the quilting bee provided the opportunity for women to work collaboratively on the last steps of quilting, the completion of the top of the quilt. The time spent during a bee became an opportunity to share news, discuss politics and learn new skills. Susan B. Anthony spoke at a quilting bee in her first speech advocating for the right to vote.

My Grandmother created this basket quilt in 1936; the basket pattern was popular in the Depression Era. Reflecting the romanticism of the Colonial Revival, baskets were symbolic of the Colonial period.

My Grandmother used bright pastels and a geometric print on this next quilt, representative of another popular pattern during the Depression. Done by hand, this is a particularly labor-intensive pattern referred to as Grandmother’s Flower Garden. In paging through the book, Artists in Aprons, I came across a photograph of quilters in Detroit, Michigan. My Grandmother lived in Royal Oak, just outside of Detroit, where in 1938 over 18,000 women attended a quilt show at Wayne State University. Today quilting is a $3.6 billion industry.

The debate continues on what is art and what is craft–what seem to be arbitrary designations. A quilt made for exhibition falls into the category of art while authorities designate a quilt made for a bed as craft. Art created for the home or for function cannot be peeled from the realm of artistic creation. To do so would be to discredit the art women create, many times in extreme hardship or because of limited artistic opportunities. Gathering little pieces of cloth, sometimes from rags, women found a way to express artistic form in quilting and to make that art part of  their home. I never knew my Grandmother, but I can feel her creative presence in her quilts.

Quilting Sites of Interest

Why Quilts Matter

The Quiltmaker

Womenfolk: The Art of Quilting

Quilt History: Layer by Layer


Yesterday: Beatle Memories & My Letter from Peter Best

From our collection of trading cards 1964

Awe-struck best describes my reaction on seeing the Beatles for the first time on “The Jack Parr Show” during a wintry evening in January 1964. Parr had intended the short video as a humorous anecdote about a British rock band and their astonishing popularity. The clip from that show exists here on YouTube. The music instantly set the standard for originality, fresh and energetic with a rhythmic pulse. Their expressive singing conveyed true sentiment. I suppose some critics might argue that the song in that clip, “She Loves You,” is cliché, but a close examination reveals otherwise. The lyrics, written in the third person, resemble a conversation about love. These young men from Liverpool defended love and sang about fairness, and that was very romantic. They offer wisdom and reconciliation, “Pride can hurt you too. Apologize to her.” Their performance package was perfect. Growing up in the era of crew cuts, the lads’ longer hair had instant appeal–a break from the uniform haircut that almost all males had at the time. Criticized and mocked by the Establishment, the Beatles‘ hair cut was considered as radical as was their “yeah, yeah, yeah.” To us, they just looked fabulous; and we admired this rebellious response to the status quo.

The Beatles transformed two teenagers from the suburbs in style as well as in mind.  Before the Beatles:

and after:

I immediately connected with British culture and their representation of working class youth: Liverpudlian accents, collarless fitted suits and urban lifestyle. The Cavran Club tucked in a cobbled ally of Liverpool, provided that gritty, smokey backdrop that served as their performance home and became my imagined refuge from the suburban pabulum that surrounded us. Their place in the world was so foreign from my life. They lived on the edge of the wharfs and warehouses and played music in ally way cellars, while I remained safely planted in the middle of a suburban protective cocoon. I studied the geography of their city, intrigued by the River Mercy, the docks and ferries. The Beatles, humorous and irreverent, seemed fearless. They would find themselves in trouble because of their candid and unaffected remarks; but for their fans, they became that much more endearing. We admired their forthright approach to life. Aware of their way in the world, more than anything I wanted to be part of that scene.

So we bought their albums, in addition to fan magazines, posters, trading cards, which offered a way of transporting ourselves into a time and place we could only experience vicariously.

When the Beatles announced they would be performing in Philadelphia, we left school early and raced down to the Convention Center to buy tickets to their concert. We waited in line for hours, pushed and shoved as fans surged toward the doors. The police regulated the flow, but the crowds outside pushed against us as we waited our turn to pass through to the ticket booth. I finally squeezed through an opening, and just as I fell out of the crowd, a newspaper photographer snapped a picture, which turned up on the front page of the Philadelphia Bulletin the next day!  I’m the one to the left looking somewhat dazed after being crunched by the surging crowds.  About 12,000 tickets were sold that afternoon in just 85 minutes.

We were thrilled to attend the concert, and although we had seats in the back of the Convention Center, it didn’t matter because once the Beatles appeared on the stage, fans surged forward streaming down the aisles and through the chairs. The wooden folding chairs provided standing platforms, some girls standing on the back rim of the seat. We never heard a note of the singing–the screaming was so loud. Cameras flashed steadily during the entire concert. None of that mattered; we were with the Beatles.

A Letter from Peter

Peter Best, the drummer who preceded Ringo and played with the Beatles for two years, appeared on “I’ve Got a Secret,” a popular game show of the 1960s hosted by Garry Moore, on March 30, 1964. (YouTube clip here.) I was very much impressed with Peter as he had his own band but felt sorry that he had missed the opportunity to stay with the Beatles. I decided to write him a letter and began researching ways in which I might make contact. I phoned the “I’ve Got a Secret” show, and they suggested sending the letter to The Peter Best Four in care of Decca Records.

Two months went by when one day I was surprised to find my mother standing outside of my algebra classroom. I couldn’t imagine what had brought her there until she handed me the letter from the United Kingdom. Pete Best had written me back!

Post-Beatlemania Analysis

Our culture never had much respect for teenage girls for many reasons. We were “little women,” and society didn’t even respect mature women. In the early sixties, careers and opportunities for women were still limited to a few fields. My mother assigned my sister and me our occupations: teacher and nurse. Of course, screaming at rock stars didn’t help the status of teenagers in the eyes of the Establishment, but I now have an understanding of that enthusiasm that bubbled over: teenager girls were heralding what turned out to be one of the most influential bands in this history of music. The Beatles‘ music remains a powerful contribution to the musical canon, having sold over one billion albums throughout the world.

The Beatles profoundly influenced the culture, everything from movies and fashion to the introduction of eastern philosophy to the West. Some have speculated that pop culture changed the way Russian youth perceived the West, dissipating the propaganda of English/Americans as being the enemy. Individually, the Beatles contributed to progressive causes: George’s Concert of Bangladesh, John and Yoko’s peace campaign, Paul and Linda’s advocacy for animal rights.

Prophetic young women, teenage fans from those early years recognized that the Beatles brought hope, change and happiness through music, which is understandable and reasonable. Our unified voices, unfettered from society’s control, expressed an outpouring of  jubilation and appreciation. Sophisticated behavior in the eyes of the patriarchal society, probably not, but heartfelt, truthful and joyful, most certainly.  With a love like that you know you should be glad.

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