Is Striking a Privilege? Or Is the Privilege Not Having to Strike?
Some feminists eager to build on the momentum of the Women's March have been debating whether the Women's Strike excludes those who would benefit from it most.
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When I’m feeling beaten down by the tide of darkness and doom from the current White House, I watch the aerial videos of the masses at the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches in opposition to Trump’s election. Considering the massive scale of the marches, and the even more massive threat of his authoritarian regime, organizers Angela Davis, Rasmea Odeh, Tithi Bhattacharya, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Suzanne Adely want to build on that powerful energy and momentum with tomorrow’s A Day Without a Woman general strike, which urges women to strike however they can. The objective is to send an even bolder message to the Trump administration: You can’t run the country without us. Until women of all backgrounds are valued, paid, and treated equally to men, there will continue to be unrest and disruption.
The strike mirrors last month’s A Day Without Immigrants strike, and takes advantage of International Women’s Day, also on March 8, which is also sponsoring a strike in over 50 countries to raise issues for women who are marginalized.
There are naysayers, of course, critics who are concerned and even argue outright that striking is a privilege and for the privileged. But the most strident of these arguments haven’t come from those unable to strike, but rather, from women of privilege. Which is not to say they don’t raise valid concerns, given that some of the women who would benefit most from the positive outcome of this strike may be the least able to participate. But rather than criticize an action before it’s even happened, why not use that privilege instead to strike on their behalf, to take up the mantle and send a message that we’re all in this together, that the rights and equality of all women are bound up together. As International Women’s Strike organizers Magally Miranda Alcazar and Kate D. Griffiths wrote in The Nation, “Striking is not a privilege. It is a privilege not to strike.” After all, none of us is yet to be so privileged.
Dr. Marika Lindholm, a sociologist and social-movement theorist, and founder of ESME.com, an organization that offers resources, support and connection for mothers raising kids on their own, likens this strike to the 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality March in New York. 50,000 women turned out in the streets at the urging of feminist activist Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women (NOW) on behalf of employment rights and gender equality. “Most women around the country didn’t strike and laws weren’t changed in response, however, symbolically the Women’s Strike sent a message and forced a dialogue around these important issues,” she says.
Stephanie Garcia, an Oregon single mother and domestic worker, who can’t take time off from her paid or unpaid work, originally felt ‘that the idea was not “as inclusive as far as who could actually participate.” However, in discussions with other women, she says she realized that “because those women couldn’t participate, the women with the privilege to do so had an obligation to do so. In the right circumstances, there is merit in the privileged using their privilege to promote positive change.”
The organizers have also offered several non-striking ways to participate, such as wearing red, a revered color of the labor movement signifying “revolutionary love and sacrifice,” shopping at only women- and immigrant-owned businesses, and discussing gender equality issues in the workplace.
Several college professors I know are planning to “strike” by detouring from their usual curriculum and devoting their time in the classroom to women’s issues.
Numerous schools on the East coast are shutting down, anticipating staff shortfalls for the strike, according to the Huffington Post, including an entire school district in North Carolina. Teaching is a women-heavy field, and most schools would not be able to operate if all the women strike.
Lindholm suggests “It will be important for organizers and supporters to highlight that many women simply can’t go on strike. We have 23 million children being raised by single moms who day in a day out parent without support.” She points out, “Women around the world do 99% of the unpaid caregiving. Without them, children and the elderly are left without care.”
However, she will offer her support by wearing red and “continuing to work on behalf of single moms everywhere.” She will also strike from her domestic chores “So that my family understands how much most moms do every day and use it as a springboard to a family discussion of women’s unpaid labor and women’s rights in general,” she says.
Rather than spending time tearing this strike apart before it even begins, we must not forget that resistance of the kind mounted against inequality, and in particular, Trump’s fascist brand, is going to be a long game, and it will need every player. Strikes and protests often work by planting seeds that take time to flower more than making overnight change.
Mary Rowen from Massachusetts supported the idea of the women’s strike from the moment she heard about it “because I despise the current administration’s policies regarding women and the way the president treats women in general,” she says. If she is called to her catering gig on Wednesday, she will not go in, though she feels “conflicted” because the company is woman-run and managed, and may be unable to afford to shut down for a day. She hopes that several of the male employees will be called in to cover for any woman striking. She will also wear red and avoid shopping that day.
And while others are choosing not to take the day off because they can’t miss out on work, like North Carolina–based Journalist Rhiannon Fionn, who finds the message of the strike a little confusing, she acknowledges that if any of the contractors she pays choose to strike, “I would always encourage them to exercise their rights and be true to themselves.” Moreover, she hopes that the organizers will fund research projects. “I like data, so I’d love to see this group do something like raise money to fund an economic study that will make their point in a way that would get the attention of our society’s decision makers.”
Those who are participating wholeheartedly feel that any chance to spread any message of equality for women is of monumental importance at a time when Trump’s administration is doing little to support gender equality, equal pay, and even promoting an agenda that will actively sabotage women and gender non-conforming people’s rights (not to mention low-income people of any ilk).
“I am participating in A Day Without a Woman because I don’t think we can waste any opportunity to raise awareness about gender inequality,” says Andrea Chmelik, a mother of two from California. She co-organized the San Luis Obispo sister Women’s March on January 21, and is volunteering again with the same team of women to organize a local march on March 8, in collaboration with Debbie Gedayloo, founder of Kindness Matters SLO, a small group of local activists. Aside from marching, or meeting at a downtown plaza, they are also encouraging people to donate to local women’s shelters, shop only in women- and minority-owned businesses that support equality, schedule meetings to discuss pay gap and other policies that affect female employees, or spread awareness on social media.
Chmelik acknowledges that while the most vulnerable—low-income earners, minorities and gender non-conforming people to name a few—are the least likely to turn out for this strike, they experience greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity, which makes it all that much more important to her to show up on their behalf.
“A Day Without a Woman is a chance to say that we are still fighting and will not be silenced,” Chmelik says.
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