Interviews for Resistance: The March 8 Strike Is About Building Feminism for the 99%

Sarah Jaffe

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University. (TEDxBaltimore/ Flickr)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. Since elec­tion night 2016, the streets of the Unit­ed States have rung with resis­tance. Peo­ple all over the coun­try have wok­en up with the con­vic­tion that they must do some­thing to fight inequal­i­ty in all its forms. But many are won­der­ing what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talk­ing with expe­ri­enced orga­niz­ers, trou­ble­mak­ers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fight­ing for a long time. They’ll be shar­ing their insights on what works, what does­n’t, what has changed and what is still the same. 

Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta Tay­lor: I am Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta Tay­lor. I am the author of From #Black­Lives­Mat­ter to Black Lib­er­a­tion and an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of African Amer­i­can stud­ies at Prince­ton University.

Sarah Jaffe: You were one of the orig­i­nal peo­ple who called for a women’s strike on March 8th. Can you tell us a lit­tle bit about that?

Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta: The idea for the women’s strike actu­al­ly didn’t orig­i­nate in the Unit­ed States, but it is a call in sol­i­dar­i­ty with women orga­ni­za­tions from 30 dif­fer­ent coun­tries who put out a call for a strike on Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day, March 8th. This is our effort at try­ing to explain why it was impor­tant that Amer­i­can fem­i­nists sign on to this call and real­ly try to be a part of this move­ment that is try­ing to, in this coun­try, part of our inten­tion is to bring pol­i­tics back to Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day by turn­ing it into a polit­i­cal event, by high­light­ing the ways that women con­tin­ue to suf­fer from misog­y­ny and sex­ism in the Unit­ed States and to give con­crete descrip­tions of that.

But also, the strike is about high­light­ing the ways that women’s work” or women’s labor” is at times unseen. It can be under­val­ued, under­paid. The strike is about draw­ing atten­tion to that by, in effect, extract­ing those many dif­fer­ent man­i­fes­ta­tions of women’s labor on March 8th to high­light the extent to which women’s labor con­tin­ues to play a cen­tral role in the polit­i­cal and, I would say, social econ­o­my of the Unit­ed States. 

Sarah: The call to strike that you co-authored talks about build­ing a fem­i­nism for the 99%. Can you talk a lit­tle bit about what that means?

Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta: I think part of what we were react­ing to — there are a cou­ple of things. Part of the reac­tion is against the pre­vail­ing notion of lean-in fem­i­nism,” which has been a pop­u­lar idea, most notably in sup­port of Hillary Clinton’s cam­paign for pres­i­dent. The idea that the last fron­tier for women to chal­lenge are these glass ceil­ings that block the ascen­sion of women in elec­toral pol­i­tics or in cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca. I think for us, that actu­al­ly is not the last fron­tier for ordi­nary and work­ing-class women. The tra­di­tion­al shack­les on poor and work­ing-class women are still in effect and actu­al­ly have to be respond­ed to and attend­ed to. The fem­i­nism for the 99% is about reject­ing that idea that women are only or pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with their role in the elite male world, but that there are still very basic issues, such as access to repro­duc­tive health­care, access to abor­tion, wage dif­fer­en­tials. Black women make $0.63 for each dol­lar that white men make, for exam­ple, which, of course, is low­er than the usu­al barom­e­ter that peo­ple use, the $0.78 to the dol­lar that white women make. Black women make sub­stan­tial­ly less than that.

There is still the issue of child­care. There is no access to pub­lic or state fund­ed child­care. The attacks on pub­lic edu­ca­tion. The attacks on the pub­lic infra­struc­ture. All of these have dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact on the lives of women. On a very basic lev­el, we need a fem­i­nist pol­i­tics that responds to these issues as the most urgent. I think we saw that the out­pour­ing around the Jan­u­ary 21st protest showed that there is actu­al­ly quite vast sup­port for a resur­gent fem­i­nist move­ment. Part of our objec­tive is to argue for a cer­tain kind of rad­i­cal pol­i­tics with­in that and not for a polit­i­cal agen­da that is quite lim­it­ed and has these kind of nar­row goals about the social mobil­i­ty of women with­in cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca as a sole objective.

