The Archive is a Promise to the Future

by Marusya Bociurkiw

It’s 1985.

It’s International Women’s Day and you’re the only video crew there besides news media, if they are there at all. Almost no one else has a camera. There are no cell phones. Zero social media.

How will this event get discussed and remembered?

IWD Committee. Image provided by Marusya Bociurkiw

Well, because it’s 1985, there are at least 800 feminist publications across Canada. There’s a Black women’s newspaper, a South Asian women’s magazine, to say nothing of the numerous journals dedicated to the activism of other women of colour, or rural women, or Indigenous women. There are lesbian radio shows; there’s an entire national film studio dedicated to supporting media by women. There are bars where lesbians meet to gossip and flirt, film festivals dedicated to women (more gossip, more flirting), cable tv stations that will broadcast not just a clip but hours of your activist footage.

Still from Analogue Revolution of Bonnie Klein, filmmaker, Studio D. Image provided by Marusya Bociurkiw

So that footage of IWD? If it’s part of a film, it will be seen, many times, on Cable TV, at union halls, art galleries, and community centres. The lesbian or feminist radio station might interview the filmmaker. The march and rally will be written about by several women, and those accounts will appear in publications across Canada. None of it will be instantaneous. The radio broadcast might happen in a week or two, same with Cable TV. The story in Broadside or Our Lives: Canada’s First Black Women’s Newspaper might take a month or two to come out, following long editorial discussions over politics and point of view. The film could take years (that hasn’t changed). In every case, the transmission of the politics and affects of that march will involve many people: meetings in rooms, discussions over beer, and possibly a sexual liaison or two.

But based on a decade’s worth of research into the feminist analogue network in Canada, I will argue that these forms of transmission were more impactful, more networked, and more politically strategic than the multiple forms of digital transmission covering that march would be in 2024.

The goal of that earlier filmmaker, or that writer, was not merely to document the event; it was to make systemic change happen. Every gesture was networked with another. The feminist newspaper editor might try to get a comment from a member of Parliament to put in the article. The filmmaker would show her video to the organizers and discuss how to use it as an organizing tool. This was the powerful merging of technology, activism, and feminist collectivism.

And where is that powerful document of women’s issues from 1985 now? It might be at V-Tape or CFMDC, both artist-run distributors, along with many others from that era. But it probably hasn’t been digitized (digitization being selective and biased). Or it may be in the artist’s closet. Either way, it’s likely it hasn’t been watched in decades.

This poster was for the premiere of the documentary film, Voice of Our Own, by Premika Ratnam and Ali Kazimi, looking at the formation of the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women in Canada. The March 10, 1989, event included a panel discussion with Carol V. Cayenne, Carmencita Hernandez, Salome Loucas, Dora Nipp, and Judy Rebick.

This is why I made the film Analogue Revolution: How Feminist Media Changed the World. Because here’s what I’m also arguing: unless we recognize these analogue interventions – the video, the newspaper article, the radio show – as something more than a lost civilization or a quaint, archaic practice, there will never be intergenerational transfer of ideas and strategies. Nor, as artist and intellectual Zainub Verjee argues, will there ever be true intersectionality. She asserts that this process of forgetting produces a particularly white-focused “historical trajectory of feminism that situates Europe and America as the origin and locus of feminist thought and practice and the global south as passive consumer.”

Mainstream accounts of second wave feminism reduce it to liberal notions of white-only equality. Because those accounts make up most of what is now digitally available, they substitute for history. But the archive of feminist media, particularly that of the 1980s and 90s, reveals a world quite different from what my young students imagine. Equal pay, for example, rather than being a liberal feminist concern, was spearheaded by working-class trade union women, fighting difficult battles against male leadership. As socialist feminists, our activism was oriented towards the most marginalized – Latin American solidarity; sex workers; apartheid in South Africa; and an overall anti-capitalist stance that saw equal pay as one step in the redistribution of wealth overall. The movement itself was, by the 1990s, largely led by women of colour.

Jen Gilmor and Marusya Bociurkiw, mid 1980s. Image provided by Marusya Bociurkiw

That lone camerawoman at the 1985 International Women’s Day march was me. My latest film, Analogue Revolution: How Feminist Media Changed the World (2023; 93 mins), screening at Hot Docs Cinema this March 2nd and 3rd,  documents the contributions of filmmakers and artists like Grace ChannerSylvia D. Hamilton, and Michelle Wong, whose mandate was to tell stories in which the struggles of women of colour in Canada intersected with those in the global South: powerful intersecting networks of global solidarity.

As I say in the film, “the archive is a promise to the future.” The work of feminists and lesbians in media in Canada and around the world in the 70’s to mid 90s period – which I document — is the future anterior: what will be seen to have been. A future feminism depends on constantly drawing from and remaking the multiple possibilities and lineages of the past. Feminism reinventing itself, and the world, error by error, word by word. Technology, but also culture. Sentences, images. Film and video, too. Instant playback; portable technologies; ‘gestures of disobedience’ that have and will change the world.

Marusya Bociurkiw is a scholar, author, filmmaker, and activist, based in Toronto

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