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  • A Conversation with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  • Transcribed by Morgan Shipley
    Translated by Morgan Shipley
Ann Larabee (AL):

From your involvement in the early second-wave women's movement to your participation in Third World liberation movements, especially from the perspective of indigenous groups and land reform, where are you today?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (RDO):

I'm still in that sort of vortex of my experiences, which were, I think like most people, maybe more so with me, not really laid out and programmed and chosen; but you know, the '60s were particularly tumultuous in terms of the many, many choices one had to get involved. So I am really grateful for that richness of experience that kind of brought me to many different perspectives on the world, how it works, on the United States and my training in history. I have a doctorate in history, [which] I particularly appreciate for giving me the tools to really develop a historical context for understanding. So I didn't feel that I cut myself off—maybe I did for a moment from my early years of activism in the, from 1963 to '67, when I really, really got involved and involved in organizing—and that basically paralleled my years as a graduate student at UCLA—really gained confidence in my ability. [End Page 119]

Up to that time I didn't really feel like I had a place in social movements. I was interested but because I came from a poor working-class background from Oklahoma, there didn't seem to be anyone else sort of like me. I didn't really like how the men treated the women from the very beginning, at UCLA, where I became a sort of leader. I mean, there were many leaders; it wasn't like I was the only one. None of us were publicized, so we didn't really think of ourselves as leaders, but definitely looking back, I was looked to and I was respected and I didn't have many of those problems. The Women's Liberation movement, the most radical wing of it, came from very seasoned women activists who were really fed up with the men in the movement, and I didn't feel that strongly, although I became conscious of it. You know, in some ways it was my class identification, in particular, [that] dominated my sense of when I was being discriminated against. It really took me becoming educated and then thinking about being a women to see, sort of retroactively, that I was often misidentifying things that I was experiencing as, you know, class-wise or being put down for my lack knowledge of Latin and Greek and classical education, which I certainly didn't have at a country school. And sometimes it was just being a woman, you know, noticing that other women were treated that way.

So that was my big awakening. I am so glad that the Women's Liberation Movement exploded during that time and that I could incorporate that, because I think past generations of movements really suffered from the lack of fully developed and respected women participants and leaders. There were plenty of women, you know, doing the work, and whispering ideas in the men's ears, . . . and really being on the front-lines and being very courageous, but not really gaining the kind of respect and authority that would have enriched the movement.


Actually that leads well into my next question. You have described yourself as an anarcha-feminist and provided the introduction to a collection of historical anarcha-feminist writings, Quiet Rumors. But what do you mean by "anarcha-feminist"? And what historical strains of anarchism and feminism do you see coming together in this term?


Well, you know, in some ways, the New Left as a whole and the feminist movement were, structurally, funny [to use the term] "anarchist"—as opposed [End Page 120] to, say, "Leninist"—when you look at, you know, the sort of populist nature and the lack of involvement and the skewing of participation in the state, elections and looking to elections and the electoral process and the usual, you know, legal framework...


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