Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

War on the Reproduction of Life: Palestine and Beyond, a lecture with Silvia Federici

Feminist scholar visits UMass to talk about the conflict in Gaza
Shilpa Sweth
Daily Collegian (2023)

During its 50th anniversary series, the University of Massachusetts’ Social Thought & Political Economy (STPEC) program hosted world-renowned Marxist-feminist scholar, activist and teacher Silvia Federici on Thursday, April 19 with a lecture called, “War on the Reproduction of Life: Palestine and Beyond.”

The STPEC major, which was founded 50 years ago, has brought “engaged radical politics to the University” with faculty across the disciplines, STPEC Program Director Toussaint Losier said. Introducing Federici to the nearly full auditorium, Associate Director of STPEC Graciela Monteagudo called for an end to sanctions against the 57 arrested in October for protesting against UMass’ ties to war-profiteering, and said the campus has been “deeply wounded.” She said Federici’s work offers an opportunity to help us heal and organize a better world.

“When we talk about reproduction, we talk of every aspect of our lives,” Federici said. Reproduction, for Federici, goes far beyond the female reproductive system; while women perform vast amounts of reproductive labor, Federici says that reproduction involves all infrastructure necessary to reproduce life, including healthcare, education, food and more. Infrastructure such as water systems, agriculture, archives, libraries, hospitals, schools and shelters maintains people’s identity, subsistence and knowledge, she said.

According to the Washington Post, “Israel has received more U.S. military aid — and more U.S. aid of any type — than any other country since World War II,” funding what Federici calls a “genocidal war” against the reproductive capacities of a people through the systematic dismantling of Palestine’s life-sustaining infrastructure.

Federici also critiqued the impact of Israel’s environmentally damaging methods of waging war, drawing comparisons to the United States’ devastating impact on the life-sustaining systems in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the end of active military engagement, resulting in the deaths of millions.

Visible in Palestine via the “relentless destruction” by Israel, Federici connected the dots between myriad other colonial resource conflicts waged in the “so-called Global South” (specifically naming Somalia, Haiti, Libya and Sudan) which have devastated the reproductive capacities of entire regions. Federici calls these capitalism’s “Sacrifice Zones,” wherein “luxury for the few requires misery from the many.”

“Colonialism has not ended. On the contrary,” the US is engaged in a “constant recolonization project,” Federici said, pointing to the 800 military bases the U.S. controls abroad, millions becoming refugees in 2020, billions living in hunger by 2022, and millions killed in global resource wars.

“These are not cosmic crises,” she said. “This is a result of public policy.”

Despite such bleak history and circumstances, Federici’s lecture had another goal: to discuss solutions.

Federici told the audience of the “need to build an anti-war movement.”

“Since Vietnam we haven’t seen any mass mobilization,” she said, adding that we should be concerned.
Unfamiliar with the scholar, sophomore computer science major Lucky Kovvuri attended the lecture to get a sense of community and shared values. “As a C.S. major, there’s a huge lack of opportunity to learn beyond academics … there’s a stereotype that STEM is reality and humanities are not.”

She also expressed a sense of greater possibility after hearing Federici speak.

Federici stressed the importance of connecting with other people’s struggles around the world, international coalition-building, constructing “communitarian relationships” which center reciprocity and break down barriers of isolation and separation. From wherever we are socially situated, Federici says we can get involved in building resources to build capacity for our own reproduction needs. Examples included urban garden initiatives, collective kitchens, Assemblies in Argentina and the Black Panthers’ breakfast program.

Born in Italy in 1942, Federici told the crowd, “By the time I was nine, I saw the images coming out of the Holocaust. By the time I was 10, I knew I wasn’t in a good world.” Now on the cusp of 82, the feminist philosopher said, “There is nothing that pains me more than leaving this world before seeing the world I thought was possible when I was 20.” But she stressed, “We cannot be pessimistic about the future of our world.”

STPEC senior Raven McCormack, who read Federici’s seminal text “Caliban and the Witch,” said they too feel a sense of getting older, not seeing change and wanting to be a part of that change. If they have children, McCormack said, they want them to inherit a different kind of a future.

Story Young can be reached at [email protected].

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