“Bugged by the Past”: Visiting the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Archives with Vicki Gabriner

Monday, January 5, 2015: 11:20 AM
Midtown Suite (New York Hilton)
Rachel Gelfand, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
My paper articulates a queer and intimate politic of archival research. It is an experiment in co-learning and participatory history practice. Specifically, it looks at the history of the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance (ALFA) through the documents of Vicki Gabriner. Vicki and I have had a special connection all my life. As a friend of my mothers, she was present at my birth. This moment began our closeness, which has grown as we have carried forward interests in women’s history, oral history, and personal scholarship.

In this collaboration, we visit Duke’s archives together and return to Vicki’s ALFA era. When the FBI suddenly arrested Vicki in 1970, she was put in a position of explaining her involvement in Weathermen to a slightly younger generation.[1] Our dialogue revisits this moment and traces FBI presence in lesbian feminist circles. In our history making, the archives become a space of exchange and affective, interdisciplinary methodologies. Crossing from past to present and back, we are in ongoing conversations about models of organizing utilized by ALFA and what it meant to be an out-lesbian in the 1970s. How did lesbian communities in the 1970s experience surveillance? What resonances carry into today?

This project is a dialogue between generations of queer experience. As a queer daughter of lesbian mothers, I am interested in quotidian experience, surveillance, and how to bring history into my community and activist practices. Our method draws on memory studies, oral history, queer theory, and lesbian feminist thought. It investigates how archives can be participatory and how a politic of collaboration can be so intimate. This is a synthesis of the personal is political and the personal is scholarly. It is a further intertwining of our shared life experience.