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“Were They the Ones We Were Waiting for?” The TWWA and the Performance of Solidarity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2020

Sharyn Emery*
Affiliation:
Department of English. Indiana University Southeast
*

Extract

In her 1979 touchstone address, “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House,” Audre Lorde makes it clear that the only feminism that matters is one that includes and even centers the voices of “poor women, black and third-world women, and lesbians.” She argues that this type of representation is not a mere academic exercise, but a means of survival for women within these groups. Speaking at the Second Sex Conference in New York, Lorde also laments the lack of attention paid to the ways women can and should embrace their differences while still relying on a solidarity that she sees as foundational to creativity and liberation. Women of color have always borne the greatest share of domestic and physical labor in the United States, and thus creating this solidarity is a challenge; when workers are spread far and wide, scared of management, and just living month to month, it can be difficult to organize and unite them. In the 1970s, the Third World Women's Alliance (TWWA) took on this challenge, seeking to organize women of color economically, culturally, and politically, embodying Lorde's charge in the decade prior to her speech. One of the key methods of organizing by the TWWA was a series of original skits, many of which were performed during celebrations of International Women's Day (IWD, 8 March).

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 2020

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Footnotes

Originally Prepared for the “Mobilizing Difference” 2017 Working Group of the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), and funded by the 2016 ASTR Grant for Researchers with Heavy Teaching Loads.

References

Endnotes

1. Lorde, Audre, “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House,” in Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, ed. Lewis, Reina and Mills, Sara (New York: Routledge, 2003), 25–8, at 25Google Scholar.

2. Ward, Stephen, “The Third World Women's Alliance: Black Feminist Radicalism and Black Power Politics,” in The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights–Black Power Era, ed. Joseph, Peniel E. (New York: Routledge, 2006), 119–45, at 120–1Google Scholar.

3. Ibid., 130.

4. Joseph, Peniel E., Waiting ’til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), 271Google Scholar.

5. For history and analysis of these and other theatre groups of the era, see Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies, ed. Harding, James M. and Rosenthal, Cindy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6. James M. Harding and Cindy Rosenthal, “Introduction,” in Restaging the Sixties, ed. Harding and Rosenthal, 1–25, at 6.

8. Ibid., 8.

9. Lynne Greeley, “Cut by the Cutting Edge: Martha Boesing and At the Foot of the Mountain,” in Restaging the Sixties, ed. Harding and Rosenthal, 129–49; quote at 144.

10. Snyder-Young, Dani, Theatre of Good Intentions: Challenges and Hopes for Theatre and Social Change (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., 8.

13. Ibid., 4.

14. Thompson, James and Schechner, Richard, “Why ‘Social Theatre’?,” TDR: The Drama Review 48.3 (2004): 1116CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15. Springer, Kimberly, Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968–1980 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 47Google Scholar.

16. The title Triple Jeopardy refers to the tripartite system of oppression—racism, imperialism, sexism—that TWWA founder Frances Beal theorized as affecting women of color worldwide.

17. Typescript of “Work Method of the TWWA,” 1977, Box 3, Folder 5, Third World Women's Alliance Records, Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History, Smith College, Northampton, MA (hereinafter TWWA Records).

18. Snyder-Young, 139.

19. Typescript of “Committee Evaluation Guidelines,” n.d., Box 3, Folder 5, TWWA Records.

20. Giddens, Anthony, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), 33Google Scholar.

21. Ibid.

22. Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History 91.4 (2005): 1233–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23. Ibid., 1254.

24. Hall (1234) notes that civil rights leader Bayard Rustin was the originator of the term “classical phase” with regard to the CRM. It refers to the short period of 1954–65, from Brown v. Board of Education to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. In her article, Hall resists identifying these ten years as the entirety of the CRM.

25. Davis, Flora, Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America since 1960 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 359Google Scholar.

26. The New York City based arm of the TWWA also held IWD events featuring skits, rapping, and other performances, but this article discusses only the Bay Area events.

27. Lorde, 26.

28. Springer, 12–13.

29. Ibid., 17.

30. Ibid., 35.

31. Ibid.

32. Typescript of IWD skit, 1974, Box 2, Folder 21, TWWA Records. The subsequent discussion of (and quotations in the text from) this skit are taken from this typescript.

33. Typescript of “National Report, Bay Area Chapter,” [12 April] 1974, Box 4, Folder 1, TWWA Records.

34. Typescript of Lines, 1975, Box 2, Folder 22, TWWA Records. The subsequent discussion of (and quotations in the text from) this skit are taken from this typescript.

35. Lorde, 27.

36. AFDC was Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which was a federal assistance program (i.e., “welfare”) for needy families that launched under the New Deal in 1935 but ended in 1996 when it was replaced by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF.

37. Typescript of Meeting Notes, 29 March 1975, Box 2, Folder 22, TWWA Records. The discussion and quotations that follow are derived from these notes.

38. Typescript of Cultural Committee Discussion Notes, 27 March 1976, Box 2, Folder 18, TWWA Records. The discussion and quotations that follow are derived from these Cultural Committee notes.

39. Snyder-Young, 5–6.

40. Typescript of IWD skit, 1977, Box 2, Folder 23, TWWA Records. The subsequent discussion of (and quotations in the text from) this skit are taken from this typescript.

41. Typescript of Year End Evaluation 1977, Box 3, Folder 5, TWWA Records.

42. Snyder-Young, 79–80.

43. Year End Evaluation 1977.

44. Typescript of Meeting Notes, 29 March 1975, Box 2, Folder 22, TWWA Records.

45. Springer, 12.

46. Ibid., 118–19.

47. Ibid., 119.

48. Hardison, Ayesha K., Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014), 2Google Scholar.

49. Ibid., 3.

50. Ibid.

51. Ibid., 9.

52. Typescript of Year Plan 1977, 1977, Box 1, Folder 6, TWWA Records.

53. Typescript of Steering Committee Report, 1974, Box 4, Folder 1, TWWA Records.

54. Typescript of TWWA Newsletter, vol. 1, no. 4, November 1976, Box 3, Folder 5, TWWA Records.

55. Freeman, Jo, The Politics of Women's Liberation (New York: David McKay, 1975), 119Google Scholar.

56. Ibid., 119–20.

57. I should add that the TWWA was a strong advocate for affordable, if not free and nationalized, childcare for all women. Such a benefit would likely have boosted the numbers of women activists, given such constraints.

58. Snyder-Young, 136.

59. Springer, 12.

60. Ibid., 42.

61. Ibid., 43.

62. Snyder-Young, 136.

63. Ibid., 138.

64. There were presumably men for the few male roles, although I do not currently have concrete evidence of this.

65. Lorde, 26.

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