Radical Women make demands--
A call to action for International Women's Day
by Sharon Anderson
Reprinted from the San Francisco State University online newspaper
The Golden Gator, April 2001
It's a long way from the small storefront on Mission Street in San Francisco to the corridors of power in Washington D.C., but the distance seems to make no difference to Nancy Reiko Kato, national organizer for Radical Women, a socialist feminist group.
Even if George W. himself was smirking right at her, it's hard to imagine the ebullient but forthright Kato being daunted. She would probably seize the opportunity to speak louder, to demand his attention and explain just what she thinks working people in this country deserve.
To begin with, how about "unconditional equality" for women, the absolute right of workers to leave a hazardous work environment without losing pay, unrestricted access to abortion, free quality child care open 24 hours a day and police review boards in every jurisdiction to reign in police brutality, just to name a few?
"And that's just to keep us happy until the revolution," says Kato.
Yes, you read it correctly, "revolution."
Radical Women was founded in 1967 in Seattle to "train women to become revolutionary leaders." Toni Mendicino, one of the group's organizers, declines to state how many members exist, but says there are branches in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Melbourne, Australia.
The members are socialists who go by the teachings of Marx and Trotsky and believe that America's capitalist system should be overturned and control given to the workers.
If you thought all the radical thinkers in San Francisco had been banished by high rents and replaced by SUV-driving yuppies, think again.
As Kato reads the list of demands (an extreme-left wish list that would be as likely to get support from the Bush administration as for Nader to carry Texas), she is cheered by the group of about 30 people, mostly women, who have crowded into the small space to celebrate International Women's Day and the new edition of "The Radical Women Manifesto."
The first manifesto was a humble looking collection of mimeographed sheets stapled together that sold for 25 cents. After much "voting and revising" over the years--"We are extremely democratic," jokes Kato--the new edition, now a slim, red paperback, was born.
It's a close-knit group. Members greet each other with enthusiastic hugs denoting long friendships. Ages vary widely, with many younger women among the group. After a presentation including Kato's speech, Mendicino thanks the volunteers who put the event together and the number of names seems longer than the actual number of people present.
The women who have found this small storefront space (which Radical Women shares with the Freedom Socialist Party) speak in terms of having found a haven.
"I was thinking about going back to school and then I found this place," says Andy Weever, a 30-ish woman wearing a "Free Mumia" T-shirt. "It was the best education I could have gotten."
During a discussion with the group, Weever reveals her early socialist leanings. When she was a young girl she would play Monopoly with her grandmother. "If grandma was winning, I would wait until she left the room and then take some of her money," Weever says. "But if I were winning, I'd give her some of mine. I would try to equal it out. I was a socialist and didn't even know it."
The redistribution of wealth is one of socialism's main points, and, Kato acknowledges, not one that would go over too well with a lot of Americans. "Americans would have to give up a lot, but they would also get a lot," she says, meaning that for exchanging the enormous wealth held by a few, and the money the federal government spends on the military, everyone could have all of the things she names in Radical Women's demands: free child care, health care and so on.
"That's the fun part of being a socialist," she says, "redistributing the wealth." When European countries with generous social welfare programs are mentioned, she replies, "We want that and more."
Kato, 41, joined Radical Women 21 years ago. She was a socialist before finding feminism at college. She had always considered herself as a Japanese-American first and foremost.
"I'd been involved in community activism since the age of 12," she says. "But feminism was the missing piece." She considers feminism integral to socialism. "Racism, sexism, homophobia, you can't just pick one and ignore the rest," she says, adding that all forms of injustice are interconnected.
"College is a great time to be exploring new ideas," she says. "You come in with what you think you know and then find out it's not true." Radical Women has a branch at U.C. Berkeley. There was one once at San Francisco State University but it faded away after key members graduated.
Kato supports herself by working as an editor at a law journal at U.C. Berkeley, is active in her union, is earning a degree in ethnic studies from Berkeley and writes a column for the San Francisco Examiner. One recent column deplored President Bush's executive order repealing funding for overseas organizations that facilitate or promote abortion.
She wasn't surprised by Bush's move against abortion rights and points to his efforts to overturn Clinton's ergonomics regulations as more proof of his contempt for working people. She doesn't think Al Gore would have been too much better, though.
"It's obvious that capitalism doesn't care which man is in office."
Kato isn't lamenting the fact that a socialist revolution seems rather unlikely in the near future. "We're working to raise people's consciousness," she says. "Right now working people don't have the confidence that a socialist system can work. But Americans are pragmatic people, the more capitalism shows how little working people are valued, the more those working people will realize that it's workers who should rule the world."