Conference: “From Protest to Politics: Women’s Movements and Strengthening Democracies.” For the last sixty years, there has been a consistent pattern of the growth of democratic governments produced by engaged citizens working together in social movements. Often led by diverse women, these social movements won the expansion of civil rights, political participation, and new laws to ensure equality. However, we now face a global rise in authoritarian politics and a rising concern over the future of liberal democracies. Our conference brings together scholars to analyze the current moment. Dates: April 11 & 12, 2019.
The conference is free and open to the public with advance registration via the link (below).
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies
THURSDAY, April 11
509 O'Brian Hall
FRIDAY, April 12
9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
UB SOUTH CAMPUS
105 Harriman Hall
Globally, there is rising concern over the future of liberal democracies. For the last sixty years there was a consistent pattern of the expansion of democratic governments and the strengthening of democratic norms. These advances were often the result of engaged citizens working collectively through social movements. Social movements based in the political identities of women, racial and ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and indigenous populations have won the expansion of civil rights, democratic participation, and policies and laws promoting equality. However, we are now facing a widespread loss of faith in democracy and democratic institutions and the rise of populist parties and authoritarian leaders.
In 2017, the United States, for the second time, was ranked as a “flawed democracy” in the Democracy Index complied by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have sounded the alarm about what they see as a troubling pattern of polarization and norm violation in the United States, patterns that in other countries have lead to a rise of authoritarian politics and a weakening of democracy (How Democracies Die, 2017). In addition, many of the rights, legal protections, and economic protections won by women, sexual minorities and racial and ethnic minorities are in danger of being chipped away. Rising to meet the current threats has been an unprecedented groundswell of organizing, particularly by a diversity of women. Women are organizing and leading this renewed moment of political activism. The Women’s Marches, called in protest over the election of Donald Trump, became the single largest day of political protest in U.S. history, with millions taking to the streets.
The Women’s Marches joined already existing movements at the intersections of racial, gender, environmental and economic justice, including movements such as Black Lives Matter, #SayHerName, the Standing Rock and DAPL protests, the Fight for 15, and the DREAMers, among many others. In 2018, the MeToo# movement burst onto the scene, leading to a renewed national discussion about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. The women’s marches were also the first sign of a renewed interest by women in elected political office. Over 26,000 women have contacted Emily’s List for information and training to run for public office. Recent state elections in Virginia and New Jersey showed that this energy is translating into electoral gains for a diversity of women and sexual minorities.
These tensions in our current political context are the focus of the conference. “From Protest to Politics: Women’s Movements and Strengthening Democracies” will bring together renowned scholars of women’s movements and women’s political participation to analyze the current moment. In particular, the conference will provide an opportunity for scholars that have focused on earlier women’s movements, and those who have focused on women’s movements comparatively to discuss what lessons might inform the current moment of social movement activism.
The guiding questions for the conference include: how do we analyze the current context that combines renewed social movement activism and political engagement on the part of diverse women with an erosion of democratic norms? What lessons can we learn from the past women’s movements in terms of promoting political change? What lessons can we learn from women’s movement in other countries that have engaged with and contested authoritarian politics? How are current women’s movements navigating issues of difference, including race, class and sexual identity?
NORTH CAMPUS, 509 O'Brian Hall
5:30 p.m., Registration
6:00 p.m., Building Women’s Movements/Women in Movements Locally: Radical Coalitions in Buffalo
Opening Remarks: Errol Meidinger, Director of the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy,
SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor
7:30 p.m., Reception
SOUTH CAMPUS, 105 Harriman Hall
9:00 a.m. Registration
9:30 a.m. Opening Remarks, Gwynn Thomas, Conference Organizer
10:00 a.m. to Noon, Panel 1, Radical Coalitions and New Models of Politics: Lessons from Intersectional Movements
12:00 noon-1:00 p.m. Lunch (provided for all participants)
1:00 to 3:00 p.m, Panel 2, Organizing in/through/from Marginalized Locations: Trade Unions, Rural Agricultural Coops and the Rust Belt
3:00 p.m., Coffee Break
3:30-5:30 p.m., Panel 3, Women’s Movements and Protecting and Promoting Democracy: Lessons from a Global Perspective.
