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Reject trusteeship, forget about “normal politics”

The basic cry of the [ANC Youth League] did not differ from the ANC’s first constitution in 1912. But we were reaffirming and underscoring those original concerns, many of which had gone by the wayside. African nationalism was our battle cry, and our creed was the creation of one nation out of many tribes, the overthrow of white supremacy, and the establishment of truly democratic form of government. Our manifesto stated: “We believe that the national liberation of Africans will be achieved by Africans themselves.

The manifesto utterly rejected trusteeship, the idea that the white government somehow had African interests at heart.

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom, p.99.

Reject trusteeship. This is the smartest phrase I have read in a long time when it comes to a fight to ending supremacy of a minority that works against the interests of a majority. Although Nelson Mandela was writing about the liberation struggle he and his compatriots waged against white supremacy in South Africa, the idea of rejecting trusteeship is going to be critical in the long walk to full autonomy for women (and anybody who is not a straight male) in our country.

Women need to appreciate that their liberation will be achieved by women themselves.

Consider each of three great emancipation/liberation struggles of the twentieth century: the fight for civil rights for blacks in the United States; the effort to end colonial rule and caste-oppression in India; and, most significantly for the post, the fight to bring democracy to South Africa. In every case there came a turning point, when the leaders of these struggles realized that they could no longer operate within a  paradigm of “normal politics”. That is they realized that that for true social transformation to occur the emphasis had to be on transcendent politics, a willingness to fight from the outside, not from within.

None of these fights I just mentioned were fights directed toward ending misogyny or sexism ; women participated, but the struggles were not aimed at ending male supremacy; they were directed against other social ills and  led by men with some rather illiberal attitudes toward women. I’m not prepared to condemn these men – e.g. Martin Luther King, Jr., M.K. Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela – for their attitudes toward women. I prefer to learn from their experiences in bringing about major social change.

Mandela in particular is a source of knowledge and inspiration for anybody determined to see a vast social transformation, one in which an oppressed majority comes to the fore. Mandela’s own development as a social and political thinker is a lesson in coming to understand true politics. I intend to continue to share his insights as guideposts for those of us who have found 2008-09 a time in which we realize that we cannot entrust the interests of women to preexisting institutions. We are starting almost from scratch.

I cannot pinpoint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew I would spend my life in the liberation struggle. …

I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered momements, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned our people. There was no particular day on which I said, From henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead I found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.

Long Walk To Freedom, p. 95.

Do these words resonate with you? If so you are getting ready to move beyond normal politics – for Mandela’s “politicization” was in fact a rejection of the politics as usual of his time and place; he rejected tribalism in favor of African unification, he rejected incrementalism in favor of sweeping social reform; he demanded that the people whose oppression he sought to end become empowered as both a means and end of that goal.

Let us demand the same for women. We do not need breadcrumbs from either political party – we need not beg them to protect the already withered and watered down rights to reproductive freedom that are essential to women’s autonomy; we have seen the futility of supporting their favored sons in the vain hope that they will avoid employing and highlighting those who degrade and belittle women; we have seen that they will tolerate anything from a straight male regardless of the insult bestowed on women or gay men.

To be continued…

cross-posted at Heidi Li’s Potpourri and at Founder’s Blog, 51 Percent