Fighting for women's liberation in Trump's America -- interview with International Women's Strike USA organiser

Women's March against Trump in Denver, Colarado on February 21.
Women's March against Trump in Denver, Colarado on February 21.
Saturday, March 4, 2017

March 8 is International Women's Day, a day initiated by socialist women in 1909 to commemorate a strike by US women garment workers. In 1917, demonstrations by women workers on IWD in Russia sparked the revolution that brought down the Tsar.

IWD is marked globally, but in recent years the politics has often become depoliticised. However, this year a range of attacks on women around the world has led to the call for a International Women’s Strike to mark the day.

The call came after a successful strike by women in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America on October 19 last year against gender violence, as well as the huge struggle for the right to choose that has broken out in recent times in Poland. The International Women’s Strike will involve actions in more than 46 countries.

The rise of President Donald Trump and his administration’s attacks on women’s rights was met on January 21 with huge Women’s Marches across the US — the largest protests in US history. Now, many of the organisers of the Women’s Marches are organising the International Women’s Strike across the US.

International Women’s Strike USA is calling for protests “not just against Trump and his misogynist policies, but also against the conditions that produced Trump, namely the decades-long economic inequality, racial and sexual violence, and imperial wars abroad”.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and a member of the National Planning Committee for the International Women’s Strike USA, talked to US Socialist Worker about the IWD protests. The following interview is abridged from SocialistWorker.org.

***

Why the call for a women's strike on March 8?

The first and perhaps most important reason is the election of Trump has unearthed a tremendous outpouring among women in opposition to his regime and agenda.

This was most palpably demonstrated on January 21, when an unprecedented outpouring of protest overwhelmed cities across the country. Millions of men and women clogged the streets around the country to show the deep opposition to Trump, who is pursuing an agenda that will make ordinary women’s lives harder.

January 21 showed the potential for the re-emergence of a feminist movement, but March 8 is a call for a particular kind of movement. We see March 8 as not just a call to protest the Neanderthal in the White House, but to put radical politics at the centre of the resistance.

For the past several years, “lean-in feminism” — which was embodied in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president — has been elevated as a goal for all women. It has made shattering glass ceilings, electoral politics and other destinations in white and wealthy America as feminism’s objective.

We see March 8 as an effort to reconnect with the militant and radical politics of socialist feminism and Black feminism of the 1960s and ’70s, which located the oppression of women in capitalism.

For years, International Women’s Day has gone unnoticed or was depoliticised. Most people no longer even know that its roots lie in the struggle of women textile workers in the US — or that a mobilisation of women in Russia to oppose the First World War in 1917 was the spark for an uprising that led to the overthrow of the Tsar and set off the Russian Revolution.

This March 8, we are hoping that people will join together in actions across the country to draw attention to the conditions of working-class women’s lives and the struggle needed to transform those conditions.

Do you see the International Women’s Strike as connected to the broader resistance to Trump?

The resistance to Trump has many fronts.

There is the ongoing struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota; there is the emerging struggle for immigrant rights and to stop the deportations; there is anti-fascist organising happening on campuses; there is the ongoing struggle against police violence; and there is a developing feminist movement.

These struggles aren’t wholly independent of each other. Black Lives Matter has largely been led by Black, often queer women. Some of the most vocal leaders of the anti-pipeline struggle have been women.

In each of these struggles, the centrality of women in the leadership has helped to elevate the ways that environmental degradation and police terrorism have a disproportionate impact on women.

But the demonstrations on J21 were one expression of the potential for a new feminist movement, as well as the crucial protests in defence of Planned Parenthood on February 11. We hope that the March 8 strike can be a building block in the development of a radical, political opposition to Trump.

Our point of emphasis is that we need an opposition and resistance with radical politics, which won’t just be steered into putting Democrats back into office. The strike is about looking at the systemic roots to women’s oppression.

But we also have intentionally looked to connect women’s oppression to the attacks launched by the Trump administration. A women’s movement that does not take up a whole range of issues — racism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant racism and bigotry, low-wage exploitation, the relentless attacks on the remnants of the welfare state, the US government’s warmongering — is not really addressing the actual issues that impact working-class women and their families.

What kind of activities do you expect to see on March 8?

March 8 in the United States is part of an international call for a “women’s strike” that now involves at least 30 countries. This call came in response to already existing women-led struggles across the world, including the women’s mobilisation in Poland to stop the ban on abortion and other mass protests in Ireland and South Korea for reproductive rights.

Some have been confused by the language of “strike” and whether or not it’s appropriate to use this language to describe the action called for March 8. Some of this confusion or disagreement stems, I believe, from a narrow view of a “strike” as an action called by a trade union — and the belief that, given the weakened state of the US labour movement, that a strike of this nature is unrealistic.

I think we would agree that a “general strike” of this sort would be impossible to achieve. But there is another history of a “women’s strike” that seeks to call attention to the unpaid and often overlooked contributions of women’s labour — what some refer to as “social reproduction”.

In some ways, that’s the point: Women’s work — in the home especially, but in other ways that some work has been feminised — is devalued or differently valued.

The removal of that labour draws attention to the important —and often unpaid, or at least undervalued and underpaid — role of women in the functioning of society.

This is especially true for Black women, Latinas and women from immigrant communities. Black women are paid 63 cents for every dollar made by a white man. Undocumented women working in agriculture and domestic work not only toil for low wages, but are under the constant threat of physical and sexual violence because of the absence of any workplace or civil protections due to their immigration status.

These disparities manifest themselves in declining health, imprisonment, housing insecurity and a host of other destabilising conditions.

The Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970 was called by the National Organization for Women. It was intended to celebrate women’s suffrage, but also to draw attention to women’s unpaid labour and demand women’s equality, including “free abortion on demand”. Thousands of women participated in the strike.

The strike has been endorsed by the organisers of the January 21 protests, and just as importantly, by the "Bodega strikers" in New York City, who took action in opposition to Trump's illegal Muslim travel ban. These endorsements of March 8 build the kind of solidarity we think is crucial in organizing the anti-Trump resistance.

On our website, we list many ways that people can participate in March 8, including marches, speak-outs, public forums and even wearing red where participation otherwise isn’t possible.

But where possible, the point of the strike is for women to withdraw their labour, in all of its forms, for a day to highlight how critical “women's work” remains.

What do you hope to see on March 8?

The turnout for March 8 will look different across the country.

I imagine there will be larger protests in places like New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, where there has been deeper mobilisation and ongoing organising. But we expect that there will be actions of some sort across the country.

They will take different forms. I’ve heard that there will be a “women's assembly” in Geneva, New York, to discuss the material issues shaping women’s lives. In Chicago, organising has included input from the Chicago Teachers Union. In Los Angeles, there is an amazing grouping of Black feminist organisers who have been involved in the Women’s Global Strike for several years.

We intentionally put forward a call that includes self-determination for Palestine, an unapologetic demand for access to abortion, and a demand for socialised childcare. This is intended to raise radical politics in the budding women’s movement.

We see this as the start, not the end. There will be a tremendous amount of work to do on March 9 and beyond. The main thing will be gearing up for the May 1 protests for immigrant rights all across the country.

These are the kind of connections we hope can be highlighted on March 8. And in turn, we hope March 8 contributes to the growing movements in this country.