Burn It Down!: Verso Book Club Selections
As the end of the year approaches, Breanne Fahs, editor of Burn It Down!: Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution, presents extracts from the book to help us imagine a brighter radical future.
With many aspects of daily life placed on hold, 2020 has been a difficult year from which to imagine a brighter, more radical future. Yet the need for inspiring visions of a better society has never been greater. From rage to solidarity, destroying the old to building the new, these extracts from Burn It Down! Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution have been selected by the editor to help rekindle your revolutionary imagination and keep the creative fires lit.
Burn It Down! is a Verso Book Club selection for the month of December. For details on how to sign up and receive this book, and more by post every month, at a 50% discount until the end of 2020, click here.
“Queer Nation Manifesto: Queers Read This” (1990) by ACT UP
How can I tell you. How can I convince you, brother, sister that your life is in danger: That everyday you wake up alive, relatively happy, and a functioning human being, you are committing a rebellious act. You as an alive and functioning queer are a revolutionary. There is nothing on this planet that validates, protects or encourages your existence. It is a miracle you are standing here reading these words. You should by all rights be dead. Don’t be fooled, straight people own the world and the only reason you have been spared is you’re smart, lucky or a fighter. Straight people have a privilege that allows them to do whatever they please and fuck without fear. But not only do they live a life free of fear; they flaunt their freedom in my face. Their images are on my TV, in the magazine I bought, in the restaurant I want to eat in, and on the street where I live. I want there to be a moratorium on straight marriage, on babies, on public displays of affection among the opposite sex and media images that promote heterosexuality. Until I can enjoy the same freedom of movement and sexuality, as straights, their privilege
must stop and it must be given over to me and my queer sisters and brothers. Straight people will not do this voluntarily and so they must be forced into it. Straights must be frightened into it. Terrorized into it. Fear is the most powerful motivation. No one will give us what we deserve. Rights are not given they are taken, by force if necessary. It is easier to fight when you know who your enemy is.
“To Tramps, the Unemployed, the Disinherited, and Miserable” (1884) by Lucy E. Parsons
Now, when all these bright summer and autumn days are going by and you have no employment, and consequently can save up nothing, and when the winter’s blast sweeps down from the north and all the earth is wrapped in a shroud of ice, hearken not to the voice of the hypocrite who will tell you that it was ordained of God that “the poor ye have always”; or to the arrogant robber who will say to you that you “drank up all your wages last summer when you had work, and that is the reason why you have nothing now, and the workhouse or the workyard is too good for you; that you ought to be shot.” And shoot you they will if you present your petitions in too emphatic a manner. So hearken not to them, but list! Next winter when the cold blasts are creeping through the rents in your seedy garments, when the frost is biting your feet through the holes in your worn-out shoes, and when all wretchedness seems to have centered in and upon you, when misery has marked you for her own and life has become a burden and existence a mockery, when you have walked the streets by day and slept upon hard boards by night, and at last determine by your own hand to take your life,—for you would rather go out into utter nothingness than to longer endure an existence which has become such a burden—so, perchance, you determine to dash yourself into the cold embrace of the lake rather than longer suffer thus. But halt, before you commit this last tragic act in the drama of your simple existence. Stop! Is there nothing you can do to insure those whom you are about to orphan, against a like fate? The waves will only dash over you in mockery of your rash act; but stroll you down the avenues of the rich and look through the magnificent plate windows into their voluptuous homes, and here you will discover the very identical robbers who have despoiled you and yours. Then let your tragedy be enacted here! Awaken them from their wanton sport at your expense! Send forth your petition and let them read it by the red glare of destruction. Thus when you cast “one long lingering look behind” you can be assured that you have spoken to these robbers in the only language which they have ever been able to understand, for they have never yet deigned to notice any petition from their slaves that they were not compelled to read by the red glare bursting from the cannon’s mouths, or that was not handed to them upon the point of the sword. You need no organization when you make up your mind to present this kind of petition. In fact, an organization would be a detriment to you; but each of you hungry tramps who read these lines, avail yourselves of those little methods of warfare which Science has placed in the hands of the poor man, and you will become a power in this or any other land.
Learn the use of explosives!
“SCUM Manifesto” (1967) by Valerie Solanas
SCUM won’t picket, demonstrate, march or strike to attempt to achieve its ends. Such tactics are for “nice,” genteel ladies who scrupulously take only such action as is guaranteed to be ineffective. In addition, only decent, clean-living male women, highly trained in submerging
themselves in the species, act on a mob basis. SCUM consists of individuals; SCUM isn’t a mob, a blob. Only as many SCUM’ll do a job as are needed for the job. Also, SCUM, being cool and selfish, won’t subject to getting itself to getting rapped on the head with billy clubs; that’s for the “nice,” “privileged,” “educated,” ladies with a high regard for and touching faith in the essential goodness of Daddy and policemen. If SCUM ever marches, it’ll be over the President’s face; if SCUM ever strikes, it’ll be in the dark with a six inch blade.
