Third World Alliance of Women: Lessons for Today | Opinions
In November of last year, the Washington Post reported that, nearly nine months after the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, the disease had “ravaged[ing] African Americans and other minority communities with a special vengeance ”- because black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian patients continued to perish at a much higher rate than white patients.
Then, in April 2021, a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that black women in the United States suffered three times the coronavirus death rate of white men.
According to the study’s authors, disparities in mortality have a lot to do with “the gendered and racialized nature of work, housing and living conditions, co-morbidities and access to care”.
Yet COVID-19 wasn’t the canary in the coal mine that exposed American society as, well, downright sick.
Half a century before the outbreak of the pandemic, the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA) was already diagnosing the structural pathologies of a racist and patriarchal system of capitalism, as Patricia Romney, a retired professor of psychology, documents in a new book called We Were There: The Third World Women’s Alliance and the Second Wave.
A member of the New York chapter of the Alliance from 1970 to 1974, Romney demonstrates how the TWWA connected the dots between racism, sexism and classism, taking the position that “the fight against racism and imperialism must be carried out simultaneously with the struggle for women’s liberation ”.
TWWA grew out of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – a pillar of the civil rights movement – and the Black Women’s Liberation Committee, expanding to include other women of color on the basis of a recognition of shared suffering.
The name of the organization, Romney explains, derives from the idea that in the United States, the “third world” consisted of descendants of people from Africa, Latin America and Asia, who had been forced to undergo similar forms of colonization. exploitation of the mind – albeit at the national level – like those of the original homelands.
TWWA espoused the belief that a profit-driven capitalist society placed Third World women – in the United States and abroad – in a “triple jeopardy” position as workers, people of color and women. women.
Of course, capitalism cannot prosper without mass misery, in particular the misery of certain demographic groups.
Imagine the disaster that would befall America’s corporate plutocracy if the government devoted more resources, for example, to providing decent health care, education and housing to its people rather than spending billions of dollars on war.
TWWA’s ideological platform rings as true today as it did 50 years ago: “The United States is run by a small clique of the ruling class that uses the concepts of racism and chauvinism. to divide, control and oppress the popular masses for economic and profit purposes. . “
The Alliance, on the other hand, called for “an equal status and a society that does not exploit or murder other people and smaller nations”, and fought for a socialist system that guarantees “Full, creative and non-exploitative lives for all human beings. , fully aware that we will never be free until all oppressed peoples are free ”.
TWWA has drawn inspiration from various international examples – one of which is Cuba, where Romney spent two months in 1971 cutting sugar cane and observing firsthand a system in which basic necessities of life were free ( although she later becomes disillusioned with some aspects of the Cuban experience).
She quotes an article from Triple Jeopardy, the TWWA newspaper, about how Cuban women have taken advantage of a “tremendous opportunity for growth that doesn’t exist here in the United States,” with free child care – somehow. something that still does not exist in the United States, the temptation to extract punitive profits apparently being too great – and the belief that “everyone should be allowed to develop to their full potential not just for self-development. , but for the development of the whole of society ”.
Obviously, the piece “whole society” is anathema to capitalism, based on the obscene enrichment of a tiny minority at the expense of the rest, who are taught that their relative unhappiness is entirely a function of individual failure and no, you know, capitalism being capitalism.
By charting the history of the Alliance and profiling its members, Romney therefore offers an antidote to relentless neoliberalism and institutionalized inequalities: the magic of solidarity and the alignment of soul mates.
Another quote from Triple Jeopardy sums up the powerful beauty of coming together against divide and conquer policies and the perniciousness of business as usual: “When we are affected by outside forces that reflect our worth, we can begin to. to fight against fascism and the exploitation of the leader. . We are even starting to fill up with ourselves.
We Were There’s focus is on the collective, not Romney, although it covers relevant personal details, such as her own experiences with multifaceted oppression.
It also shows how the Alliance has broadened its perspective from an individual perspective to a societal perspective. During her development as a psychologist, for example, she came to understand that, rather than just helping individuals cope with life’s problems, she wanted to change “the systems and structures that made it possible these individual and family problems ”.
And this book, you might say, is another step in that direction.
In its author’s note at the beginning of the text, Romney writes that, now, the idea of women in the United States identifying themselves as part of the third world “seems strange, perhaps even off-putting, but color in our time used this language ”.
But that might not be strange at all – especially since, in many ways, the United States itself could be considered a third world country.
During a two-week visit to the United States in December 2017, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, discovered “pervasive contrasts between private wealth and public misery ”, with a quarter of young Americans. living in poverty.
Alston then detected a “demonization of the poor” as well as a “gendered nature of poverty”, with women more exposed to violence and discrimination as well as disproportionately affected by austerity policies.
Neoliberal austerity can be helpful in keeping the poor in poverty, but, as Alston noted, the burden falls on the primary caregivers in families, who are most often women.
Racism, he stressed, is a “constant dimension” of US existence, while Americans can “expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in the United States. any other rich democracy ”- a situation which naturally did not constrain this“ democracy ”. »To reassess its priorities, or to stop spending disproportionate sums on the military terror of other nations and peoples.
Now add the coronavirus to the mix, and Romney’s We Were There is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for assessing structural malaise in a country that is doing its best to vaccinate its people against the truth.
And while the scourge of imperialism rages on, it has yet to kill the magic of solidarity.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.