In Alice Echols' sweeping account of radical feminist groups of the late 60s and early 70s, Cell 16 is credited with setting the foundation for feminist separatist communities. The opening essay from the first issue of Cell 16's journal, No More Fun and Games, by historian and Cell 16 founder Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, openly questions what comes after women have aired their grievances in private circles and now have to live in a state of raised consciousness—when "every transaction with a man is seen in a new light," "the role-playing and unnaturalness of one's own actions are revealed," and "the exhilaration one feels at this awakening of consciousness soon recedes and cold reality sets in." Or in current terms, when tweeting into the void about the ills of the patriarchy becomes depressing and infuriating at best and boring at worst.
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For now, they're still organizing in a Facebook group. With more than 3,000 members, a wall flooded with polls about how their society will be structured, and over a year and a half since the initial idea, it looks like insurmountable chaos, rather than utopian perfection. One of the group's members posted a fairly basic concern that still remains unresolved: "This might sound random but what is the plan when it comes to menstruation?"The community, however, isn't limited to cis women only; it's also intended as a safe haven for trans individuals. This became a source of contention early on when a few trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) in the group aggressively tried to push non-binary members out. White, in fact, isn't even the Herland community's founder. She's more of their spokesperson who, as a white cis woman, is comfortable being named publicly; the founder, along with the community's other transgender members, fears being discovered by their online harassers again.Once the group reformed without the TERFs, they doubled down and committed to becoming an inclusive refuge for any LGBT person—though most of the group's members identify as the L, according to another poll in the Facebook group. In the community's mission statement, the words "safety" and "security" pop up multiple times, in a way that suggests the outside world isn't very safe or secure in their eyes. A refuge isn't just something they want; it's something they feel like they need.
A refuge isn't just something they want; it's something they feel like they need.
White and the rest are planning on sending six initial explorers to the South American no-man's land to get their community off the ground. But before that can even happen, there are still ample questions relating to funding and travel—how to unite the group's disparate members from around the world and actually get them down to the jungle with enough equipment to survive until they start building lodging. From the looks of it, White explains, raising enough funding could take up to another year, since members of the group are wary of accepting large donations: With money comes unwarranted power, their logic dictates. For the US-based members, at least, there are vague plans that involve meeting in a central location and driving down in a truck.Regardless, in White's eyes, the need for a place of one's own, a safe space, is clear, whatever it takes. It's an obvious tragedy for any one person, or Facebook group of 3,000 people, to view their world as decidedly unlivable. From a certain vantage, an idealistic commune could be considered nothing more than a feminist ghetto, where the marginalized are further marginalized, forced to a world divorced from the "real" one. Forty-six years after Cell 16's inception, Dunbar-Ortiz tells me that her original theory on communes as a means of liberation was "misguided." As a historian, she now sees the symbol of a commune as the mark of a political movement's devolvement; the equivalent of hands thrown up in the air, of giving up. "It really took a lot out energy of the movement," she says. "The ones that went out to the communes didn't have any societal effect, in terms of making changes, or a political impact," she explains.
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"But it can develop into a nice lifestyle," she adds. "In that way, it's kind of elitist."For the typical, middle-class white women who chose life on womyn's lands in the 70s, the privilege inherent in opting out of the system holds true. It's also apparent that the intentional community demographic of today lingers around college-educated anarchists for whom poverty is a choice. Still, for those who can choose, opting for communal life is understandable. When you've been barred from obtaining one—or when one has been ripped from you, in White's case—sometimes a "nice lifestyle" is really all you're after. Even if Herland never realizes itself in the jungle, their sprawling Facebook group is almost a commune of its own. Next to the various polls trying to gauge what diet the community should follow or what types of living structures they should build are women—trans women included—telling their stories, getting support, sharing links and resources, and looking forward to the future.
We are putting feminism into actual practice rather than just discussing things.