Sarah: Some of the women’s strikes that we have seen just in the past year have come around explic­it attacks in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Can you talk a lit­tle bit more about the con­nec­tion with these oth­er inter­na­tion­al women’s move­ments and the con­nec­tion back to the his­to­ry of Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day?

Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta: I think prob­a­bly the most well-known exam­ple involves the women’s strike in Poland in response to the attempt of the state there to impose a ban on abor­tion. I think that it shows the pow­er of polit­i­cal protest, polit­i­cal demon­stra­tion, as opposed to the usu­al default of embroil­ing one­self in the for­mal polit­i­cal process. That was a pow­er­ful exam­ple. I think the women’s mobi­liza­tions, women-led mobi­liza­tions for abor­tion rights in Ire­land have helped to cre­ate the con­di­tions where there is an actu­al strug­gle for, not just abor­tion rights but to access to birth con­trol. There are oth­er exam­ples of orga­niz­ing in Argenti­na and South Korea and Italy where it is real­ly about women try­ing to har­ness their social pow­er out­side of the elec­toral realm, through street demon­stra­tions and orga­niz­ing to fight for what I would con­sid­er to be basic rights.

It does real­ly harken back to the ori­gins of Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day, which, of course, have become lost over time. It has become this odd Hall­mark hol­i­day that has no con­nec­tion to its rad­i­cal roots. Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day came out of a demon­stra­tion of work­ing class and poor women in Pet­ro­grad in Rus­sia in 1917 in oppo­si­tion to the first World War, to end the first World War and to fight for the redi­rec­tion of resources out of war back into the lives of reg­u­lar peo­ple. The slo­gan was, Demon­stra­tion for Peace and Bread.”

Sarah: Talk about the orga­niz­ing that is going on to make the strike hap­pen and the con­nec­tion with the Women’s March organizers.

Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta: The orga­niz­ing has been fast and furi­ous because we have a lim­it­ed amount of time before March 8th. There is some local orga­niz­ing hap­pen­ing. I know there have been on-the-ground meet­ings in Philly and New York and Chica­go and Berke­ley, Pitts­burgh, and oth­er places that have called orga­niz­ing meet­ings, but on a nation­al lev­el I think it was an impor­tant devel­op­ment that the orga­niz­ers of the Women’s March — there is one per­son who was part of that orga­niz­ing team who has been an active par­tic­i­pant in the women’s strike orga­niz­ing. There was an agree­ment that we would work together.

The women’s strike nation­al coor­di­nat­ing com­mit­tee has been work­ing with the Women’s March, the Jan­u­ary 21st orga­niz­ers, in terms of try­ing to put out some joint state­ments in try­ing to bring atten­tion to the women’s strike, but also, they are plan­ning what they refer to as A Day With­out A Woman” also for March 8th, which has a dif­fer­ent set of pol­i­tics and a dif­fer­ent plat­form than the women’s strike, but there is a sense that it is bet­ter to work togeth­er and try to com­bine our forces than to call a bunch of sep­a­rate days of action. That is how we have proceeded.

Sarah: Many of the peo­ple, includ­ing your­self, that are involved with the call for a women’s strike are social­ists. Can you talk about the role of social­ism and social­ist fem­i­nism in this coun­try after the 2016 elections?

Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta: At a very basic lev­el, there is an under­stand­ing that the prob­lems expe­ri­enced by women in our soci­eties today are root­ed in an eco­nom­ic sys­tem that priv­i­leges the 1% over the 99% and that some­times we think of women’s issues unto them­selves, but real­ly these are issues that arise out of an inher­ent­ly unequal eco­nom­ic arrange­ment in this coun­try. The fact that women make less, that women don’t have access to child­care pro­vi­sions, that women don’t have access to repro­duc­tive health­care. They are not just eco­nom­ic ques­tions, but they are relat­ed to an eco­nom­ic arrange­ment that relies on the free labor of women to, in fact, repro­duce itself as a polit­i­cal system.

