Some Thoughts on A Day Without a Woman, and Those Showing Up Every Day – by Penny

If you aren’t living under a rock, you’ve heard about A Day Without a Woman, a day of action scheduled for March 8th (International Women’s Day) put together by the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington. According to the WMW’s FAQ page,* the purpose of this action is “to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in the US and global economies, while calling attention to the economic injustices women and gender nonconforming people continue to face.”   To participate, women around the country are called upon to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoid participating in commerce or buy only from local women and minority-owned businesses, and wear red, “a color signifying of revolutionary love and sacrifice,”* as a display of solidarity. Male allies are called to participate as well by speaking up for family leave and equal pay in the office, “leaning in” to childcare and other domestic responsibilities, examining their expectations of the women in their lives – and so perhaps expecting more of themselves – and of course, wearing red.*

While I’ve seen a lot of very positive press regarding Wednesday’s strike, I would be remiss if I didn’t address valid criticisms of this action. You see, I am a privileged woman in that I recently chose to take a few months off from work outside the home. I’m in a stable relationship with a supportive and loving partner who can assume my domestic responsibilities for the day. I know that I can take the day off from caring for my child and that he will still get help with his homework and a balanced dinner.

It wasn’t always this way. The memory of my three year old offering to protect me after watching me get slapped around one too many times is a wound too easily reopened. The time the electricity got turned off for a few days so I could fix my car and keep my job comes to mind. There are other examples, of course, but my history does not negate today’s privilege at all. The thing is, sacrificing a day’s pay for a protest is simply impossible for millions of women, even if we can do so without perhaps losing our jobs altogether. For so many women, eschewing childcare responsibilities for an entire day is a fantasy – hell, for many of us, it would be a luxury to get an uninterrupted shower.

And so I have felt very uneasy about A Day Without a Woman. While I wholeheartedly support its intentions, I am deeply concerned that it excludes those who persist through the greatest amount of injustice. This burden falls disproportionately on women of color, immigrants, refugees, disabled women, and LGBTQIA+ identifying people. As a white woman facing comparatively little oppression, does this make it wrong to participate?

When I asked the women in my life if they would be participating, I was humbled by how clear things became. While I do know some women who are participating on March 8th, and I support them wholeheartedly, again and again I heard from women who are still choosing to work that day. And it has little or nothing to do with all my handwringing and should-we shouldn’t-we. The reason?  Because these women are doing the exhausting, difficult, and so very rewarding work of promoting justice every single day. These are the women who are fighting for abortion access for Kentuckians, who have just one clinic left in the state and a mounting pile of legislation to create economic and geographic barriers. These are the women who fight to offer accurate sexual education, STD testing, cancer screenings, and affordable contraception to anyone who walks in their doors, under constant threat of losing vital funds.

These are the women who are working with local immigrants and refugees in the face of a regime based on fear and hatred of anyone with an unfamiliar accent. These are the women who stand up and speak out against systemic racism and the trivialization of Black lives even though it would be safer to keep their heads down. These are the women fighting for inclusion and accessibility for disabled people in a society that constantly overlooks them. These are the women who are tireless in their advocacy for the rights and dignity of LGBTQIA+ persons. These are the teachers who love their students so hard it hurts, the social workers who go above and beyond to improve their clients’ lives, the medical support staff who soothe scared children at three in the morning at an inpatient care facility. These are the women who recruit the volunteers, who answer the phones, the ones who organize.

These are the women lighting up the dark corners, without applause and without opinion pieces in all the major news outlets. These are the women who Get Shit Done, and we can’t afford a day without them, because the amount that needs doing only seems to grow with each passing day.

In order for us to have reproductive justice** – in order for all women to have true self-determination in how, when, with whom, or if they decide to raise children – we cannot ignore how multiple layers of oppression intersect.  Isn’t the lack of a living wage then a barrier? Living under the threat of deportation? Living in a food desert? Systemic criminalization of Black bodies? Inability to access necessary medical care? Does constant sexuality-based discrimination impede on your right to become a parent? Or your right to raise children in an environment where they are safe and healthy? What about the near-daily litany of trans people being brutally murdered?

What I have learned – am still learning – from these women is this: while the huge protests, marches, and actions are important, it is those who integrate justice into their daily lives who are making the greatest impact. I do not believe that these ideas are mutually exclusive in the slightest. In fact, the giant events, with their intoxicating feelings of solidarity and empowerment, can help get you through the times when it feels like a losing battle. But you still need to show up for the fight.

After attending the Women’s March on Washington this past January, I made a pact with myself to “make it mean something.” Otherwise all the time, expense, and effort to move my body to Washington felt like a gross display of my privilege, like one of the worst kinds of tourism. I’ve made good on that pact to the best of my ability, and always strive to do more. There are so many amazing local organizations in the Louisville area, and I would be willing to bet there is something to suit any skills, time, or comfort level you may bring to the table. In the past month, I’ve done everything from clinic escorting, to phone banking, to spreadsheet/database maintenance, to canvassing, to delivering furniture for refugees, to baking muffins, to fundraising – among other things. So yes, by all means, participate in the nationwide and international actions, and I’ll be wearing red as well. But on Thursday morning, we take that energy and use it locally. Below are some links to get you started – do some research, send some emails! This is not the easy work, and it’s not the glamorous work, but it is absolutely the most meaningful work there is.

