Julie Gerrard Harris
You may know me as that woman who does the back covers or who likes to host mailings or the author of “Julie’s World,” which appears occasionally in the pages of oob. You may know me as a pioneer in the field of FOOB (“Friend of oob”), that special mix of oob helper but not collective member. Or you may have no idea who I am—perhaps you have taken years of therapy to forget me. (If so you can contact FIJI. “Former Instructors of Julie International” for professional resources on how to deal with Julie through memory loss. The annual meeting for 2005 is in Sydney, Australia.)
My journey with oob started in May 1996. I was a graduate student in Women ’s Studies at George Washington University. Instead of a thesis I did an internship with oob and wrote about it as a field study. The internship lasted a year. Then I went away for a few years to the wilds of California but came back. They couldn’t get rid of me.
I still do back covers but we no longer actually stick paper on paper with wax. (Yes, in the old days, children—1996—you would print out strips of text from Word Perfect and attached them to a big blue and white board with hot wax. Then Jennie Ruby would come along and tell me how out of alignment everything was and I would spend hours redoing it. The woman can see nano space. I still don’t understand how.) Yes, I was thrilled when we started using computer programs to lay out the issue because anyone can tell you that hot wax and I seem to always have a problem and the wax ends up winning. So ends the history lesson.
I won’t regale you with tales about the rats who threatened some of the interns I stewarded. But I should mention Burrito Brothers and the Falafel place for their unknown support as the favorite food source of “oobers.” We have also dined on Karla or Jennie’s homemade cakes, as well as various things just found in the office. We don’t ask where these things come from—we just hope they don’t kill us. Actually we just somehow always get by. It is the oob way. (“Oobliesque” is the adjective form.)
What I like the most about oob is that you can talk about important things. After graduating from school, adjusting to the various office settings where I worked was a shock. There seems to be an office law that you cannot talk about anything important or interesting. Moreover, you must not express your own opinion about anything important or interesting. But at oob you talk about the things you really think about. You can say you are angry or you can say you are hurt or you can say you do not understand and people will not look at you like you just ritualistically slaughtered their mother in front of them. At oob you do not have to suffer through conversation about eye shadow or some actress or bad dates. (Granted, you may get into why the actress went on a bad date while wearing eye shadow, but not how great it was that she did it.) I like hearing other ways of thinking about things and that’s what I find at oob.
So here are my few paragraphs about oob—done on the fly with short notice—just like how so many things get done at oob. Long may we write! Now pass me some of that falafel.
Julie Gerrard Harris, after her year-long internship, has been a Friend of off our backs since 1996.
Carol Anne Douglas
Working on off our backs is a solemn responsibility, a riotous good time, and a great joy. Through it, I feel connected to women all over the world. I feel that we are playing a small part in the resistance to all forms of male domination and all the bad isms, particularly their horrifying manifestations in the U.S. government. Only my lover is more important to me than off our backs, although they are in such different categories that ranking them is absurd.
I can never express how deeply grateful I am to those who have given me the opportunity to work on off our backs, including our readers and our donors. I have worked with many wonderful women in the off our backs collective. We have gone through many difficulties together and we have sometimes been angry with each other, but we also have had a great deal of fun. I particularly want to thank Karla Mantilla and Jennie Ruby for their work in keeping oob going over the last several years.
I have worked on off our backs for 32 years, and I hope to work on it for the rest of my life. I promise to do everything I can to keep it in publication.
Carol Anne Douglas has been on the off our backs collective since 1973.
I first joined off our backs as a teenaged intern, way back in 1984. I was terribly nervous and excited. I wore a dress to my internship interview, which probably made the oob folks blanche with disgust. It was certainly a politically and sartorially earnest office in those days. In fact, it was a terribly difficult time for oob and for feminists. The movement was splitting over the issue of porn and sado-masochism, and the paper, too, was divided. Some felt porn and s/m were inherently anti-feminist, and that porn should be outlawed. Others found s/m neutral, or liberating, and saw the specter of censorship in discussing making porn illegal.
