The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, arguably the most significant of the socialist feminist women’s unions established during the “second wave” feminist movement, was formed in 1969 and played a leading role in the women’s liberation movement in Chicago during the 1970s. CWLU recognized that the liberation of women was not possible unless it also fought against racism and capitalism, and for gay and lesbian liberation.
The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was formed in 1969 and played a leading role in the women’s liberation movement in Chicago during much of the 1970s. Throughout its history the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union concentrated on organizing women to achieve liberation. Not limited to legal equality, the CWLU envisioned a society free of sexism in education, the family, the media, employment, health care, and all areas of social life. CWLU also recognized that this was not possible unless we fought against racism, capitalism, capitalism and homophobia. The Political Principles state “We will struggle for the liberation of women and against sexism in all sections of society. Included in this struggle is the struggle for the right of sexual self-determination for all people and for the liberation of all homosexuals, especially lesbians. We will struggle against racism, imperialism, and capitalism, and dedicate ourselves to developing a consciousness of their effect on women.”
CWLU organizing was done with a clear focus on both strategy and theory. Understanding strategy and theory is often difficult – immersion in developing a theory often prevents one from actually being an activist. But without a theory and a strategy that flows from it, our activism can be mindless and even counterproductive.
In CWLU we understood that neither strategy nor activism would get us very far unless we had a theory that linked them. In the theory we developed we acknowledged that the struggle for women’s rights was not isolated from other struggles – we recognized the intersection between gender, race and class and the importance of ensuring that our theory, strategy and actions bridged those intersections. We also recognized that our activism had to relate to the conditions facing women in a concrete manner in order to communicate the liberating potential of the women’s movement.
This paper explores critical documents that show the effort in CWLU to provide a theory and strategy as the basis for the organization’s action programs. It contextualizes the work of CWLU and suggests lessons for today’s feminist activists.