For Radical Women, art is as political as life. It can be a tool for change, as powerful as our struggles for a better world. Karen Brodine, acclaimed socialist feminist poet and Radical Women leader who died in 1987 from breast cancer, once said this about women artists she looked to for strength and insight: “The writings of women of colour, who often connect the struggle for racial equality with feminism, is especially important because it connects the separate struggles in a way that is desperately needed.” For these artists, politics is like breathing. Said Brodine: “They are living the contradictions, the oppressions that this society heaps on women, people of colour, sexual minorities, and all working people. Their involvement allows for, demands, a powerful synthesis of image and statement, of idea and passion. Writing is part of their struggle against the conditions they experience.” While anti-Semitism and racism differ in their historical origins and modern expression, we also recognise an important bond between the two struggles.
We pay tribute to four such inspirational artists: Cheryl Deptowicz, a Filipina-Chinese American, Nellie Wong, a Chinese American, Debbie Morrow, an Indigenous Australian of the Wongaibon Nation, and Adrienne Weller, a Jewish American activist in the people of colour movement.
by Cheryl Deptowicz
Angry advocates count close to 60,000 homeless in the City of LA
The government slashes away
Over 600,000 displaced Kosovars in Yugoslavia by the 70th day.
The government slashes away
NATO powers aim indiscriminately
24 hour air raids sting me.
Bridges, hospitals, homes
Affirmative action, welfare, jobs
I wake up in Yugoslavia, California
Scarcely two hours into sleep and
the ghetto bird gawks chillingly
circling my roof.
It bellows commands of put your hands up and freeze.
The propellers ring in my ears.
The searchlight blinds my dozing eyes.
The homeless along the alley are jolted awake and try to hide.
The chosen suspect is apprehended.
I hear Eugene Debs: “While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
From my bed, I think of the suspect
From which camp, this time?
From the browns? the blacks? the yellows? the reds? or the working whites?
Was it over drugs as they say on the 11 o’clock news?
Or gang banging as the newspapers would ooze?
Grogginess spins my head
My mouth a cottonball
I think of Mumia in death row
I think of my mother in Stockton Correctional Facilities
Both are innocent but
Racist judges, handpicked jurors, and demonizing trials
try to convince me otherwise.
But the manipulation and the cover-up
won’t work because like the average jane,
I’m two paychecks away from being out on the streets.
My body and politics look like the targets on surveillance screens
ready to aim and fire.
I have no millions to protect myself from their slanderous lies.
No proper enough business suit to give me
access to their boardrooms (not that I’d oblige).
Handcuffs are made for wrists like mine.
Bullets and bombs are tested on people like me,
neighborhoods and countries like mine.
Because I refuse to wear my ball and chain in silence.
Free Mumia! Free All political prisoners!
Mama, I’m coming to free you. Your cellmate too!
Free us all.
Break down the wall.
I wake up in Yugoslavia, California.
Flight of the Emu: Debbie Morrow in song and spirit
By Marita Borton
It’s been a long time since a song reduced me to tears. Not because music fails to strike an inner chord for me. But because there’s too little new music that speaks to me. Too little with those ideas and experiences that mean the most to me, a working woman and mother.
Music is big business. An art that can touch and unite people with stories of shared realities and struggles ends up distorted and turned inside out by moguls inspired only by big, fast bucks. Too often, we’re force-fed a steady diet of banality and ordinariness that either leaves me drowsy from boredom or, more usually, sick from its sexism, racism and homophobia. Too often, musicians get trapped into apolitical artistry — music-for-itself — when they could use their talents as a tool for change.
Debbie Morrow is one singer and songwriter who resists the commercial pressure. She’s acutely aware of the political power of music. Her robust, dynamic voice and equally enormous talent translate her world — as an Aborigine, lesbian and mother — into lyrics that speak to us all. Her music is filled with images we identify with — things which reflect the realities of so many lives, but are denied and hidden by a society that values profit, not us.
Her début CD, Flight of the Emu — produced with the help of the Australia Council and her own money — is a showcase for Debbie’s skill. It’s a collection of songs that articulately express her passion for life and Aboriginal culture. Her experiences are not sullied by a business-imposed view of how the world should be. And she doesn’t present her world in rosy colours. Her spirit is strong and critical — with honesty, she relates her contradictory life.
