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NWSA, A History 2018 – 39th National Conference

Wednesday, June 17, 2020  
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Cover of the 2018 conference program book

39th National Conference | “Just Imagine. Imagining Justice: Feminist visions of freedom, dream making and the radical politics of future.” | November 8-11 | Atlanta, Georgia

Program Highlights

As a follow-up to the previous year's anniversary celebration of the Combahee River Collective, the 39th NWSA National Conference in 2018 featured another line-up of legendary Black and Brown feminist voices, including the return of Angela Davis, Mariame Kaba, Alice Walker, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Cathy Cohen, Margo Okazawa-Rey, and other past speakers to the NWSA program. With the theme, “Just Imagine. Imagining Justice: Feminist visions of freedom, dream making and the radical politics of future,” the conference's programming built connections between the past and present to imagine a more just future. Along with two Keynote Conversations between Elizabeth Alexander & Alondra Nelson and Alice Walker & Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the Plenary and Presidential Sessions again brought together collectives of radical change-makers, scholars, and activists to set the stage for what it means to reimagine the future:

    Plenary – "Global 1968: A World on Fire, Remembering 1968 and Looking to the Future"
    Speakers: Robyn C. Spencer (mod.), Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Angela Davis, Bernardine Dohrn, Ericka Huggins, and Madonna Thunder Hawk
    This panel consists of feminists who were at the cutting edge of the anti-war, anti-racist and anti-imperialist movements of the 1960s and early 70s. Collectively they witnessed and participated in some of the most pivotal social movements and events of their generation: Wounded Knee, the takeover of Alcatraz, the Black Panther Party, the growing and changing women’s movement, the world communist movement, the U.S. anti-war movement, the Palestine solidarity movement, and more. We have asked them to assess the significance of that historic year of struggle, from Mexico to Chicago, from Paris, to Palestine. For those who witnessed these events, we will invite reflections – after marching, planning, strategizing, and organizing in 1968 – where did you think the world would be in 2018? Where are we? What do you see looking forward? How has your understanding of radical feminist politics informed your world view?

    Plenary – "Future of Gender"
    Speakers: Kai M. Green (mod.), micha cárdenas, Cathy Cohen, Tourmaline, C. Riley Snorton, Dean Spade, and Kendall Thomas
    A rich body of scholarship on sexuality and gender pushes us to think of what the future holds in fundamental ways: what are the implications for our freedom dreams if we can create spaces to truly reimagine gender and sexuality? Conversely, can we do so in the larger context of racial capitalism and hetero-patriarchy which often has a stranglehold on our collective imagination? How do we think of gender now in terms of identity, proximity to power, fluidity vs. binary? How might that framework evolve? How does gender fit into the larger matrix of power, freedom of expression, state violence and the biopolitics of the 21st century? What is/should be the role, if any, of the state and various institutions in defining gender and in the protection of group and individual rights? What does a radical trans politic look like and what does it offer to the trajectory of freedom-making in the coming decades? How do we assess “lesbian” politics in a society that is not only homophobic and transphobic, but patriarchal and misogynist? To what extent are we sometimes conflating identity with politics? Scholar-activists working in law, culture and performance, political science, and gender, women’s and sexuality studies will address these critical questions.

    President Session – "Feminist Freedom Warriors: Then, Now, Tomorrow"
    Speakers: Linda Carty, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Rosalva Aída Hernández Castillo, and Minnie Bruce Pratt
    A discussion about the urgencies of contemporary anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist feminist struggles with some of the authors in the recently published book Feminist Freedom Warriors, Haymarket Books (2018). The book is the first ever presentation of cross generational histories of feminist activism spanning 70 years across national borders. Authors and co-editors will engage in a discussion that focuses on the genealogies and futures of radical feminist scholar- activism, mapping the contradictions and solidarities endemic to transformative gender justice work in neoliberal, carceral times.

    President Session – "Repression, Resistance and Solidarity: Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter and Palestine to Standing Rock"
    Speakers: Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Dima Khalidi, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Zainab Abbas, and Kathleen Cleaver
    This session will look at the intricate nexus between state repression in the form of COINTELPRO, harassment of pro Palestine activists, censorship of campus anti-racist activists, and the violence suppression of the movements against settler colonialism from what is now the United States to Palestine. Repression never occurs without a response and it is in fact often a reaction to the growing strength of opposition and revolutionary movements. In this context solidarity is vital; from the Cubans and Algerians who gave safe haven to U.S. political exiles to those who stood with indigenous folk at Alcatraz, Wounded Knee and Standing Rock. The current attacks on Black freedom activists in the form of the FBI’s “Black identity extremists” adds another layer that will be discussed. College campuses have been one important site of repression, resistance and solidarity: from Mills College and San Francisco State in the 1960s to the harassment of progressive and radical professors today and responses to it. This panel will wrestle with these important themes from their experiences in the U.S., London and around the globe.

    President Session – "Haiti: Through a Feminist Lens"
    Speakers: Gina Athena Ulysse, Carolle Charles, Linda Carty, Regine Michelle Jean-Charles, Z’étoile Imma, and Barbara Ransby
    A group of scholars working on Haiti and others working in solidarity will share their work through images and a roundtable discussion based on a recent NWSA delegation to Haiti to meet with women’s organizations and feminists in Haiti who are working in areas of human rights, education, health and economic justice. Since Haiti had the audacity to beat and throw the French out of the country in 1804, it has been punished by that former colonial power, and many of its allies, most specifically, the United States of America. Haiti has wrestled with extreme poverty, and racist policies from its island neighbor, the Dominican Republic. However, women’s organizations have been in motion resisting the circumstances of their lives We will share the stories of the women we met with on our delegation and some of the ideas we have for future collaborations with our Haitian sisters and colleagues.

