Interviewee: Mike Alewitz
IWY TX 014
Interviewer: Rachael Myers
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Mike Alewitz, a resident of New Orleans, was 26-years-old at the time of the NWC. He attended the conference as a spectator and member of the Socialist Workers Party, which supported the women’s liberation movement. During the conference, Alewitz passed out literature and also sold copies of the Socialist Workers Party’s newspaper, The Militant. He was a freelance artist and was known for the Socialist murals that he painted. Interview includes discussion of connections between the goals of the Socialist movement and women’s movement. He also discussed how he personally learned more about the emerging women’s movement. Later in his career, Alewitz served as the Artistic Director of the Labor Art and Mural Project (LAMP) and traveled throughout the world creating public art on themes of peace and social justice. As of 2018, Alewitz was been a Professor Emeritus at Central Connecticut State University.
Rachael Myers: Okay, first of all, your name, your address and phone number, and your age and occupation.
Mike Alewitz: Ah, my name is Mike Alewitz, A-L-E-W-I-T-Z. 619 Spain St., New Orleans, Louisiana, 70117. I’m twenty-six years old, and I’m a freelance artist.
RM: Okay, what brings you to the conference?
MA: Well, I’m here as part of all the activities, although I’m not a delegate and can’t get into that session. I’m here to participate in the various activities that are going on with International Women’s Year, and uh—whatever those you know, activities may be—and also to help distribute literature and sell Militant newspaper, which is a paper which covers feminist activities all around the country.
RM: Okay, you’re a member of an organization?
MA: Yes, I’m a member of the Socialist Workers Party. I have been for a number of years and have helped to publicize many of the events that have gone on in the women’s liberation movement around the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights for women and many other issues. Because these things, while they most directly affect women, of course do not solely affect women but affect all working people. And I firmly believe that an attack on women’s rights is an attack on the rights of all people.
RM: Now, when did you become involved—or interested in the woman’s movement per se? Was it from your involvement with Socialist Workers Party, was it something you brought into your—with you had before, you say joined the SWP? What?
MA: Well, I’ve been a socialist since I was seventeen years old, and at the time when I was a socialist, there was not a viable women’s liberation movement, ah, when I first became a socialist. And so my consciousness wasn’t very high, but the first contact I had was when the women’s liberation movement first began to become a visible force. It was during the anti-war movement, and I can remember going to dem—antiwar mobilizations in Washington D.C. around 1968 and riding back to Kent State University, where I was a student, was the first discussions I can remember going on. We were riding in vans—SDS—having discussions about the fact that there had been women’s activities taking place, which was the first time that these things had happened within recent years at a national antiwar gathering. And so there was a lot of discussion about that, and that was the first contact I had with the women’s liberation movement. And it was shortly thereafter, that Boston’s Women’s Liberation and some of the first feminist groups really began to get off the ground, and the women’s liberation movement began to be seen visibly around the country.
Of course there had been women’s activities all along, but this was the first time it had really had become visible and confronted the American people, so to speak. And that’s just the beginning of it, and of course, it got much larger after the— I guess the August twenty-sixth demonstrations in 1970. Was a really big—first really big women’s demonstration in recent years that really, you know, was a visible—had a visible kind of thing. But I had read things like the writings of Engels and Marx and women’s liberation, August Bebel, and people like that, so I was fairly familiar with it. But, of course, the women’s liberation movement made it a living movement before my eyes, just like before everyone else’s eyes.
RS: Now for a long time ah, some of the organizations and I believe the S—the Socialist Workers Party is included—put the women’s liberation movement secondary to the black movement and the ethnic movements. How does this, has this position changed within the SWP, and how did this come about, if it has or whatever the position is now?
MA: Well that was never true in the Socialist Workers Party, for example socialist—Socialist Workers Party has, if you go back and look, it’s the only political party in the United States that’s ever run women for national office. And this isn’t just something we did in recent years, but during the fifties we ran Grace Carlson and all kinds of people, all kinds of women, all around the country, for things like United States Senate and Congress and, you know, Vice President and President. We ran Linda Jenness for President, we ran Willie Mae Reid—so this has never been true in the Socialist Workers Party.
Now what was true is that until the new wave of feminism existed, that the Socialist Workers party, like all other political organizations, was not confronted with a living, viable movement. And the Socialist Workers Party learns from movements that go on, just like we hope people learn from the Socialist Movement, that is, it’s a reciprocal kind of a thing. So for example, the Socialist Workers Party wasn’t putting out a lot of feminist literature during the fifties because there was no big women’s liberation movement. Well, now we do; Pathfinder Press has a giant table over here, and Evelyn Reed puts out all kinds of books because there’s more of an opening for that, there’s more of a reception for that. And also, we as a political organization learn from the women’s liberation movement, just as we hope the American people as a whole learn from the women’s liberation movement.
RM: Now, how do you feel about this conference? What do you think’s going to come out of it?
MA: Well, I think the conference has good points, and I think it also has limitations. From what I can gather, it’s a very limited kind of conference for the women’s movement unlike other conferences that have taken place. Ah, it is not a—there’s not a lot of ability for the participants, the individual participants, to really affect the outcome of the conference here. That is, it’s a delegated conference and it’s fairly well restricted. You—in fact you can’t even get in as an observer very easily, so that is a very big limitation. And I think it was set up that way by the, I mean, it’s an official governmental function. I think the government has certain restrictions on what it wants to come out of this conference. I think any time large numbers of women get together to discuss how to fight back against the attacks that are going on against women, I think that’s a positive thing.
And certainly today there are many attacks taking place against the women’s movement—ah—and it’s part of a generalized offence that’s going on against the American working people in general, but the attacks on the right to abortion, the attempt to stop the Equal Rights Amendment—all of these kind of things are indicative of trying to stop the social gains the working people have won, particularly over the past decade. And they’re trying to take back all the things women have fought for and won and of course the women’s liberation movement is saying, “no, no, you’re not going to do that.” (Laughter) And that, of course, is a very positive thing; anytime thousands and thousands of women get together to discuss those things, why even if it’s in an informal way in a convention, it’s—it’s a positive thing.
MA: And how do you feel about the divergence of ideas?
RM: There’s nothing wrong with a divergence of ideas; divergence of ideas is a normal state of affairs. Socialists learn to live with a divergence of ideas because socialists have been a minority in this country for a long time; so for us, it’s nothing unusual to see a lot of different people with a lot of different ideas. We come here and, you know, we put forward our ideas, we sell the Militant newspaper, because we think that eventually women will come to the conclusion— and more and more women are doing this—that in order to solve the problem of sexism in our society you have to solve the problem of capitalism. That is, we live in a system that breeds sexism, and to get rid of sexism, to get rid of the oppression of women, you have to eliminate the system that creates it—oppression—and that’s the system of capitalism. And more and more women are finding that out through the actual experiences that they go through. That is, it’s not an accident that women find themselves in the home; it’s not an accident that these cutbacks are taking place and these attacks. It’s a very deliberate fallacy in the government and people learn that and they learn why that happens.
End of Interview