5:30 p.m., Closing Remarks, Gwynn Thomas, Conference Organizer
Democracy Stops at My Front Door: Gender, Justice, and Community in South Africa
Abstract: South Africa has been celebrated internationally for the remarkable advances of women in political office since the 1994 democratic elections. The country continues to be near the top of global rankings for the number of women in the national parliament, and women are increasingly filling the halls of local government, provincial parliaments, and educational institutions. The influx of women into parliament has also brought with it sweeping and progressive pieces of legislation dealing with all aspects of women’s advancement in society. Despite these visible and much lauded steps forward, South Africa also has the unfortunate distinction of being known for its remarkably high levels of sexual assault, rape, and intimate-partner violence. Legislation, programs, and policies are essential strategies to address gender-based violence, but they are clearly not sufficient to alter the social structures that normalize and perpetuate violence. This talk will examine the implementation of national gender-based violence laws at the local level and map the networks and partnerships that are addressing gender-based violence.
Biography: Hannah Britton is an associate professor in the departments of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Kansas. Dr. Britton's scholarship focuses on women and politics, gender and African politics, the prevention of gender-based violence, and human trafficking. While much of her scholarship focuses on women’s political participation in African legislatures, she recently completed a book focusing on the role of communities in preventing gender-based violence in South Africa. Britton is also the Director of the Center for the Study of Injustice at the Institute of Policy & Social Research at the University of Kansas. In this role, she coordinates KU's Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Initiative (ASHTI), which is a working group of faculty and students engaged in teaching and research about slavery, labor exploitation, and commercial sexual exploitation. Learn more.
Feminist Genealogies: Coalitions for Social Change from the War on Poverty through the AIDS Epidemic
Abstract: This talk will focus on feminist organizing strategies that emerged from intersectional, coalition-based movements for progressive social change in New York City from the 1960s through the 1990s. Specifically, I will discuss the use of consciousness-raising and advocacy by African American and Puerto Rican mothers and white social workers in the War on Poverty; the further development of CR by the working-class feminist group the National Congress of Women, which used both allies and social identity group organizing in its Leadership Support Process; and the use of affinity groups by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP New York). These strategies allowed for creative grassroots politics and successful coalitions across identity lines; they offer instructive models for supporting diverse women's movements today.
Biography: Tamar W. Carroll is Associate Professor of History at Rochester Institute of Technology, where she also serves on the Women's and Gender Studies Coordinating Committee. She is the author of Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty and Feminist Activism, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2015. She is co-curator of the traveling documentary photography exhibition, "Whose Streets? Our Streets!": New York City, 1980-2000," and companion website. Carroll is co-editor ofNasty Women and Bad Hombres: Gender and Race in the 2016 US Presidential Election, published by the University of Rochester Press in 2018. Learn more.
Luana DeJesus is a transplant to Buffalo with roots in Philadelphia, Massachusetts and South Carolina. While pursuing a dual major in Religion and History at Williams College, Luana became involved in student activism involving direct action, protest and guerrilla theater. Since then, she has performed with Ujima Theater, the Kavinoky, Buffalo Ensemble Theater, Dykes Do Drag, Activist Theater and many others. Most recently, four years ago, Luana founded the Buffalo Anti Racism Coalition as a way to proactively coordinate responses to structural racism, racist state violence and oppression. Luana will speak on the importance of coalition and community building using an abolitionist ideological framework in the current climate of increasingly normalized white terrorism.