    President Session – "Imagining a World Without Prisons: Through a Feminist Lens"
    Speakers: Romarilyn Ralston, Liat Ben-Moshe, Beth Richie, Mariame Kaba, Gina Dent, erica ruth meiners, and Ruth Wilson Gilmor
    Feminists of color have been in the forefront of the prison abolition movement in the U.S. Groups like Critical Resistance and INCITE were foundational in redefining the movement against violence and shifting strategies and analyses away from carceral solutions and punitive practices toward restorative and transformative justice solutions.The movement to “make prisons obsolete” as Angela Davis describes it, is grounded in an intersectional approach which looks at the relationship between prisons, carcerality, race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality and disability. This special panel features prominent thinkers and organizers that can help us imagine a non-carceral future.

    President Session – "Movements for Black Lives: An Insider’s View, a Transnational Perspective and a Historical Analysis"
    Speakers: Charlene Carruthers, Andrea Ritchie, Robyn Maynard, Barbara Ransby, and christina sharpe
    Black Lives Matter is a movement that has been led largely by Black feminist and queer organizers. Challenging police violence, economic injustice as well as the “politics of respectability,” organizations like Black Youth Project 100 define their work as operating through a Black queer feminist lens. Charlene Carruthers, founding director of BYP100 and one of the leaders of the larger Movement for Black Lives has written an insiders account of the goals and evolution of the movement, Unapologetic. Barbara Ransby, historian, and longtime feminist activist, and current president of NWSA, has published Making All Black Lives Matter, framing the movement in the context of a larger Black feminist and radical tradition. And independent scholar and activist Robyn Maynard is author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, which chronicles the long history of anti-Black racism and repression there. Three prominent authors and organizers, who have published their own books on this and related matters, will offer comment and join in a roundtable conversation on reading Black Lives Matter and racist state violence in the U.S. and Canada from a radical feminist perspective.

With eight Authors Meet Critics sessions, the 2018 conference had more AMC's than ever before. The titles included: Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C.; Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction; The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland; Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity; and The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives. And lastly, to revive the waning extracurricular programming of the last decade of conferences, the 2018 conference launched the Arts@NWSA program, curated by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan. The arts programming included the Music and Poetry Night, a reading of Lisa B. Thompson's "The Mamalogues," a performance by violinist Dr. Melanie R. Hill, and the Literary and Visual Arts Installation and Digital Exhibition with more than forty contributing artists.

See the full program here

From the NWSA President


This is my last year as President and I am so honored by what we have accomplished in such a short time. Last year’s conference inspired by Combahee was stellar and this year’s conference promises to match it, guided by the theme: “Just Imagine. Imagining Justice: Feminist visions of freedom, dream making and the radical politics of futures.” In collaboration with my amazing co-chair, Premilla Nadasen, our review team and staff, we have assembled a program that is striving forward.

To say nothing of the hundreds of workshops, panels and roundtables highlighting some of the most pivotal and provocative new scholarship in the field, we have an unprecedented lineup of keynote, plenary and presidential sessions featuring feminist literary icon Alice Walker; legendary activist and intellectual Angela Davis; an opening keynote conversation between Elizabeth Alexander and Alondra Nelson; as well as the participation of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Madonna Thunder Hawk, Cathy Cohen, Tourmaline, Dean Spade, Beth E. Richie, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Chandra Talpade Mohanty and more. We will also infuse special presentations of visual and performance arts into the program as we turn our collective focus to envisioning futures.

Building upon our work last year, we have again invited a cohort of activists and policymakers to join us because we are convinced that our organization can benefit from their presence and contributions. The research and writings of our colleagues is a critical ingredient for a revived feminist movement. Feminist thinkers are the center of some of the most dynamic “freedom-making” work in the U.S. and around the world from Mississippi to Miami, and from Port au Prince to Mumbai.

Please enjoy this conference to the fullest. Take this opportunity to forge new relationships and explore potential collaborations. We will welcome a new roster of leaders to the Governing Council and Executive Committee of NWSA this year, in addition to new staff. We are excited about the possibilities ahead, and I personally thank all of my brilliant and hard-working predecessors and current collaborators, including staff and members of the organization. Mel Michelle Lewis deserves a special shout-out for stepping in as our interim Executive Director this summer with the support of outgoing staff, as well as Noor Shawaf and current staffer and former intern, Zed Seward.

I look forward to seeing you throughout the conference and in the years to come.

With gratitude for the opportunity to serve this term.


Barbara Ransby
NWSA President 2016-18
Distinguished Professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and History University of Illinois at Chicago

NWSA Governance

Below are the 2018 NWSA governance members. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

2018 Governance Members

See the rest of the history project here

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NWSA Program Archives

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About the Writer

Victoria Agunod is the office assistant at the National Women's Studies Association, as well as an adjunct faculty member in the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies Program at DePaul University. Victoria received their BA and MA in Women's and Gender Studies at DePaul. They first attended NWSA in 2018 and presented their research on university students organizing for racial justice against the new alt-right galvanized by the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They joined the NWSA team the following year. Their teaching emphases are on women of color feminisms, racial justice movements and organizing, and neoliberal rhetorical and cultural influences.

Please note: The information compiled in this project comes from the archived conference programs at the University of Maryland, College Park.