Elizabeth Warren

If Not Now, When?: Finding a feminism for 2020

—Zillah Eisenstein

I ask us all to think as imaginatively as possible in these next several months before the first primaries.  I see these current thoughts as a continuance of the challenge thrown out by me in my recent book Abolitionist Socialist Feminism (ASF), to think boldly about how we find the newest anti-racist feminisms that can mobilize for the 2020 election and beyond.

What is an anti-racist socialist feminist to do in this moment?

  • When the socialist candidate is a white male
  • When the most progressive woman is still a white candidate and says she’s a capitalist but will redistribute wealth through taxing the very rich
  • When many of the radical and revolutionary feminists who are dear friends and I admire say they are voting for Bernie
  • When I wish Warren would be anti-capitalist because white supremacy is embedded in it
  • But when Bill Gates says he might have to support Trump if Warren is the nominee
  • When Bernie’s list of top 10 priorities do not mention abortion, reproductive justice, sexual violence, misogyny, and…
  • When some socialist feminists argue that a focus on misogyny is outdated and static
  • When not voting for Elizabeth Warren feels to me like no woman will ever be good enough
  • When voting for Bernie Sanders feels like an endorsement of white male rule even if he is fabulously progressive in many ways
  • When Mass. Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley backs Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, but is the only member of the so-called Squad of four young progressive congresswomen to endorse Warren.
  • The other three—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan—have all endorsed Bernie.

I am thinking there have to be a lot of women right now not knowing what they are fully thinking or wanting to do about who to vote for in the Democratic primaries. For me the choice has come down to Bernie and Elizabeth, but for many the choices may remain wider—including the full array.  I assume there are many women trying to figure out their allegiances across race, sex, gender, geography, etc.

So let me share my particular dilemma in the hopes it applies far and wide whomever your choice of candidate is.  Part of my wondering is whether there are new ways that misogyny manifests itself today—post-2016, that require new clarity and courage, of what “feminism” means, especially in terms of the urgency of climate crisis and white supremacy.

So, my query for 2020 is whether voting for a white man in 2019—after 2016 and the defeat of the first female presidential candidate—when there is a field of women who are as gifted as most of the men, and with Elizabeth Warren who has a formidable progressive agenda and is more gifted than most of the men, is not misogynist? Maybe a vote for Bernie once again normalizes and endorses male rule/leadership/presidencies even if he is a socialist.

Let me back up for a moment. To clarify how difficult and messy I think all this is. I voted for Bernie Sanders, and not Hillary Clinton in the 2016 NY primary. I have long been critical of Hillary’s neoliberal feminism and her imperial politics. I also campaigned for Obama, not HRC in the 2012 campaign.  But, then I did collect myself and campaigned for Hillary against Trump in 2016.  So, I am fluid and changeable and wondering.  My feminism is not essentialist or static.

I am not ready to say to other progressive/socialist women, in particular, what they should do, but I am asking us to think deeply together about what we are doing, seeing, and valuing and maybe ignoring. To other anti-racist socialist women I am asking us to see and think newly—recognizing that we are in uncharted waters.  That maybe Elizabeth Warren will bring a deeper understanding of patriarchy to the climate crisis agenda than Bernie will, and in doing so she will be able to destabilize the vulturism of capitalism and its racist economic excesses.

She already has targeted pregnant Black women for particular and specific health care re-dress.

Voting for a white man in 2020 has become a more problematic gesture for me.  It is not neutral if it ever is/was.  Voting for a progressive woman is a new possibility, a new political choice.  Given the choice, not acting on it may have unknown reactionary impact, and there is no way to know before I risk an allegiance that is hard to read.  Is it even possible to really see Warren’s revolutionary stance within the pockmarked misogynist terrain?

Without women of all political stripes willing to take a chance on Elizabeth Warren I don’t think she can get the nomination.  But I also think if she gets the nomination she can win against the racist rapist Donald Trump. And I think that his point of context really matters just now.

So maybe I need to follow the women of color and the Black women who like Rep. Pressley are mobilizing for Warren at the moment.  Listen carefully to the women of color who are leading the “She The People” movement charting the way to formulate progressive anti-racist agendas.

One hundred Black women of the group #BlackWomxnFor has just endorsed Warren for her agenda targeting poor Black women for greater equity.  For them racism and gender inequality do not just compound economic inequality, they are centered in it.  They see her addressing the predatory policies that punish women of color—and with this the structural problems that underlay racist patriarchy.  I would encourage us to also radicalize Warren to further formulate an anti-imperialist foreign policy agenda and a liberatory stance on Palestine.

