Marching toward a fighting women’s movement

January 10, 2019

Elizabeth Schulte reports on the struggles behind us and those that lie ahead in the lead-up to this year’s Women’s Marches.

FROM THE beginning, the Trump administration has waged a ruthless assault on women — from our right to workplaces free of sexual harassment to the ability to make our own decisions about reproductive rights.

It was hardly a surprise that, once in office, the candidate who was exposed on tape bragging about sexual assault would also be the president who denied the claims of survivors and nominated Brett Kavanaugh, an opponent of abortion also accused of sexual violence, for the Supreme Court.

Since the 2016 election, Trump and the conservatives who emboldened by him have acted like they have a mandate, running roughshod over abortion rights. And 2019 promises to be another year of attacks.

Already, three states are poised to enact so-called “heartbeat” abortion bans, joining three others that have outlawed abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy and well before many people even realize they’re pregnant.

Protesters take to the streets of Los Angeles for women’s liberation
Protesters take to the streets of Los Angeles for women’s liberation (Molly Adams | flickr)

Two more states are preparing for constitutional amendments granting rights to the fetus, and another state plans to ban abortions altogether — and make violations punishable by life imprisonment of patients and providers. And the year has only just begun.

But at the same time, Trump and the right wing that loves him haven’t gone unopposed.

From the very first full day of Trump’s presidency after his inauguration, hundreds of thousands of people traveled to Washington, D.C., to make sure to show their opposition to the Misogynist-in-Chief.

And if they weren’t in Washington, they were taking part in protests around the country. Together, these made January 21, 2017, the single largest day of protest in U.S. history.

Trump’s “victory” — as we all know, he didn’t win the popular vote, but stole into office thanks to the undemocratic Electoral College — in 2016 was a shock to the system, made worse by the fact that his opponent Hillary Clinton and the liberal women’s organizations whose sole focus is electing Democrats into office had no response.

It was up to ordinary women and men across the country — some of whom had never protested before — to organize and turn out in the streets to show that there was resistance to the hate Trump was peddling.

And while these protests were called Women’s Marches, giving voice to those who opposed the sexism that Trump’s hateful rhetoric fueled, you could tell from the signs that they carried that these protesters were also ready to take a stand for all the people the Trump administration had in its sites: immigrant, Muslim, Black, Latinx and LGBTQ.

IN THIS way, the Women’s Marches have become annual show of resistance.

Last year, the Women’s March reflected the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Survivors of sexual assault are finally having their voices heard, as women made public their stories of abuse and harassment and began to make demands about what equality should really mean in U.S. society.

Hashtags that took hold and invited others to tell their stories or stand in solidarity with survivors began to carve out a place to organize against sexual assault and harassment that had gone unconfronted before. This became a platform for those who are most vulnerable to abuse and least often heard, such as transgender survivors.

Perhaps one of the most important developments this year, showing the potential power of working women, were the strikes organized by women workers against sexual harassment on the job.

In November, some 50,000 Google workers in 50 cities all over the world walked out to expose the toxic working conditions for women workers at the company. They linked sexism to the rampant racism and pay inequity throughout the industry.

Two months before that, fast-food workers at McDonald’s in 10 cities made history by organizing the first-ever national strike over sexual harassment on the job.

Fast-food workers made headlines a few years ago with the Fight for 15 campaign. This year, women’s committees formed in the stores decided that workers would walk out against sexual harassment.

The resistance hasn’t only come once a year or necessarily in big displays or with historic mobilizations. On the contrary, 2018 was filled with many examples of opposition that came out of patient and sometimes difficult organizing.

For example, when the Religious Right threatened women’s clinics in Seattle during its “40 Days for Life” campaign, trying to intimidate patients and staff and imperil women’s right to abortion, Seattle Clinic Defense activists organized and made sure the clinics stayed up and running.

On the other side of the country, NYC for Abortion Rights took their defense of women’s right to abortion to the doorstep of the Religious Right itself and picketed the church where abortion opponents organized. Pro-choice demonstrators confronted the right-wingers’ protest before they could get to the clinic.

