It started off as liberal white feminism, with all its prosaic trimmings: it boasted an all-white women leadership, refused to talk about "divisive issues" as widespread as police brutality against Black people or anti-immigrant posturing against Muslims and Latinos and failed to make ties with struggles against imperial aggression abroad.
It was the historic Women’s March, organized in Washington, D.C., and held in all 50 states, as well as 40 global cities. Through critique and call-outs in the weeks leading up to the event, however, the March reshuffled its leadership, released its revamped principles and goals and morphed into something far more inclusive.
With the organizers of the March now slated to kick off their International Women’s Day strike on March 8 — titled Day Without a Woman — the question stands: have they learned from mistakes past?
Another strike is being organized across the country the same day, the International Women’s Strike, which will see participation of women from at least 48 countries around the world, including the United States. While Day Without a Woman and the latter strike’s U.S. contingent, International Women’s Strike USA, have held joint meetings and expressed solidarity with one another, the two have championed markedly different messaging.
“We have a very militant platform,” Maureen Ivy Quicho, national chair of AF3IRM — a women of color-led, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist transnational feminist organization — and one of the main organizers on the national planning committee for the International Women's Strike USA, told teleSUR.
“The difference is mainly in our clear anti-racist and anti-imperialist stances. We acknowledge the U.S.’s role in imperial wars of aggression,” she added, differentiating between the two strikes and stating that AF3IRM is supporting the international action.
Still, the directives of both campaigns are the same: that women take a day off to abstain from both paid and unpaid labor; that women forfeit spending money that day, save for supporting businesses owned by women and other marginalized groups; and that women wear red to show solidarity with the strikers.
But the call to strike is promoted differently by the two groups.
At the heart of the Day Without a Woman strike is the question of whether free-market capitalism can support gender equality. The organizers probe, “do businesses support our communities, or do they drain our communities? Do they strive for gender equity or do they support the policies and leaders that perpetuate oppression? Do they align with a sustainable environment or do they profit off destruction and steal the futures of our children?”
At the heart of the International Women’s Strike USA, on the other hand, is the issue of women’s liberation through the defeat of neoliberalism. Its platform states, “In the spirit of solidarity and internationalism, in the United States March 8th will be a day of action organized by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism directed towards working women, women of color, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer and trans women.”
For many of the latter strike’s supporters, women’s liberation will come through socialism — the underlying tradition at the root of labor strikes, as well as International Women’s Day.
“The strike is a powerful tool we have to build popular power, an alternative power to the Democratic party, to the ruling class,” Karla Martin, from the Philadelphia chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation told teleSUR.
“We have an opportunity to expose the contradictions of capitalism … and create class consciousness,” she added, stating that her group will be supporting the International Women’s Strike, along with a coalition of other socialist groups.
Indeed, it was 108 years ago that International Women’s Day first began as an initiative organized by the Socialist Party of America in New York to commemorate the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union.
Still, in a country with a docile labor movement that, amid declining union membership, hasn't organized a general strike in decades, many have asked how the day of action will actually transpire. Some have also emphasized the privilege it takes to strike, relegating people like mothers who labor domestically or working class women in precarious working conditions, to wonder how they can participate.
Campaigners from both camps have taken these concerns to account.
The Women’s March website, which lists the Day Without a Woman’s platform, stated, “We encourage everyone who cannot strike from work to show your support by wearing red in solidarity on March 8th. We recognize that some of the 82% of women who become moms, particularly single mothers, may not have the option of refusing to engage in paid work or unpaid child care on March 8th.”
“Many women in our most vulnerable communities will not have the ability to join the strike, due to economic insecurity. We strike for them. Many others work jobs that provide essential services, including reproductive health services, and taking off work would come at a great social cost. We recognize the value of their contribution,” it continued.
Addressing whether striking is a privilege, the organizers wrote, “Throughout history, economic resistance has been most effective when undertaken by directly impacted people themselves. The 1965 California grape boycott was led by Mexican and Filipino farm workers, the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott by African Americans in a brutal Jim Crow South, and, more recently, the Yemeni Muslim-led NYC Bodega strike, the widespread Day Without Immigrants, and the 2016 Poland women’s ‘Black Monday’ in response to a proposed abortion ban.”
“It is possible that some women may be fired, as there were about a dozen instances of firings over the Day Without Immigrants strike. Nothing comes without a sacrifice, yet we also recognize that women of color, women with disabilities, LGBTQIA and gender nonconforming individuals, Muslims and other vulnerable groups are at a much greater risk of employer retaliation. We must be diligent and look out for each other, using our privilege on behalf of others when it is called for.
Social activism is not a privilege. It is a necessity born out of a moral imperative and an imminent threat,” they continued.
The organizers of the International Women’s Strike have also taken the same issues into consideration, recognizing that striking is easier for some women than others.
“Most of us are transnational women of color, many of our members are in vulnerable positions,” said Quicho, stating that many will only be able to participate in a limited way, such as wearing red to work.
She also added that it is still these women in vulnerable positions that find it vital to participate.
“We quite literally have no choice. Under this corporatist, fascist regime (of Trump’s), we are seeing our families deported, sexual assaults against women are increasing,” Quicho explained.
“Under this regime, violence has enhanced — both interpersonal and state.”
That’s precisely why the Women’s March saw women of all backgrounds around the globe rally in January in what resulted in a historic turnout and show of women's discontent.
This International Women’s Day in the United States, it is the coalition between the two strikes that see the potential for the same to occur.