It was Debbie’s song about the struggle for the earth’s survival in “Holding Out” that set off the tears on a rushed Monday morning commute. Something in this hauntingly beautiful song expressed my concern for the fate of our world and our children. Debbie sings of mother earth:
She’s trying to patch the wounds in her universe
By constantly changing to get used to us
She is holding out for peace
And her children by her side
It’s the connection between us and our world, and us as people of many different cultures and situations, which is critical to our shared survival. Our individual experiences are universal; the solution is in collective action. That is what Debbie so succinctly communicates.
Debbie says the aim of her music is to spread the message of the strength and vitality of Aboriginal culture. In “Red Dirt Water,” she sings of the resilience of Aboriginal people who have withstood centuries of their land and culture being taken from them. She asks the usurpers the inevitable question:
How do you think it will be for you
If the same thing happened too
Do you think you know who you are
Debbie Morrow was taken from her mother at birth and raised by a foster family. She always knew she was Aboriginal, but she was denied any contact with her culture. In “Blackman,” Debbie sings about finding what had been kept from her through the myths and stereotypes of her people as savages and drunks:
I am glad I finally know now
That this Blackman is where I call home
I’ve returned and that’s where I’m gonna stay
…I am proud to be a Blackman
I am proud to be part of this great land
Flight of the Emu is a continuous firecracker — filled with fresh bursts of resistance. Debbie Morrow’s passionate energy and brilliance will touch every one of us denied our dignity by this profit-motivated system. Tears, yes — but also fists raised. We’ll overcome!
Cuba and Paradise
By Adrienne Weller
Cuba, Que linda es Cuba
Blue skies filled with dazzling light, swimming in moist warm air
Green fields and blackbirds careening high over a salt-water pool;
I cannot absorb the beauty I am surrounded by
as the skies darken, thunder rumbles and lightning flashes
The lowest infant mortality rate in the Americas
Food, lovingly rationed so everyone eats.
The Cubans say “racism still exists, we are not perfect”
True — but people of all colors walk anywhere and they are not quarry for the police
People of color own this island; it is their domain, their revolution; this is the home of any human; the way it should be.
You, watching Nightline, while the corn pops in the microwave,
horrified at the N.Y.-Nazi-cop-nightstick rape of a Haitian man —
This crime could not happen in Cuba. What would you give for the promise that no Black man
or woman of any color will ever be raped again? What is the value of respect, learning and health?
Cuba, Que linda es Cuba
Feminists say women are equal in marriage law but not in the home;
We are not perfect.” That phrase admits much but promises more — they desire to be perfect;
they strive for a society where women are both the backbone and the leaders, where abundance overflows for each one.
We did not come looking for a miracle, but we found one. An undefeated country, blockaded by capitalism, stunted by Stalinism, the un-communism that froze the Russian Revolution. But Cuba has hope, vibrant humanity and at its rock-solid center, a planned economy — they plan for everyone. No one is forgotten or expendable.
Cuba, Que linda es Cuba — but not paradise.
Paradise comes after capitalism ends. Cuba still endures over 37 years of a U.S. blockade against food for women and medicine for children; decades of Stalinist imposed “socialism in one country” (why only one? I want socialism in my country).
A country of contradictions —
Cuba, of houses falling into rubble, where some live on the streets, courtesy of the U.S. blockade, and others are jammed into spaces meant for a few — too much togetherness.
Education for all; gays are, by official word, OK, but not visible; an AIDS program so fine that it stunned our HIV expert.
Cuba, where Castro lives down the street guarded by a friendly soldier — where even the soldiers and police are human and friendly; they do not scream garishly down Havana’s streets, bullies in blue.
This could be paradise, but
Poverty is not paradise, poverty is not socialism.
Cuba is the beginning of paradise, the plan for socialism, the proof that paradise can work.
Down with the U.S. blockade! Drown international capitalism!
Viva Cuba! Government of the people, by the people and for the people must not perish from the earth