Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - feminist, revolutionary, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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O u t l a w W o m a n:
A Memoir of the War Years, 1960-1975
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
340pp
2002
ISBN: 0-87286-390-5
Format: Trade paperback original
Price: $17.95

 

 
   
Outlaw Woman

 

Page 7 ...

You characterize yourself as a militant organizer. I wanted to know what you meant by that.

It's hard to know what to call yourself these days. I like the word militant.

Rather than progressive or organizer?

Progressive I like, too. Organizer I'm never sure about. It has the connotation of superiority. I think people are very capable of organizing themselves. They don't need a whole lot of top-down organizing. They often need knowledge, information, and tools sometimes – you know, a computer or connections. Chiapas is a really good model for that. The Zapatistas have changed the whole nature of organizing in the world by their model of what to ask of people who are in solidarity with them. They've refined that in a way that no other liberation movement has been able to. I remember doing solidarity with the Guatemalan resistance movement. There were four different organizations and they all hated each other. It was impossible. They had us up here organizing four different groups that hated each other. It was ridiculous. They were all competing with each other.

So you became the ombudsmen for the revolution?

It was absolutely absurd, and for me, trying to do the UN work, it was just impossible. I said, "You guys have got to get a consensus statement together to present, because no one wants to hear about your differences." If you want to divide up into four different countries, we'll present that, but the Zapatistas have really found the key to how to request solidarity. In the past, the North – US and Europeans – have had a tendency to intervene in these struggles and take over, creating a kind of dependency and distrust. I think that they're teaching us how better to behave within the imperialist countries and I think people learned a lot, and then in the so-called anti-globalization movement, the people so quickly developed the knowledge and expertise on very complex economic issues, people without degrees in economics. The way people were able to grab that and put it in a form that's understandable, it's just remarkable. We who were Marxists in the '60s and '70s never could quite get our language down to where the layman could understand what we were talking about. Deconstructing capitalism is quite a task.

So it's primarily a matter of organization?

These things are cumulative. Many different experiments were done in the '60s: the idea of the collective, for instance. The lessons we learned were that people can find ways of working together without either a dictator, a guru, on one hand; or an absurd level of ultra-democracy on the other, where everyone has to decide on everything and has to dress alike and do everything alike – that Red Guard mentality that some of us had in the '60s. These things have become distilled. As much as the system has tried to stamp it out and kill it, it's only grown and matured. I think in the younger generations – especially young people of color – we're beginning to see this flourishing. They don't have to start at zero; they start already with a base of knowledge that can be picked up and run with. But as for what I call myself, I like the term militant or revolutionary. Organizer, I'm not sure. I'm not sure, even in the technical sense, if that's what I'm doing now. I don't really think so. People who are really organizing are working in labor unions and such, really putting things together. I'm much more of a transmitter and a writer. I think writing is something that we really don't take seriously enough in the United States. Unlike Latin America and Europe, we really don't have enough respect for the art and how it solidly contributes to liberation struggles. I'm not just talking about designing a political poster but about a person's art and what they want to present, and how that then merges with a consciousness and creates a movement. Writing, poetry, music, all of it is important. I've kind of asserted the contribution of writing is equally important to organizing. It's what I'll probably be doing for the rest of my life and what I can best contribute.

At the end of Outlaw Woman you make explicitly clear that storytelling is really what this has been about. I wonder what in particular do you want people to take away from these stories?

Well, the value of storytelling itself. Not just the valiant, heroic stories, but the stories of pain and suffering and loss and addiction, of bad relationships – all of those things. It's about being able to be fully human and validate other people's being fully human. I think in the '60s, we too often only told heroic stories and stories to inspire, but that that can have the opposite effect of making someone feeling diminished: "Well, I can never be like that," rather than constantly feeling that "I'm doing the best I can," or "I'm doing what I can." We should be able to value that. That comes more naturally now for the younger generation, but we tended toward burn-out and a kind of obsessiveness and policing each other so that we allowed no cracks in the armor. One of the reasons I called the book Outlaw Woman – people keep calling it "Warrior Woman." A warrior is someone admirable, someone valiant, someone above the fray. I'm not that and I don't want to be that. An outlaw is a much more ambiguous term. You really are living outside the acceptable norms and you want to build a community of people there who have the strength to keep resisting because at any time you want, you could climb back over that fence and be back with the crowd and blend into acceptable society. We need to validate the imperfect nature of what we're doing. I was very inspired by Che Guevara's diaries of both Africa and Bolivia which are very very despairing and sad, and of course he died. His last entry was about five hours before he died, saying that they were doomed. That, to me, doesn't make the stance he took and what he was doing any less important as a model. He was really messing up. They were in the wrong place and they weren't going to get out of there. It was a mistake, but people make mistakes. You have to take risks. There are lessons we can get out of real human stories, rather than stories about idealized people who never really existed in the first place.

 

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