SCUM’ll always operate on a criminal as opposed to a civil disobedience basis, that is, as opposed to openly violating the law and going to jail in order to draw attention to an injustice. Such tactics acknowledge the rightness of the overall system and are used only to modify it slightly, change specific laws. SCUM’s against the entire system, the very idea of law and government. SCUM’s out to destroy the system, not attain certain rights within it. Also, SCUM—always selfish, always cool—will always aim to avoid detection and punishment. SCUM’ll always be furtive, sneaky, underhanded (although SCUM murders’ll always be known to be such).
Both destruction and killing’ll be selective and discriminate. SCUM’s against half-crazed, indiscriminate riots, with no clear objective in mind, and in which many of your own kind are picked off. SCUM’ll never instigate, encourage or participate in riots of any kind
or other form of indiscriminate destruction. SCUM’ll coolly, furtively, stalk its prey and quietly move in for the kill. Destruction, further, will never be such as to block off routes needed for the transportation of food or other essential supplies, contaminate or cut off the water
supply, block streets and traffic to the extent that ambulances can’t get through or impede the functioning of hospitals.
SCUM’ll keep on destroying, looting, fucking-up and killing until the money-work
system no longer exists and automation’s completely instituted or until enough women co-operate with SCUM to make violence unnecessary to achieve these goals, that is, until enough women either unwork or quit work, start looting, leave men and refuse to obey all laws inappropriate to a truly civilized society. Many women’ll fall into line, but many others, who surrendered long ago to the enemy, who are so adapted to animalism, to maleness, that they like
restrictions and restraints, don’t know what to do with freedom, will continue to be toadies and doormats, just as peasants in rice paddies remain peasants in rice paddies as one regime topples another. A few of the more volatile will whimper and sulk and throw their toys and dishrags on the floor, but SCUM’ll continue to steamroller over them. (…)
The sick, irrational men, who try to deny their subhumanity, when they see SCUM barreling down on them, will cling in terror to Big Mama with her Big Bouncy Boobies, but Boobies won’t protect him against SCUM; Big Mama’ll be clinging to Big Daddy, who’ll be in the corner forcefully, dynamically shitting his pants. Men who’re rational, however, won’t kick or struggle or raise a distressing fuss, but just sit back, relax, enjoy the show and ride the waves to their demise.
“Not Murdered, Not Missing: Rebelling Against Colonial Gender Violence” (2014) by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
White supremacy, rape culture, and the real and symbolic attack on gender, sexual identity and agency are very powerful tools of colonialism, settler colonialism and capitalism, primarily because they work very efficiently to remove Indigenous peoples from our territories and to prevent reclamation of those territories through mobilization. These forces have the intergenerational staying power to destroy generations of families, as they work to prevent us from intimately connecting to each other. They work to prevent mobilization because communities coping with epidemics of gender violence don’t have the physical or emotional capital to organize. They destroy the base of our nations and our political systems because they destroy our relationships to the land and to each other by fostering epidemic levels of anxiety, hopelessness, apathy, distrust and suicide. They work to destroy the fabric of Indigenous nationhoods by attempting to destroy our relationality by making it difficult to from sustainable, strong relationships with each other.
“Manifesto of the Erased: Mujeres, Decolonize El Dios Americano” (2015) by Crystal Zaragoza
The white man came to discover mí genté’s land. Thank God they did, or else we’d be living on unknown territory.
The white man came to teach mí genté the tongue of his people. Thank God they did, or else we’d have no proper way to communicate.
The white man came to teach mí genté how to dress. Thank God they did, or else we wouldn’t know how to suitably cover our bodies.
The white man came to teach mí genté a sense of spirituality. Thank God they did, or else we wouldn’t know what true morals are.
The white man came to teach mujeres the patriarchal, misogynistic life style. Thank God they did, or else indigenous mujeres would have this radical idea that they can hold power over themselves.
The white man came to teach mí genté the nonexistent homophobia and transphobia their scripture addresses. Thank God they did, or else we would have continued accepting, respecting, and cherishing other human beings for who they are.