In some ways, as this eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty, peo­ple have real­ly been talk­ing about with greater speci­fici­ty and focus since the erup­tion of the Occu­py move­ment in 2011, that with­in that con­text, those unequal eco­nom­ic rela­tion­ships have dis­pro­por­tion­ate effect in the lives of women. I think that in this past elec­tion where you lit­er­al­ly have a bil­lion­aire who has made his mon­ey through exploit­ing loop­holes in the sys­tem and who has sort of ascend­ed to the polit­i­cal top through his abus­ing women and his vis­cer­al sex­ism and hatred of women — it is not sur­pris­ing giv­en the cen­tral­i­ty of sex­ism in Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign that the very first protests have been orga­nized by women, most­ly attend­ed by women, that have become a focal point of the resis­tance movement.

Sarah: You wrote a won­der­ful book about the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, putting that in his­tor­i­cal con­text. I won­der what your thoughts are in how that move­ment is chang­ing and shift­ing under Trump.

Keean­ga-Yamaht­ta: I think that Trump put Black Lives Mat­ter as a move­ment and the activist orga­ni­za­tions affil­i­at­ed with it in the crosshairs ear­ly on. I think his entire pos­ture around law and order was cre­at­ed in oppo­si­tion to Black Lives Mat­ter and what he called a cli­mate that was anti-police. That has had a par­tic­u­lar impact. For the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States and his sup­port­ers to refer to polit­i­cal activists and the polit­i­cal move­ment as ter­ror­ists, which they have done around Black Lives Mat­ter, means a par­tic­u­lar thing in the secu­ri­ty state atmos­phere of the Unit­ed States.

I think it has put activists on the defen­sive and in some ways has cre­at­ed a sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple have almost become inter­nal­ized, mean­ing that they are look­ing inside of their orga­ni­za­tions to fig­ure out how to, per­haps, tight­en things up and how to polit­i­cal­ly respond to Trump. It is under­stand­able, but I think we are at a moment where now is the time to look out­ward and con­nect with oth­er groups of peo­ple who are expe­ri­enc­ing some of the same attacks.

There has been a lot of dis­cus­sion about sol­i­dar­i­ty and what that looks like. In this cli­mate, it has to look like the col­lab­o­ra­tion and coor­di­na­tion between groups of peo­ple who have all of the inter­est in the world in work­ing togeth­er. So, police abuse and vio­lence is not just an issue affect­ing African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, but that we have seen very ear­ly on that Trump is try­ing to expand the pow­ers of the police, expand the respon­si­bil­i­ties of the police, and in doing so, putting oth­er groups of peo­ple in the crosshairs.

Obvi­ous­ly, the attacks on the undoc­u­ment­ed and the attempts of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to dep­u­tize police offi­cers in the efforts to roundup undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, the attacks on Mus­lims and Arabs, also calls on greater pow­ers of the state and its armed agents to do that. These cre­ate an almost nat­ur­al alliance of peo­ple to stand up against polic­ing and police abuse.

I think what all of this means is that we need a much big­ger move­ment to con­front the police. We need a move­ment that tries to con­nect the issues and by doing so, is actu­al­ly con­nect­ing activists and putting peo­ple togeth­er to build the largest pos­si­ble resis­tance. That also has to be con­nect­ed to the oth­er attacks that are com­ing from the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. That it is not just about polic­ing, but it is also about how this lays the foun­da­tion for an attack on orga­niz­ing, resis­tance orga­niz­ing, oppo­si­tion orga­niz­ing, in the first place, by empow­er­ing the police to be able to have expan­sive and intru­sive pow­ers. It cre­ates a prob­lem for all of us.

I think there has to be a great effort among folks from Black Lives Mat­ter and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions that have been at the cen­ter of fight­ing these things to make these con­nec­tions with oth­er groups for the sake of expand­ing the move­ment, while also pre­serv­ing the space and under­stand­ing that these poli­cies con­tin­ue to have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact in black com­mu­ni­ties, but under­stand­ing that we need a much big­ger move­ment to win.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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