Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism

Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism

Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism

Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism

Synopsis

Examining three interconnected case studies, Tamar Carroll powerfully demonstrates the ability of grassroots community activism to bridge racial and cultural differences and effect social change. Drawing on a rich array of oral histories, archival records, newspapers, films, and photographs from post-World War II New York City, Carroll shows how poor people transformed the antipoverty organization Mobilization for Youth and shaped the subsequent War on Poverty. Highlighting the little-known National Congress of Neighborhood Women, she reveals the significant participation of working-class white ethnic women and women of color in New York City's feminist activism. Finally, Carroll traces the partnership between the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and Women's Health Action Mobilization (WHAM!), showing how gay men and feminists collaborated to create a supportive community for those affected by the AIDS epidemic, to improve health care, and to oppose homophobia and misogyny during the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s. Carroll contends that social policies that encourage the political mobilization of marginalized groups and foster coalitions across identity differences are the most effective means of solving social problems and realizing democracy.

Excerpt

This book examines the ways in which otherwise ordinary New Yorkers participated in social movements that made history: the War on Poverty second-wave feminism, and AIDS and reproductive rights activism. When I began this project, I had in mind a different subject: the intellectual and glamorous spokeswoman for American feminism, Gloria Steinem, whose archives are at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. When I visited Smith, archivist Nanci Young suggested I might be interested in a new collection, the records of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW), founded by Janet Peterson in 1974-75. I had never heard of the group, but their brochure’s photograph of a multiracial group of confident, apparently working-class women on the steps of the U.S. capital intrigued me, as did their list of “Original Goals.” They aspired to not only “look seriously at sexism,” but also to “help women identify, perceive and assume power without feeling that it was a threat to family” and to “validate women as part of a family.” They remarked that “most poor people are women” and expressed the hope that they could “bridge [the] gap between black and white women whose issues were the same.” And they wanted to build an organization that “their mother felt comfortable in.”

I found this list of goals exciting, in part because it contradicted much of what I thought I knew about American feminists in the 1970s: that they were mostly well-off, college-educated white women who yearned to break free from oppressive family obligations and were either rebelling against their own mothers, or being encouraged by aspiring or collegeeducated mothers who never felt that being a housewife with children was all that a woman could do. Among these working-class women, I was especially curious to find out how they managed to reconcile women’s empowerment with strong family relationships. The NCNW’s vision appealed to me as a young woman raised in a conservative Irish Catholic household and drawn to the study of feminism; I valued gender equality yet loved my family members. Thus, I found understanding difference . . .

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