Today, on International Women’s Day, in 30 countries around the world, women, femmes, gender nonconforming people and male supporters, will march, rally, take a day off their paid jobs and hold vigils.
When millions of women and men flooded the streets on January 21 to protest the openly misogynist and backward views of the country’s 45th president, there was an important undercurrent of dissent and contestation within the mobilizations themselves. Numerous news stories, Facebook posts and Twitter feeds revealed the concerns and criticisms many Black women, women of color and trans women had of the politics of the January 21 march early on: its initiators inadvertently co-opted the name of an early women’s march organized by Black women; the original conveners were strikingly homogeneous; and the message did not reflect the concerns of a wide variety of women, including immigrant, low-income, Black, queer and trans, disabled, Arab and Muslim women. Through a process of public criticism, private negotiations and the intervention of several movement elders, the tone, tenor and leadership of the women’s march in Washington, DC, and many of its sister marches, shifted in a more progressive direction. Three women of color became co-conveners, and legendary Black feminist prison abolitionist Angela Davis was a featured speaker.
For most who attended the January 21 events, the outpouring of creative, irreverent and colorful anti-Trump opposition was exhilarating. The lingering question has been, what comes next?
This is the context for today’s mass day of action. This day of action represents a confluence of two organizing efforts. The January 21 women’s march organizers have called for a “Day Without a Woman” to underscore women’s indispensability to the economy, and a newer, more left-leaning national planning group has called for a Women’s Strike in solidarity with women globally.
The two actions are dual mobilizations responding to a strategic joint call by the National J21 Coordinating Committee and the women-of-color-initiated national planning committee for the International Women’s Strike USA, which includes Bay Area journalist and activist Margaret Prescod, Palestinian activist and former political prisoner Rasmea Odeh, Black feminist writer and Combahee River Collective Statement coauthor Barbara Smith and socialist scholar Tithi Bhattacharya.
While supportive of a broad-based mass mobilization, the Women’s Strike Committee seeks to sharpen the political messaging of today’s International Women’s Day strike in several ways. Their national platform is openly anti-racist and anti-imperialist. They have not shied away from the use of militant language or an explicit critique of capitalism. There will not likely be Democratic Party politicians featured at the events organized by the strike committee.
Even the use of the language “strike” sends a powerful message. Women are being called upon to “strike a blow” for gender justice; to focus on working women, not elite women; and to, as the original call insists, reject “lean-in feminism” (referring to the book title by corporate feminist Sheryl Sandberg). The strike is a call to embrace a more radical and inclusive feminism for the 99 percent, echoing the anti-elitist message of the Occupy Wall Street movement of the early 2000s.
Organized labor strikes, which may indeed occur in other countries, are not likely in the US today. However, today, we will see massive rallies, marches, vigils and other actions. Moreover, school systems in Alexandria, Virginia, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro, North Carolina, as well as the Maple Street School in Brooklyn (a preschool), have decided to cancel classes today because so many of their female teachers requested a day off on March 8. This indicates that creative work-related actions may indeed occur. Although the number of participants may be smaller on March 8 than on January 21, the political message will be sharper.
Today’s actions will send a message that women, including working women, women of color, and LGBTQIA women and femmes, will not go back. But there are two parts to that message. One is directed externally to those who stand in opposition to gender equity and reproductive justice and for an end to violence against women. The other message — “we will not go back” — is an internal one geared toward the contested spaces of the resurgent feminist movement. “We will not go back” also refers to 1963 when Betty Friedan, author of the Feminine Mystique, articulated a view of white middle class women’s liberation and pretended she spoke for all of us. That is what we also cannot go back to.
Despite media narratives that describe women’s mobilizations around the presidential election in insular terms, the truth is that the current mobilizations rest upon a long and diverse history of feminist organizing that has grown steadily since the 1970s. Groups like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have been important feminist voices against state violence and mass incarceration for nearly two decades, shaping the meaning of intersectional feminism in their daily organizing practice. Most recently, the feminist leaders of the Movement for Black Lives — Charlene Carruthers of BYP100, Thenjiwe McHarris of Blackbird, and Black Lives Matter Global Network founders Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors — along with young queer organizers in the movement against deportations like Tania Unzueta, have projected new forms of feminist leadership that mainstream observers seem reluctant to recognize or accept. The #SAYHERNAME campaign launched by Kimberlé Crenshaw’s African American Policy Forum is yet another example of pre-Trump intersectional feminist organizing. The January 21 and March 8 mobilizations are a part of ongoing struggles against heteropatriarchy as well as struggles to define the meaning of feminism itself.
So, today, in dozens of cities and over two dozen countries, women will take action to protest neoliberalism, repression and various manifestations of patriarchy and misogyny embedded in cultural practices and state policies.
The committees organizing the National USA Women’s Strike and the Day Without a Woman have endorsed one another’s planned actions. Neither campaign is perfect, but both represent a growing momentum of feminist-led activism that is refusing to go back to a monolithic definition of the category of “woman,” and refusing to define liberation as one-dimensional or simple. Groups around the country that have been working against racist state violence will call for more actions on April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and May Day. This mobilization is just beginning.