With God’s direction and permission, our land, language, traditions, and culture was being lost in colonization. Tearing children apart from families, telling them they weren’t worth anything, and savagely punishing them for speaking their tongue, and being true to their culture. Invading mí genté’s land. Enslaving mí genté. Taking mí genté’s identities. Killing mí genté. Raping mujeres indias, mixing our blood with their savage blood. As generations passed, the belief that mujeres weren’t worthy became more prevalent within our households. Mujeres were no longer respected. They became baby-making machines that cleaned, cooked, and raised children they usually didn’t consent to conceive. Colonized indigenous people were being baptized into Catholicism, becoming brainwashed with the white man’s version of God the Savior.[book-strip index="1" style="buy"]
“A Letter to the Man who Tried to Rape Me” (2016) by Sara Roebuck
At that moment, I stood and spoke for every woman in the world who has suffered at the hands of men like you. I stood for every woman who walks home with her keys clasped between her fingers. I stood for every woman who has switched train carriages because of that one man who isn’t breaking eye contact. I stood for every woman whose parents insist they send a text after a night out, even at twenty-four years old, because they worry for their daughters’ safety because she’s female and not male. I stood for every woman who has felt her sexuality stand on show when walking past a group of men. I stood for every woman who remembers the first time their childlike body was no longer so innocent in front of old horrible men. I stood for every woman who knows how it feels to have the waxy heavy regard of an unwanted gaze envelop her body, drenching your skin in this sickly, uncomfortable glare that you cannot put into words but know so well. I stood for every woman who has been called a whore, a slut, or a bitch for rejecting unwanted advances. I stood for every woman who has felt worthless, used, and judged for having sex when a man has felt empowered, free and strengthened for doing exactly the same thing. I stood for every woman who knows the hot fury in being told blatant outright sexism is just a joke and “you should really learn to chill out a bit and have a laugh.” I stood for every woman who has double-questioned an outfit in case it looks “too slutty” or “asking for it.” I
stood for every woman who has suffered the lonely, self-destructive, “if I hadn’t done, worn, said, breathed x y z then it wouldn’t have happened to me.” I stood for every woman who has felt that hot prickly shame when other women, friends, co-workers think they have the right to talk about your attack as if they have any idea what it feels like, as if they have a right to make comment, judging you accordingly in the aftermath for the way you may react and suffer, telling you that “shit happens” and its “no excuse” to fall behind because “you shouldn’t have gone out, you should have taken better care of yourself, don’t you know men just want one thing, you shouldn’t have put yourself in that situation,”“t’as complètement déconné” (you fucked up big time), spoken from the lungs of women who claim to be feminists themselves.
I stood for every woman who has been groped, harassed, attacked, raped, filmed, photographed, followed, touched against her consent, suffered verbal vulgarities, obscene regards, disgusting gestures, and worse of all, within a society that allows it, in some cases with other women who refuel the blame, and men around her who are supposed to be progressive and modern, but stay silent. I address all of these women because I am each and every one of them. Because it happens every single day to every single woman you, dear reader, know and love. I want people to open their eyes.
“Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto” (excerpt) (2017) by Jessa Crispin
If I may interrupt my train of thought for just a moment to direct my attention to any men who might be reading this book. Maybe you picked up my manifesto because you too have some problems with feminism. Maybe those problems are sincere. Maybe you philosophically disagree with current feminist thought; maybe you genuinely support the basic tenets of feminism but are confused by how those tenets are currently being expressed. Maybe you’ve read Firestone and Dworkin and dealt with the feelings and thoughts they evoked. Maybe you’ve sorted through your own fear of weakness and vulnerability; maybe you’ve examined the ways you have in the past projected those feelings onto women. Maybe you’ve dealt with your discomfort with femininity; maybe you have given space in your life to softness and beauty and love.
Or maybe you tell yourself you are enlightened and sensitive but really it’s just that you are uncomfortable with women acting like they are autonomous human beings. Maybe you want a woman writer to tell you it’s okay to think women are stupid, illogical idiots and that feminism is the embarrassing farce you deeply need it to be. Maybe you are looking for any excuse available to not take women seriously.
Probably you are somewhere in between. Either way, it’s possible you have some questions or concerns with what I’ve written here, and you would like to me to address that for you.
If so, this is my response: Take that shit somewhere else. I am not interested. You as a man are not my problem. It is not my job to make feminism easy or understandable to you. It is not my job to nurture and encourage your empathy, it is not my job to teach you how to deal with women being human beings.
And don’t take that shit to other women either. It’s not their job. Your lack of enlightenment is not our problem. Figure it out. Do the reading, feel your own feelings, don’t take them to someone else. Men have to do this work on their own and for each other. You cannot ask women to spend the next century carrying the burden of your discomfort and confusion. Do your own fucking work, gentlemen.
“W.I.T.C.H. Manifesto” (1968) by W.I.T.C.H.
Whatever is repressive, solely male-oriented, greedy, puritanical, authoritarian—those are your targets. Your weapons are theater, satire, explosions, magic, herbs, music, costumes, cameras, masks, chants, stickers, stencils and paint, films, tambourines, bricks, brooms, guns, voodoo dolls, cats, candles, bells, chalk, nail clippings, hand grenades, poison rings, fuses, tape recorders, incense—your own boundless imagination. Your power comes from your own self as a woman, and it is activated by working in concert with your sisters. The power of the Coven is more than the sum of its individual members, because it is together.