Marching for feminism for the 99 percent

March 12, 2018

SocialistWorker.org rounds up the reports of International Women's Strike actions that took place in several cities across the U.S.

ON MARCH 8--International Women's Day--women around the globe marched in defense of their rights and for a world without sexism and sexual violence as part of the International Women's Strike.

Under the slogan "If we stop, the world stops," this year, many of the events globally were shaped by the development of the #MeToo movement, which has spurred women to take action against sexual violence and workplace harassment. In some places, women engaged in powerful strike actions.

By far the largest was in Spain, where an estimated 5.3 million women took part in a 24-hour strike and mass marches against gender inequality that were backed by 10 of that country's most powerful unions, as well as several prominent politicians.

In other places, like Poland, thousands of activists gathered for marches, rallies and speak-outs to reclaim the radical tradition of International Women's Day--which began in the U.S. as a day to mark the struggles of working women--and talk about the need to connect the fight against women's oppression to other struggles.

Protesters take to the streets of New York during the 2018 International Women's Strike
Protesters take to the streets of New York during the 2018 International Women's Strike

While turnout in most U.S. cities was smaller this year, in multiple cities, groups of activists turned out to mark the need to rebuild a fighting movement for women's liberation.

Calling the strike and march a "day of feminism for the 99 percent," in an an article in Britain's Guardian, march organizers noted the urgent need to build this fight one year into the Trump administration, writing, "In the one year of the Trump administration we have not only been pelted with verbal abuse and misogynistic threats in the guise of official statements, the Trump regime has put in place policies that will continue such attacks on us in deeply institutional ways."

As International Women's Strike organizer and Purdue professor Tithi Bhattacharya recently told Democracy Now!, the message of the day was about challenging not only the effects of women's oppression, but the system that produces it:

I think the question of an anti-capitalist feminism is something we have to confront right now, because feminism, for decades of neoliberalism, has been a feminism of the Hillary Clintons and the Sheryl Sandbergs, which is basically breaking the glass ceiling while the vast majority of women are in the basement cleaning up the glass. And so, we want to be able to say that feminism, if it is going to be successful, A, has to be the real emancipation of the vast majority of women, and, B, that cannot be achieved within capitalist structures.

In New York City, a crowd of 400 rallied at Washington Square Park before marching to a number of locations, including the Stonewall Inn--the historic birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement--and the New York City AIDS Memorial.

Another stop was a restaurant owned by celebrity chef Mario Batali--who was forced to resign after allegations of sexual harassment. The crowd also marched past the Pleasure Chest, where workers recently won a unionization campaign.

Marchers included nurses, teachers, graduate students, sex workers and members of community and activist organizations. Participants held signs that read "Our rights are non-negotiable" and "The patriarchy is for smashing."

Signs and speakers reflected the way the event drew together activist groups as well as important struggles around immigrant rights, abortion rights and more.

"As I look out at the crowd I know I am not alone," said Samantha Johnson, of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. She told the crowd that she was striking against being "undervalued" and "over policed."

As the crowd march, participants chanted "Black Lives Matter," "From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go," and "Refugees are welcome here!"

Overcast skies didn't dampen the spirits of the energetic crowd of some 400 people that gathered in downtown Portland, Oregon, for a rally and march.

Speakers from a tenants' rights group, Socialist Alternative, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) spoke on connecting the fight for women's rights to other struggles, including the fight for trans rights, the fight for affordable housing and more.

"We are not silenced by choice, but silenced by the hand of capitalism. Women and people of color have been in the forefront of social change," Abby, a Portland State University (PSU) student and DSA member said.

Yasmeen, another PSU student and member of the Portland branch of the ISO, pointed out that Palestinian women have been living under occupation since 1947. "Palestinian women everywhere in this world feel this and carry it on for the generations to come and the ones that have gone."

She highlighted the case of imprisoned Palestinian teenager, Ahed Tamimi, telling the crowd, "Today, whether you knew it or not you are striking for Tamimi," and encouraging everyone to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Leela, a social worker, highlighted the struggles of sex workers, saying, "Sex workers don't have to be students or single mothers to be justified in the they the way earn their living, and if your feminism gets hung up on the construct of choice or empowerment in the matter, you're missing the point.'

As the march wound its way around the streets, AFSCME labor activist Katy, inspired by the West Virginia teachers' strike, said, "I think it's changed about how people feel about unions."

The march gave confidence to those who attended to carry on the struggle and send a message going forward that women will not be silenced.

In the Bay Area, several events took place marking the day. At San Francisco State University (SFSU), a modest crowd gathered in Malcolm X Plaza for a rally.

Blanca, an SFSU professor and member of La Voz, kicked off the rally. Speakers from the General Union of Palestinian Students, the League of Filipino Students, Students for Quality Education and the ISO spoke about the importance of organizing for women's rights as others tabled in the plaza.

