When people around the world came together on Jan. 21 to speak out against misogyny in America, spectators gawked at pools of pink “pussy” hats and protest signs. Now, organizers are looking to make a similar splash through an International Women’s Strike on Wednesday.
“The time was right,” said Tithi Bhattacharya, associate professor at Purdue University and a member of the International Women’s Strike USA’s national planning committee. “This was an important opportunity for us to talk about feminism once more in this country in a very clear and politicized way.”
Employees will ditch work. Students will walk out of class. Some companies may halt operations in solidarity.
Bhattacharya and her colleagues have detailed a platform focused on six key issues: gender violence, reproductive rights, environmental justice, labor rights, the development of an anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism, and full social provisioning. According to the group’s website, the organizers aim to represent and empower “women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism,” from women of color to disabled, queer, and trans women.
But in an attempt to give a voice to some of the United States’ most underrepresented populations, the strike may put the women it means to defend at risk. During the "Day Without Immigrants" strike in mid-February, dozens of protesters were fired from their jobs, many of them restaurant workers or painters in low-income positions, NBC News reported.
“It is the vulnerable women that will struggle the most to participate, and of course that’s not something that’s lost on the organizers,” said Lauren Leader-Chivee, author and founder of women’s empowerment group, All In Together.
For those who cannot skip work, whether domestic or otherwise, there are alternatives. Megan Shade, lead organizer for Women’s International Strike Miami, said that women can stand for a few minutes at 6 p.m., though that implies a sedentary environment, which many manual workers do not have. Sympathizers can also wear red, either at home or on the job, though those with uniforms could be punished for breaking protocol.
Paulina Davis, vice chair of the New York City chapter of National Women’s Liberation and a member of the Women of Color Caucus at NWL, said some women are even striking by not going above and beyond at work on Wednesday, or by not smiling at their coworkers.
For those who choose not to report to their jobs despite possible consequences, Davis said, “It’s up to each individual woman to decide how she’s willing to strike, and to take into consideration the risks she wants to take.”
Experts cited Fight for 15, aimed at boosting the minimum wage, as a movement organized primarily by vulnerable demographics who were willing to lose their jobs for what they believed. They said the United States has a history of speaking out against poor labor conditions, if the cause is worth it.
Indeed, this is not the first women’s strike of its kind. For years, Global Women's Strike has organized protests on International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8. But on the heels of the Women’s March and with input from its leadership, "A Day Without A Woman" has garnered quite a following as the globe waits for a second act in a post-Trump system.
The strike coincides with International Women’s Day, inaugurated in 1909 to celebrate American workers who protested against unfair treatment at garment factories the year before. Domestically, the holiday has become more of a flowers and chocolates celebration in recent years, according to Bhattacharya.
“It shouldn’t just be a sentimental day to look back at history and say, ‘Oh, look how far we’ve come,’ and pat ourselves on the back,” said Davis.
Mary Ebeling, sociology professor at Drexel University, noted that when she lived abroad, the day took a much more political tone. She chalked up some of the lack of action in the United States to its lower rates of unionization, which make it more difficult to protest against civil infractions.
Unlike the women’s marches, the international strike was not founded with an explicitly anti-Trump agenda. Organizers from more than 50 countries got in contact in October 2016 to propose a global protest against mistreatment of women. But after President Donald Trump was elected a few weeks later, the strike took on a new significance.
“We want everyone to be against Trump,” said Bhattacharya. “Anti-Trump is the sort of starting point of this movement.”
But, she added, the strike promotes “a core message that we’re not just against Trump, but we’re against the conditions that create Trump.” She wanted to make clear that “the alternative version to Trump cannot be a neoliberal version of Hillary Clinton.”
Regardless of the movement’s intentions, in practice, it has attracted anti-Trump sentiment. Shade decided to lead International Women’s Strike Miami when a fellow member of the Anti-Trump Action Committee approached her about the possibility. At Columbia University, a walk-out that will join the International Women’s Strike New York City march was organized by the student group Columbia Against Trump.
“To make the connections between the misogyny that a lot of people see in the Trump administration, it wasn’t much of a leap,” said Ebeling.
Davis distinguished between partisanship and politics and said that the strike did not appeal to a single party. When NWL organized its own strike during inauguration day, it meant to critique not only the incoming Trump administration, but also the Democratic establishment that had failed its members.
“The reality is that in building this movement, we also have to be truthful about those policies that are being put forth that specifically target the erosion of women’s rights,” Davis continued. “And so if that’s what’s coming out of one party disproportionately … we have to be honest about that and we do have to call that out.”
For Charmaine Yoest, senior fellow at American Values and former president and CEO of Americans United for Life, a platform that is unapologetically pro-choice is partisan and excludes many women.
“Are pro-life women included?” she asked. “Are conservative women included? Are homemakers included? Or is this yet another masquerade for liberal feminist women to claim the mantle of women’s rights for themselves?”
Yoest also pointed out that the strike’s platform didn’t lend itself to a unified message.
“If you’re going to strike, you need a pretty clearly designed objective,” she said. She added that part of why the anti-abortion movement was making so much inroads was because its organizers had thought deeply about how best to communicate their outlook to the American public.
Ebeling countered that the idea of messaging is “a thing that is made by the media and by historians."
“I think it’s a lot to ask a large movement to have one issue and one way of presenting what they’re fighting for,” she continued. “If we’re going to have a movement based in justice, then it has to be intersectional.”
But Leader-Chivee noted that the majority of Americans don’t even know what “intersectional feminism” means, and “the anti-Trump and pro-liberal movement is going to need to get more focused.”
While the Women’s March provided Trump critics with much needed catharsis, Leader-Chivee said, “Doing regular mass demonstrations, I think, is not necessarily going to advance the aims of the folks who are participating.”
Just this week, she said, the travel ban and the Republicans’ proposed alternative to the Affordable Care Act both provided fodder for protest for the women’s movement. If the strikers chose one of those policies and fought against it instead of using vague rhetoric that covered a slew of issues, they might gain some ground.
“While there’s value in this collective action tomorrow, I think to really make progress, … the specifics are going to matter a lot,” she continued.
But Ebeling believed that organized bursts of action, like the strike and the march, are motivating young women to get engaged and are important. She cited one of her staffers who recently resigned to run for local office as evidence.
“They’re actually kind of galvanizing millions of women to become activists and to get involved in politics in ways that they probably could have never imagined before,” Ebeling said.
“This is one event, one mass action in a struggle to build and continue to build a strong women’s liberation movement,” Davis said. “I think there is room to continue to build on each of these issues in more focused ways.”
Davis added that Wednesday is “certainly not a beginning, and not an end.”