“Resistance, Participation, and Alliance: Democracy Lessons from Latin American Feminist and Queer Activism”
Abstract: Over the last fifty years, Latin American feminist and queer collective actors have been at the forefront of movements for political and social democracy. From the 1970s to the 1990s, they organized against authoritarianism; promoted transitions to democracy; and agitated for representation, redistribution, and recognition in (neo)liberal regimes. The “Pink Tide” of left-leaning governments that swept across the region in the 2000s brought a new set of opportunities and challenges. What lessons can we learn from their trajectories, particularly through state-society relations under the Pink Tide, as the region now turns towards the Right? As right-wing nationalists and populists seek to promote political projects that counter the ideals of the Pink Tide, they have deliberately targeted the ideas and people who seek to transform fundamental inequalities, such as those based on gender, class, race, and ethnicity. However, feminist and queer movements continue to develop frameworks and alliances through which to seek more representative, equitable, and just societies.
Biography: Elisabeth Jay Friedman is professor of politics and Latin American studies at the University of San Francisco. She has published extensively in the area of gender politics, as well as on sexuality politics, in Latin America and globally. Her published works include the edited collection Seeking Rights from the Left: Gender, Sexuality, and the Latin American Pink Tide (Duke University Press, 2019); Interpreting the Internet: Feminist and Queer Counterpublics in Latin America (University of California Press, 2017); Sovereignty, Democracy, and Global Civil Society: State-Society Relations at un World Conferences, with Kathryn Hochstetler and Ann Marie Clark (SUNY Press, 2005); Unfinished Transitions: Women and the Gendered Development of Democracy in Venezuela, 1936–1996 (Penn State Press, 2000); and articles in journals including Politics & Gender, Latin American Politics and Society, Signs, Women’s Studies International, and Comparative Politics. She is an Editor-in-Chief of the International Feminist Journal of Politics. Her current research project focuses on the transnational diffusion of feminist practices. See more.
In 2018, she became executive director of People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo), a community organization that works at the grassroots to create and implement a comprehensive revitalization plan for Buffalo’s West Side, with more than $40 million invested in affordable housing rehabilitation, weatherization and green infrastructure. In this role, Ghirmatzion oversees the organization’s programs and day-to-day operations, which have grown to include housing construction, weatherization, solar installation, job training, and a youth center on Grant Street, as well as outreach and advocacy on public policy issues facing urban communities. PUSH employs 40 people and has renovated more than one hundred high quality homes over the past seven years.
“I’m proud of what PUSH has done to prove that everyday residents can lead the way in building a better Buffalo, with quality affordable housing and pathways to good jobs in emerging sectors like solar installation, weatherization and green construction. But there’s so much work ahead to move Buffalo beyond the legacies of racism and economic injustice that are so visible in our communities.”
For more than 15 years, Rahwa has worked with community-based organizations in Western New York that promote community development. She was executive director of Ujima Company, Inc., a multi-ethnic professional theatre company whose primary purpose is the preservation, perpetuation and performance of African American theatre. Ghirmatzion was the recipient of the 2017 Community Commitment Award from VOICE Buffalo and the 2013 Community Leaders Arts Award from the National Federation for Just Communities.
An Agrarian Women’s Movement?: Race, Gender, and Activism in the Rural Jim Crow South
Abstract: In this talk I will explore how rural spaces have often been overlooked as sites of agrarian black women’s political engagement and social activism in the Jim Crow South. With the exception of Mississippi’s Fannie Lou Hamer, agrarian southern black women have been most often understood only as beleaguered, oppressed, an uneducated agricultural laborers. I will speak to the diversity that existed among rural black women and assert that they employed what scholar Monica White called “indigenous knowledge,” as they consciously evaluated and accessed opportunities within their communities and often engaged in cooperative activism across racial lines to promote substantive political, social, and economic change. Their activism indeed, is instructive as a way of understanding how marginalized and seemingly powerless women utilized a specifically agrarian oriented praxis and engaged in a women’s movement that reflected their lived experiences in rural southern spaces in ways that might and perhaps should inform women activists in the twenty-first century.
