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Lavender & red: Towards liberation

Call for anti-capitalist struggle draws standing ovations

By Bob McCubbin

More than 700 people came out to hear transgender lesbian activist and Workers World Managing Editor Leslie Feinberg during a mid-June California speaking tour. She drew enthusiastic audiences in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Her well-received remarks--which touched on many issues but centered on the struggle against war, racism and capitalism--elicited repeated strong applause and standing ovations.

Her first appearances on June 13 were as a featured speaker at the National Queer Arts Festival at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in San Francisco. A repeat performance was scheduled that night after the first event sold out. Both capacity audiences responded with thunderous standing ovations to the call for a militant, liberation current of the LGBT movement to fight racism and imperialist war.

A third meeting, held the following day, was organized by the San Francisco branch of Workers World Party and was held at the historic Women's Building in San Francisco's Mission District. When the newly renovated building opened in 2000, its rooms were dedicated to 30 women leaders and freedom fighters, past and present; one was established in Feinberg's name. (www.womensbuilding.org/public/building/naming3.html)

At the June 14 meeting, Feinberg retraced the history of more than a century of support by the left-wing of the socialist movement for an end to sexual and gender repression--including consistent support by Workers World Party.

She examined problems faced by the countries that have struggled to build a planned, socialist economy while faced with imperialist sabotage. And she defended the socialist countries as achievements of the working class, similar to labor unions.

"Our class enemies use any imperfection in a workers' state to try to discredit socialism. We examine the problems they've faced in order to make socialism stronger.

"We say to those at the citadel of capital: It's your toxic waste dump of ideology that workers in socialist countries are forced to mop up. And while they try to carry out this task, you encircle and strangle, infiltrate and invade like slave-owners trying to destroy maroon communities of those who broke their shackles.

"But we will not let you obscure the tremendous achievements of these young societies. The poorest of these states have done what you, the richest capitalist countries, won't do and can't do because of your drive for profits. They have provided free education, free health care, jobs, inexpensive housing and transportation for all."

She called on all gathered to defend Cuba and North Korea, whose only "crime" is trying to construct socialist economies, and to stand up for all those struggling to defend their right to self-determination and sovereignty, including Iraq, the Palestinians, Iran, Colombia, the Philippines and Venezuela.

During the hour-long question and answer period following her talk, members of the audience showed they were giving serious thought to how a revolution could be achieved in this country.

A video clip from the event is on the internet. It includes part of the important introduction by LeiLani Dowell, who chaired the meeting, about why WWP is a strong supporter of the LGBT movement. The viedo clip can be found at: sf.indymedia.org/ news/2003/06/1621546.php.

A meeting on June 15 organized by the Los Angeles International Action Center was held at the ONE Institute & Archives, which serve as a valuable repository for the largest research library on LGBT historical, literary and cultural materials in the world today.

Stuart Timmons, the institute's executive director, introduced Feinberg to the capacity audience. Timmons, the biographer of Harry Hay, evoked the struggles of that gay pioneer who was also a communist, reminding those gathered that it was radicals who struggled for many of the gains that the working class enjoys today, like unions and Social Security. Timmons said that Feinberg, like Hay, has played a germinal role in both the LGBT and the communist movements.

In her talk, Feinberg focused on the question of whether overturning capitalism is really necessary. Since LGBT people have made strides in this country, couldn't capitalism just be "tinkered" with?

She pointed out that the first mass historic movement for gay, trans and lesbian liberation--the German Homosexual Eman cipation Movement--and its precious archive were destroyed by the rise of fascism in 1935. Capitalism in times of crisis can wipe out the gains of decades, she emphasized. "A movement that relies solely on incremental reforms or the next election is doomed to the experience of Sisy phus, who, in Greek mythology, was forced to roll a heavy boulder up the hill, only to watch it come thundering down again."

Feinberg's San Diego appearance the next day drew a standing-room-only audience--mostly young and mostly from the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities--to the Santa Fe Room in Balboa Park. The San Diego Inter na tional Action Center organized this event with a lot of help from the local HEAL organization.

Feinberg focused on the need for coalition building among the LGBT communities and beyond. She emphasized how tactically important it is that "T" has been added to "LGB." It was gender-variant lesbians and gay men who helped birth the movements against sexual and gender oppres sion, she noted. And while the populations of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people don't face a common oppression, they are up against a common enemy. "The lesson of Stonewall is that those who do not face the same degree of exploitation or oppression can make history when they fight back together," she pointed out.

She related episodes from her experiences as a young labor unionist, later as an anti-war and anti-racist activist, and still later as a community organizer during the 1990s ultra-rightist mobilizations in Buffalo, her hometown. The common lesson of all these experiences, she noted, was the power of solidarity.

You always knew, she pointed out, when contract negotiation time was coming in the sweatshops and mills of Buffalo, where she worked in the 1960s. The foremen and supervisors would always seek out ways to divide the workers, using racism, sexism, gender-baiting the butch women and feminine men, anti-Semitism and red-baiting. The only answer to their divide-and-conquer tactics was to show even greater unity. The watchword she learned in practice was: An injury to one is an injury to all.

Further developing the idea of solidarity, Feinberg outlined struggles of the 1990s in Buffalo, when the right wing held two national campaigns to try to shut down women's health clinics and abortion services. LGBT volunteers played an important role in the Buffalo United for Choice (BUC) coalition that twice successfully beat back the fascist fundamentalists. And when the right-wingers in a last gasp of rage targeted Buffalo's LGBT social clubs, heterosexual women and men from the BUC coalition helped Rainbow Peace keepers, organized by the LGBT communities, to successfully defend these bars.

Feinberg reminded her audience that the left wing of the early gay movement won many allies with the enthusiastic presence of the Gay Liberation Front at anti-Vietnam War rallies, demonstrations in defense of the Black Panthers and the other struggles of those days.

She noted that Huey P. Newton, the inter nationally known leader of the Panthers, publicly acknowledged and offered a hand of solidarity to the LGBT movement. His revolutionary statement made in the summer of 1970 is still an outstanding example of political insight and courage.

Death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal's call for unity against anti-gay violence was from the same heroic mold, she said.

The Bush administration's attacks on civil rights and his program of "endless war" and occupation won't be stopped by an "anyone but Bush" campaign that diverts the energies of an independent movement into electing a Democrat, she said. She recounted how Democrat John F. Kennedy, viewed as a "liberal hope" by some, widened and deepened the war against Vietnam, while reactionary Repub lican Richard Nixon had to formally end the war. "It was the courageous struggle of the Vietnamese people and the massive protests by people of all nationalities and ages that made the difference," she said.

She urged those in attendance to stand up to red-baiting attacks that serve to divide the movement and divert it from focusing on the heart of the matter: The world productive apparatus has been built and run by hundreds of millions of workers and oppressed people worldwide, but is owned and controlled by a handful of billionaires.

"We don't want to break up these monopolies," she concluded, "We want to wrest private ownership out of the hands of this tiny capitalist class and apply consciousness and planning to produce to meet human needs and desires. It will take a mighty battle to bring this better world into birth.

"And lesbian and gay, trans and bi people are leaving our imprint in this historic struggle which is already shaping the demands and tasks of socialism."

Feinberg's audiences ratified her conclusions with applause, cheers and standing ovations.

Are the political winds picking up and shifting direction? Has Pentagon bellicosity and Justice Department racism aroused a sleeping giant? Feinberg's audiences gave every indication of being hungry for even more anti-capitalist analysis. And Feinberg urged them to get involved in the struggle.

Reprinted from the July 3, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper

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