Feminist Justice League Year in Review
2017 was a big year for feminism. The election of Donald Trump mobilized feminists towards activism, which was expressed through events such as the Women’s March, International Women’s Day Strike, protests and social media campaigns regarding sexual harassment and assault, forming new groups, and more. It is an exciting time to be a feminist, to be sure. Locally, there has been a flourishing of feminist activities this past year. The Feminist Action Collective emerged in November 2016 as a large, active, vibrate group which has sponsored a variety of successful events over the past year. Locally, we have also seen the re-emergence of the HOTDISH Militia, which began in 2002 but had become inactive over the years. Our group, the Feminist Justice League, was established several years ago during a much less active time in feminist organizing. The renewed interest in feminism creates new challenges and opportunities for our group. The following is an overview of our activism in 2017 as well as our outlook for 2018.
January 2017 Women’s March, Duluth MN:
2017 started off big with several January events. The first was the January 2017 Women’s March. The Feminist Action Collective organized buses to Washington DC, but there was also a local march in Duluth. One of our members, A. attended the march in Washington DC and later reported her experience back to the group at an event we hosted as a local coffee shop. It was an inspiring experience for her, despite some mechanical mishaps experienced by the bus. Several members of the Feminist Justice League participated in the local march in Duluth, which was attended by several thousand people. This year, Feminist Action Collective is organizing an anniversary march. Feminist Justice League is supporting their efforts in a number of ways. Firstly, we have endorsed the event. Secondly, we are going to make some posters for the event on Friday. Thirdly, I have tried to promote their event by obtaining sponsors for them, such as Occupy Duluth, Socialist Action, and Safe Haven. A. and I will also serve as Peace Marshalls at the event.
an image from the Duluth News Tribune- Duluth Women’s March
Glow for Roe:
Feminist Justice League organized Glow for Roe last year, which happened to fall on the SAME day as the Women’s March and Dough for Utero. Although it was an extremely busy day, about two dozen people showed up to hold glow sticks for our glow in the dark protest in support of reproductive rights. We have done this event twice before and this was the most successful year for that particular protest. However, in 2018, we are not hosting a Glow for Roe event. This is because there is already a Women’s March, Dough for Utero, and Party on the Plaza. Glow for Roe was developed when there was far less feminist activism, so moving towards the future, it may not be as necessary as it was in the past. Still, a glow in the dark protest is a fun idea, so perhaps it will return in 2019!
Dough for Utero and Party in the Plaza:
January 2017 also saw Dough for Utero and Party in the Plaza, which were both organized by Hotdish Militia and the Women’s Health Center. Dough for Utero featured $19.73 pizza and beer, raising more money than any previous fundraiser. Party in the Plaza was a vibrant event in which several Feminist Justice League members attended. We contributed to the event by promoting it and providing picket signs. Certainly, 2017 saw more activism related to reproductive rights than there has been in Duluth for a long time!
Valentine Letters to Prisoners
In February, Feminist Justice League co-sponsored a Valentine Letters to Prisoners event with Superior Save the Kids. The goal of the event was to send solidarity cards to prisoners near Valentine’s Day. In Christian traditions, Valentine cards were first exchanged by St. Valentine while he was in a Roman prison, so the theme seemed suiting. The event was attended by several people and was a way for our group to be more intersectional as we tried to connect feminism with issues in the criminal justice system.
A photo of A.C.’s letters last year
Homeless Bill of Rights Letter Writing:
Feminist Justice League hosted a small letter writing event, wherein members gathered at a coffee shop and wrote letters to the editor to various news outlets regarding the passage of the Homeless Bill of Rights. Feminist Justice League is one of the endorsing organizations of the Homeless Bill of Rights. A year later, the homeless bill has not yet passed, protracting this already long struggle to pass a bill ensuring that homeless individuals are treated with dignity.
International Women’s Day Strike:
In March, Feminist Justice League organized a symbolic strike for International Women’s Day. The strike was a protest that lasted for 78 minutes to highlight the pay gap between men and women. At various intervals, we banged on pots to highlight the pay gap between Hispanic women, African American women, Native American women, Pacific Islander women, and women over the age of 55 and men. This event was followed by a panel, wherein several speakers discussed labor issues and gender. The event was successful in that it was covered by several news outlets and was even mentioned in a British Socialist newspaper!
