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Call for an International Women’s General Strike on March 8, 2012

by Mimi Yahn, ©2012


Across the globe, International Women’s Day will be commemorated with mass marches, rallies and celebrations. In the U.S., women will be marking it by shutting down banks, corporations and other actions to highlight the economic disparities between women and men and the economic hit that women have endured over the past several years. Across the globe, women have borne the brunt of the economic disaster.

In the past several months, the assaults against women have escalated, our rights are being eliminated. If we are to be out on the streets on March 8th demanding justice, the power of our outrage and determination will be magnified a hundred-fold by taking action as a united international women’s general strike.

If you’ve not had enough, consider this:

Women go through everything that men go through — hunger, poverty, injustices, torture, imprisonment, racist colonialism, etc. — but in addition, they are subjected to a whole other set of injustices, not only because they create life and therefore have an additional set of basic human needs, but also as a direct result of their second-class, subjugated status across the globe.

In the U.S.:
<>More women than men were targeted for subprime loans and so more women than men lost their homes.
<>Women already earn on average two-thirds of what men earn, so every financial setback impacts them more severely.
<>More women than men have no health insurance, and so more women than men are forced into bankruptcy due to a medical catastrophe.
<>Over the past several months, dozens of bills have been introduced in states across the country that will restrict or outlaw women’s access to contraception, abortion and related health care.
<>Both political parties are fighting for power on the bodies of women in the belief that whichever party can eliminate the most rights for women wins.
<>In Occupy encampments across the country, women are being sexually assaulted, harassed and terrorized into silence; those speaking up are labeled divisive, crazy, hysterical and delusional.
<>Popular culture continues to demonize, brutalize and marginalize women. Rapper Too $hort recently released a video showing young men how to sexually assault teenage girls; ABC-TV is ignoring public outcry and going ahead with airing their new show, “Good Christian Bitches”; sales for video games that give extra points for stalking, raping and murdering women and girls continue to climb, and nearly every crime drama on television features women and girls being stalked, raped, beaten, tortured, mutilated, and murdered every single night.

Across the globe:
<>Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world’s income.
<>Women and girls make up 51% of the world’s population, but are 70% of the world’s poor.
<>Women produce more than 70% of the world’s food, yet own less than 2% of the world’s land.
<>Women are usually the primary caretakers of children and elderly parents which means they are financially responsible for more people on less money.
<>Women are far less likely to get credit, and when they do, they receive less than men.
<>Women make up two-thirds of the estimated 876 million adults worldwide who cannot read or write; and girls make up two-thirds of 77 million children not attending school. As the economic crisis deepens, it is the girl children who are being pulled from school, further entrenching their second-class status as dependent, impoverished, illiterate servants of men.
<>Men are the first to receive aid, whether in the form of food, loans, grants or education. In refugee camps, women & girls suffer malnutrition and starve to death at much greater levels than men, boys and male-headed families.
<>Throughout the Global South, the neocolonial economies were made deeply dependent on export industries like electronics, textile and clothing manufacture, food processing, and outsourced service-sector jobs. In all cases, women made up anywhere from 60% to 90% of these low-wage, no-benefit, insecure jobs because women are the primary “flexible” labor source across the globe: Since women have fewer political, human and legal rights than men in nearly every nation, they are viewed by international capital as the ideal cheap, disposable worker.
<>After the economic crisis, millions of women were fired from export-dependent jobs throughout the Global South, as the sweatshops, farms and factories shut down. Millions of destitute, desperate women have been forced into prostitution in order to feed their families.

We are not not a special interest group, we are half the world. Our society’s current patriarchal model of subjugation and exploitation influences every aspect of life on our planet and it excludes women at all levels: from decision-making and governing, from negotiating peace and ending wars, from organizing movements, from long-term economic, social, and environmental planning, even from sharing in life’s bounties.

We are the working class of the working class, the 99% of the 99%. And in virtually every nation across the globe, we have no equal status as citizens or even human beings. We are hunted and murdered like animals, we are bought and sold like property, we are silenced and erased from history and public life. We have no choice but to stand up for our rights and our lives. And men have no choice but to support us as allies if they ever want a world free of brutal injustice.

