Knock back those mint juleps, girls! At the sixth annual Southern Girls Convention, the Southern belle sports fatigues, a blue mohawk, and enough radical spirit to mend the world's ills. Or at least that's what local organizers Robin Jacks and Anna Mullins of the Women's Action Coalition (WAC) are hoping for.
The Southern Girls Convention (SGC), being held this year at First Congregational Church from August 12th to 14th, is a three-day conference of feminist workshops on everything from radical cheerleading to transsexual health. SGC originated in Memphis in 1999, and after a four-year tour of other Southern cities, the convention is back in the hands of its founders.
"It's kind of strayed from its focus over the years and become more about skills-sharing and less about activism," says Jacks, who created the convention after noticing the lack of resources in the South for feminist activists. "We brought it back here this year so we could make sure there are more organizing workshops. There really needs to be a space for people to gain political consciousness."
The workshops will address issues that are specifically feminist in nature as well as broader ones, such as the religious right and Marxist humanism. Deborah Cunningham, from the Memphis Center for Independent Living, is scheduled to lead a workshop on disability rights and language. Marquita Bradshaw, from Youth Terminating Pollution, will host a workshop on environmental racism. Other topics include queer rights, reproductive choice, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and post-third-wave feminism.
"I like to see feminists moving outside of just women's issues," says Jacks. "Feminists are starting to understand where other minority or oppressed groups are coming from because we're living under a very bad presidential administration. People are saying let's work together and be cool."
After Saturday's workshops, groups will be gathered in a regional caucus so activists from the same areas of the country can network. Jacks says she wants the convention to be a tool for people to meet others of like mind and not just a place for socializing.
According to Jacks, there's a lack of concern for activism in Southern cities like Memphis because so many people interested in making a change move to cities such as Olympia, Washington, or Portland, Oregon.
"Being an activist shouldn't be about you personally," says co-organizer Mullins. "If I were just thinking about me, I'd go off to San Francisco and be with my kind. The goal of activism is social change, and that means you need to address problems for everybody. That includes rural and Southern places, where many women have never thought about these things."
"The South is very polite," says Jacks. "Nobody in the South grows up thinking it's okay to be gay or it's okay to not pluck your eyebrows. To be able to find other open-minded people here is really cool."
Jacks decided to put the original conference together after attending a human-rights conference in Jackson, Mississippi. She was already involved in WAC, a feminist student organization at the University of Memphis, and the group helped her sponsor the 1999 convention. About 150 girls from all over the country showed up, and the next year, a feminist group from Louisville, Kentucky, asked if they could move the conference there.
SGC ended up getting passed around from year to year with hometown groups in each city taking up the organizational reigns. It went from Louisville to Auburn, Alabama, and then to Athens, Georgia, and Asheville, North Carolina. Jacks says they never intended for it to last this long. "It's now become an institution rather than something that just happened once," Jacks says.
The spirit of the conference has been very do-it-yourself (DIY) from its inception. Funding comes primarily from registration fees. Attendees who can't afford the $20 fee are allowed in on a sliding scale.
"All the things that DIY and punk-rock culture rebel against, like corporate control and people trying to own our bodies, are the same things that feminism resists," says Jacks. "The reason we do the convention so DIY is because we don't ever want to organize something where someone might not be able to come because they can't afford it."
The Southern Girls Convention will be held from Thursday, August 12th, through Saturday, August 14th, at First Congregational Church (1000 South Cooper). For more information or to preregister, go to SouthernGirlsConvention.org.