Biography: Cherisse Jones-Branch is the James and Wanda Lee Vaughn Endowed Professor of History and Director of the ASTATE Digital Press at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro. She has published Crossing the Line: Women and Interracial Activism in South Carolina during and after World War II, and is the co-editor of Arkansas Women: Their Lives and Times. She is completing a second monograph, Better Living By Their Own Bootstraps: Rural Black Women’s Activism in Arkansas, 1913-1965. Learn more.
Guerreras y Puentes: Legacies of Chicana Feminism
Abstract: Latinas have long played a vital but under-acknowledged role in US social justice movements. The complexity of their hybrid racial and multi-faceted identities shapes, but also obscures, their activism. Their experience at the intersection of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation, has often placed them at the juncture of or in the space between movements, such that they are everywhere but nowhere simultaneously. In my current research, I explore how the intersectional and hybrid identities of Latinas, and the mestiza consciousness it can inspire, has characterized Latina feminist activism of years past but is also present in contemporary social movement organizations. I use the ideas of mestiza consciousness as a means for locating and understanding Latina (and Latinx) activism both theoretically and empirically.
Biography: Celeste Montoya is associate professor of Women & Gender Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research primarily focuses on the ways in which women and racial minorities mobilize to enact change. She is interested in how these groups work within and outside of political institutions, domestically and transnationally, and intersectionally. Her work is informed by studies of social movements, public policy, political institutions, political behavior, and gender and race politics. Her regional areas of specialization are Europe and the United States. She is author of From Global to Grassroots: The European Union, Transnational Advocacy, and Combating Violence against Women (Oxford University Press 2013) and co-editor of Gendered Mobilizations and Intersectional Challenges (forthcoming ECPR Press). Her work has also been published in European Journal of Politics & Gender, International Organization, Politics & Gender, Publius, Social Politics, the Social Science Journal, and Urban Affairs Review. Learn more.
Institutionalizing Reproductive Justice: Chicanas and Healthcare in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
Abstract: My talk will focus on the first Chicana/o healthcare clinic in borderlands—still operating today. It was in the midst of large scale social unrest across the country and on heels of major civil rights legislative victories that a small group of Chicanas in El Paso, Texas decided to open the Father Rahm Clinic in 1967. Women, and some men, in Segundo Barrio, a historically ethnic Mexican enclave that hugs the Rio Grande north of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, were fed up with the racist attitudes of the local general hospital. For decades there had been a city-wide disregard for the health of Mexican-origin people in the region. Inspired by the Chicano movement taking flight in the Southwest, Chicana activists felt determined to create a space where their physical, psychological, and emotional well-being would be rooted in social justice-guided healthcare. Amelia Castillo, a Chicana social worker born in Carlsbad, New Mexico and living in El Paso was recruited to write a grant for the fledgling group. At the time, Castillo was working in the Department of Social Work at the local university. She had spent years visiting ailing families in the barrio and knew the community well. Chicana leaders began to strategize and by 1973 they were awarded a $300,000 federal grant through Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative. Castillo made sure that their growing clinic would fund proper reproductive healthcare for all women and that contraception would be readily available to those who wanted it. Furthermore, the clinic tackled issues of human dignity and autonomy foregrounding concerns about police brutality, poverty, and education that are central to the health and wellness of any community. Now dubbed Centro de Salud La Fe, the clinic continues to fulfill the needs of thousands of El Pasoans nearly 50 years later. “La Fe” represents an institutional space created by Chicana feminists of the last century marking with bricks and mortar the capacity of organized radical change.
Biography: Lina-Maria Murillo is Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa in the departments of History, and Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies. She graduated with a doctorate in Borderlands History from the University of Texas at El Paso and is currently working on her first historical monograph titled, Fighting for Control: Race and Reproductive Activism in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. This study highlights the role of organizations, activists, and patients, within the white and Mexican-origin community, as they defined reproductive control, rights, and justice in the twentieth century borderlands. Learn more.