* Women’s March, Frequently Asked Questions

**Trust Black Women, Understanding Reproductive Justice

New Roots

Ky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

ACLU of Ky

Ky Health Justice Network

Black Lives Matter  (Louisville)

Showing Up for Racial Justice   (Ky chapter)

Also visit our How to Get Involved page

 

 

 

One Louisvillian’s report from Take Root: Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice

Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice.  There is a lot to be said for making a point to create a space – a whole conference – for activists, advocates, academics, and service providers to caucus about the challenges they face in their communities around a so many topics. These issues (birth, pregnancy, abortion, HIV, sex, LGBTQIA health, education, economic rights, racism…) face so many attacks, and it is important for those of us working to address these challenges to be able to learn and share with each other. it’s amazing how much there is in common, but surprising to learn how very different things are in other places (and, based on my observations, some things are worse than you can imagine, in a place you probably haven’t thought of…)

So, I feel very fortunate to have been given the chance to attend the Take Root conference for a second year in a row, thanks to the support of Louisville’s Reproductive Rights /Justice communities.

In addition to the support I received from our local folks, I was especially honored to be invited to sit on a panel by the Take Root organizers.  The panel I took part in was titled Visions for Our Movement: Service and Practical Support in Red States. I was proud to represent the Kentucky Support Network, and the Louisville Clinic Escorts alongside individuals from Backline, Trust Women in Wichita, Cicada Collective in Texas, the Bay Area Doula Project, and Defending the Last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi.  It was exciting to stand alongside folks who are also doing client based support work based on the various challenges that are faced by folks in different places.  One of the most unifying (and gratifying) points that was shared by a number of us was the powerful experience of being a space holder, and a story bank of sorts, as we offer an informed ear over a hotline, or a steady hand on the sidewalk, to people who are dealing with stigma, a lack of support, a deficit in resources, and other barriers.  Hearing that point being made by other people, and knowing how large of a piece it plays for me in the work I do was very satisfying.

After my panel, there was a followup session with breakout activities where small groups from different places collaborated on various topics.  I was excited to brainstorm with a range of folks about ways to move the conversation away from just abortion in order to cultivate a unified movement towards justice across lines of difference.   We talked about how important intersectionality is in this work.  How it is vital for reproductive rights advocates to ally themselves with folks working on voter rights, HIV advocacy, LBGT health, economic human rights, mental health, on and on… so that we are able to stand together as we fight, because it is impossible to separate the various aspects of a whole person’s complex identity.  We cannot expect people to forget that their skin is brown, or their kids are hungry, or that they need access to healthcare, because we also want them to lobby for voter rights, just like we can’t expect a transman to ignore the importance of pap smears while trying to adopt a child with their partner who is up against the fact they have a non violent marijuana charge from ten years ago on their record… for example.

On top of the two sessions about practical support, I attended two other workshops.  One entitled HIV, Self Determination, and Cultural Safety explored the challenges faced by people in various circumstances and we heard from panelists doing work on a national level through various orgs, and on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi.  A major takeaway from that discussion was that HIV is not the problem for lots of folks that are positive.  The problem lies in a lack of access to care, and in systems that are constructed to continually oppress people who are already facing a lack of resources.

The next session I attended a presentation called We’re here! We’re queer! We’re sober!: Assessing Ourselves and Our Environment.  This presentation focused on intentional sobriety, or intentional use of substances, as a way to foster conversations about safety, stigma, and the reasons why we are taught to suppress our desires, and trained to feel like we need substances in order to be comfortable in intimate settings. We also talked about the problematic nature of a culture that is built on buying and consuming substances as a way to feel like we can come together in spaces that are supposed to be “safer” spaces to be ourselves in.

Outside of workshops, I was delighted to see faces, familiar and new, as we exchanged cards and smiles on the way to lunch or in the halls between sessions. The highlights for me included hearing from Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women during her keynote address where she spoke of people being denied bodily autonomy and other human rights for the simple reason that they were pregnant.  Her speech included the stories of people who were not just being denied abortion access.  She spoke of a woman who was threatened with arrest to comply with a doctor’s wish to perform a medically unnecessary cesarean procedure, and told us about multiple people who were jailed in an attempt to prevent them from having abortions including one woman who was sent to jail from a hospital without examination, where she died of an ectopic pregnancy.

The conference was closed out with an incredible closing plenary by Deon Haywood of Women with a Vision who gave us a picture of what is going on in New Orleans where there is a staggeringly disproportionate number of women (especially black women and black trans women) who are being prosecuted for sex work and “crimes against nature” (such as anal sex, and oral sex). As a result, these women are being placed on the national sex offender registry which carries countless repercussions on their entire lives, including but not limited to their rights to raise their children, and also the ability to find a job.

I am very thankful to be part of such a supportive community here in KY that allowed me to access such an amazing and inspiring broader community so I can learn and continue to strengthen the work I do.  Here’s hoping I can go back next year.

here are a few links for more projects that I was fortunate to make connections to this time around:

Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center

http://colorlatina.org/

http://www.1in3campaign.org/en/

Indy Feminists

http://prochoiceohio.org/

http://www.ircrc.org/

http://www.womendonors.org/