Radical Women (RW) is a socialist feminist, grassroots activist organization that provides a radical voice within the feminist movement, a feminist voice within the Left, and trains women to be leaders in the movements for social and economic justice. It has members in numerous United States cities; and Melbourne, Australia.Frequently Asked Questions
Purpose and ideology
Radical Women emerged in Seattle, Washington from a Free University class on “Women and Society” conducted by Gloria Martin, a lifelong communist and civil rights champion. As a result of the class, Martin teamed up with Clara Fraser and Melba Windoffer (initiators of the Freedom Socialist Party) and Susan Stern (a prominent figure in the local Students for a Democratic Society) to launch Radical Women in 1967. Radical Women’s first international section was formed by Alison Thorne in Melbourne, Australia in 1983. In the early 2000s, working-class feminists in El Salvador initiated the Radical Women chapter Mujeres Radicales Cuzcatlecas.
In Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, 1966-76, Martin writes that the new group was formed to “demonstrate that women could act politically, learn and teach theory, administer an organization, develop indigenous leadership, and focus movement and community attention on the sorely neglected matter of women’s rights — and that women could do this on their own.”
Members worked with African American women from the anti-poverty program to initiate the abortion rights movement in Washington State with a historic march on the capitol in 1969.
In the early 1970s, Radical Women helped organize a strike and a union of low-paid employees (mostly female and of color) at the University of Washington. Many Radical Women members were trailblazers in the non-traditional trades. At Seattle’s public power company, Seattle City Light, Clara Fraser crafted and implemented the country’s first plan to train women as utility electricians. For these efforts and her prominent role in a mass walkout at the utility, Clara was fired. She fought an intense, seven-year legal case that ultimately affirmed the right of free speech in the workplace and won her reinstatement at City Light. This historic battle and the lessons it offers to current labor organizers are recounted in Ellie Belew’s High Voltage Women: Breaking Barriers at Seattle City Light.
After working closely with the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) in its early years, Radical Women and the party formally affiliated in 1973 on the basis of a shared socialist feminist program. Since then, Radical Women and FSP have marched forward together as independent, collaborative sister organizations.
Purpose and ideology
The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure defines Radical Women’s purpose and ideology as follows:
Radical Women is dedicated to exposing, resisting, and eliminating the inequities of women’s existence. To accomplish this task of insuring survival for an entire sex, we must simultaneously address ourselves to the social and material source of sexism: the capitalist form of production and distribution of products, characterized by intrinsic class, race, sex, and caste oppression. When we work for the revolutionary transformation of capitalism into a socialist society, we work for a world in which all people may enjoy the right of full humanity and freedom from poverty, war, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and repression.
The group calls for a multi-racial, multi-issue, working-class and anti-capitalist approach to women’s liberation. It looks to the leadership of women of color and lesbians in movements for social change, and calls for solidarity and mutual aid of all the oppressed.
Radical Women believes in mobilizing community protest against rightwing assaults on reproductive freedom. It calls for free abortion on demand, an end to forced sterilization of women of color, and for affordable, quality, 24-hour childcare. It defends these rights on the ground through efforts such as Melbourne’s 11-year defense of the Fertility Control Clinic from far-right anti-abortionists.
As movement builders, Radical Women persistently presses to form alliances and united fronts, including early efforts such as the Action Childcare Coalition, the Feminist Coordinating Council (an umbrella organization made up of the whole spectrum of women’s groups in Seattle), and the Coalition for Protective Legislation (a labor and feminist effort to extend female-designated workplace safeguards to men after passage of the Washington State Equal Rights Amendment). Radical Women has played a leading role in mobilizations against the growing far-right threat including United Front Against Fascism in the 1990s in the Pacific Northwest and, beginning in 2018 in Melbourne, PUSH! Organizing and Educating to Build a United Front against Fascism. Radical Women initiated the Sisters Organize for Survival campaign (2009-13) to fight budget cuts and Workers Organizing to Win! (WOW!) to raise feminist demands during the Covid-19 pandemic. Members also participate in coalition efforts to end homelessness, win an elected civilian review board over police, and fight racial and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Radical Women has continuously supported the front-line role of women of color, combatted racism among feminist activists, and spoken out against sexism in people of color movements. In its early years, Seattle Radical Women worked closely with the local Black Panther Party chapter to prevent the kind of lethal police attacks that decimated Black militants in other cities. In the 1970s, members participated in mass civil disobedience organized by the United Construction Workers Association to break the color line in the all-white building trades. Radical Women worked closely with Native American women leaders Janet McCloud and Ramona Bennett, and participated in the Puyallup Tribe’s successful takeover of Cascadia Juvenile Center, a former Indian hospital. It co-founded local and national efforts to free Marissa Alexander, a Black mother imprisoned for self-defense against domestic violence (2012-2015). And it participated in an international campaign demanding release of Mexican political prisoner Nestora Salgado (2013-2016). The group demands affirmative action, ethnic studies, justice for immigrants, and an end to police violence. In Australia from the 1980s forward, Radical Women has worked with families of Aboriginal people murdered by police in the building of a nationwide campaign to end Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Recognizing the connection of oppressions based on gender and sexuality, Radical Women has played a leading role in lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgender liberation struggles. Members have helped build militant queer rights organizations and been involved in many coalitions devoted to preventing forced AIDS testing, opposing bigoted ballot measures, lobbying for gay rights bills, and more. It stands squarely in defense of trans people. In Melbourne in 1983, Radical Women was instrumental in forming the Victorian AIDS Council, Australia’s first LGBTIQ organization to support AIDS victims and challenge the homophobic hysteria. In the 1980s Radical Women leader Merle Woo, a college lecturer, writer and Asian American lesbian spokesperson, triumphed against the University of California at Berkeley in two epic employment cases charging discrimination on race, sex, sexuality and political ideology. Around the same time in Australia, Radical Women Organizer Alison Thorne, LGBTIQ leader and secondary school teacher, won a groundbreaking free speech case against political vilification and her removal from the classroom by the Victorian Department of Education.
Radical Women encourages its members to become union militants, and some have been sparkplugs for many years on county labor councils and as workplace delegates. Members participate in Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, a cross-union organization of rank-and-file activists. Radical Women views women’s mass entry into the workforce as an issue of deep significance, seeing female workers as strategically placed in the rapidly growing and powerful service sector. Radical Women's position is that, together with people of color, immigrants and queers, women are the overwhelming majority of workers and have the potential to revolutionize society.
From the outset, Radical Women participated heavily in the explosive anti-Vietnam War mobilization and, as an international organization, has opposed subsequent imperialist wars, interventions and occupations. RW sent a socialist feminist delegation to Russia and Eastern Europe in 1993, during the period of political opening known as Glasnost, and an International Feminist Brigade to Cuba in 1997. From Kurdistan to East Timor, Latin America to China, from indigenous territories to Palestine, Radical Women has forged links with women fighters and working-class activists opposing imperialism, national oppression, male supremacy, and war. It is always seeking new allies and sisters in the international struggle for a socialist world.