- Philosophical Sisters, Incite!
We want to dedicate our music tonight
to the great opportunity that we all have,
to begin to truly understand the events of the past few days,
and to act upon them with courage and with compassion,
as we make our plans to live in a completely new world.—Laurie Anderson, Live at Town Hall New York City, September 19, 2001
Feminists of a philosophical sort, lovers of women and wisdom, political critics and witnesses! What unusual and important opportunities we face as we bring the lessons of the last few years to bear on complex theorizing, multi-issue praxis, and the work of twenty-first century democracy. We've been on the streets, in the classroom, and on the Internet, opposing war and occupation, protesting police brutality, demanding global peace and justice. We've helped organize teach-ins and lectures, meetings and potlucks, concerts and art exhibitions. From the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan to New Yorkers Say No to War, from Women in Black to Code Pink, feminists were some of the first vocal opponents of the Bush rush to war. In February 2003 we helped create the greatest global protest for peace in human history, proclaiming "The World Says No to War" under banners of the swirling blue earth, cracking open the hegemony of you're-either-with-us-or-you're-with-the-terrorists, and activating a phenomenal range of new coalitions. [End Page 233]
Yet we were unable to prevent a wicked war, and at times it has seemed like democracy is crumbling around us. Since 9/11 the American government has revived some of the most monstrous aspects of superpower militarism, and revised fundamental democratic norms and laws concerning basic rights, due process, the separation of church and state, international rule of law, and the unacceptability of torture. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, human suffering is rampant, extreme, and funded by our tax dollars. America's already ambiguous reputation has been severely and perhaps irreparably damaged, and democracy itself suffers nearly everywhere, due in part to the strength of Washington's bad example.
Years have passed, but we are still reeling from the coup d'état of 2000, the 9/11 attacks, and that administration's war on Iraq. It seems that epidemic levels of fear and violence allowed jingoistic politicians to found a new age of imperialism under the cover of security. But the severe political disempowerment and religious fundamentalism that allowed Bush and his cronies to slip into office in the first place cannot be blamed on terrorism. When such a blatant and thorough power grab elicited barely a national grumble, the limits of American institutions, including our universities and systems of education, as well as our electoral process, became painfully clear.
Could there be a more important time to incite criticism and positive change, to strengthen our commitment to praxis, to secure useful formations and speak truth to power? We do not live in a "completely new world," but the geopolitical landscape, including the realm of the unthinkable, continues to shift very rapidly, and in ways that are difficult to predict or understand. Which aspects of democracy are most resilient under these conditions? Which are most endangered?
And more broadly, how will the knowledge generated through the new movements for peace and global justice be channeled into theoretical and common understandings? How can the activist successes of these last few years help us to reimagine democratic possibilities worldwide?
If I were queen for a day, I'd call upon wise and compassionate feminists—a diverse, international, and queer-friendly mob—to investigate our best philosophical and practical questions about democracy, to map the landscape and the relevant histories, and to figure out how we should proceed. Certainly there are people working on such questions, but few of them are likely to begin from the premise that multi-issue feminism—including feminist activism and scholarship—is the best starting place for engaging the realities and possibilities of democracy now.
Recall a scene from the movie Apollo 13. The astronauts are stuck in space because of a technical problem, and in the midst of...