Learning what it means to be a leader

Nancy Reiko Kato, speaking at a rally. Photo courtesy of the author.
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My favorite book is America’s Road to Socialism. It’s a collection of speeches given during the anti-communist McCarthy era by James Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, the tendency that opposed Stalin’s police state. I love his defiance in promoting socialism at a time when radicals were persecuted for their political beliefs. It was the power of such radical ideas and acts that drew me to the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP).

I’m a native San Francisco Bay Area gal raised on activism and community engagement. My family was involved in most things Japanese American — Nikkei fishing club, church basketball leagues and JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) potlucks. I had a community to call home.

But something was missing. The ideas and contributions of my all-female Buddhist youth group were trivialized. I thought that the disrespect was because we were from “radical” Berkeley. But when I encountered Radical Women (RW), the sister organization to the FSP, I realized the missing piece was feminism — a feminism that spoke to me as a queer woman of color.

FSP and RW showed me that what I did mattered. I mattered. They recognized me as a leader. While I had been playing this role in my community, it was seen more as a service or a duty, filling positions because there was a need. No one had ever valued my contributions as a frontrunner before. Being accepted as a leader made me more conscious of being one.

The party invested in training me on Marxist theory and working-class history. This gave me the confidence to turn theory into action, like James Cannon did. I love getting in the face of bigots, bosses, bureaucrats and bullies! And, I love working with others to teach them to do that too.

As a radical unionist, I discovered that it takes tenacity, patience, and labor education to organize co-workers to go on strike. But this hard work pays off because working people know which side they’re on — they just need a plan of action and the assurance that fighting back will make a difference. This has given me the understanding that working people throughout the world are capable, willing and eager to kick the capitalists out.

Activism in FSP and RW gave me the opportunity to collaborate with women around the world. I addressed a women’s conference as part of the International Feminist Brigade to Cuba. RW sisters in Australia invited me to speak on fighting fascism and the significance of Trump’s 2016 election. I went to Mexico, and met with Latin American women on socialist feminism and how our organizations apply this in real life.

I also learned how to build united fronts against the fascists. In 1989 when an Aryan Woodstock was called in Napa, California, we brought a thousand folks to counter the far right in a disciplined, democratic and diverse protest. This stood me in good stead for recent rallies against the ultra-right Proud Boys.

I take pride in my party, and the work we do. After George Floyd’s racist murder, FSP formed a coalition to cut the San Francisco cop budget by 50%, redirecting funds to services, and hiring non-police professionals to respond to domestic violence, houseless, and drug emergencies. The group is multi-racial, inter-generational, queer and Black trans-led. It represents the leadership of the oppressed that the party stands for.

FSP’s socialist feminism and respect for the leadership of women, particularly women of color, speaks to working people. We see that our everyday lives turn us into the fiercest and most inclusive fighters. The party strives to bring together those who understand that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Now is the time to join a revolutionary feminist party and save the world!

Send feedback to nrkato@rocketmail.com.

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