activism

Introducing Pittsburgh’s International Women’s Strikers (PGH IWS)

By Krystal Knight and INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S STRIKE USA CHAPTER

While 2016 was a tumultuous year for women globally, here in the U.S. most would attribute that to the catastrophe of the Trump election. Globally, women faced continuous attacks from various government organizations. Poland’s conservative parliament proposed a bill to ban and outright criminalize abortion, while the National Meeting of Women in Argentina was repressed during the same week Argentines were reeling from reports of seven separate femicides. No wonder that in 2016, most of us in the U.S. missed the sparks of this movement, as we were self-obsessing over the epitome of white feminism packaged by Clinton’s “being with her.”

In October 2016, Polish women responded to the abortion bill with a one-day general women’s strike. On a Monday, thousands of women across 60 cities went on strike and by Thursday parliament voted down the proposed bill! Simultaneously, a grassroots online organizing effort resulted in Argentine women mobilizing a country wide one-hour strike against gender violence, which resulted in most Latin American and Caribbean countries following suit. These near-identical events gained attention of women in both countries and fostered international collaboration. The Polish organizers reached out to the Argentine team, which resulted in a coalition of women from across 35 nations, including the U.S., in an international call to action.

I was part of the team in Pittsburgh that helped organize the first International Women’s Strike (IWS) on March 8th, 2017. Two years ago, I read the platform against gendered violence in Spanish because I felt strongly it was necessary we honor the Latinx femmes who organize vehemently across Latin America to demand safety from the daily onslaught of gendered violence and femicide. In 2018 I was involved again and served on the education committee organizing a panel of women to teach the different positions of IWS’ U.S. platform regarding terms of Paid Sick Leave while Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave ordinance was being heard at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This year I have stepped back from organizing the event and sat down to speak with the 2019 steering committee. I asked the women to tell me why they were working on IWS, what they hoped to achieve with IWS, and why women and gender nonconforming people should participate.

Darnika Reed: TMC Board Member, Pittsburgh Coalition to End the Deadly Exchange, and PGH Jewish Voice for Peace

Darnika was a speaker at last year’s event, focusing on the platform’s position for an ‘Antiracist and Antiimperialist Feminism.’ Darnika was drawn to work on IWS in 2019 because she, “think[s] it’s important for the people working in … Pittsburgh to create demands for the city of Pittsburgh…. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed that aren’t unless you pressure [y]our local politicians.” When asked what makes IWS different than the Women’s March she said, “Last year and this year so far we don’t have politicians and candidates involved…. It’s a time for activists and advocates and organizers who work on these issues all the time to be uplifted. I think it’s more important for that to happen than for politicians and candidates to get a platform.” When asked about what she hoped IWS would achieve Reed said, “I hope for this year we bring more awareness to the injustice we see happening at the Allegheny County Jail, […] to the problems that sex workers face, and the [Pittsburgh Police] participation in the exchanges and training with the Israeli military”.

Dena Stanley: Trans YOUniting, Maddezsweetz

Dena Stanley is a Trans-rights activist and founder of Trans YOUniting, who spoke at the PGH IWS’ rally in 2018 on the platform position to end gender violence. Each interviewee said they were either going on strike or skipping class and when I asked Dena if she was going on strike we laughed about how she feels she’s already on strike because of her unjust working conditions. She explained that, “[my bosses] feel because I’m just one individual trying to fight a whole corporation that its ok to do whatever they want to do and say whatever they want to say and make me feel just any type of way when I come into this place … to [do] my job. I don’t feel like I should be disrespected at all because I am who I am; I shouldn’t be disrespected because I’m a trans woman. … If we work as a collective to start to change that narrative that these corporations know that, ‘No you’re not going to be able to do this,’ and it’s not just trans women that’s going to stand with me; it’s going to be women in general that are gonna stand and say you’re not going to […] do this to our fellow sister.” Considering the controversy of previous Women’s Marches and the notorious presence of white cis heteronormative patriarchal capitalist supremacy that exists even within the left’s organizing spaces, I asked Dena to explain how PGH IWS was centering marginalized voices. “By having [them] at the table, […] making sure they’re included all the way around, […] and making sure that our voices are heard and they’re [white women] not overstepping … [by] giving us room to lead ourselves.” As to why she thinks women and gender non-conforming people should strike, Dena unequivocally stated that, “we’re a part of this movement and our voices need to be heard and we have to be at this table […] It’s trans women, it’s non-conforming [folks], it’s a whole collective under the trans umbrella that is affected as well. We have to support as well as get that support.”