And in Madison, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, pro-choice activists stood up to the so-called “right to life” when they came to town. Both places started their first clinic defense groups, creating networks that could be called into action in the future when needed.

When the Senate stood poised to let Brett Kavanaugh take a seat in the highest court in the land in October — even after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified that he had sexually assaulted her in high school — resistance once again built from the bottom up.

From the steps of the U.S. Capitol building to a Democratic senator’s offices in West Virginia, opponents of Kavanaugh made their voices heard.

Perhaps the most powerful example was the survivors of sexual assault who blocked Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator in the Capitol and told the Republican: “Look at me when I’m talking to you. You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter!”

While many of these anti-Kavanaugh protests were modest in size, and though our side didn’t win this battle, the demonstrations cannot be underestimated. They were important expressions of the potential opposition that exists — and in so many ways, that opposition is starting from scratch.

The fact is that the big-name women’s organization have brimming coffers for electoral campaigns, but they don’t spend a dime on the protests that will be necessary if we are going to stop the right from turning back the clock on our rights.

Protests matters — and our side has a job ahead of us to make our protests as large, as strong and as powerful as it possible.

AS WE continue building a resistance, the debates and discussion about where we go next and what kind of politics will lead the way will be as important as ever.

This year’s Women’s Marches themselves have been the subject of debate.

In Chicago, organizers of the past Women’s Marches, which have turned out some 300,000 people in all, announced they wouldn’t be organizing a march for 2019, explaining that they had already expended their resources on a “March to the Polls” demonstration in October 2018 to get out votes for Democrats in the midterm elections.

Furthermore, Women’s March organizers in New York City were slandered with charges of “anti-Semitism.” The effect was to sow confusion and divisions that is making organizing for protests this year much more difficult.

Despite this, activists in many cities around the country will come together for Women’s Marches — and in several, left-wing groups are exploring ways to knit together people around a set of demands that they hope will make our movement stronger.

In several places, socialists, feminists and other activists are coming together for contingents at the Women’s Marches around the demand “Feminism for the 99 Percent” — in order to emphasize the demands of working-class women, LGBTQIA communities and women of color internationally.

A statement inviting people to join these contingents reads in part:

A Feminism for the 99 Percent must win equal pay but also union scale wages for all.

We must preserve and expand abortion access, including the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, but in the complete way that only universal health care can provide. For us, reproductive justice means not just free abortion on demand but access to public resources to raise our children without the fear of mass incarceration, deportation or violence.

How can we build such a feminism? The process has already begun. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have not just exposed the prevalence of sexual violence in women’s lives, they have shown that we can fight back against this system that protects the perpetrators of that violence.

Meanwhile, strikes in education, hotels and health care, ranging from West Virginia, Washington state, Boston, Chicago to San Francisco, and many more, have highlighted the leading role women and people of color will play in rebuilding a fighting working class.

ACTIVISTS WILL bring demands like free childcare, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, an end to criminalization of Black women, universal health care with full reproductive access to the marches.

In New York City, there are plans for a weekend of meetings and events in order to bring people together in discussion of what we can do beyond the march, such as defending the right to abortion from clinic attacks, and what’s next for the #MeToo movement against sexual assault, including the struggle in our workplaces.

In the Bay Area and elsewhere, plans are also in the works for public meetings in March around the celebration of International Women’s Day.

This could be an opportunity to highlight the contributions of working-class and socialist women in the fight for women liberation and what kind of movement we need to work toward today.

These initiatives can also create a foundation for future collaboration for International Women’s Day in March where protests are likely around the country. Socialists should consider organizing #MeToo conferences and forums to educate and organize a new generation of activists.

The outpouring of solidarity in the streets for Women’s Marches in the past have shown the potential for building resistance to not only Trump, but that stand for women’s liberation and gender justice no matter who is in the White House.

This kind of movement for women’s liberation that has been sorely needed for a long time — one that takes up the issues that affect the lives of women every day, from reproductive rights to freedom from sexual assault, and is independent and uncompromising in its demands.

Further Reading

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