If you’re still not sure if you want to strike, then do it for the millions of women who cannot. Do it for the women who are struggling to feed their families; for the women who earn one-half to three-quarters of what men earn; for the women who became homeless in order to escape brutal beatings; who have been denied health care, reproductive care, contraception or abortion; for the women who cannot vote, cannot drive, cannot own property, cannot be seen in public without a man; for the women who have been beaten, tortured, raped, and sexually degraded; do it for the girls whose genitals have been mutilated and destroyed; for the women who are beaten by husbands, boyfriends, fathers and brothers; for the women who were been beaten into believing they were crazy, hysterical, neurotic; for the women who’ve been denied medical insurance because domestic violence is a pre-existing condition; for the women imprisoned in rape camps in war zones; for the women and girls who’ve been sold into sexual and domestic slavery; for the women whose legal and civil rights have been eliminated; for the women who have yet to gain legal and civil rights; and do it for the women and girls who are no longer with us because of dowry murders, acid attacks, honor killings, domestic violence, and the dozens of gender hate crimes perpetrated every day.

Do it for the women of Juarez, Tahrir Square, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo, King County, Montreal, Suffolk County and everywhere else women and girls have been targeted and murdered for the sole “crime” of their gender.

Do it for our daughters whose future must not be the same.

We strike for them.

Whose Occupy?

Whose Occupy?

by Mimi Yahn, ©2012

January 11th was the 100th anniversary of the Bread & Roses Strike. It was more than a strike that successfully raised wages and improved working conditions for 250,000 textile workers throughout New England, more than a strike involving over 20,000 mostly immigrant workers speaking 45 different languages: it was a strike called by no one, led by no formal organization, but spontaneously initiated, organized, led and won by women. From the mass meetings—where the people’s mic consisted of continuous translations—to organizing actions that formed human chains around entire factory blocks; from organizing strikers’ welfare committees to going head-to-head with armed police and state militia called in to break the strike by any means; from organizing soup kitchens to ensuring the safety of their children by sending them to allies and supporters in other cities, it was the women who carried out most of the organizing and who consistently and persistently refused to let the men take over. It is the strike most famous for the banner carried by a group of women and young girls that read: “We Want Bread And Roses, Too.”

This understanding of the link between the personal and the political, between the human body and the human spirit, is what gives women our power and wisdom to lead. But you’d never know it from looking at the Occupy Movement.

Women have been pushed to the margins, just as they’ve been in every failed revolution and progressive movement throughout history and across the globe. Once again, women are being threatened, silenced and made irrelevant by those accustomed to writing the agendas, formulating ideology, setting policy and implementing practice.

The media—both mainstream and alternative—have played into this: The vast majority of images, interviews, videos and articles feature men as the dominant face and brains of the Occupy Movement, as if only the men’s opinions matter as the important experts and thinkers of Occupy. Worse yet, it is one race that predominates, even in the images of women: the white race. As if whites, and especially white men, represent the 99%.

But the images of Occupy presented both by the mainstream and the alternative media is an image that has more to do with image itself and far less to do with the realities of the 99%. The mainstream press mostly portrays the movement as a bunch of leaderless, unemployed (male) street kids and their female camp followers, while the alternative media present an idealized image of noble, brave, young men fighting in the trenches for the rights of the downtrodden, while their radicalized girlfriends stand bravely but quietly beside them, occasionally bearing the brunt of some out-of-control cop’s tear-gassing spree.

Neither present the women who are angry and in the trenches every day struggling against the same injustices taking place within the movement that they struggle against outside the movement. Neither present the deep analyses and outsider perspectives of women because our opinions don’t count. There’s no mention of the women who continue to be sexually harassed and assaulted, who continue to be pushed further to the margins to form their safe spaces and auxiliary caucuses in order to escape degrading and dismissive attacks, no discussion of how a movement can call itself progressive while its women cannot safely participate unless accompanied by a man.

None of the white media talk about the hard decisions that people need to make about whether or not to involve themselves and their own communities in a movement that is so clearly dominated by whites who so clearly hold onto their privilege by behaving as if the rest of the world’s populations are merely guests and bystanders rather than participants and co-creators of this movement. Do people really want to ask their families and friends to willingly put themselves into yet another racist situation, where their minority presence guarantees no allies?

Already, the dominance of men has been established and the exclusionary agendas they consider important implemented. Though attempts to introduce “fetal rights” have so far been blocked around the country, Occupy Austin decided that since abortion is a “divisive” issue, it will not be part of any Statement of Principles or official action plans. Of course, no progressive woman would ever agree to that since reproductive rights are absolutely fundamental to our most basic human rights. But the men who have taken over the thinking, policy-making and agenda of the Occupy Movement have decided that, since reproductive rights don’t concern them, it’s a minor issue. More than that, their lifelong privilege as men gives them the certitude that they have the right to make decisions for those they consider less relevant, less valued to the Movement and the human race.

For women, whose marginalization always includes terrorized silencing through physical and sexual violence, and who have almost no training in fighting back, the choice is no choice at all: Either remain silent and remain with us or go off and do your own “little” thing far from the main movement. For women, whose dehumanization and objectification has always included being reduced to her reproductive body parts—body parts which she doesn’t even have the right to own, control or protect from assault—the choice is never hers. The decision as to whether the basic human rights unique only to women should even be on the agenda is left up to those whose privileged body parts make them uniquely protected from those human rights abuses.

