Feminism and the New American Reality
My state is an interesting place to be politically. Known around the world for always being late in publishing the results of the presidential elections, but that’s another matter. Florida also reflects many of the changes being experienced throughout the United States. We were the center of the foreclosure crisis and one of the hardest hit in the resulting economic recession. We are still a key destination for retiring seniors from across the country, and there is a growing gap between our aging population and our younger generation, with the aging folks being largely white and middle class and the younger generations increasingly of color and working class. In addition to age polarization, there is also great income inequality. The state is notoriously conservative, has no income tax, and is a haven for corporations and wealthy individuals who want to avoid taxes. As a result, the state infrastructure for education, health, and services is almost non-existence. These changes have contributed to create a new Florida and, as this trend is not unique to our state, they also represent the New America. It is an America that is growing in racial and ethnic diversity, and increasingly polarized by age, wealth and race, and connected to the global economy more than ever before.
The racial, economic and political changes experienced by the country in the last 40 years are the direct results of neoliberal globalization philosophy and policies that have been implemented throughout the world and within the United States. Neoliberal globalization has forced countries to open their markets and promote privatization of land, industries and other resources while reducing or eliminating programs that help serve the needy. The net result is poor people emigrating regionally and globally in search of better (or any) opportunities they can no longer hope for at home.
Neoliberalism has also greatly increased the mobility of capital and wealthy individuals, creating a class of people with the means and access to move freely across the globe. This is contrasted by the plight of poor and working class migrants who struggled to find decent employment and are regularly subject to hyper-exploitation, employer abuse, and government repression. My home of Miami has played a very special role in this drama. Since 1960s it has been the main destination point for Latin American elites(and their money) running from the uprisings of the people against neoliberal policies in their home countries. It is has also been the landing point for waves of workers from the global south, including boatloads of Haitian refugees escaping dictatorship, poverty, and most recently the devastating earthquake of January 2010. For all these reasons, South Florida is known as the “Capital of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Neoliberalism is not just an international theme.Ronald Reagan, one of the original champions of the neoliberal philosophy, launched an agenda inside the United States that is still faithfully carried out by both Republicans and Democrats. This is an agenda that cuts government assistance, decreases taxes on the rich and corporations, and deregulates the private market. Over time, these policies have let the economy get out of control. The recession that has plagued the country in recent years is the outgrowth of these policies that have created an underclass of poor and working poor Americans who are increasingly marginalized from the economy, and stripped of political rights and their dignity.
This new America requires that our social justice movements refocus our strategies and demands. The feminist movement, in particular, must take this new reality into account to develop an updated gender analysis. This new analysis has to be global in its scope. American feminism has to be global feminism and should reflect the different ethnicities, religion, culture, languages present in our country. Most importantly the American feminism has to recognize the global political and economic forces that are driving the realities of the world’s women and girls. These are also increasingly the realities of the majority of women and girls in America: human trafficking, work done by immigrant women, domestic violence, sexual assault, pressures of economic hardship, and the general lack of a social safety net for poor women and children. A renewed gender analysis should include not only academic and intellectual knowledge, but must also open spaces and prioritize the experiences and needs of all women, including transgender, living in the United States. The new gender analysis must be directly informed by these experiences, crafted from the bottom up.
The feminist movement in the United States must radically change the way it operates, thinks, and develops strategies and demands. The movement needs to have a new vision for change. The new vision should reflect not only the racial and cultural diversity of the United States, but also reflect an analysis of the impact of global neoliberal policies on the existence of women and girls worldwide.
The feminist movement must not only create conditions to protect the rights of women at the Federal level, but also develop strategies and demands to create state and local protections. Take for example, domestic work, a sector primarily occupied by poor, undocumented, immigrant women, the majority of whom do not speak English. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had tremendous successes in both winning changes while also building alliances with traditional labor, women’s organizations, and other sectors. This is a critical feminist struggle- a fight to create changes in the Fair Labor Standard Act, while simultaneously working to help promote charters at the state and local levels to protect the dignity and rights of these working women.
For many, the results of the 2012 presidential election were a great awakening. The media was buzzing about how the changing demographics were permanently changing the face and politics of the United States. The lesson was that the Republican party could not continue to rely on a strategy of depending solely on the votes of white people, white men in particular and stay relevant. The truth is that there is an important lesson for Democrats to learn as well. It cannot assume that the new diversity electorate will automatically vote its way if it doesn’t respond to people’s realities over the long term.
The same can be said about the American feminist movement. It must not only reflect the diversity of the new American woman, but also support her realities, demands, and culture. This has been a long time struggle of Africa American women and now many other women and girls from around the world are joining that call. After all, we know that for the changes to reach everyone, they will have to meet the needs in different languages, religions, sexual preferences, professions and trades.
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