But I was blissfully unaware of all that. I was reveling in the ways oob made me feel like I was finally home, and the ways it made me feel like a stranger in a strange, new world. Not for me the shoal waters of theory and practice—I was discovering radical feminism! Denise, the full-time office worker, regaled me with stories of her misspent youth, and clued me into the best places to have sex on my college campus. Carol Anne turned me on to trashy lesbian novels AND “Sisterhood is Powerful.” Tacie helped edit my first published writing—two paragraphs on an abortion clinic bombing. Tricia, the gentlest collective member, would drop by the office and explain all the acronyms and slogans I didn’t understand. She even told me that sometimes there is no meaning. That was after I confessed I had spent two hours trying to figure out why someone had taped a photo of the Weather Underground on the fridge. Was it something about food being important to the revolution? Were we supposed to go on a hunger strike until they let Kathy Boudin out of prison? Did it mean that one of those weird containers on the bottom shelf was a bomb? Eventually, I put my lunch in there anyway.
Since that odd beginning, I’ve been with oob in one way or another—either as an intern, as a collective member, or as a reader—more than half my life. My world has changed a lot in the 20 years I’ve been reading the paper. Through it all, oob has comforted and discomfited me, just like it did right from the start. It’s still the place where my mind and my politics get a real workout. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Farar Elliott, following a summer internship in 1984, returned to become an off our backs collective member in 1989, on inactive status since 1993.
My first encounter with oob was the wonderful poem entitled “Bad Feminist Poetry” published in the late 80s. I don’t have a copy of it anymore, but I do remember a few key stanzas ended with comparing whatever the poet was musing about to “the moon, my breasts, or any large body of water.” Inspired by the poem, my friends and I held a bad feminist poetry contest at my college and had a wonderful night of irreverent humor.
It always puzzles me when people characterize feminists as deadly serious because I was brought into the movement laughing and have been laughing ever since. What I remember most about my two years on the oob collective (1990-1992) are the funny things: the photos on the wall of the oob collective storming the capitol, the very particular punch-drunk, exhausted hysteria of layout (perhaps caused by inhaling too much wax from the waxing machine—I wonder if everything seems as funny now that layout is computerized!), the joy of getting first peeks at the latest Dykes to Watch Out For, and the wonderful collective meetings full of funny observations and gossip. In fact, now, almost fifteen years down the road, even though people’s faces are fading in my memory, I can remember everybody’s laugh as clear as if I had just walked out of a meeting.
Cricket Keating was on the off our backs collective 1990-1992.
On my arrival in this country three years ago I, like most immigrants, was under some pressure to conform to the American mainstream. When I came to work as an intern at off our backs I was concerned about how well I would blend into the American work environment. My first few days at oob taught me that conformity was probably not that important. I could be myself, my perspective was important and my creativity was respected. At oob I was always encouraged to explore new avenues. I came to oob to work as a proofreader/copyeditor—never did I know that I had it in me to be a writer. I developed this ability at oob, and was very proud to see my articles published in oob’s issues.
oob has also helped me develop my political thinking. Where I come from, America is Utopia. My work at oob has shown me the real face of America. I love discussing politics and listening to different viewpoints. Above all, in the last few months at oob I have learned that making a difference often involves taking an anti-establishment stance.
Last but not the least, I love it that I can go to work wearing my pajamas!
Priya Verma began as an intern with off our backs in January 2005 and is now the subscriptions manager.
My first exposure to oob might have been at Giovanni’s Room, the queer bookstore in Philadelphia, in the mid-70s, on one of the days when I sneaked into the store, terrified that someone from my Catholic college might spot me. Or it might have been in the offices of the Philly Gay News, where I served as the token feminist on staff in 1978 and 1979. I can’t remember exactly.
What I clearly recall is that in those days, oob was unquestionably the source for grass-roots feminist writing and thinking. oob and its writers tackled issues other publications were hesitant to touch, like racism and classism in the women’s community (oob was the first place where I encountered a debate about whether it was an act of cultural imperialism to edit the writing of women of color to meet “mainstream” editorial standards). And oob not only made the connection between the women’s movement and other progressive movements, like the movement to get the U.S. out of El Salvador; the paper’s writers also insisted on focusing the attention of readers in the U.S. on the day-to-day plight of women around the globe (one example among many: oob was where I first learned about the horrific practice of female genital mutilation).
