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By Zillah Eisenstein
The International Women’s Strike/US on March 8, 2017 hopes to be a catalyst for the liberation of all women, cis and trans—of every color, sex, gender, class, nation, and identity—from every kind of exploitation. “We” have an opportunity in this moment that we should not ignore. There is a long labor history to the celebration of women on March 8. A strike for women is more complex and multiple than the usual notion of strike. So much of the work women do takes place outside the factory or restaurant or daycare unit, and is not paid at all. There are as many ways to strike as there are ways that women labor.
Women always need to be imaginative and inventive with the political language that exists. So a strike for us, the “big inclusive” us, means in part to reinvent the meaning of strike. In established discourse, a strike happens at one’s place of work, and work means a waged-labor site like a factory or a service job. And, a great many women, especially women of color, work at these sites. But work is happening elsewhere all the time, and most women do it whether they are working a traditional job or not. So, the IWS/US intends to strike in new ways that recognize the multiple and differing and complex forms of labor that all women do. So, there are many kinds of actions—recognizable and newly formed—that will be taking place throughout the country from California, to New York, to Wisconsin, to Washington, D.C., to Illinois.
The purpose of a strike is to stop the usual work being done and to make sure that people acknowledge that the work is not getting done. And it is not getting done because the worker says no, that the labor is unfairly taken, stolen, un-remunerated, and so on. For women, our labor is never paid its worth. And there is a raced hierarchy to the exploitation. Often the labor is not paid at all. Almost all women labor as domestics in their own homes for no pay, and when women, particularly women of color, labor in someone else’s home, it is for super-exploitive wages.
Women also labor as the major consumers of necessities like food and clothing. This consumer work is dispersed and chaotic. The emotional work of family life is a full-time job, but most women have other jobs as well. Women routinely multitask, so a triple day of labor is a matter of course: reproductive, productive, domestic, and consumer laboring goes on simultaneously. So, the IWS/US asks women to refuse, or strike, on March 8, in new creative ways that reflect their complex lives. These actions will amplify the already on-going mobilizations planned by women workers in the workforce. These unions and work groups are also planning with new strategies that protect workers who cannot afford to be fired; so there will be partial work stoppages, the use of vacation and sick days, etc.
The guide to “us” all is to make our labor visible, especially if it seems invisible to the larger world. As a friend suggested to me: maybe instead of refraining from the invisible caring work that we do for our families we can make it visible: make a Facebook post and/or a Tweet describing the labor of the day. And, tell others to do it to. “Today I made 3 breakfasts, did 2 loads of laundry, shopped for dinner, went to the office for 4 hours, came home, made dinner, comforted a distraught child and…” The national planning committee is hoping to set up a log-on to the IWS/US website so women can keep a labor tally for the day, and collectively.
And for whatever part of your labor you refrain from on March 8, publicize it in as many ways as you can. With the time this frees you up from your work, we hope you will join with other women to: support each other, listen to each other, organize against what feels tyrannical to you. There is no action that is too small. Hold a sign outside your place of work or supermarket. All you need is two people to do this. Our work is dispersed to multiple sites so our resistance will be as well. Build small and large communities with others that you will trust and resist with. This is what an anti-racist/anti-capitalist revolutionary process looks like.
The International Women’s Strike/US and the Women’s March initiated on January 21 share similar commitments for March 8, with the Women’s March campaign to highlight “a day with out a woman,” along with recognizing the multiple forms of labor, paid and not paid. We are coordinating together when possible, and also may have autonomous commitments. We are doing what women do: partnering, sharing, endorsing, and embracing one another, and across difference. We all are hoping to grow our coalitions while at the same time many of us have uncompromising commitments to anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-misogyny, and anti-neoliberalism. Out of this unknown mix of commitments, we are growing a new feminism for the 99 percent. Do not be too ready to say that this cannot work. Give us a chance to make it work.
It is urgent to find and build the camaraderie that develops as coalitions across differences of race and class and gender and sexual identity become possibilities. All of these actions taking place before and on March 8 are getting us ready to confront and dismantle the present political regime.“We” are getting ready for whatever is coming.“We” are building a revolutionary resistance. March 8 is not an end to itself. It is a process of mobilizing new alliances and coalitions involving risk and trust.