Many speakers connected the day to issues like the fight for justice in Palestine, gender liberation, Black Lives Matter and internationalism. One ISO member spoke about the origins of the holiday, the strike of West Virginia teachers and how socialists envision winning a world without sexism through solidarity.

In Berkeley, California, East Bay organizers of mostly high school students from Berkeley High School, along with student workers at the University of California-Berkeley (UCB), called for 24 hours of action highlighted by lunch-time speak-outs at workplaces, schools and neighborhoods, and an evening rally to make their presence visible.

Some 100 students gathered at the foot of the Campanile at noon. Diana Ruiz, a member of United Auto Workers Local 2865, the union of UCB graduate student workers, connected the struggle of Berkeley graduate students to negotiate terms with university administration.

"We demand protection and sanctuary from violence, which is something that UC administration and militarized police presence at the university have not granted us," Ruiz said. "We want to contribute to the scholarship of our times, under fair working conditions."

At the evening rally, some 80 students and community members gathered at Martin Luther King Civic Center Park. Berkeley High School students wearing red led the crowd in making demands for the rights of women and LGBTQI people, immigrants, people of color and those with disabilities.

Others connected the link between the victory of the West Virginia teachers' strike to the discussions of the future world we want to live in--and what it will take to get there.

At the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, a diverse crowd braved frigid winds to celebrate the day and answer the call put forward for a feminism for the 99 percent. Among groups represented at the rally were Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), the Gender and Women Studies Club, Socialist Alternative and the ISO.

Approximately 40 people gathered outside of a campus building that was hosting the school's official International Women's Day event--which, incredibly, heralded Madison's police chief as a keynote speaker.

As if that was not startling enough, outside the building was a garish pink van from Victoria's Secret--a lingerie company with a history of exploiting low-wage workers and manufacturing in the Occupied Territories in Palestine.

The contrast of the school's "official" event to activists' bullhorns and #MeToo signs wasn't lost on the crowd or passersby.

Students and local activists spoke from the front of the rally on the need to commit to fighting for working-class feminism and solidarity. Paisley, a local artist and activist, emphasized the connectedness of struggle under a government that purposefully divides us.

Others called out the hypocrisy of the university event for honoring Madison's police chief, as opposed to calling out police brutality.

Zahiah, a representative of SJP, reaffirmed the need for an international feminism, declaring that the fights against imperialism, apartheid, colonization and racism are absolutely feminist issues. "Women of color will no longer be silenced," she declared.

Lyv, a recent UW graduate, called for an increased resistance to plans to fund a new jail in Madison, and argued that the money should be invested into underfunded communities, mental health care, public transportation, food and housing.

Dayna, a member of the ISO, riled the crowd by speaking about the victory of the West Virginia teachers' strike, and sent a solidarity message to women across the world, from Ohio to Spain, the UK and San Francisco, saying that we deserve feminism that is not pointed to the corporate boardroom or electoral politics.

Patricia, a representative of MEChA, said that Chicano and Latin Studies should be a department of the university, not merely a program, and that the university should provide greater resources for undocumented students--and called out racial disparities in how campus police deal with students of color.

In the evening, some of the sponsoring groups held a panel on "Feminism for the 99 Percent," where dozens turned out to discuss the state of the women's movement and how to build going forward.

At Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, activists in the ISO and other groups came together for a rally and speak-out that drew 50 people, despite freezing weather.

The event aimed to bring together multiple campus activist struggles that touch on the fight for women's liberation, and featured voices speaking on mass incarceration; justice for Ahed Tamimi; reproductive justice; immigrant rights; farmworker organizing in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; and solidarity with the Columbus Black Pride 4--a group of activists who were arrested after a protest of last year's LGBT pride parade.

Rallying around the chant, "The women united will never be defeated!", the rally gave attendees a glimpse into multiple facets of women's oppression under capitalism--and why the fight against women's oppression has to be an intersectional one. Solidarity was shared among those who attended, and the rally was a successful step in furthering an activist presence on campus and the Columbus left.

Activists at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, helped bring out 40 people for a rally and open-mic event on campus.

Multiple speakers powerfully described the radical history of International Women's Day, the International Women's Strike, the need for organization, and how capitalism and neoliberalism have oppressed women.

Chants included "No human is illegal!" "Black Lives Matter!" "Free abortion on demand!" and "When women's rights (Black lives/immigrant rights/workers' rights/trans rights) are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!"

Groups that planned the event seemed excited to build a larger event next year, and the crowd ended the event by dancing and chanting: "We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!"

Hayley Archer, Ann Coleman, Paul Dean, Megan Ferreira, Jen Roesch, Carrie Stratton and Emma Wilde-Botta contributed to this article.

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