Renzy Tayci: PGH International Socialist Organization

During my interview with Renzy, she eloquently described the collective power while seamlessly parenting her young toddler, who was demanding her mother’s attention. In these moments, she was a window into the world women face, balancing her social reproductive work while expressing why she was involved and what she hopes IWS achieves. Renzy emphatically stated, “The way women and non-binary people are going to create the world [we] want is by withholding our labor. By showing the strength that we all have as working-class people by withholding our labor and forcing the powers that be to accept our demands…. I’m hoping that we achieve a strong powerful feminist movement here in Pittsburgh that can bring the city to its knees for any demand we deem necessary…. a fighting feminist movement that can raise hell at any time reproductive rights are threatened or gender violence raises its head or labor rights are threatened…. It’s important women and gender non-conforming people come together because even though we are many and do a ton of the labor that holds Pittsburgh up we have the least amount of resources, so the only way that we will be able to achieve our demands ever is if we withhold the one resource we have the most of and that’s our laboring power.”

Emily Culver: Pitt Grad Student, PGH Socialist Alternative (SA)

I was happy to see anti-capitalism was still central to IWS, given the connections across different coalition nations. Emily was drawn to do the work this year because, “IWS has a very important socialist history and I identify as a socialist and am part of SA.” Culver stated she was also motivated because, “IWS is about international solidarity. I lived in Peru for 8 years and just recently moved back to the U.S. and IWS … was very important in Peru. A lot of women participated, and it was something people were very passionate about.” With recent victories when US workers go on strike and win their demands, Emily cautioned that folks here in Pittsburgh need to prepare if they wanted to strike on March 8th. “If people are interested in going on strike it’s really important to do so in connection with an organization like a union.” While most everyone agreed that a lofty local goal would of course be for a general strike, there is an emphasis on holding solidarity demonstrations. While Culver is proud to work with SA, she wanted to emphasize that, “it’s not necessary to be involved in the kind of organizations we have in the coalition.… this kind of work can be done anywhere ….It’s not necessary to be a politicized person to understand the different oppressions we’re experiencing.”

Dighan Kelly: Pitt Undergrad, PGH Democratic Socialists of America

PGH IWS has been able to organize student walkouts on CMU’s campus the past two years and efforts by student organizers like Dighan are continuing that tradition. Dighan touched on how Pitt’s campus culture drew her to the work. “Pitt functions like a small microcosm of PGH and we’re not that small. There are 28k students, faculty, and staff and a ton of other people involved in the institution and a lot of the issues we see playing out on campus are even bigger, more widespread issues in the city itself or are symptoms of the same city issues”. When I asked whether PGH IWS is focused more on striking or solidarity, Dighan pointed out that, “IWS takes a lot of different forms depending on where it’s happening. […] Some countries are doing strikes for the causes that are … most relevant to them geographically and some people are just walking out for a day. Some people are doing things very different and I think part of the beauty of IWS is people can resist however makes the most sense to them. […] Maybe asking professors not to respond to emails and putting an auto-responder about why they’re not responding [March 8th].” As for why she thought it was important for women and gender non-conforming people to participate, Dighan said, “We’re the people who see our voices left out the most or interrupted the most in the smallest spaces, […] to not only call attention to the pain and problems we’re facing every day, but to uplift ourselves. […] I want to make this space better than when I got here … to see what we can do for the next cohort of students or people who occupy that workplace.”

PGH IWS’ main march and rally will take place downtown on March 8th, starting at the City County building, snow, rain, or shine. I am privileged to work at the Thomas Merton Center and know I can safely exercise my right to strike on March 8th. I implore all our members and supporters to take a stand with me on this year’s International Women’s Day because solidarity is our weapon. To get updates on organizing efforts, event times, and details on the student strike, email the steering committee at pgh.iws@gmail.com or visit http://www.facebook.com/pghM8womensstrike/

Krystle M. Knight is the Community Organizer for the Thomas Merton Center. She is a queer, second-generation Latinx of Mexican descent originally from Houston, TX.

Student Walkout & Rally! International Women’s Strike

Students and young people have been at the forefront of the resistance against Trump and of movements against gun violence, racism, police brutality, and attacks on women and the LGBTQ community. Across the country in a historic wave of teachers strikes, students have marched in solidarity with their teachers and joined the picket lines.

There is a growing mood among us as young people and students to take action against injustice, but we must recognize that we can only win our liberation from racism, sexism, queerphobia, transphobia, and all forms of oppression and exploitation by connecting our struggles and organizing on our campuses, in our workplaces, and in the streets. In solidarity with women striking around the world for International Women’s Day and the International Women’s Strike, we’re calling on students, staff, and faculty from local high schools and universities to walk out of their classes on March 7th at 3:08pm and unite for a multi-school rally at Schenley Plaza to demand reproductive justice and Title IX protections for all, an end to sexual assault and discrimination on campus, fair wages and working conditions for all campus workers, and ultimately a new system that puts the needs and rights of women and working people before profit.

Rebecca Rovins: CMU Undergrad, PGH Socialist Alternative 

(TMC newspaper VOL. 49 No. 2 March 2019. All rights reserved.)

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