Biography: Andrea Ó Súilleabháin is Executive Director at Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based think tank with 290 partner organizations from across Buffalo-Niagara. She leads PPG’s work on criminal justice reform and community policing, immigrant rights and language access policies, and the Community Agenda – an annual democratic process to select the top ten ways to advance equality, sustainability, and cultural vibrancy in the region. Previously, Andrea was a Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute in New York, focused on bringing community voices to United Nations policymaking and increasing women’s participation in peace talks. Her research on inclusive peacemaking helped to change United Nations policy and United States law, and has been cited by Foreign Policy, The Guardian, PBS, and more. Andrea has worked as a lawyer on refugee cases in the US and Ireland, on ending the death penalty in the state of Indiana, and on peacebuilding in countries from South Africa to Sri Lanka. She holds a Juris Doctor from New York University School of Law and a BA in Political Science and Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame. Learn more.
The Ferrykeepers’ Granddaughter: Progressive Women and the Democratic Renewal in Rust Belt and Rural America
Abstract: Upscale suburbs have seen an explosion of new grassroots organizing in the era of Trump. From January 2017 onward, as Trump tweeted and congressional Republicans ducked comment and gutted healthcare protections, newly engaged activists were on the march. Anywhere there were college-educated women with disposable time and resources, some of those women took that time and those resources and poured them into the nearest political target.
Less well understood, but with the potential for transformative long-term impact, is the rebirth of local Democratic organizing in rural and rust belt counties far away from metropolitan prosperity and cultural circuits. This paper draws on participant observer and oral historical research in southwest Pennsylvania’s steel and coal country. In these aging county seats, hard-hit river towns, and pension-sustained subdivisions, the local Democratic Party went from a ubiquitous presence and major source of patronage in the 1970s to a barely visible handful of office-holders, sometimes accused of corruption and often of inaction, by the first decades of the 21st century.
Yet local party organizations have come to occupy a new and vital role here in the post 2016 era. Many have seen fractious battles over internal reform and transparency, but they have also consistently emerged as uniquely generative spaces of encounter and alliance-building between new grassroots activists, revitalized labor councils, and aging Democratic faithful. Women—middle aged and much older, insiders and outsiders, self-described radicals and pragmatic progressives—have been central to the processes of Democratic rebuilding in heavily Republican districts, and longtime organizations like local chapters of the Federation of Democratic Women have often played an unexpectedly prominent role.
Biography: Lara Putnam is a professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh. She studies grassroots political engagement using participant-observation and oral historical approaches, and has written about contemporary politics in the Washington Post, New Republic, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, and American Prospect. Recent academic publications range from theories and methods of transnational history to the impact of digitization and web-based search on historical research. Her ongoing empirical research centers on migration, kinship, and gender in Central America and the Greater Caribbean. Putnam is President of the Conference on Latin American History (the largest international scholarly society of historians of Latin America) and a member of the Board of Editors of the American Historical Review. Her sole-authored books include The Company They Kept: Migrants and the Politics of Gender in Caribbean Costa Rica, 1870-1960 (UNC Press, 2002), Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age (UNC Press, 2013), and more than two dozen chapters and articles. Recent honors include the Andrés Ramos Mattei-Neville Hall Article Prize of Association of Caribbean Historians and the 32nd Annual Elsa Goveia Memorial Lectureship at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica (2016). Learn more.
Biography: Win Min Thant was born and raised in Burma, and came to the U.S. in 2007. She found new roots in Buffalo through her grassroots work with various local organizations and public schools. A true believer of equity and democracy, Thant strives to empower marginalized and disadvantaged youth through education. Thant coordinates education programs at CAC (the Buffalo State College Community Academic Center). She graduated from the University at Buffalo with a degree in Environmental Studies, and is graduating with a Master’s degree in Multicultural Education in May. She serves on the Community Advisory Panel of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Advisory Board of the Anne Frank Project, and the Board of Directors of Journey’s End Refugee Services, Inc. She collaborates with various civil societies across the Western New York to promote the common good. In her free time, Thant seeks spirituality through nature and mindfulness practice. She was recently honored by the Mayor for the Women's History Month--Visionary Women: Champion of Peace and Nonviolence.