These are the choices we’ve been given for thousands of years: Put our own rights aside for the “greater good,” choose between your race or your gender, your religion or your gender, support your man or be a traitor to the cause. Even sexual orientation has been disconnected from gender oppression—as if only straight women experience misogyny and lesbians only experience homophobia the way gay men experience it—leaving lesbians to choose between the struggle that most oppresses them.

The principles of the early days of the Occupy Movement included recognition of privilege and a commitment to addressing and undoing the destructive, counter-productive and regressive behaviors that arise from privilege. Step back/Step up was immediately instituted at General Assemblies: This meant that those traditionally holding privilege—those who were accustomed to being the first to speak, the ones accustomed to dominating the room and the agenda—would step back, remain quiet, while those whose voices, ideas and perspectives were rarely heard would step forward. White men were to listen for a change and begin understanding that their ideas and voices weren’t the only ones that mattered. Women and people of all other races were to be given priority for speaking, setting the agenda and leading this movement to a new paradigm.

It didn’t work. Just as governments and corporations won’t stand idly by while citizens take power into their own hands, within a few weeks the entitled men who had come to Occupy in order to have their voices and ideas listened to and heeded began lashing back to retake their privilege.

In Occupys across the country, similar stories have been emerging: When people bring up the subjects of misogyny and racism, they hit back with proposals to ban those words from all public Occupy discussions permanently because they’re “divisive.” In Oakland one woman was told that including discussions about how “Blacks, Indigenous People, and Asians have been colonized in this country was a distraction,” while in Nashville, an attempt to form a women’s caucus was labeled “divisive.” In Boston, a proposal was presented to allow rapists to return after a specified period to present their case for remaining in Occupy. In New York, an angry demand was made that a women’s caucus be summarily disbanded because the women failed to include the words “female-assigned, female-identified” in a draft statement. In Nashville, women who raise the issue of the rampant misogyny—which includes cutting off live feeds when women begin speaking, refusing to allow women to create their own caucus and using social media to slander women who speak out—are being called “bullies” and labeled as “trouble-makers” and “man-haters” with an “agenda.” The Nashville men are also using the centuries-old tactic of labeling women as emotionally unstable and hysterical. As Norma Jones points out on Nashville’s Occupy Patriarchy blog, “Email after email uses language like ‘going off the deep end,’ ‘tantrum,’ ‘chaos,’ ‘severe malfunction.’ And, as elsewhere across the country, men’s postings to blogs, live streams, Facebook pages and the Occupy sites are filled with ugly, dehumanizing comments about women, ranging from crude sexual remarks to suggestions that women “deserve to be beat.”

Meanwhile, where are the men calling for change in misogynist attempts to marginalize women? Before men started becoming defensive, nearly every casual conversation I had with men regarding gender issues resulted in them telling me about the women’s area and the women’s daily meetings, as if that addressed any grievance the “feminists” might have and absolved them from any concern or need to educate themselves about “women’s issues.” More recently in New York, a man sent a request to one of the women’s caucuses for the group to intervene in what he characterized as an inappropriate, exploitative relationship developing between a man in his 30s and a 16-year-old girl. His comment was, “Who will look out for women in this movement if not your group?” But what makes this man who considers himself a member of the Occupy Movement incapable of intervening himself? Does he realize how insulting and dismissive it is to see, once again, a man treat injustice toward a woman as less important than other injustices, less morally imperative that he also “look out for” someone being exploited because of her gender? Instead, once again, sexual harassment and exploitation is disconnected from issues of injustice, oppression and abusive privilege. It’s just a women’s problem, a personal issue; so let the “girls” handle their own separate problems in their own separate safety zones and caucuses. Ironically, earlier that day, a friend posted to Facebook an appropriate quote by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

One of the worst and most insidious tactics I’ve seen yet is being implemented in New York’s Occupy. A group of white men are now claiming that they are being marginalized because they are losing their prerogative to speak whenever, wherever and for however long they want.

Let’s be clear about this: marginalization is oppression, and there is real violence, real blood, and real dehumanizing, objectifying, terrorizing physical and sexual assaults in those words and the lived experiences that inhabit those words.

Marginalization is not getting nervous and uncomfortable because you may no longer be masters of the universe. To use that word to describe what the 1% is feeling right now is an affront and utter dismissal of the human injustices done daily to the 99% who have been silenced, enslaved, impoverished, deprived of basic human rights, and yes, marginalized for too many thousands of years. And it is an inappropriate and outrageous insult to the dignity and very existence of every person who endures real marginalization and oppression every single fucking day.

