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Over the last few years, and especially in the past six months, something special's been happening, is happening. It's happening in zines, on blogs, and across the web; via conferences, demonstrations, and workshops; in squatted buildings, on store–fronted streets, and around the bronzed military men on their Trafalgar Square plinths.
It's a feminist resurgence, and a radical one at that. This is grassroots, DIY, self–organising, non–institutionalised women's activism, and it's deeply connected to other, intersecting social justice struggles.
The seeds of this recent upsurge of activity includes two feminist health gatherings, held in Nottingham in 2005 and Leeds in January 2007. The events generated an exciting buzz and, moreover, provided a model of feminist organising for women who has previously lacked it.
For example, it encouraged a group of attendees to recently squat an abandoned building in Hackney and transform it into the autonomous, self-organised Wominspace. Similarly, the latest Reclaim the Night march – an event that has grown annually since London Feminist Network relaunched it in 2004 – mobilised 1,500 women in November of last year and has created a vital sense of possibility.
A million women rise
This possibility was wonderfully realised in the Million Women Rise event in Trafalgar Square on International Women's Day 2008, when 5,000 women marched and rallied to end male violence against women.
Thus, 2007 saw the blossoming of several new feminist groups, one of which is Feminist Fightback. This London and Manchester–based socialist feminist network illustrates the radical aspects of the resurgence: the emphasis on grassroots action and on wider and interconnecting systems and manifestations of oppression.
The group links its struggle for women's liberation to all struggles against capitalism and exploitation and aims "to empower women to fight their own exploitation rather than to depend on others for protection": "We do not think a feminist movement should look to charitable organisations or 'experts' to bestow our rights upon us, but that we should build a movement involving as many women and men as possible to bring about liberation from below."
These values are also passionately espoused by Alex, a black woman and feminist activist, who has been part of the revival of radical feminism in Nottingham. Working with a diverse group of mainly working–class women – and with crucial supÂ port from Roshni Asian Women's Aid – Alex explains her aim of "formulating a safe space for monthly interactions, discussion, and learning, allowing women to find methods to intervene in horrendous situations of oppression, critique any system of domination, and ask how we are complicit and how to form alternatives."
An important goal of this activity is to include groups that have previously been marginalised in UK feminism, by integrating anti–racism and anti– classism into the activism, including support for detained asylum seekers.
Alex has also worked on identifying, contacting and involving older local women from the second wave for intergenerational bonding and sharing.
Gail Chester is a London activist who has been involved in the women's liberation movement since 1970 and in the recent feminist resurgence. She explains: "It is politically, personally and emotionally very important for the new wave to engage in intergenerational working. We're not dead yet, we're nothing like nearly dead, and I believe very strongly that we, as older women, can learn a lot from younger feminists and vice versa."
Feminist Activist Forum (FAF), a group set up in April 2007 and dedicated to feminist history and popular education, is explicitly committed to inter– generational feminism. DIY feminist historian and "zineÂfanatic", Red Chidgey, describes how "FAF came into being because women were tired of hearing that young feminists were lazy, non–existent, or consumed with pleasure–directed activism only (or even, consumed with pleasure, full stop). Within academia we saw scant consideration of either the 'second' or 'third' wave of feminism – its rich and varied histories of dissent and resistance – and we felt this amnesia was harming both the feminist movement now, and the heritage of previous generations of women who have stood up and fought for what they believed in."
An invaluable resource for reversing such amnesia is the Feminist Library in Southwark, which, having been established during the heyday of the women's liberation movement in 1975, has recently had fresh air breathed into it after a few years when its continued existence was in doubt.
Other manifestations of the revival abound: amongst men, with the formation of the London Pro–Feminist Men's Group; on the street with Bin the Bunny's Playboy shop picketing; online with the F–Word; in print with Subtext; and at gatherings such as the forthcoming FEM 08 conference, in Sheffield on 26 April.
In its myriad groups, actions and words the feminist resurgence is covering a plethora of issues. Laurie Penny, a socialist feminist blogger involved with FemÂ inist Fightback, explains one particular focus: "Families and children feature a lot. There is an emphasis on working rights and the call for abortion rights is now part of broader demands for reproductive rights – women's control over when to have and when not to have children." However, other aspects of the family and children domain are less well covered at present. Una Byrne of Wominspace and the Feminist Library, says: "As a mother I am concerned by the lack of feminist books, media, toys, and discussion and action around bringing up the next generation. I am surprised by the lack of UK feminist initiative on this subject, but am determined to raise the issue and do something to deal with the problems of bringing up feminist children in a hetero–patriarchal, capitalist society."
She has already been part of a workshop at the Wominspace discussing families, childcare and education, from which the idea of producing a zine and forming supportive networks around the issue have emerged.
Researching this article has inspired me, as a young activist, to get out and involved in these feminist radical ventures. I'm very optimistic that, with the frameworks of intergenerational working and interconnected struggle, our movement will make that all–important transition from discussion, to strategy, to ground–breaking, effective action.
Wominspace: 07939 381 562 ; www.womynspace.blogspot.com London Feminist Network: www.ldnfeministnetwork.ik.com Feminist Fightback: www.feministfightback.org.uk Feminist Activist Forum: www.feministactivistforum.org.uk Feminist Library: 5 Westminster Bridge Rd SE1 7XW; 020 7928 7789; www.feministlibrary.co.uk London Pro–Feminist Men's Group: http://londonprofeministmensgroup.blogspot.com Bin the Bunny: http://binthebunny.wordpress.com FEM 08 conference www.femconferences.org.ukIf you would like to be a part of the planned feminist childrearing network please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com