Friday, November 23, 2007

Life In The A-List

Holiday and year-end greetings to everyone.

The last month has been difficult, what with the deluge of emails, text and video messages, letters and phone calls, asking how a woman’s organization could contend with closed-doorism threatening the very reason for which 500 women were engaged in political activism. In the midst of this was a discordant note of one, demanding to be part of the national directorate, so surprising in a gathering where women have to be strong-armed into accepting titles, the usual answer being “I’ll just do the work, give the title to someone else,” so surprising that for a moment there, we were non-plus.

Later, in New York, someone explained: “It’s always been the goal; she wants to be in the A-list.”

This past Sunday, Doris and I reached Times Square from Boston at 4 in the morning, on the coldest weekend yet; this wasn't the right place nor the right time for a woman, I can tell you. We had helped open the Greater Boston chapter of Gabriela Network. She had taken the trip out on Friday; I had to leave a day later because of another obligation and thus had to manage 8 hours on the bus out of 24, not a wink of sleep in 48. We lighted a cigarette apiece, debating whether cabs were justified instead of the subway and the long walks home. It wasn't idle debate. In this organization, paying one woman's conference fee can mean another will have to subsist on pizza slices for a week. I was the first to give up; my knees were knocking together and four of five tries the cigarette missed my lips, I was shivering that hard. Bleah! Life on the A-list, indeed.

This demand for promotion came at the end of a sequence of non-sequiturs, during which we tried to clarify or thought we were clarifying concepts/definitions of a proposed new campaign, tried to convey that interpretation was not factual history, that political categories must have objective criteria, that mere assertion of discrimination wasn't fact, that one needed concrete analysis of concrete conditions, and that if one were to ascribe machismo to imperialism, one better be able to show that link clearly, because capital’s tendency was to homogenize all into wage slavery; which meant ferreting out the contradictions that that tendency creates, and how profit maximization links gender and sexuality based oppression to class exploitation; in other words, what were the historical and material roots of the distinct category of oppression the campaign would be addressing.

Sounds complicated but NOT, since domestic workers readily understood this interplay between historical and material causes of gender exploitation. Perhaps it was too abstract when one experienced it academically, because suddenly, in an act of misdirection, the discourse was centered on why someone wasn’t taken to meet certain groups and power persons in the archipelago, who said what and why. At which point, one realized this wasn’t a discourse for clarity; either a homeland security tape recorder was hooked up to a phone line, or a hooded posse bearing rope nooses was at the other end, since an accidental immigrant with a funny accent couldn't presume to discuss political concepts with Americans.

As Roseanne Rossana-Danna would say, “it’s always something. If it’s not a toenail in a hamburger, it’s a piece of toilet paper sticking to a shoe.” Roseanne was Gilda Radner’s journalist character of non-sequiturs in Saturday Night Live; the shoe referenced her utter loss at how to tell a princess about a piece of toilet paper stuck to her heel.

Which was exactly how some of us felt this past month: at utter loss as to how to say that betrayal was the foundation of conspiracies, that already one had been vilified by gossip about some allegedly unpaid plane tickets; and that the demand to discuss things "at a higher level," rather than work on the basics of a campaign, was leading to this wish to join the alleged A-List, the trade-off being abandonment of the very cause for which National was being pilloried.

Actually, it’s easy and simple to be part of the national work team. Many without titles work on national projects as the need arises. The criteria are a steady commitment, a willingness to learn and a spirit generous enough to volunteer time, ability and sometimes, material resources. Those qualities are first displayed within the chapter, which evaluates and recommends to the national, which also evaluates and then finds a suitable task for the recommended. It is not foolproof but it is the procedure. Special project teams come and go. But no one gets to National without chapter recommendation. So if one messes up with one's chapter or if the chapter is walled off like a political harem, then no winnowing process takes place.

