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42 On March 27, 1975, police arrested Susan Saxe, a white lesbian and radical, in Philadelphia. Saxe had spent almost five years underground, pursued by the FBI following her participation in two actions in 1970: the theft of National Guard documents that revealed government plans for suppressing dissent against the Vietnam War, and a bank robbery that was intended to direct funds to the Black Panther Party and in which a member of Saxe’s group unexpectedly shot and killed Walter Schroeder, a Boston police officer. Following her capture in 1975, Saxe made a public statement in which she affirmed her anti-imperialism and refused to testify against her fellow radicals. She also linked her lesbian identity and feminism to her refusal to collaborate with the federal government , closing her statement by declaring: “A greeting of love and strength to all my sisters—courage for our warriors, hope for our people and especially for all my sisters and brothers underground in Amerika. Keep on fighting, stay free, stay strong. I promise you a courage to match your own. I intend to fight on in every way as a Lesbian, a feminist, and an Amazon. The love that I share with my sisters, my people, is a far more powerful weapon than any the police state can bring to bear against us.”1 It was not incidental or exceptional that Saxe described her “love” for her comrades as a “weapon.” Nor was it insignificant that she named this love as simultaneously erotic and political, her lesbian identity overlapping with solidarity with both “sisters and brothers” evading the US state. chapter 2 A More Powerful Weapon Lesbian Feminism and Collective Defense A More Powerful Weapon | 43 Saxe’s statement reflected a politics well established by 1975, one that defined lesbian feminism as a strategy of opposition to US state violence. Guided by support for the Black Panther Party, prison radicalism, and the anti-war movement, as well as by opposition to gendered violence, lesbian radicalsarguedthattheirsafety,survival,andself-determinationdemanded they refuse to collaborate with the US government. Lesbian feminists linked the goals of community protection and radical alliance in a politics I term collective defense. They drew the politics of collective defense from the black liberation movement, adapted it through their support for armed resistance and the underground, and used it to counter the intersection of gendered violence and racial criminalization . They also lived collective defense through their shared households , which sheltered both political fugitives such as Saxe and more ordinary women escaping domestic violence. Collective defense describes the means by which women constructed lesbian feminism as interdependent with anti-imperialism from the early through the mid-1970s. For older women, collective defense resonated with decades of struggle against state harassment; as activist Joan Nestle reflected on the passage of time from the 1950s through 1970s, “The police that I had grown accustomed to confronting in the Village bars became the state troopers of Baltimore and Alabama; the mounted troops of Washington , D.C. became the carefully dressed undercover FBI agents snapping our photographs at every demonstration.”2 Police brutality, politically motivated trials of black liberation and anti-war radicals, and prison organizing deepened alliances across race and social movement sectors and made noncooperation with the US state central to multiple forms of radical identity just as lesbian feminism was emerging.3 Moreover, shaped by the longtime policing of queer life, sensationalist media defined even straight women’s radicalism as deviant, and state surveillance placed lesbian and feminist communities on high alert. The links that lesbian leftists drew between gendered militancy, armed resistance, and the underground were influenced by years of experiences and alliances, but they were not automatic nor did everyone share them. Rather, collective defense emerged in contrast to other lesbian and feminist responses that separated themselves from a male-dominated left and that turned toward alliances with the police and courts to address rape and battering. Because collective defense describes only some aspects of lesbian feminism, it helps to trace debates within that broader movement . In addition, it helps to counter historical narratives that have misrepresented lesbian feminism as essentially or monolithically white and 44 | A More Powerful Weapon separatist. As a growing number of scholars show, women of color were key actors in lesbian feminism, and intersectional, anti-statist, and anticarceral politics were central aspects of the movement.4 Likewise, the rhetoric, theory, and practice of collective defense fueled the growth of a...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520965706
Related ISBN
9780520279056
MARC Record
OCLC
948669919
Pages
276
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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