NOWSA collective expels a member


By Wendy Robertson

On May 30, the National Organisation of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) collective voted to expel Resistance activist Virginia Brown. At the previous meeting, Brown had presented a paper which made a range of suggestions for the NOWSA conference. In response, she was accused of being "racist" for disagreeing with "identity" politics, which the collective is attempting to impose as the main perspective to be presented at the conference.

Brown's accusers allege that she said "the behaviour of the NESB [Non-English speaking background] women in this collective is outrageous". Brown was asked to apologise, and when she refused was expelled.

Brown explained, "I refused to apologise because I did not say such a thing. Secondly, even if someone misheard me as saying that, I do not agree with it. How can I apologise for something I neither said nor agree with?"

Brown's expulsion is the culmination of weeks of debate in the NOWSA collective. So far, the collective has been organising a conference which elevates separatist and/or identity politics. The collective has argued that a woman's identity (that is, her race, sexual orientation or background) determines her politics.

In this framework, potential speakers for NOWSA have been vetted on the basis of their race and sexuality. One woman was denied speaking rights on the basis that she was "seen kissing a man". Transgendered women were opposed as speakers because they were "once men". Other speakers were rejected because they were white.

In contrast, Resistance has argued for an inclusive NOWSA conference at which a range of political perspectives are presented. Resistance has argued that women should be considered as speakers because of their role in campaigns important to the feminist movement (for example, campaigns for land rights, against racism, for reproductive rights, lesbian rights and so on) or because of the political perspective they would present to allow the airing of all strands of feminist theory (Marxist feminism, postmodernism, radical feminism and so on).

The move to expel Brown has nothing to do with racism. It is about censoring political views that the rest of the collective disagree with. This sets a dangerous precedent in feminist organising for how political disagreements and debates will be dealt with.

If Brown's expulsion is upheld, feminists will be deterred from raising disagreements within the NOWSA collective by the fear of being labelled racist.

Challenging racism is a serious task, not just for the feminist movement, but all progressive activists. Resistance has a proud history of fighting racism, including organising 25,000 secondary students to walk out of school against racism last year. Resistance has also campaigned against racism through other progressive organisations and movements, for example agitating within trade unions to support migrants' rights and to take action in solidarity with workers' struggles in Indonesia.

Resistance hopes to help organise a NOWSA conference which increases feminists' awareness and understanding of racism, and facilitates their active campaigning against it. This goal can only be strengthened by organising a conference which reflects and encourages the broad range of feminist ideas and activities.