Building a feminism for the 99 percent

At marches, rallies, teach-ins and other events in cities across the country--and in others around the globe--March 8 marked a return to the fighting spirit of International Women's Day, as people turned out for events organized around the call for an International Women's Strike and "A Day Without a Woman."

Called as a day of action to protest not only U.S. politics under Trump, but to begin the process of building a "feminism for the 99 percent," the strike call took on various forms depending on the city. Among other actions, schools closed for the day in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. The call for a "day without a woman"--a boycott of women's labor organized by those who called for the January 21 Women's March on Washington--was also an attempt to build on the protests drew nearly 4 million people globally.

Here, SocialistWorker.org presents snapshots of a few of the many events on March 8.

Protesters take to the streets of Baltimore on International Women's Day (Elvert Barnes | flickr)Protesters take to the streets of Baltimore on International Women's Day (Elvert Barnes | flickr)

New York City

Some 7,000 turned out for an afternoon rally at Washington Square Park before marching to Zuccotti Park--chosen because of its importance as the site of New York's encampment during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

SocialistWorker.org contributor and Women's Strike organizer Tithi Bhattacharya told the Guardian that the strike was "about the women who have been left behind. The decline in real wages, the rise of mass incarceration, the violence against marginalized communities--those issues did not start with Trump, those are ongoing. Trump is their apotheosis."

Additionally, several hundred people demonstrated at noon at Trump Tower as part of the "Day Without a Woman" protest. Speak-outs and other actions also were held at several schools, including Columbia University, the New School and New York University in the lead up to the afternoon rally and march.

At Columbia, a walkout brought out a few hundred people and led to many classes being cancelled.

Fainan Lakha, a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and a Columbia student, told Gothamist, "Within the women's movement internationally, 'strike' has always had this broader meaning of rejecting all forms of labor that are put on women. That context is important because it shows the necessary and unavoidable contribution that women make in society. At the same time, women's oppression continues to exist and has been heightened in the absence of a radical, assertive feminist movement."

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Chicago

In Chicago, some 650 people attended an indoor rally at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters. The impressive list of speakers linked key struggles of the day, including Chicago teachers who are organizing for sanctuary schools to support their immigrant students; representatives from the Black Youth Project 100; Planned Parenthood; the Council on American-Islamic Relations; the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression and others.

Rasmea Odeh, an organizer of the Women's Strike and a member of the Arab American Action Center, described the struggle for Palestinian rights, as well as the smear campaign directed against her in the media in the run-up to the day of action.

Several women talked about the battles they faced in their workplaces, including a teacher who is part of a unionization drive at Aspira Charter Schools, and a state worker who talked about AFSCME's battle with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Adriana Alvarez, from the Fight for 15 movement, spoke about trying to make ends meet as a single mother while she and her co-workers face not only low wages but harassment and intimidation on the job.

Deborah Cosey-Lane from the Amalgamated Transit Union described the harrowing working conditions for women bus and train drivers, including no safe places for them to take bathroom breaks. "We're tired of being silenced," she said. "The sleeping giant is awake."

University of Chicago (U of C) grad student Charlotte Heltai, a member of the ISO and the University of Chicago Resists coalition, explained the importance of building opposition to the attacks on out movements--and the need for solidarity:

On this International Women's Day, and on every other day, we must remember that none of us are free until we all are free, and that opening the borders and ending the wars and closing the prisons, and winning education and health care and reproductive justice and a living wage for all--those are women's issues, those are queer issues, those are everybody's issues!

A performance by the Goodman Youth Poetry Ensemble of "Pussy Grabs Back" brought the audience to its feet, as did Opal Staples of the Staple Singers, who led the room in singing "I'm Every Woman."

Earlier in the day, students at DePaul University and U of C held speak-outs. At DePaul, the indoor speak-out drew several dozen and speakers highlighted the importance of solidarity and the history of International Women's Day. At U of C, the speak-out, sponsored by U of C Resists, drew about 100 people.

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Oakland, California

As many as 1,000 people gathered for a rally in Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza. The speakers at the rally began with a description of the international character of the day and continued talking about a range of local and international struggles, calling attention to both the individual oppressions faced by particular communities of women and the historic work being done by women in the movements.

A member of the Service Employees International Union spoke about the increase in sexual harassment that women janitors face cleaning office building after traditional work hours.

