SJI Feminist Seminar – “Passionate Politics”

Social Justice at UC Davis

Feminist Seminar

November, 2013

We are thrilled to report that the Social Justice Feminist Seminar, “Passionate Politics: Global Feminism and Transnational Activism” held on November 1, 2013, was a huge success!  The provocative and historic dialogue featured Charlotte Bunch,* founding director and senior scholar at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University, and Dr. Margo Okazawa-Rey, Professor Emerita at San Francisco State University, and current faculty of the School of Human and Organizational Development at the Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California.

Halifu Osumare, Professor and Director of African American and African Studies, opened the event with a ritual from the Yoruba diaspora.  She asked all who were present to evoke an ancestor to share in the spirit of the dialogue which would follow, and poured a libation – offering water to the earth and a prayer in honor of the ancestors.  She then performed her powerful poem “America, We Came,” which evoked the struggles of various peoples who have migrated to “America,” while acknowledging the original native peoples of this land.

As the program continued, the audience was in for a treat as SJI’s Year 1 Director, Amina Mama, opened the discussion between Bunch and Okazawa-Rey, by asking the honored guests about their first activist experiences, bluntly naming their visible racial difference.   Both speakers were highly influenced early on by their racial and gender formations, as well as by societal struggles such as the civil rights movement, the Black power movement, the anti-war movement, and women’s liberation. Participants were treated to a historic debate – and an opportunity to learn the complex stories and respective trajectories of US feminists, while also illuminating how their personal histories intertwine with the fortunes of the US women’s movement.

The politics of identity was a major theme throughout the discussion.  Okazawa-Rey discussed how being born in post-war Japan to a Japanese mother and African-American father, and later working in Korea, kick-started her awareness of Japanese and U.S. imperialism and the centrality of militarization in global geopolitics. Bunch discussed how she became aware of her white privilege during her formative years as an activist in the struggle for Civil Rights, where she acquired her political skills and commitments. They both also discussed the intricacies of “coming-out” and forming “radical” community around lesbian identities in the USA during the 1970’s and 80’s.

A powerful discussion ensued, stimulated by the opening question ‘what is the significance of theory for activism, and what does activism contribute to theory?’ regarding the significance of theorizing as activists, and the need to have a clear vision of communicating with a larger public while writing and organizing.  Okazawa-Rey insisted that to find sustainability as feminist scholar activist one must be connected to community. Bunch emphasized the importance of face-to-face connections and networking in the growth of women’s movements.  Both speakers explored the importance of developing transnational politics in ways that are accountable to communities across multiple locations.

Professor Yvette Flores, of Chicana and Chicano Studies, closed the event by remembering how she came to the U.S. as a teenager, to be deeply influenced by the racial politics and movements of the time. Appreciating Osumare’s opening prayer, Flores reminded the audience that November 1st is Dia de los Muertos, a day to honor the ancestors.

It had been a great day of rich discussion that unearthed feminist contributions to social justice on multiple fronts, spanning differences of class, ethnic heritage, sexuality and generations. Many thanks to all who attended, and a special note of gratitude to our co-sponsors: the Women’s Research and Resource Center, and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex Asexual Resource Center.

*The title of this Social Justice Feminist Seminar was inspired by the 2011 film, Passionate Politics: The Life and Work of Charlotte Bunch, which screened on campus prior to the discussion.


Margo Okazawa-Rey invited everyone at the Feminist Seminar to participate in the National Association for Ethnic Studies Annual Conference that will take place in Oakland, California at Mills College on April 3-5, 2014. You can find more information, including the call for papers at:

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