Interview with Silvia Federici
By Lisa Rudman and Marcy Rein
As a feminist activist, writer, and teacher, Silvia Federici engages and inspires students of all ages to fight for the liberation of women and all beings. In 1972, Federici cofounded the International Feminist Collective, which launched the “Wages For Housework” campaign. While teaching and researching in Nigeria in the 1980s, she observed the specific impacts of globalization on women—and their similarities to the social disruption caused by the enclosure of the commons in the earliest days of capitalism. She became active in the anti-globalization movement and the U.S. anti-death-penalty movement, and cofounded the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. From 1987 to 2005 she taught international studies, women’s studies, and political philosophy at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. Her books and essays span philosophy, feminist theory, women’s history, education, and culture, and more recently, the worldwide struggle against capitalist globalization and for a feminist reconstruction of the commons. Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation, perhaps her best-known work, argues that capitalism depends on a constant supply of women’s unwaged labor. Federici sat down for this interview while she was on a tour to promote her new book, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Common Notions), a collection of essays written over the last forty years. In conversation, Federici moves smoothly between history, theory, and present struggles, hardly stopping for breath, almost vibrating with concern and indignation.
Interview with Silvia Federici
Smita Nadia Hussain (chaaweb.org)
is a poet, blogger and photographer who serves in leadership capacities
for local young Democrat and API organizations, including Community
Health for Asian Americans (CHAA), the English Center and the National
Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF). She recently traveled
with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in Vietnam.
My parents are from Bangladesh, a country birthed from genocide. People were victimized; tongues were cut off. They wanted independence and were literally fighting for their voice. They demanded the right to speak their language and fought for democracy. When the civil war happened in 1971, a lot of the guerilla fighters were women. Many were executed. Half a million women were raped in nine months. Yet, they still stood up.
Disrupting Business As Usual For ‘Hells Fargo’
In the midst of a national recession indelibly identified with the foreclosure crisis, Wells Fargo’s 2011 profits rose 28 percent, to $15.9 billion. As a result, CEO John Stumpf’s 2012 compensation package totaled nearly $20 million. In years past, the bank’s annual shareholder’s meeting came and went without a second thought. Not so in 2012. This year, Occupy protestors—aka the “99%”—planned an action to disrupt business as usual.
The action took place April 24, at the Merchant Exchange building on California and Montgomery Sts. —smack dab in the middle of a “1%” stronghold, San Francisco’s financial district.
Before the meeting started, a colorfully-dressed man, who identified himself as Franzo King, Archbishop of the Church of John Coltrane, explained why he had come. Among the many injustices he was concerned about were “illegal evictions and foreclosures behind predatory loans, and the way that is affecting our communities. The African communities and the brown communities are really being destroyed.”
The numbers are alarming. In recent years, the federal government has cut 400,000 vouchers from Section 8—the program that provides housing subsidies for low income people—even as 300,000 units of public housing have been turned into for-profit developments, rendering them unavailable to low-income people. Meanwhile, 2.5 million foreclosures have worsened the housing crisis for the poor.
These big numbers are more than real estate figures; they are real people—families with children, people in ill health, the elderly. But rather than trying to help them, cities are issuing “sit/lie bans” and “public commons for everyone” laws, which make it illegal to “loiter” in a public space. Criminalizing these simple acts and making them subject to police harassment and arrest is an egregious violation of the civil liberties supposedly guaranteed by our democracy. Yet it happens to homeless people all the time.
In a survey of 716 homeless people in 13 different communities, the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) found that 78 percent reported being harassed, cited or arrested for sleeping; 75 percent for sitting or lying on the sidewalk; and 76 percent for loitering or hanging out. Only 25 percent said they knew of a safe place to sleep at night.
The confluence of the Occupy movement and demographic change is shifting the public discourse about class and race and breaking ground for new political spaces. In the tumultuous months since the February 2011 takeover of Wisconsin’s Capitol, Occupy Wall Street as well as actions at stockholder meetings of banks and protests by university students and faculty have shed light on who owns our wealth and how they use it. (Baham)* The failure of the recall effort in Wisconsin emphasizes the urgency of constructing new spaces in which our majority coalitions can come together outside the constraints of corporate-dominated political parties to develop creative and effective strategies.
Faced with the dual threat of a rising majority of voters of color in many key states and mass public demonstrations against economic inequality, the system is pushing back. Supreme Court decisions ceding increased power to corporations as “persons” have in effect privatized the election process. Right-wing strategists are backing voter suppression and anti-immigrant legislation in states across the nation, seeking to fan racial animosity and redirect popular anger toward scapegoats (Keyes et al., Lewis, Kromm, Bacon).
As Governor Scott Walker explained to one of his billionaire backers, the public workers in Wisconsin got the brunt of a classic “divide and conquer” strategy—but instead of going after immigrants, gays, or women, this attack targeted workers who are one step up on the economic ladder: public sector employees.
A Conversation with Movement Generation
Interview by Ellen Choy
The transformation of the Occupy moment into power for movements that can actually challenge entrenched economic interests will be a complex process. Movement Generation activists recently gathered to reflect on what it will take to make this happen.
Ellen Choy: Why are you committed to the Occupy movement?
Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan: We think Occupy’s critical because we believe that mass movements are a vital ingredient to shifting the public debate and moving us closer to transforming the economy and the political system. This is not just about making demands on the state, but also about reclaiming our right to meet our own needs directly, in community—to restore our resilience, our ability to support one another, to look after each other, to have the means to do that collectively. I think Occupy is presenting a really important model for how people can work together to set priorities and make decisions about how to best meet each others’ needs in a way that’s responsive and responsible to the place where they live.
The City of Oakland, California, is sometimes compared to a good model car that, for strange reasons, never seems to be able to give uninterrupted service or get up to full speed on the highway. Strategically located and blessed with an interesting, industrious, creative, and diverse population, a wonderful climate, spectacular views, and the perfect blend of city, marsh and woodland hills, Oakland ought to be one of America’s jewels. It is not. Instead, it is often described as a city of missed opportunities and wasted resources. Nothing exemplifies that description more than Oakland’s treatment of the structure originally known as its Civic Auditorium (renamed the Kaiser Convention Center in 1984).
After years of bungled management, Oakland closed the 98-year-old cultural treasure in 2005—at the same time it was pouring redevelopment money into rehabilitating and reopening another entertainment venue, the Fox Oakland Theater in the rapidly gentrifying Uptown District. Then the city dithered for years over what to do with the Civic Auditotium before entering into a purchase-leaseback agreement with the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) in 2011, just in time for the statewide dissolution of the RDAs. In January 2012, the Auditorium became the target of the Occupy Oakland movement which staged a failed attempt to occupy the building and convert it into a social services center.