Some members value their commitment so much they humble us old-timers; they work without need for validation. Just a month recruited, Khara carried a heavy banner without a single word of recrimination through 50 blocks of marching; Emelyn and Carisma lugged 120 t-shirts across an ocean without a word of recrimination; Catherine, barely 20 years old, overcame extreme nervousness to give a solidarity message at a demonstration in an island she had never visited before; Ollie, last week, had to face down some right-wing Christians by herself; Vivian searches for housing, for legal, psychological and financial help for battered and sex-trafficked Filipinas; Monica does whatever she is asked to do, has done so for 11 years without even the expectation of rubbing elbows with “power women,” though she goes annually to the Philippines.

Actually, Monica is special. As she says in an open letter, she is a Caucasian trans-sexual woman, challenged about her identity by society at every step of the way. “Challenged” is a mild word; last year was a record year for attacks – as in murderous attempts, bodily harm, physical assaults, -- on her person, by men in her neighborhood, by strangers in the subway, by anyone really. Everyday, she teaches us an invaluable lesson about intersectionality, or as I prefer it, the interconnection of phenomena. On the basis of her color, she would seem to be, as the current parlance goes, “privileged;” but coming from an economic underclass deepens all risks inherent in her situation and deprives her of protection. I once rode the subway with her; the other passengers’ reaction to her presence left me badly shaken. Yet, she has never demanded we share her burden though she has always shared ours.

None of these women ever say, “if I don’t get want I want, I am taking my marbles home and kicking your sandbox as well.” Kicking sandboxes is one cause of the periodic crash-and-burn of Filipino organizations over here, a factor in our continuing "invisibility" despite a hundred years plus of activism. It's a lot less work to demolish than to build. Believe me, I know.

There is a common quality to the women who stay in GABNet, and I ascribe it to the fact that this is as well the most palpable quality of the women in the National. Consider the following:

• Annalisa shoved to the floor and cracking her knee in Venezuela to which she had flown to support a Philippine women’s delegation, her knee swollen football size but despite no medical attention, finishing the five-day conference without a word of recrimination;
• Mirk organizing a lawyers' team, lugging 5 CPUs across an ocean, despite being chronically ill, without a word of recrimination;
• Milady making thousands of copies of newsletters, brochures, statements and what-nots, without a word of recrimination;
• Jollene returning to a city again and again, relentless in her goal to see a chapter established, appearing at a meeting the day after her car turned over five times on the freeway, all without a word of recrimination;
• Agnes, chauffeuring everyone around, making sure that appointments were kept, and not wanting to impose, driving herself home from the hospital after a heart attack, again without a word of recrimination;
• Doris doing street theater for five hours during the state of national emergency,, in front of the Philippine consulate, on a Manhattan sidewalk thronged by hundreds of thousands, in the company of only one other member, without a word of recrimination.

One could go on, listing a hundred or more instances; point is, in politics, one meets all kinds, even she-hyenas which, I learned from the Animal Planet channel, make themselves attractive by rolling in their own regurgitation. So one is filled with gratitude for the selfless and quiet courage of the members, old and new, who form the gestalt of this 18-year-old organization.

Me? I think the worst for me was when, because of an impossible schedule, I had to give up Guapo, the little cocker spaniel. That wasn't much, but bursting into tears and embarrassing myself and the friend who had driven us to the animal shelter was.

Not much, really. As we say in the organization, for liberation, others have given up more. Much, much, much, much, much, much more…

Have a good one, y’all. -- ###


Anonymous said...

You have a good one, too, ma'am.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing this & for coming up to frigid Boston! (and for my beautiful necklace!) i do have to admit i'm def not nostalgic of smoking cigarettes in the winter....happy holidays!

Anonymous said...

The long suffering hearts of women is inspiring. I work at a coffee house where my best co-workers are single mothers who got pregnant in their teens and the father their children left them. They took a minimum wage job without benefits just for their children and to survive. Sometimes I make the regional manager angry when I'm caught saying under my breathe, "there must be life beyond slave wages." The women help put my humiliating and disappointing experience with entry level employment when I'm told that it would be "awesome" to be 24 year old male with no children and time for education.

Anonymous said...

A woman's work is never done.

Anonymous said...

"A woman's work is never done." Ay! Sinabi mo!