The Women’s Community Center of Central Texas builds on work that the women’s movement in Austin has done over the decades.
AUSTIN — Feminism is alive and well in Austin: Just check out the Women’s Community Center of Central Texas, which opened its doors at 1704 San Antonio Street in October 2014.
I made my way to the Center for a Second Saturday movie screening of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. The subject of the film is Detroit icon Boggs, a Chinese American whose remarkable life of political activism began in the 1940s. With her African-American spouse, James Boggs, she was part of Detroit’s black liberation struggle in the 60s. She will be a century old in June of this year.
I was intrigued by Grace Lee Bogg’s story and her enduring spirit, but equally fascinated by the crowd. The room was filled to capacity with nearly 60 people — most of them at least 30 years younger than I am.
The Center prides itself on an adaptable environment for meetings, movies,
and art shows.
The Center space is impressive. I expected something like the comfortable, slightly ramshackle West Campus-based Women’s Center of the early 1970s. This space bears no resemblance to that earlier incarnation. Located in an older but freshly painted and recently remodeled house, the Center prides itself on an adaptable environment for meetings, movies, art shows, and “woman and LGBTQ-friendly co-working space.” There’s a library, books and toys for children, state of the art audio-visual equipment, computers and wi-fi.
I returned a few weeks later and spoke with the executive director, Carrie Tilton-Jones, who was one of the founders of the Center. Carrie is pursuing a dual master’s degree with the UT Center for Women’s and General Studies and the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Her research made her aware of Austin’s women’s centers in the ’70s and through the ’90s. She wanted to create that kind of space again, and was able to bring nonprofit experience and skill to that effort. She seems uniquely qualified for the nonprofit challenge of building a sustainable base of support that won’t compromise or imperil the Center’s mission.
The Center was founded in 2013 with a vision of “a central Texas community in which all women and girls have the resources needed to build the lives they want.” It was also founded with the intent of representing Austin’s diversity.
The Board reflects diversity and the
programs do as well.
Among the values listed on the Center’s website is “intersectionality” — the recognition that “women have very different experiences shaped by their race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, immigration status, and other characteristics.” The Board reflects diversity and the programs do as well.
The Center focuses on three areas of work: providing resources and referrals, education, and community space. Regular hours for the Center are Tuesday and Thursdays, 12-8 p.m., or by appointment. A major upcoming event is a Women’s Empowerment Conference, March 7-8. More information on WECON2015 can be found at weconaustin.org. The Conference falls on the weekend of International Women’s Day, March 8.
The Center bears little resemblance to the spaces that opened up for women in the early 1970s. Women’s Space, a peer-counseling project, was located in the upstairs “Y” next door to The Rag offices. There was nothing modern or remodeled about that space, but it became an incubator for counseling on birth control and abortion and for support networks for victims of rape and domestic abuse. The Rape Crisis Center and SafePlace Austin grew out of that early work. Women and Their Work, a gallery for women’s art, was born in that environment.
I’m from that era where ‘Sisterhood Is Powerful!’ was a slogan and a life-changer.
I’m from that era where “Sisterhood Is Powerful!” was a slogan and a life-changer for so many women. My daughter’s generation would call us Second Wave Feminists to distinguish us from the First Wave suffragists. I recall the battles undertaken and many transformative victories. Austin’s Women’s Health Organization was advocating for a woman gynecologist in Travis County! Legal challenges — or the threat of them — made it possible for women to be Austin bus drivers, cable splicers, emergency medical technicians, and firefighters. We celebrated International Women’s Day with workshops, skits and music. I got ink up to my elbows as an offset printer with Red River Women’s Press.
Economic and reactionary forces have eroded many of the victories. Access to reproductive choices and health care, affordable child-care, pay equity and living wages remain challenges. Many issues of gender identity are new. But the younger generation of feminists brings energy and a formidable set of organizational skills for embracing diversity and sharing leadership to these challenges. It is my hope that this newly-minted Center functions as a space for imagining the impossible as we were able to do. I hope it is an incubator for change, and an environment for organizing to make that change happen.
[Rag Blog contributing editor Alice Embree is co-chair of the Friends of New Journalism and a veteran of SDS, the original Rag, and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Alice is a long-time Austin activist, organizer, and member of the Texas State Employees Union. Read more articles by Alice Embree on The Rag Blog.]