HOTDISH Militia Bowl-a-Thon:
The biggest event that Feminist Justice League participated in April was HOTDISH Militia’s bowl-a-thon. We had a team of about seven people and though I don’t remember the exact number, I believe we raised over $600. Our team dressed as superheroes at the event and won a prize for best costumes. It was a fun event and HOTDISH Militia’s best fundraising event yet! They reached their fundraising goal and were able to obtain matched funds to help low income women access reproductive health care locally.
Graham Garfield Petition:
In May, members of the Feminist Justice League participated in several events related to the Graham Garfield domestic violence case. We were able to develop a successful petition which contributed to his resignation as a Superior City Councilor. However, interest in the case waned over time and although his trial is ongoing, there is little activism around it at this time. Still, I think that the group was able to effectively work towards his resignation and can be proud that we sought to educate the community about myths regarding domestic violence.
Mother’s Day Letters to Prisoners/Film Showing:
During the month of May, Feminist Justice League co-sponsored a film showing about incarcerated mothers with Superior Save the Kids. The group also co-sponsored a mother’s day themed Letters to Prisoners event. By helping to host and support these events, Feminist Justice League hopes to connect feminism with other issues.
Chalk for Choice:
During the summer and fall, Feminist Justice League sponsored Chalk for Choice events on the evening before clinic days at the Women’s Health Center. While these events are often only attended by a few people, our group receives a lot of positive feedback from workers at the WHC. During these events, we draw or write supportive images and messages for the patients and workers who utilize the Women’s Health Center. The events provides us with a creative niche for our activism. Looking at 2018, it should certainly continue these events as they are easy to organize, do not require large numbers of participants, and are a unique way to promote reproductive rights.
40 Days of Choice:
For the past several years, Feminist Justice League has organized events for 40 Days of Choice, which happens each year in September and October in response to the 40 Days of Life. The 40 Days of Life is an international campaign wherein pro-life activists gather outside of abortion clinics and reproductive health centers to pray and protest to end abortion. The Feminist Justice League was actually founded in response to this annual pro-life campaign. This year, as in year’s past, we participated in the event by hosting Friday pro-choice pickets. Some of the pickets were smaller than in year’s past owing to FJL’s dwindling numbers. On the other hand, some were larger owing to the participating of the HOTDISH milia this year. HOTDISH sponsored its own Thursday pickets. Our goal next year should be to increase the numbers at these events by bolstering our own membership, continued collaboration with Hotdish, and improved collaboration with Feminist Action Collective. This year, we also hosted a successful launching party for the 40 Days of Choice, but the success of the event would not have been possible without HOTDISH Milia’s collaboration and WHC’s support.
Once a month throughout the year, Feminist Justice League hosted events called Feminist Frolics. These events usually do not attract more than four or five people, but are high quality educational opportunities and community building events. This year’s highlights include a citizen science project wherein were learned about women in science and learned how to test the health of a river by examining small fauna such as snails, worms, and insect larvae. We also learned how to geocache and did this while collecting garbage. I researched women and waste management and did a short presentation on that topic for our event. We also learned more about fungi and one of our members, Ar., told us about her experiences gathering and selling mushrooms to local businesses. A few of us also attended a Halloween themed event wherein we hiked to an abandoned cemetery at night and learned about the history of witches and capitalism, based upon my readings on that topic. We have not done a frolic in a few months due to cold weather, but we can consider planning more at our next meeting. My suggestion is that we continued them, but on a more irregular basis in 2018. Personally, I put a great deal of effort into researching these topics and lack the time I once had. However, I think that these events remain viable if we can find others who are willing to research and present the topics. These events remain important because they are an opportunity for learning, connecting to nature, and bonding.
Spark in the Dark:
Following the swarm of sexual harassment and assault cases involving celebrities and politicians, FJL organized a small protest against assault and harassment. The goal was to believe victims, hold public figures accountable, and make ourselves visible. The evening event was attended by about a dozen activists, despite chilly weather. In the end, we lit sparklers to symbolize the spark of social movement organizing around these issues but also light in darkness.
Christmas Cards to Prisoners:
The same day as the Spark in the Dark event, we once again collaborated with Letters to Prisoners/Save the Kids to send Christmas Cards to Prisoners. The event was the best attended Letters to Prisoners event yet. It was hosted at Amazing Grace Cafe and activists at the event were interviewed by a newspaper.
