Friday, August 16, 2019

How to get a book project back on track

I have been struggling with a self-imposed January 2020 deadline for my revised/expanded version of Feminism in Philadelphia. It’s now abundantly clear I will never meet this deadline unless I scale back the project.

When I published Feminism in Philadelphia 6 years ago, I was racing to meet a deadline—a presentation I was scheduled to do on documenting our history at the national NOW conference. Feminism in Philadelphia charted the growth of the second wave feminist movement with an emphasis on NOW, the major engine of institutional change. This was certainly not the complete story of the history of second wave feminism in Philadelphia. Many low-income women, disproportionately women of color, struggled in obscurity for racial and gender justice; their actions were not recorded by the local press, and they were much less likely to leave detailed records. No doubt, much of what occurred was not documented, or if documented, not deposited in libraries or archives accessible to me.

Feminism in Philadelphia focused on activism and advocacy, but a major strand of the story was left untold—the enormous energy devoted to building feminist service organizations. Founded on a shoestring by committed feminists,the battered women’s shelters, the rape crisis centers, were beginning to receive significant funding from government and from private foundations. Yes, the funding came with strings attached and the radical edge of some of these organizations was blunted, but more women were receiving services and the women who had been providing them for free could now get jobs as service providers. I had to expand the book to include this story.

My original plan was to survey the full range of service organizations built by second wave feminists in Philadelphia, but it soon became apparent that it would take far more time than I had planned and that the book would be much longer than I had intended. It’s not so easy to find a publisher for a 500 page book. So instead of trying to include the history of every service agency, I decided to focus on the two kinds of service organizations which were the most prevalent in cities and towns across the country—-those providing services to victims of male violence (e.g., rape crisis centers and shelters for battered women) and those providing women’s healthcare services. This is manageable and allows me to support my thesis that second wave feminists excelled at institution building. The institutions they built were for the most part geographically based, often with deep roots in local communities.

Their approach was very different from that of a younger generation of feminist activists who have a different set of tools at their disposal. My primary focus will be on the Women’s March which began in 2017 as a Facebook post, which then went viral and demonstrated the power of social media to quickly mobilize large numbers of people. However, the March demonstrated the limits of a social media driven mobilization. When conflicts arise, there exist no agreed upon mechanisms for resolving them and for holding leadership accountable. Although a non-profit, Women’s March Inc., emerged from the initial march, it was not a membership organization with the power to set the agenda, elect board members and officers; thus, there was no mechanism for holding leaders accountable. Zeynep Tufekci in Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, her study of internet-driven protest movements around the globe, noted that without an organizational structure which allows for decision making, these mass mobilizations can lead to what she calls a "tactical freeze." Can social change be achieved without the kinds structured organizations that fueled the second wave feminist movement? Will 21st century feminists find a new path? These are some of the questions I want to explore.


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