There Is No Fire Without Air

For many of us, the first collective action to take place after the transnational feminist strike on March 8 and 9, and in the wake of expanding quarantine orders on our continent, was on May 1. On that day, we decided to organize a transborder feminist meeting that would draw connections between the memory of workers’ struggles and the feminist strikes of the last four years. It was a gesture of composing, of putting into motion the gears of our collective efforts amid the pandemic. Because memory is, without a doubt, a way of creating contact zones: of making times that do not necessarily converge come into tactile contact; of producing a plane of encounters that may not clearly exist; of creating a pull of events that, because of a fold in time, are drawn closer together in relation. Connecting struggles means creating political memory.

The fundamental question, then, was organizational: What can we do without the collective and unregulated use of the street—the place where we have trained during these years of mass feminist mobilizations? How do we find each other when our bodies are confined in ways that are unjust and unequal? How do we meet despite growing partitions of class, gender, and race that divide and classify populations subject to quarantine? We decided that together we would narrate scenes throughout the day and share them as they unfolded in one place or another—scenes that outlined struggles, problems, and initiatives. Compañeras from the Villa Soldati neighborhood of Buenos Aires used a loudspeaker to broadcast the names of victims of femicide so they would not be forgotten (a version of “say their names”). Compañeras from Santiago, Chile organized a live transmission for ten hours straight, to inject images (interviews, conversations, messages, songs, poetry) into the premise that we are part of a global uprising against induced forms of precarity. Compañeras in Frankfurt shot videos of others on bridge overpassess dropping banners with slogans against domestic violence and isolation—videos which were then quickly edited to take advantage of the different time zones between us, and how they seem to stretch out our days.

At the same time, flower growers in Colombia join a virtual assembly to share their experiences during the crisis, while farmworkers in Argentina facing similar struggles listen in. Feminists in Ecuador share the hashtag #elcuidadosostieneelmundo (CareSustainsTheWorld) in different languages while organizing feminist town halls and assemblies that weave together recent strikes and mobilizations against IMF looting. Compañeras in Uruguay write that “the world is not at a standstill, we continue to sustain life,” echoing the call that we, women and non-binary people, are the ones who make the world stop with a feminist strike. NonUnaDiMeno activists in Italian cities proclaim “We make ourselves heard!” Nurses in Brasília stand outside of hospitals and send videos that outline their demands and, as a warning for all, record the attacks by fascists who shove them in an attempt to stop their performance. Emergency responders and abortion activists raise green flags on the first of May and share stories about the networks that make abortion services accessible under quarantine. United workers in Peru say, “we do not want a return to the normalcy of capitalism.” Voz de Maíz feminists in Mexico interview maquila workers who refuse to go on repairing used ATMs for the United States while putting their health at risk. Migrant domestic workers from Latin America make the cities of the Spanish state tremble, and the list goes on and on. We are everywhere—women and non-binary people, joined together, speaking out against precarious, migrant, and feminized labor, both inside and outside of the home, in every territory.

Whether it is a mobilization, a strike, or an occupation, actions (or their suspension) have a rhythm and composition (a tangle of memory and future) through which air circulates, making sparks ignite.

All of this took place on May 1, but somehow it continues. The date of these coordinated events allows us to make visible, to bring attention to, a network of places, struggles, forms of resistance, and inventions that are woven day by day, and which we put into contact for one day in order to map their closeness—to create proximity. On June 3rd, the fifth anniversary of the collective cry NiUnaMenos, we also held a series of actions to bring us into contact in light of our current circumstances: more than 65 organizations drafted a collective statement and made a ruidazo (collective noise) and a proyectorazo (projecting images alongside our slogans on the walls of buildings). We also organized dialogues on the uprising. Again, it is about making time to reassess and rethink how we will move forward. 

What we see happening in the United States, the non-stop images of an anti-racist and anti-fascist uprising in the very heart of the empire, give all of us air to breathe—as the words of George Floyd and those of Eric Garner before him are repeated over and over again, and as the words of Frantz Fanon now take on new currency, circulating as mantra, as graffiti: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” The uprising there gives us breath, in light of the data on the number of deaths from Covid-19 in that country—deaths that continue now into the Third World, but which do not figure into the global necropolitical count like they did just a few weeks ago. Here I weave in the words of the sociologist and teacher Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, who says that there are political actions that serve as “collective breath” and “act as a true performance.” Whether it is a mobilization, a strike, or an occupation, actions (or their suspension) have a rhythm and composition (a tangle of memory and future) through which air circulates, making sparks ignite. As we know: there is no fire without air. 

The transnational dimension of these struggles in recent years, driven by feminisms that have developed in working class neighborhoods and organizations, in labor unions and communities, migrant groups and artist collectives, and among youth and those most precarious, strengthened a system of relays. Let’s return to that temporality which is not purely contingent encounters, but instead a political process. Let’s think of the significance of the March 2019 feminist strike in Chile, and how it shook things up in Mexico in 2020; the ways in which 8M in 2018 took hold in Zapatista autonomous territories, and how it flooded the streets of Argentina, Spain, and Italy in 2017. The strike that was able to stage mass transfeminist demands, like the plurinational general strike, did not happen from one day to the next. You can find their resonance in the strikes in Ecuador and Colombia that initiated a Red October alongside the 2019 Chilean uprising. These three actions bore a feminist imprint—in their organizational structure, in their concrete demands, and in their political vocabulary. They figure as part of a larger continuum of mobilization and organization without smoothing over geographies, without underestimating the rough textures of each territory. 

In this way, the movement that has erupted is three-dimensional: it features a diversity of struggles that come into contact with one another; it uses a geographical scale that is both situated and transnational; and it draws on a shared grammar that is continually updated—from hashtags to certain forms of speech to images of organizational resilience. A series of elements fold into each other, then burst forth from one struggle to the next, creating unexpected reverberations. Transfeminist transnationalism does not only manifest in times of global mobilization; it becomes “operative” in the day-to-day political processes of each place because it questions the ways in which borders actively structure an inside and an outside, a hierarchy of what is visible and what is not, a material boundary line that denies access to rights, and a limit between that which is remunerated and that which is considered unproductive. In this way, the political, spatial, and epistemic distinctions by which the domestic, feminized, racialized, and local are conceived as something small, without any bearing on the world, break down. The cartography shifts: the concrete places where oppression and exploitation sustain the imagined abstraction of capital emerge from below.

This transnationalism is composed of intermittent and often fragile moments. Yet, insofar as these moments are sustained and capable of producing new forms of embodiment and power, we can argue that “it’s not a moment, but a movement.” Here I borrow Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s definition of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to those attempting to diminish it as something short-lived and untimely. These types of movements put into practice something that is now taken up not only by high philosophy: What does it mean to act together when the conditions to do so are devastated? Just as the permanent online  stage of the pandemic attempted to take that global dimension away from us—diminishing it only into an instance of contagion and risk, of mounting injustice and control over mobility—these transborder dynamics bring collective bodies back into contact.

—Buenos Aires, June 4, 2020

Translated by Amanda Sommer Lotspike

Verónica Gago is a professor at Argentina’s public university and a feminist activist.

Amanda Sommer Lotspike is Project Manager for the Ecologies of Migrant Care initiative at the Hemispheric Institute and Managing Editor of HemiPress.