There will be many women in the Occupy Movement who will be angry with me for airing the dirty laundry, but they’ll be even angrier at me for the loud, aggressive and combative tone of this article. These men are part of the movement—they’re crucial to the movement—we should not be antagonizing them or creating divisions.

Sisters, the divisions were created the day you were born. If my tone is unladylike, it’s because I’m fucking angry and, as a woman and a human being, I have every right to be angry. These men, who use their privilege as a weapon against us in order to occupy what belongs to us all, are not as important to the movement as we are. It is not up to us to be conciliatory, to attempt to adapt to their privilege. It is their privilege and arrogance that divides and weakens the movement. Women—as the ultimate working class, as the class that is at the bottom of every culture, nation, race, and society across the globe and across history—are the Occupy Movement.

Either you’re part of this movement that is all about egalitarianism, co-governing, and a cooperative sharing of life’s bread and roses, or you are not. If you are more concerned with hearing your voice heard above all others, imposing your vision of a revolution—without input, creative development and consensual process by others who do not share your gender, race or privilege—and maintaining your position above all others at all costs to everyone but you, then this is not the movement for you.

If ever there was a movement that needed to be led by people who understand the connection between heart and mind, between the personal and the political, it is the Occupy Movement. If ever there was a people whose past history proves extraordinary power, strength and leadership in the face of crushing odds, it is women.

I ask sisters everywhere to recognize, cherish and activate your innate abilities to take charge of our world too long run by those with none of the skills, wisdom, heart or strength that we have. We may be marginalized by men, we may be assaulted, deprived of basic human and civil rights, paid less, impoverished more and universally despised, but ultimately it is we who make the decision whether or not to rise up and create the world we want for ourselves and our children.

One hundred years ago, immigrant women and girls who were at the bottom of society, who were paid less than $7.00 for a 56-hour work week, who spoke little or no English, whose lives were enslaved to poverty, stood up from their machines and said, “Enough.” On the hundredth anniversary of their historic and successful uprising, we can honor and carry on their spirit on International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012, holds more meaning than ever before. If ever there was a time for women to rise up in one united, global general strike, this March 8th is the time. Women have borne the brunt of the global economic disaster, and women are continuing to bear the brunt of the political, economic, religious, social, and cultural wars. Across the globe, women are still at the bottom of society. As the New York-based Movement for Justice in El Barrio says, “Women around the world are rising up and saying, “Enough!” Their event will honor the women who “are organizing new movements from Chiapas to Egypt, from Greece to Spain, from South Africa to New York…They are ’indignadas,’ outraged by the staggering inequalities, the violence and deceit, the hatred of democracy, the flagrant corruption and utter disregard for life on this planet that characterize our society, our economy, our governments. They are struggling against this nightmarish status quo, and laying seeds for a new world in the process.”

This year’s International Women’s Day has been declared by Codepink to be the day of Women’s Call to Action (see statement below). As part of the Occupy Movement and the role that women play in the global economy as the ultimate disposable worker, there are actions planned around the country, including shutting down banks, actions targeting corporations, yarn-bombing, mass marches, rallies and demonstrations.

Let’s join our sisters across the globe, and join in spirit our foremothers who rose up to fight for a better world for us, their daughters: On March 8th, let’s begin.

“At the forefront of these global movements are countless dignified women whose ‘Enough!’ resounds in different colors, in different languages, across the lands. They are spearheading these movements, and battling injustice head-on and without compromise, often at enormous risk. Those from above attempt to repress them; those from ‘within’ attempt to disregard and silence them. But they are insurmountable, and with their dignified struggles, transform our world each day.”—Movement for Justice in El Barrio


International Women’s Day 2012: Call to Action

     Women make up 51% of the world’s population but 70% of the world’s poor.
      We perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn 10% of the income and own less than 1% of the world’s property.
      While our work remains unpaid, underpaid and undervalued, making us invisible to economic indicators and ineligible for the rewards reaped by the most “productive” members of society, we have become the prime targets of predatory bank policies and economic collapse. Women are 32% more likely than men to receive sub-prime mortgages and Latina and African-American women borrowers are most likely to receive sub-prime loans at every income level.
      It’s time we started targeting banks. On March 8th, we call on people across the globe to fight back against the patriarchal economic system. Show the banks what a REALLY free market looks like. Shut down a bank. Yarn-bomb an ATM. Move your money. Force a CEO to take a walk in the shoes of those hardest hit by the economy.
      This International Women’s Day, our work will be visible.
      We are the 51%.
      Expect us.


For more information about IWD events: