Pictured Faye Robinson, Kathy Munzer and Jackie Anderson pictured in August. Photo by Tracy Baim
In the Sept. 14 edition of Windy City Times, we began a two-part interview with some of collective members of Mountain Moving Coffeehouse about the group's history and the decision to close in December, at the end of its 31st season.
A packed audience attended comic Vickie Shaw's show Sept. 17. Upcoming shows are Lucie Blue Tremblay Oct. 22, Tret Fure Nov. 5 and Deidre McCalla with special guests in a final show Dec. 10, all at 1700 W. Farragut, 7:30 p.m.
What follows is the second part of the interview with Kathy Munzer, Jackie Anderson, Faye Robinson and Sarah Hoagland. For the first part, see the WCT Web site at www.windycitymediagroup.com .
— Tracy Baim
WCT: What about the trans issue?
Anderson: Well, the entire trans issue was just beginning to be an issue [ in the early '90s ] . So we weren't really doing anything unusual. ... And it was always a very small group, because most of them are straight.
Hoagland: And on top of that, there's all kinds of separatist groups. And we respected that. You know, there's Jewish separatism, long histories of separatism. And I've always been in favor of that because part of the point is you get together and your imagination is different. The possibilities of what you think might come out are changing, and then you can come back, and that was one of the arguments for separatism that I heard … was … power. Unless you have power, what is coalition? It's meaningless. So, coming up after that with all this stuff, it's like, OK, are you forgetting that there's all kinds of groups in Chicago that are affinity groups of some sort politically organized around identity that other groups respect? So why is it the women's group gets attacked and called you know, anti-whatever or progressive.
Anderson: I think that what never occurred to me until afterwards is that what facilitated that, and still does, for that matter, is at least in my life, we've pretty much been lesbians and gay men. So, there were lesbians who had some gay male friends and so forth and so on, but there were these two populations who were defined as the gay perverts. What seems to be different, at least in my conversations with young people who favor the transgender, is that these are their friends. That the queer youth are queer youth. They don't divide ... they would feel a deep sense of betrayal to their queer friends, for example, if they were to go to Michigan [ the women's fest ] , knowing that their friends want to go and their friends can't go ... and that's not my social nexus, and frankly, the trans women that I know could give a shit, they have no desire to go. But, what I'm saying here is that my argument, I think for many of us, the argument is that affinity groups have had to exist. And we've always respected each others'. I'm not going to go to anything Amigas Latinas does without an invitation from Amigas, and so on. We've had that kind of respect that goes back before the civil-rights movement, which is what I came out of. ... I'm saddened, because it has made this tension.
Hoagland: Unnecessary tension.
Anderson: And frankly, I think for me, the bigger question, because they haven't answered my questions when I talk to them, but what do they gain?
Hoagland: The politics were there that just aren't. That's why we had the suggested donation policy. And that was serious. No woman was turned away.
Munzer: Besides women-only, it's always been a suggested donation. More if you can, less if you can't, and no woman is turned away.
Anderson: Women come, and they don't pay unless they want to. We don't want women to not come because they can't pay, and many women know that. And other women will pay more. So, we don't make any money, anyway [ laughs ] . You'd think maybe we were making money.
WCT : Because the artists get all the money.
Munzer: Women-only, suggested donation, and the third is drug- and alcohol-free.
WCT : Define the word 'collective'. Now, that doesn't exist much any more, but when I was first coming out, there seemed to be so many of those types of things. Even Michigan operated as a collective at that time. And people may now know in the sense of a co-op, things like that, but collective in the women's community certainly does not have the same significance.
Hoagland: See, you come to this work because that's how you make meaning. As opposed to you come to your job and you get whatever. I mean, that's what all collectives were about. Cute girls, who get to flirt, and that's where your life was.
WCT : The collective, for me coming in from an outside perspective, also felt like a big struggle.
Hoagland: Sure, because part of it was coming to a consensus, so you had to manipulate. ... They [ men ] had over 2,000 years of hierarchy. We're not going to do well in a collective, or [ learn in ] 10 years or 30 years how to really do collective work.
WCT : How did it come into the women's community, as Jackie just said about how it didn't start in the women's community. How do you think it became a part of what we were trying to do to change the world, through these collectives.
Anderson: Back in the days of Vietnam, we had student collectives in Hyde Park. It was a collective, and you could go there and eat and cook and you could just cook whatever you might have, so long as you washed your dishes. You know, collective activism has a very long political history in terms of progressive politics. So, the women's movement had a lot to learn from socialists. That's what I mean by collective politics. And many women who I'm sure were part of the early second wave were women who also had a prior movement history. I mean, I didn't come to the women's movement—that wasn't the first movement I was in. So I was bringing to the movement that history. You know, and I think a lot of the women … were hippies. It was in a fun way, a way to take a stand against hierarchal—
Anderson: Which are patriarchal. The next shift is collective politics. And collectives often, of course, end up not being collectives because—and we're now coming to terms with this because of domestic violence initiatives and so on. And the part is you need to reach more, do more better, you need money, you need resources, you need this or that. And suddenly you're writing grants or proposals and getting boards and blah, blah, blah, and that, too, seems to be an unfortunate ability that you're now trying to—
Hoagland: It's in the culture.
Anderson: You're now trying to think about how you might be able to develop a politic. You see in the women's community how it also is—think about it—it's actually what landed the [ Lesbian Community Cancer Project ] in Howard Brown's lap. It didn't start like that, it started as a collective. You wanted to do better, to do more … . Suddenly you need foundations and … that's one of the things that women are struggling with. It's to figure out how we might construct a politic where there would not be that inevitable process.
Hoagland: I've been reading some really nice post-colonial stuff. What the Spanish, what the British did, was undermine collective activity in indigenous cultures and others, and … argued that's what made them barbaric is that they were communal, and not individualistic. And we now think the individualistic, and that's why our sense of rights are tied to that. And so everything works against it in this culture. So, women trying it, of course there will be lots of problems. But that women just said, 'Fuck it, we're going to do it.' That's what, I guess, what really summarizes part of it. ... They didn't need permission. They didn't need a goddamn grant. Our basements, our houses, our churches. And just did it.
Munzer: And collective in its pure sense means sharing power, sharing responsibilities. So, you know, we always had a vote on stuff. And we didn't do a consensus. It was always majority. So, you know, you would argue something, and then you would want to argue that. And it was always a struggle. It was a challenge, always. We always had many, many, many issues.
Munzer: The women who started the collective were Beth and Eileen ... . We've had hundreds [ of collective members. ]
Anderson: I was in college when Beth O'Neil and the original activists founded it. The collective members often come and go, because it was all 100 percent volunteer.
WCT : So, you were in the Hall of Fame. I'm curious what people thought of that.
Munzer: Proud. Definitely proud.
Hoagland: Proud. We've been acknowledged for the contribution to our community.
Munzer: By the city.
Anderson: I don't think the Hall of Fame has acknowledgement by the city. Because who's in the Hall is chosen by people in the Hall. I think it's an acknowledgement by our community, rather than—you know, especially because the city doesn't give it any money.
WCT : As someone who's been to the coffeehouse a lot of times as an outsider more than an insider, it's a very sad day. I know it was a hard decision people came to, but maybe you could talk about where it's coming from and what you feel it's impact was and how it's shaped Chicago's lesbian community.
Anderson: I don't know if I can answer the bigger question. But I certainly know what it was for me. I was coming from the South Side, but most of the time I was hanging out or helping out, but I lived south. But without fail, every Saturday, I went to School Street, the original coffeehouse I went to. I was going to be with the lesbians. And that was all I needed to know. And my impressionistic sense is that we all walked in the coffeehouse, and you know, it was like, 'OK girls, we're here. What are we going to do? Who's throwing the party? Where are we going to go after?' But it was a kind of coming together because there really wasn't much else to do, except go to the bar. So, it was locals having a party, you know, or me and Kate were having a party, or somebody was having a party. Or we might decide, a bunch of us, to go to a restaurant and have dinner together. But it was being with the lesbians. And that's always been what Mountain Moving has meant for me. I know when I go to Mountain Moving, it's like what Michigan meant in the early days. It don't mean that now. But back then, it was going to Michigan, and it was going to be with the lesbians. And I mean lesbians, not suckling women [ with children ] . But I'm afraid they are going to end up being the largest single population at Michigan. They are huge there. They are all over. And I know not all those little boys were under four [ laughs ] .
But in a way for me, everything I do … what is ultimately and fundamentally important to me is that I'm going to be with the lesbians. Whether it's the South Side lesbians or the Coffeehouse lesbians, I just need to be with the lesbians. And so, wherever the lesbians are, that's where I'll be. Whether I like this music or not, I'm going to be with the lesbians.
WCT : Faye, were you in the decision to make this the final year?
Robinson: No, I was in shock and I was disappointed not to be in the decision-making at the very end. And this is what I think I told other collective members in the past. But I understand, too, what overwhelming work you've done for years. So, it's just that I'm feeling a loss.
Munzer: And really, it's just dwindling audiences. And our income and our expenses just didn't match for the last … since 2003. … I just think there's more things for lesbians to do, and this group has aged. The core group, really, you know, has aged. And they'd rather sometimes do other stuff or stay at home. And so we haven't gotten that many younger women in because of our policy, really.
Anderson: Some of the young performers aren't going to come because of our policy.
Munzer: And they just don't make enough money to—
WCT : The audience is older, the performers are older, the collectives are older. And the performers aren't touring as much, either, because there aren't as many coffeehouses.
Hoagland: This is about the last one.
Robinson: Unless they go to colleges or something. So what's going to happen with all the young artists coming up?
Munzer: Well, now you have Estrojam, you see, they have that. Those women have stepped up, and they've created—
WCT : Other places, they've just been coming up with other places.
Hoagland: But I also want to say it's time for us to shift our politic, like I've been shifting my writing. There's a way to think about coalition now that's interesting. Because before, it was put aside all your differences so that we can fight the larger cause. And it was like, 'Fuck no, I'm not doing that. I'm a lesbian. Never.' And that was a big part of my separatism. And the other part was to have conceptual space where there was a different possibility of making meaning. But I think that from all of that work, we've learned a great deal. And we need to change, you know. And the coffeehouse may not be where that happens now. I can tell you that all of us involved are still working.
WCT : Well, talk about the group that meets once a month.
Hoagland: The ILS [ Institute for Lesbian Studies ] ?
WCT : Yes, because I think a lot of that politics happens there now, instead of the coffeehouse.
Hoagland: I also work for ... a popular education school for the Latina community doing popular education and we're working with Women of Color Against Violence, which is doing very different kinds of work. But a lot of it is still … anarchist. It's challenging the state, it's looking at how the anti-violence movement has turned to the state and undermined many possibilities for women of color. And also the anti-violence movement has undermined and ignored women of color, too, because men still go out and beat the crap out of them. … What I want to say is, anything that we can do now, is because of what we did, including all the mistakes. But including all the things that were right. But, it's just not the same. The state has figured out how to co-opt our gender politics really well, and it was important for a time. And now, it's something else. Which doesn't mean lesbian isn't central in our life. It just means—
WCT : So, losing Mountain Moving?
Hoagland: I'm not dealing.
Anderson: Personally, I personally don't think of the closing of Mountain Moving as a loss. … I don't think any institution is eternal. And I think that—and maybe because I'm old and I've seen lots of institutions come and go—but I think they go, for the most part, when it's time for them to go.
Robinson: It's served its purpose.
Anderson: I think Mountain Moving served. And we see the fact that there is Estrojam … the fact that there's so many restaurants, the fact that there's so much that lesbians now don't even have to think about going someplace to see lesbians. They just decide, 'I'm going to Goodman Theater to see the play.' They don't always go to Women and Children First to buy their cards because it's our bookstore. Now, all of us of that generation are going to experience that as loss.
… Probably what I find most disturbing is when young people romanticize the civil-rights movement. Because that's exactly what they do. ... Black people have a history of separatism as a way of struggling with questions of race in this country. But to separate from men. Well hell, by the time a lot of us had been through the civil-rights movement, and saw how the men of color were acting toward us, it was real easy. I had no problem at all thinking about separating from men. You know, separating was not a politic that was in any sense novel for me. But I also understand young people for whom separatism doesn't work. It isn't part of their culture, you know.
Robinson: There isn't a mass movement.
Anderson: But separatism could resonate later. Also, they haven't been divorced. You know, they haven't lived with some guy. You see, even the hippie girls—all those passive-aggressive white boys with long hair and shit like that kicking their ass and shit. You know, these young people, there's a lot they have yet to live. So, whatever their politic might be, when they get to be 30, 35 years old, it's not going to be the same politic they have now. And everybody's got to have this space to move. I think the best favor we could do is do exactly what we're doing now: share ourselves without rancor or without expecting that we're supposed to be models for them. I think we opened the door. I've been very pleased because I do hang out at the bars. But I've been very pleased, because every time I've had a chance to talk with the younger ones at Star Gaze, I mean they are very clear. They get real clear. 'Jackie, what you folks did, you made us possible. You made a way for us.' And I think that's—as far as I'm concerned—that's the greatest honor they could give us. And I'm not about to sit there and tell them that their politics are screwy because I don't live their life. ... I think the best we can do is share what we did, and if there's anything in it they find useful—
Hoagland: If you have the institutions to do something, it was Mountain Moving Coffeehouse that did it to achieve it. And now, we're doing other things.
Robinson: But it was all the women that passed through Mountain Moving Coffeehouse on the collective. They went on to be activists in other ways. It's a real training ground, as well as a social ground.
Munzer: It's always been a strong part of the Chicago women's community.
Hoagland: The thing is I can describe myself then as: I was a Chicago dyke. I came here knowing I was going to become a Chicago dyke.
Anderson: You can't do any type of politics in this town and stay naïve for long. So we grow good political activists because this is a hard town. And I think many other cities are less political, less activist, more closeted, because they're not looking at some of the craziness that is just built into Chicago. Chicago would collapse if it ever became honest.