Programs: C.L.R. James Scholar Essay Contest

The Onyx Foundation paused its programming in 2010, but aims to resume its public engagement efforts soon. Please see a record of our past efforts below.

2008 Essay Contest

We are constantly bombarded with images concerning the victimized state of women around the globe. Politicians, academics, and even some social justice activists tell us that women’s liberation is little more than a mirage. Yet, these images hide a reality much more profound, inspiring, and courageous.

There is a proud tradition of women who have refused to accept subordinate roles to their families or to the state. Whether organizing rent strikes or workplace strikes; fighting for reproductive freedom or education; sometimes with people of other genders and sometimes on their own; women have played vital roles in countless social movements and local organizing around the globe. It is in the spirit of this legacy that the Onyx Foundation would like to invite women and men to participate in an essay contest that seeks to explore and advance democratic visions of women’s liberation.

Essays should examine only ONE of the following themes. If you would like to write about something different yet related to the theme of women’s liberation, contact us to discuss your idea.

  • “A Woman’s Place”: A Look at Selma James and the Politics of the International Wages for Housework Campaign The 35th anniversary of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, founded by Selma James, has recently passed. The campaign originated out of a movement of women who sought to empower women’s struggle in the places they were at: in homes. James and similar thinkers disagreed with other feminist visions that argued that women must leave the home, reject housework, and work outside the home in order to emancipate themselves. For James, while this could be a powerful step, it often times left women with two full-time jobs: the one outside the home and the work inside the home (i.e. housework, child care, cooking the meals, etc.). The caring work women have historically done has been undervalued but, according to James, is actually a pivotal role in the reproduction of working class families. How is the Wages for Housework Campaign still relevant and still critically necessary in today’s world? In what ways might the Wages of Housework perspective need to be re-visited and adapted to women’s struggles in today’s world?
  • An Anti-Imperialist Perspective for Women’s Liberation: Looking at the U.S. Invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan One argument used to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was that the U.S. military would “save Afghan women.” Some feminist organizations have supported the invasion and ongoing occupation for this reason, despite the high level of violence against women that has accompanied the occupation. What does such support tell us about the continuing relationship between perspectives of women’s liberation and imperialist agendas? What counter-examples are there of Afghan and other women fighting for self-emancipation?
  • Sex, Race & Class: Histories of women of color in social movements or revolutions Which women’s histories have inspired you? Are there particular women or women’s organizations in social movements or revolutions that you think are relevant for today’s generation of women and men? What can we learn from those past movements?
  • Reflections on Organizing: Lessons from your own independent organizing with women in schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces Tell us about your own organizing experiences in neighborhoods, workplaces, or schools with and around women. What successes have you been a part of? What obstacles have yet to be overcome? What perspectives can you offer to young women who are seeking to become politically active or are searching for a women’s liberation that doesn’t serve to institutionalize other forms of oppression?

Essays must be a minimum of 1500 words. There is no maximum length. Include a cover page with your contact information: name, street address, email (if available), and telephone number. Video or audio essays will also be considered.

Submission Deadline: July 1, 2008

Mail Essays to:

The Onyx Foundation • P.O. Box 750238 • New Orleans, LA 70175-0238

or email to:

essaycontest [at]

  • 1st Place Prize– $250
  • 2nd Place Prize– $150
  • 3rd Place Prize– $100

Winners will be announced in August 2008 and their essays may be published in Onyx Foundation publications.

2008 Contest Winners

The Onyx Foundation is pleased to announce the three winners and two runners-up of the our second annual C.L.R. James Scholar Essay Contest. This year’s essays examine gender in conversation with race, class, and empire. Contest winners shared histories of community struggles for women’s liberation in the United States and the world over. From struggles over sexuality in the women’s movement, to defining women’s labor and the role of caring work, to women’s roles in anti-racist and anti-imperialist movements, there is a proud tradition of women who have refused to accept subordinate roles to their families or to the state. The Onyx Foundation would like to thank and congratulate our contest winners for their wonderful contributions.

First Prize

Karen Ishizuka. Flying in the Face of Race, Gender, Class and Age: A Story About Kazu Iijima, One of the Mothers of the Asian American Movement On the First Year Anniversary of Her Death.

Second Prize

Stevphen Shukaitis. Questions for Aeffective Resistance.

Third Prize

Sara Wooten. The Politics of Abuse: Transwomen and the Struggle for Validation in the Feminist Movement.

Runner-Up Entries

Grace L. B. Sanders. “Mon identité c’est pas une identité Haïtienne en totale”: Gender, Race, Class and Haitian Transnational Activism in Montreal, Canada, 1960-2002.

Karel Sloane-Boekbinder. Gender and Empire.

2007 Contest

C.L.R. James, native of Trinidad, scholar and political activist, was an insurgent thinker of both the Pan-African and international labor movements. Best known for his work The Black Jacobins, the classic account of Toussiant L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution, James wrote extensively for the cause of Black liberation in the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean.

The writings of James were unique, raising perspectives of and proposals for direct democracy, or popular self-management in all affairs of society. He demonstrated that throughout history, working people were instrumental in transforming and governing the political, judicial, military, economic and cultural relations of their communities.

James was but one interpreter of historical events and traditions of direct democracy. These events include but are not limited to ancient Athens and the 1956 Hungary revolt; the village democracies of the Nuer people of Sudan and the Igbo people of Nigeria; the historic Maroon communities of these Americas; the rebellions of the American Revolution and Native Americans against colonialism as well as the dual power of Black Reconstruction; the general strikes of Jamaica and Trinidad and the copwatchs of the Black Panther movement. The historic necessity of people truly directly governing themselves has emerged in many forms and has never been totally complete or without flaws.

Yet we must remember, direct democracy is “a way of seeing” and cannot be reconciled with ideas of participatory democracy or civil society theories–as those who invite us to participate imagine themselves as progressive rulers above society. Direct democracy often emerges when ordinary people see past this limitation.

In an effort to promote the study of these traditions and the ideas of C.L.R. James, The Onyx Foundation invites students to participate in an essay contest commemorating the philosophies and struggles that James so tirelessly advocated.

Essays should examine one of the following themes:

  • What was C.L.R. James’ perspective on direct democracy?
  • What is the meaning and relevance of direct democracy in today’s world?
  • What role has the philosophy and practice of direct democracy played among different Pan-African movements and thinkers?
  • Discuss how direct democracy functions and/or is absent in one of C.L.R. James’ works.
  • How has direct democracy affected movements and activists in the U.S. South?

Essays must be a minimum of 5000 words and double spaced with minimal quotations. There is no maximum length. Endnotes may be helpful. A term paper will be considered provided it is edited and formatted for this concern. Include a cover page that has the author’s contact information: name, street address, email, telephone number, university or college name, year in school, and major.

Send Essays to:

The Onyx Foundation • P.O. Box 750238 • New Orleans, LA 70175-0238

or email to:

essaycontest [at]

Essay Submission Deadline: May 1, 2007

  • 1st Place Prize– $150
  • 2nd Place Prize– $100
  • 3rd Place Prize– $50

Winners will be announced in June 2007 and their essays may be published in The Onyx Foundation publications. Visit the Onyx Foundation web site for more information.