New York City's women spent International Women's Day on strike, in the street
NEW YORK CITY. — For the second time this year, women showed up, flooding the streets of Midtown and Downtown Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon and night.
Two separate events — A Day Without a Woman, a labor rights and women's rights strike and rally brought to you by the organizers of the Women's March on Washington; and the International Women's Strike, a division of a globally organized day off in protest of gender inequality — drew crowds of collective thousands on March 8, International Women's Day.
Although it seemed probable that low wage women, the ones who arguably had most to protest Wednesday, would be left out of the earlier A Day Without a Woman protest, their voices were loudly represented. The organizers made it inescapably clear that their movement, one built on intersectional feminism, meant that women would stand for one another.
"Number 45 is going to hear us loud and clear," strike organizer Carmen Perez told the crowd at A Day Without a Woman, referring to President Donald Trump. "Not just today but every day, because we have to keep on showing up for one another. My struggle, my liberation is bound in your liberation."
A Day Without a Woman drew a crowd of perhaps a few hundred, mostly women and some handfuls of allies. People of all ages showed up clad in red, the uniform chosen by the Women's March organizers for its symbolism of "revolutionary love and sacrifice." A Day Without a Woman also asked that participants refrain from spending money, a fact apparently lost on the many men unsuccessfully hawking women's strike T-shirts on 5th Avenue, outside the rally.
The women whom Mic spoke with were, unsurprisingly, salaried women who hadn't faced too much difficulty in their decision to eschew work for a day. Brittany DeBarros works for Living Cities, and enjoyed the advocacy of her company's female COO, who threw her weight behind the women's strike. Given that support, DeBarros said, "it was just that much more important that we exercise our privilege for the people who don't have it that easy." Most of the women working in Living Cities' New York office went on strike Wednesday, while the men manned the desks and wore red in solidarity.
"I'm striking because I'm an officer in the military and I'm passionate about the United States and its promise of being a haven for equality and justice and opportunity," said DeBarros. "We've never lived up to that promise, and I think it's as much my responsibility to show up internally in the United States as it is for me to suit up in uniform and do my job in that capacity."
Annie Sidou, a writer and an artist, works in marketing at a civil engineering firm. She and her four female coworkers took the day off to strike, which in and of itself wasn't hard, she said. She only faced pushback when her boss found out why she wouldn't be at work Wednesday.
"When I was leaving work yesterday, I was putting a note on my computer to alert my coworkers why I wasn't here today, and my boss came over and yelled at me and told me that I was polluting the minds of my coworkers with my politics."
"So I made this," she added, holding up a large and anatomically correct vulva fashioned from cardboard and construction paper and dishtowels and pipe cleaners.
Sidou said her male coworkers were supportive of the decision to strike, even if they didn't quite understand why she'd made it. She said she provided some literature, which went unread. The refusal to listen "only reaffirmed" her striking spirit, she said. Sidou, a woman who works in a male-dominated field at a male-dominated company, attended the Day Without a Woman rally to rep her More Women project, which aims to make women more visible in politics, science, medicine, everywhere.
"We just need to be more visible," she said. "So I'm doing exactly what I can to make us more visible and I think walking around with a giant vulva is a good way of making women visible."
The women were visible at Trump International Hotel, where the masses marched after rally speeches wrapped. They cornered the hotel, not fully realizing the promised human ring around the building. Arrests interrupted the march, the NYPD taking four of the Women's March organizers — Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland — into custody around 1 p.m. on grounds of "civil disobedience."
Roughly two or three dozen protesters rallied outside New York's 7th precinct where Mallory, Sarsour, Perez and Bland were held, along with 11 others who'd participated in the demonstration. At the time, police did not provide a clear timeline for release, but those gathered outside said everyone involved had peacefully submitted to arrest. Activists at the precinct carried over chants of "A Day Without a Woman is a day without me" and sung protest songs.
Many participants in A Day Without a Woman maintained momentum well into the evening, showing up at Washington Square Park before 4 p.m., when a rally for the International Women's Strike was scheduled to begin. Many of the same protest signs were visible, and the red uniforms from the afternoon's protests mingled with the black ensembles called for by International Women's Strike organizers.
The Washington Square Park rally, likely because of its working person-friendly evening start time, trounced A Day Without a Woman in terms of attendance. But the intersectional feminist message was much the same, if slightly more specific and diverse in its presentation. A vast array of activists representing the transgender community, the labor movement, union organizers, pro-Palestinian groups, sex workers, Black Lives Matter, incarcerated women of color and many others took the stage, each emphasizing both women's oppression and their crucial social role. And, in many cases, a venomous disdain for the president.
"Where I come from, women choose our leadership," Betty Lyons, President and Executive Director of the American Indian Law Alliance, said in her speech. "We control that. We set them up, and we can take 'em down. And I'll tell you right now, that bastard in the White House wouldn't be sitting there today if you guys had that privilege as well."
The size of the crowd at Washington Square Park apparently exceeded organizers' expectations, and slowed the chain of events somewhat. As the clock ticked closer to six, people began to get audibly antsy, shouting over the speakers onstage, and over quips from fellow demonstrators, that it was time to march. Around dusk, protesters moved from the park to the streets, waving signs and shouting such familiar slogans as "racist, sexist, anti-gay, you can't take our rights away" and "hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go."
While crowds at both protests were overwhelmingly female, men did in fact show up throughout the day. Ethan Goldberg, a Ph.D. student in English at CUNY Graduate Center, attended the International Women's Strike rally in support of women's rights.
"I'm a feminist, I guess," Goldberg, who wore cherry red lipstick, explained. His advice to men hoping to be better allies: "Be supportive, be empathetic, try to put yourself in the shoes of women, don't be reactionary, don't be stereotypical men," he suggested.
Perhaps also a swipe of solidarity lipstick?
Tom McKay contributed additional reporting to this story.