One local organizer critiqued the policies of Oakland Mayor Libby Shaaf as leading to the homelessness crisis that Oakland and the greater Bay Area are facing. A member of coalition that advocates for the rights of sex workers spoke about the violence that sex workers face, particularly from police.

In closing, one of the organizers declared that Trump isn't the problem, capitalism is--and that the fight to end sexism, racism, transphobia and imperialism will take a concrete fight against the system that produces such oppressions.

Hundreds then began marching with drum regiments, amplified music, a lighted banner reading "Strike against Sexism" and a mobile projector shining "Women's Strike" on buildings as we moved.

The march stopped for speak-outs at the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and at the still-under-construction headquarters of Uber, where speakers denounced the company as a symbol of rampant corporate disregard for workers and society at large, and calling attention to recent sexual harassment allegations at the company.

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Berkeley, California

A group of 300 students, faculty, and workers, wearing red and sporting sandwich boards as a nod to the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, gathered in Sproul Plaza at the University of California-Berkeley to participate in the Women's Strike. After speeches by some of the student and faculty organizers, a speak-out followed that featured readings and speakers from across the student body.

"We are excited to respond to call for a more intersectional movement," one student said. "This is the direction the movement needs to go."

The highlight of the event was the announcement of a new union of undergraduate student workers fighting for recognition and safer conditions in the dining halls on campus.

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Madison, Wisconsin

Madison's "Day Without A Woman" action brought together approximately 700 people of all ages for a multigenerational day of resistance. The event was organized by a broad coalition of local grassroots organizations, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), the ISO, Socialist Alternative, the campus Women's Center, Dreamers of UW-Madison and more.

The action began with a large contingent marching down the main commercial road in downtown Madison and toward the state Capitol building, led by an ISO banner that read "Unite and Fight for Women's Rights."

Energetic chants of "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no," and "Free abortion on demand. Can we do it? Yes we can!" rang through the crowd. Marchers also highlighted the importance of solidarity with immigrants with chants of "No borders, no nations, stop deportations."

At the Capitol, the march met up with an impressive showing of students from three area high schools and one middle school who had walked out from their classes in their own show of solidarity.

Speakers at the event included Jessie Brown, a Native rights activist who introduced the demonstration as taking place on Ho Chunk land; Lydia Harter, the student organizer of the high school and middle school walkouts; a nurse currently involved in a collective bargaining battle at a local hospital; and Dayna Long and Hayley Archer of the ISO, who emphasized the radical roots of International Women's Day.

In her remarks, Archer criticized "lean-in feminism that tells us that we don't have jobs that pay a living wage because we don't really know how to shake hands the right way," and called for a feminism that addresses the systemic issues that affect working-class women and their families.

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Syracuse, New York

A rally at Syracuse University began with over 150 people chanting, "The people, united, will never be defeated."

The day didn't focus only on women, however. Activists at Syracuse have been fighting since November for the campus to be declared a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants.

An ISO member named Brandon rallied the crowd, chanting, "What do we do when women's rights are under attack?"--as the crowd replied "Stand up, fight back!"

Professor Dana Cloud spoke about historic women's struggles, including the women's strikes that began the 1917 revolution in Russia, the fight for abortion rights in the 1960s, and the January women's marches that drew out millions. Cloud ended on a note of solidarity, explaining that, "Refugees must be welcomed, not criminalized."

Megan, another activist, also spoke about the injustice of undocumented women being unable to report abuse because of fear of deportation. "We cannot wait for someone in the government...to protect us, we need to make those protections happen," she stated.

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Rochester, New York

Forty people attended a panel sponsored by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Student Solidarity Network (SSN) titled "Voices of Equality" on March 8. This was the first event planned by the newly formed SSN.

Speakers highlighted the influence and importance of women in the struggles of the past, including in the international labor movement, the civil rights movement, and in the Italian Civil War and Russian Revolution. One speaker described he challenges of working as a woman in a science-oriented field and her elation at attending her first protest--the January 21 Women's March in Washington, D.C.

This was a great first event for the SSN and is a step in the right direction in rebuilding a fighting left at RIT.

Christopher Hauck, Jake Haut, Josh, Sean Maloney, Elizabeth Schulte, Alessandra Seiter and Casie Stone contributed to this article.