Though the material in oob’s pages always struck me as Vewwy Vewwy Sewwious, I was tickled to discover when I moved to Washington, D.C. (the paper’s home), in the early 80s that the oob collective and volunteers were not only incredibly smart, but also some of the funniest and most irreverent women I’d ever met. Hanging out with people like June Thomas, Jennie Ruby, and Tricia Lootens (to name just a few) made me howl with laughter. I remember one night being part of a plot to stencil feminist graffiti on the sidewalks and mailboxes of D.C.; I don’t remember if the plot was ever executed, but I seem to recall that it involved the image of a high heel with a red slash through it. (Apparently, no arrests ensued.)
Of course, back in those days (and maybe still today), it was Conventional Wisdom that oob was anti-sex. But it was in the pages of oob—where the mere mention of the exchange of Precious Bodily Fluids was supposedly verboten—that I was introduced, in an article entitled “Lovers Who Don’t Make Love,” to the concept that later became widely and semi-affectionately known as “Lesbian Bed Death.” (I seem to remember that the writer of that groundbreaking piece viewed sex as a Good Thing. So much for stereotypes.)
It’s amazing for this nearly-fifty-year-old dyke to realize that during the entire time I’ve considered myself a feminist oob’s been there—to inform me, to outrage me, to light a fire under me to get me off the couch and into action. For 35 years, oob has endured. And my life is—all our lives are—better for it.
Denise Sudell volunteered as a friend of off our backs in the late 1980s.
Last night I was looking at Tupperware.com. “I am a Radical Feminist! I can’t believe I am looking at Tupperware.com!” I abruptly leaped out of my seat to stomp theatrically around the room.
I was at that site because I want some ice cube trays with lids to make baby food for my six-month-old baby. You cook up a bunch of sweet potatoes (or whatever), puree them into an orange slurry in the blender, and then freeze it into little nuggets in ice cube trays to be popped out and stored until they are fed to the little munchkin. The directions say to cover the ice cube trays with plastic wrap while freezing. As an environmentalist radical feminist, I was troubled by spinning off yard after yard of oil-based plastic wrap from its plastic spindle—only to be discarded a few hours later to be entombed in the landfill for the next million or so years. If I had a tray with a lid, I reasoned, I could reuse it over and over instead. (Never mind that the lids are also made of plastic.)
The point is that Life changes. If you had suggested to me a few years ago that I would one night be looking at Tupperware.com for lidded ice cube trays for my baby, we both would have had a good laugh. I am so happy that I didn’t let a predetermined idea of how my life should be limit what it is now. Being open to change brings growth, richness and adventure—not to mention surprise—to a life well lived.
Some people don’t appreciate feminism because they don’t want their lives to change, are afraid of change, or some other silly excuse. How many times have I been told, “You can’t change Reality.” Like high heels, sidewalk harassment, or rape are a done deal, fixed, unchangeable. When really, Reality is constantly being created by lots of people cultivating discrete actions, attitudes, policies etc. Since Reality is constantly being created then why can’t we change it? We can change what we as a society want Reality to be. Even better, we can change the “how” Reality is created.
This is where off our backs comes in. off our backs provides a voice and a model for people who “get it” about how Reality works—both analyzing Reality’s current condition and offering possibilities for changing it.
Reality under patriarchy is crummy. George Bush recently announced he was removing regulatory restrictions on nuclear power plants so we can build lots more of them and solve the oil crisis. Here I am worrying about putting a few yards of plastic wrap in the landfill and he wants to purposely create tons of breathtakingly toxic, long-term trash with nowhere to put it.
For the past 35 years, off our backs has been documenting and exploring those ideas. There isn’t always agreement among feminists, but you always can be sure there are lots of ideas – that’s what makes feminism so dynamic. Often in oob we’ll print articles that disagree with each other in the same issue, or over several issues even spanning years. oob models a way of talking about change that is respectful and creative. In an increasingly idea-limited, change-averse world, we need oob more than ever to give tangibility to the possibilities for Reality.
Laura Butterbaugh has been on the off our backs collective since 1993.
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