Biography: Gwynn Thomas (Chile) is an associate professor and Chair of the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Her first book, Contesting Legitimacy in Chile: Familial Ideals, Citizenship, and Political Struggle, 1970–1990 (2011), examines the mobilization of familial beliefs in Chilean political conflicts. Her published work on gender politics, women’s political leadership and participation, and feminist institutionalism appears in The Journal of Women, Politics and Policy, The International Feminist Journal of Politics, Gender & Politics, The Journal of Latin American Studies, and The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. She received the Elsa Chaney Award in 2007 from the Gender and Feminist Studies section of the Latin American Studies Association. She is currently working on projects examining the rise of women presidents in Latin America, institutional innovations promoting gender equality in Chile and Costa Rica, and electoral reforms and party change in Chile. Learn more.
Global Trends in Feminist Mobilization: Prospects and Implications for Democracy
Abstract: In this paper, I argue that feminist mobilization constitutes an important aspect of democratization. I explore data from a recent global study of feminist mobilization to examine trends and prospects for democracy in the contemporary political context of backlash and declining funding for women's organizing. I conclude with some suggestions for action to support and invigorate feminist activism globally.
Biography: S. Laurel Weldon, is Professor of Political Science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. She recently moved from Purdue University in the United states where she was Distinguished Professor and Director of the Purdue Policy Research Institute. She was founding Director of Purdue’s Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion (2011-2015), and Interim Vice-Provost for Faculty Affairs (2013-2014) also at Purdue. Her work focuses on social movements, institutions and social policy. In particular, she examines the role of social movements in influencing public policy and is an expert on policies on violence against women. Weldon is the author of more than two dozen articles and book chapters as well as three books: When Protest Makes Policy: How Social Movements Represent Disadvantaged Groups (U Michigan 2011), which won the Victoria Schuck Award; Protest, Policy and the Problem of Violence Against Women (University of Pittsburgh 2002); and most recently, The Logics of Gender Justice: State Action on Women’s Rights Around the World (Cambridge 2018), co-authored with Mala Htun. She is also co-editor of the first ever Oxford Handbook on Politics and Gender and founding co-editor of the journal Politics, Groups and Identities. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation (United States) as well as the Gates and Mellon Foundations. She is a past President of the Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA), Past President of the Women’s Caucus for APSA, co-Programme Chair for the Midwest Politics Science Association’s Annual Conference (2018), and a past member of the Executive Council for APSA, the national association's governing body. Learn more.
Repertoires of Resistance: Social Unionism and Workers’ Education in Interwar America
Abstract: In recent years scholarship on the “New Negro movement” has expanded our understanding of the Black experience. Much of this work has emphasized Black Nationalist and anticolonial struggles, particularly Garvyism. This paper will explore a lesser-known aspect of African American interwar activism, workers’ education. In the early twentieth century Black and white women in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) launched an American workers’ education movement that would shape not only the labor movement, but also the civil rights and feminist movements. Workers’ education in the 1920s and 1930s was deeply egalitarian, inviting women of all races and ethnicities to become leaders in the labor movement and promote a new social order based on cooperation and equality. Female activists such as Ella Baker and Pauli Murray were key players in this movement through their work at Brookwood Labor College, the cooperative movement, and New Deal agencies. Their vision and energy shaped an international movement committed to racial and class equality.
Biography: Victoria W. Wolcott is Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. She received her Ph.D. in 1995 from the University of Michigan. Her first book, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2001, was Remaking Respectability: African-American Women in Interwar Detroit. In 2012 Wolcott published a second book with the University of Pennsylvania Press,Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle Over Segregated Recreation in America. In addition, she has published articles in The Journal of American History, The Radical History Review, and the Journal of Women’s History among others. Her current book projects are: Living in the Future: The Utopian Strain in the Long Civil Rights Movement, which explores the role of interracial pacifist communities in the civil rights movement, and The Embodied Resistance of Eroseanna Robinson, a microhistory of a black pacifist woman during the cold war. Learn more.