If you think sexual violence towards women is part of everyday life, especially in places of work, if you are ready to dismantle white supremacy, if you want a living wage, if you want to have access to contraception and abortion facilities, if you believe in universal and affordable health care, if you want to end the wars everywhere, if you want to end all deportations of immigrants, if you want to welcome refugees until the wars end, if you want your city to be a sanctuary in this unsettled time, if you want to build schools rather than prisons, if you want guns controlled and then eliminated, if you want Palestinians to be free and equal, if you want to save the planet from environmental devastation, if you want every woman who needs an abortion across this globe to be able to get one, if you want to end hunger and poverty…you want to strike with “us” on March 8. All you need to do is to decide on one action related to the labor(s) that you do, and share it with others.
Women are already readying to do this. A doctor in Miami, Florida says she will be standing with IWS/US while she treats her uninsured and undocumented patients. A friend from South Africa says he will invite a speaker to his university on March 8 who will speak about “women, race and revolution.” In Poland, women write that they will take no more abuse and denial of their rights to their bodies. They say they have the best weapon available to them in order to win: their solidarity. Tocan a una, tocan a todas. They say their rulers should be scared of them. I say, let us join our Polish sisters.
In Washington D.C. on March 8, women workers from around the country will join together in a massive rally along with women of One Billion Rising who rise against all violence towards any women—they demand an end to sexual violence and all its iterations—at work, at home, in war, against the earth. They will surround the Department of Labor with their bodies. They—the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), Jobs with Justice, the National Nurses United, National Domestic Workers Alliance, OUR Wal-Mart, along with V-Day activists—will demonstrate and rally and say no to exploitation, to work place violence, and yes to a living wage, paid leave, and labor rights at work. These women of all colors express the solidarity “we” all wish to achieve. Their rally will be done in solidarity with women around the world rising for racial, sexual, economic justice. Join them if you can.
Women will rally in Washington Square Park, New York City to publicly stand together for a feminism against the cruelty of neoliberalism and deportations and criminalization of Black and Brown people. They will be organizing a feminism of and for the 99 percent.
Nawal el Saadawi is standing with us from Egypt. Years ago, when US women asked her how we could support the revolution in Egypt during the Arab Spring, she said: “Make your own revolution, and free the rest of the world from your imperial government.” And that is what “we” will hopefully begin to do now.
Figure out what makes sense for you and your friends and get organized for March 8. When you read the IWS/US declaration of purpose you will see a large and inclusive set of commitments. It is a feminism against racist/capitalist hetero-patriarchy; it is an anti-imperial and anti-colonial feminism. It is feminism for anti-white supremacy and anti-rape culture. Even if you are hesitant, even if you disagree with some of the commitments, even if you think the vision is incomplete, join us. Join us, and engage with us. We will build a new revolutionary camaraderie together.
The women’s actions, and rallies, and marches on March 8 are part of a process that began with the first resistances against the Trump regime after his inauguration, beginning with the Women’s March on Washington, and its sister marches throughout the country and globe. Acts of resistance have continued apace ever since that moment. The International Women’s Strike/US will continue this process. And the process is readying us for when we must all come together and dismantle this regime. No one knows when this moment will occur, but we do know how to build the camaraderie to get us ready. Revolutionary resistance is a process. Help us begin and continue to nurture this process.
Hopefully, the International Women’s Strike/US will build coalitions with and between our shared and differing needs. Unity is not needed—just trust and a belief in the possible.
Check out our web page for a local action. If you don’t see one, make one.
A note: Here are some possible hashtags you can begin to reach out to others with:
Zillah Eisenstein has been a Professor of Politics at Ithaca College in New York for the past 35 years and is now “Distinguished Scholar in Residence” there. Besides THE AUDACITY OF RACES AND GENDERS: A PERSONAL AND GLOBAL STORY OF THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN (2009, Zed Press, London; Palgrave, U.S.), her books include among others: SEXUAL DECOYS, GENDER, RACE AND WAR IN IMPERIAL DEMOCRACY (London, Zed Press; New York, Palgrave, 2007); AGAINST EMPIRE, ibid.; HATREDS: RACIALISED AND SEXUALIZED CONFLICTS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, (Routledge, 1996); GLOBAL OBSCENITIES: PATRIARCHY, CAPITALISM AND THE LURE OF CYBERFANTASY (NYU PRESS, 1996); and MANMADE BREAST CANCERS, (Cornell Univ. Press, 2001). For more information see: https://zillaheisenstein.wordpress.com/.