Looking at 2018
Our Challenges and Assets:
As we move into 2018, our biggest challenge by far is that we have a small, active membership. Over the years, we have lost a few people who used to be more active in the group. One of our active members, A., has recently had a child so she will not be as active for a while. Two of our members, C. and An., have young children so they will not be able to participate as much as they would like. Children should not be a barrier to participation and this also shows our weakness in providing child care. Since we are small, it is hard to provide this service. At the same time, perhaps we can think of alternative roles for these members, such as posting online content to our Facebook page. Small membership limits what we can do as an organization but also has a demoralizing effect. I often wonder if I have personally failed as an activist when our numbers are low. Thus, we should brainstorm ways in which we can attract new members. Ideas towards this end might include collaborating with other organizations, tabling at events, putting up fliers more often, and advertising ourselves more on community calendars. I think it is also important to reframe what success looks like and better work with what we have. If interest in feminism is generally increased and other organizations have seen new members, then we should celebrate the overall victory of feminism, even if our organization is small. Further, even a small organization can maximize its impact in the community through collaboration with others.
Despite our low numbers, we do have some assets. I am proud of the many events that our group sponsored and organized last year. We also have some great members with some useful knowledge and skills. Both J. and I work in the field of domestic violence, which I think puts us in a good position to do activism related to this. I also work part time at the WHC, so I think this will help us continue our reproductive rights activism. We have a new member named C, who is smart, knowledgeable of science, and very active in criminal justice activism. A. is a male member and close friend who is an asset to the group because of his long history of local activism, especially his labor activism. We have several members who sometimes attend, but perhaps get spread thin by their own activist schedules. Overall, we often attract low-income and working class activists to our group. We also often attract members who have experienced homelessness, trauma, mental health issues, poverty, violence, etc. I think that we can be proud of ourselves if we continue to be an organization that creates space for those who experience multiple oppressions. While these things can be barriers to activism, it can inform the sorts of issues we work on and perspectives we promote. At the same time, our organization mostly attracts white people. There is no immediate solution to making our group more diverse, but, we should always be mindful of the pitfalls of “White feminism” and seriously consider how the group can tackle racism along with sexism. Sponsoring, promoting, attending, and collaborating with anti-racism activism is one step in that direction.
Finally, several of our key members and most of those who attend our events are anti-capitalist. This can help us create a niche in the feminist movement. Although we are a small group, we can act as a complimentary group to FAC. FAC is a larger group that appeals to a broader group of people. However, based upon their focus on candidate events, female identity, representation in politics and the business community, etc. the group leans towards liberal feminist ideology. Our niche in comparison is that we should try to attract anarchist and socialist feminists or provide space to promote those ideologies. While this ideological focus is less popular, promoting anti-capitalist feminism is a way to differentiate ourselves and what we do. This should not be rigid nor a requirement for participation/membership- but a useful framework for focusing the organization’s tactics and issues. The goal is not to compete with other feminist groups, but to broaden the overall feminist movement through theoretical diversity while collaborating on common causes.
Based upon the following summary, I suggest the following goals for 2018.
- Co-sponsor a Letters to Prisoners Valentine, Mother’s Day, and Christmas events in 2018 to continue criminal justice related work.
- Continue Feminist Frolics on a more limited basis in 2018. For instance, create feminist history geocaches in the area for Women’s History Month in March.
- Host an event for International Women’s Day in March (depending upon other local events)
- Consider collaborating with other organizations to create a community Take Back the Night this summer as the major undertaking of the year.
- Continue to Chalk for Choice in the warmer months.
- Continue the 40 Days of Choice events.
- Work more closely with Feminist Action Collective
- Continue to work with HOTDISH Militia
- Consider other projects such as a Stitch and Bitch Group
- Plan an action related to Crisis Pregnancy Centers
- Participate in the Bowl-a-Thon
- Host a socialist feminist educational event
- Increase our membership by at least one or two core members
- Collaborate with and support other organizations and events in areas such as labor, anti-racism, environment, indigenous rights, anti-war, sex workers rights, LGBT issues, reproductive rights, mass incarceration, US imperialism, etc.
- Table, put up fliers, make better use of the media
- Continue to consider our purpose and niche so that we remain relevant
- Try to promote ourselves more! We could make buttons…