CWLU Work Groups and Personal Transformation
(Editors Note: This memoir is adapted from a talk that Sue gave at
Women and Children First Bookstore in 1999. Paula Kamen transcribed
Sue's remarks. The photo shows Sue at a 1999 fundraiser for Jane:
Abortion and the Underground)
workgroups were the independent committees of the Union organized
around particular interests and activities.
A well known CWLU workgroup was ACDC. (Action Committee for Decent
Child Care).They set up a seasonal review of the licensing processes
for daycare centers, and they actually got the city to allocate
$1 million for child care. A group of women could go up against
the city and get something real, a reallocation basically of wealth
and power, that would benefit ordinary people and/or people's needs,
and particularly children's needs.
also had DARE, Direct Action for Rights Employment. For the women
who were really concerned about women in the workplace, the Women's
Union had a very dedicated group of women who worked with women
in various largely industrial and service settings, where they were
basically being very fiercely discriminated against, either by their
management or their boss, or their union, or both. They worked and
collaborated very closely with the women janitors, who were for
the most part African American, and they met in their homes on Sunday
nights in the South Side and slowly built up a campaign.
We also had neighborhood organizing of women doing outreach with the newspaper, called "Secret Storm." Reaching out there to the passions of young women and their hearts and urging them again, to play sports and to ask for equal time on the courts and in the fields, and they got it from their local park district. And if any of you have spent any time dealing with park district bureaucracies you know it's not easy.
gay and lesbian chapter, Blazing Star, organized among gay and lesbian
women and did a tremendous job within the Women's Union of I think,
helping us hold together so that we, unlike a lot of women's unions
around the country, did not split along gay/straight lines. We held
The young American woman, very attractive, young, is putting on bright red lipstick. And the Vietnamese woman back to back to her, is bleeding the same red out of her nose. Anyway that poster captured for me the sense of living in a corporate society where it was the agenda of the large corporations who really determined the wars and the allocation of resources.
our whole government was mobilizing our whole society to fight,
and that the price of that war for a Vietnamese woman was not that
she didn't have any lipstick, but that it was pulling her family,
her children, her villages, her way of life, all of the social fabric
within Vietnam, and just turning the world upside-down.
And so that poster was very powerful for me, and some of the lessons that I took away from the Women's Union I think have been very important to me and all the rest of us. Because many of us found jobs where we could continue, surprisingly enough, to discover injustice was all around us. If we just opened our eyes to these schools we were teaching in, or the hospitals, or the, any of the big huge bureaucracies, or little small companies, or wherever you worked, you saw the injustices that were just innate in our democracy.
And so, there was always work to be done. Another one of the lessons that I could never forget is really what other people have said tonight. But it's basically, 3 to 5 people can get together and do just about anything. The final area that I think a lot of the changes were made in, were in our personal and family lives, and how we chose to live, and what kind of relationships we chose to live in, and that it was okay to be married or not to be married, or to be in a lesbian relationship, or to be lesbian for a while and to go back to men, or you know, whatever. There were just lots and lots of possibilities.
enabled me to do a joint custody with my former husband, and so
we could raise two sons, and two sons who turned out well. And that
was one of the contradictions a lot of women were faced with: what
are we doing having all these sons? And so my son's here tonight
and I'm happy about that, because not only is he here but he's also
taking a feminist theory class and a Marxist theory class in college
this semester, and we have the feeling things are going to continue.
Sue Davenport was
active in the CWLU workgroup HERS(Health Evaluation and Referral
Service) and worked on the CWLU newspaper Womankind. She
now works for Designs for Change, a Chicago school reform organization.
Paula Kamen is a Chicago based writer and author of Feminist
Fatale and Jane: Abortion and the Underground.