AAPI Heritage Month #22

May 22, 2023

In the 70s, NYC’s Third World Women’s Alliance was inspired by anti-colonial efforts abroad. What do you want to learn about the TWWA?

In my explorations of cross-racial solidarity over the past decade or so, I came across mention of the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWAA) of the 1970s. It immediately left a mark on me: the ownership of the term “third world,” the intersectional approach to justice, the idea that women of color built organizing bonds together at that time. I cannot recall where or when I specifically learned about TWAA, but I admit that although it left a mark on me, I did not take the time to dive further into it. Or rather, it was not yet time to do this essential learning. Likely I was overwhelmed. Not yet ready. Maybe that time has finally come.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members Frances M. Beal, Mae Jackson, and Gwendolyn Patton curated Black Women’s Liberation Committee (BWLC) which inevitably became TWWA. They created BWLC because they felt unheard and pushed aside by men who took up leadership roles in SNCC. As as organizer often in men-dominated spaces, I am curious to learn more about that decision to create a women’s space. Were they still able to collaborate with the men of SNCC or other groups? Did they want that collaboration, or were they more interested in women-only organizing? Where did trans and gender expansive people fall into these spaces? How did Black Women’s Liberation Committee expand to become the Third World Women’s Alliance?

According to a very helpful blog post by Karla Mendez, many factors led to the evolution of TWWA. Conversations with Puerto Rican women who had reached out to BWLC clarified some organizing needs for BWLC leaders. In conversation, the BWLC leaders began to understand how deeply tied imperialism is with white supremacy and sexism. Additionally, BWLC leader Frances Beal had traveled to Paris and connected with students from French colonies in Africa. There she grounded her international political thought and returned to BWLC with stronger motivation for cross-racial movement building.

The theme here is global connection. I am really intrigued by the conversations these organizers must have had to identify their aligned values and needs. Were members of BWLC upset by this expansion? As time went on did anyone feel side-lined in the cross-racial solidarity? Where exactly did Asian and/or Pacific Islander women fit into this picture? Was it focused on the impacts of the Vietnam War, given the time period? What about Asian Americans not as directly impacted by U.S. involvement in Vietnam, like South Asians?

I feel truly inspired–and obligated–to prioritize seeking answers to these questions about TWWA (and to identify more questions) as a woman organizer in deep desire for cross-racial solidarity. TWWA sounds like such a necessary organizing body to learn and join others in building from into our future.

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