Trump’s administration is a frat house—men as predators, sexual abusers, and bullies to the world.  They set up cages for children and incarcerate anyone they fear at the border/s.  Marxists and leftists do not say enough about how patriarchy and misogyny are at work here.  They criticize capitalism as though it exists unencumbered and unindebted to the glue of sexual predation and climate disaster.  S/exploitation is embedded in racist capitalism but this is never the intended focus.  Why not choose Warren and help her bring him down?

Warren tweets that she “sees” Black trans, and cis, and gender non-conforming, and non-binary Black women as the backbone of our democracy.  For those who think this makes her too radical, think about how radical Trump is.  She will meet his fire with her own truths.  Maybe this new politically inclusive honesty is what is needed to defeat Trump’s exclusionary hateful mess. Clearly, being safe as in 2016 did not work.

Stop prioritizing swing voters and as Pressley says: look to mobilize those who “live closest to the pain”. We need to build camaraderie with everyone who understands and prioritizes that racist misogyny is at the heart of capitalism and its climate disaster.

So how can feminists of all kinds not come together and build the movement and electoral base that is needed to get rid of Trump and then build an abolitionist socialist feminist justice apparatus to save the planet?  How can white and Black women ignore and not mobilize from: the #Me Too movement.  How can we not vote against the racist misogyny of Trump by voting for Elizabeth Warren?  This vote for Elizabeth is not against Bernie, it is rather for mobilizing a robust endorsement of a revolutionary female candidate if she continues to radicalize herself.  And as I have said in ASF, we have yet to see what revolutionary looks like.

I supported and voted for Bernie in 2016 and I still think he is an amazing politician who has had extraordinary impact on the lives of working people.  But, I also have my reservations that have grown with the shifting landscape.  Why should I be willing to put aside my reservations of Bernie, and not my reservations about Elizabeth?

When Bernie speaks at his huge campaign rallies with AOC—he usually starts by saying: I will create a government based on justice–economic justice, racial justice, social justice, and environmental justice.  What is still missing from his agenda is making sexual and gender justice, and an end to sexual and racial violence a priority.

Michael Moore endorses Bernie completely because of his extraordinary record of standing up for the working class and has continuously wanted to democratize the economy. Moore says Bernie is not too old but rather that: the electoral college is too old, that gerrymandering is too old, that having no health care is too old. Yes, of course. But why isn’t rule by men too old? Why isn’t domestic violence; sexual violence; and rape; and #MeToo too old?  What about the #MeTooVoter and Tarana Burke?

Why doesn’t any candidate, including Warren say: I will make ending sexual and racial violence a key commitment of my administration?  Because it is too radical? Maybe more radical than being a socialist?

Trump bullies people as a brutish, uncaring, despotic, rude, crude, racist “manly”-man.  It is impossible to not engender his opposition: and any woman is put at a disadvantage given this.  I am trying to be very careful that I do not absorb the misogyny of this moment to not risk what is needed to make the most radical assault on the present regime and the heartbreaking punishment of inequality.  And this just might be Elizabeth Warren. So, at this moment I am leaning toward Warren. Think about it carefully by pushing yourself to see your own biases and prejudices.

No election ever matters enough even though 2020 will matter more than most.  So this is why our anti-racist/abolitionist feminist socialist commitment must direct me as much as possible.  And, then our movements connecting themselves across differences is essential to mobilize us into the streets like Chile, Lebanon, Algeria, and stop thinking that our democracy can work without us risking more than we might feel comfortable doing.

For me, I think there is much to gain if we follow the insights of  many women of color, especially Black women for now. I think the more radical the agenda for changing the hurt and sorrow of this country, the better chance we have to win.  Only a full assault against racist misogyny can ever bring about socialism for the working class as they exist today.

Whatever your politics, whoever you are considering as your Democratic candidate, really think as radically as you can about who will dislodge the sexual and racial violence of now, and vote for them. Socialism, in the economic sense, will follow.

Oh, and did I say—that I will campaign and vote for whomever the Democratic nominee is.  I just want to give us our best shot at finding her till then.


Abolitionist Socialist FeminismA noted feminist writer, Zillah Eisenstein is Professor Emerita at Ithaca College. She is the author of The Female Body and the Law, which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics, and, more recently, The Color of Gender: Reimaging Democracy and Hatreds: Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century.




Feature image from Senate Democrats, used under CC BY 2.0

Website | + posts