This day is for women everywhere. In every home, every workplace, each workplace, warzone and picket line, there’s no place on earth that isn’t touched by the presence of women, and nowhere in the world where their absence won’t be felt today as the “Day without Women” unfolds.
But the original day was also a day of migrant women workers, and that’s often forgotten in the celebrations of women’s day. After all, the original inspiration for the first women’s day was the massive mobilization of women garment workers in one of the first major industrial strikes in New York City.
In 1908, women factory workers, mainly Jewish immigrants who lived in the poorest communities of the most prosperous city, rose up, spurred by the economic injustice they witnessed in their everyday lives. The spark of rebellion they inspired still kindles community activism in poor communities of color today. That flame still glows in the women turning out in the streets for the Movement for Black Lives; the passion stirs migrant mothers in detention to go on hunger strke to protest their incarceration. Yet many of the women with the most at stake will be invisible today, because their struggle is against a system that is designed to erase them from public view.
They’re the mothers like Jeanette Vizguerra, hiding out in a church of sanctuary in Denver to keep immigration agents from ripping her away from her family. After a lifetime of living with separation from her own parents--and being criminalized simply because she tried to visit her own dying mother in her homeland--she won’t let the same happen to her own children under Trump’s border wall.
They are the Central American refugee women whose families may now be torn apart by the Deparment of Homeland Security, as the perverse price of admission--forced to be separated from their children by the border patrol in order to “deter” future arrivals of women and children. Meanwhile, awaiting them on the other side of the border wall is rampant violence against women--some of the highest rates in the world of violence against women are found in the three countries where the women’s exodus originated, overwhelmed with domestic abuse, sexual assault, and systematic oppression of women and girls at the hnds of both organized criminals and their governments. Most of them will be violated again on the perilous, lawless smuggling routes from Central America to the southern edge of the US. Trans women and migrant sex workers are brutalized and assaulted at the hands of both the traffickers and the border patrol.
They are the migrant women all over the world who face rape, degradation, enslavement and military violence as they cross borders every day. Women whom Trump and the rest of the global patriarchal establishment is effectively condemning to even more suffering by tightening borders and shunting more families into squalid refugee camps. The women who still have a chance to take political action in their communities: the domestic workers who demand fair immigration policies to keep their families together, the women farmworkers exposed to sexual violence and environmental poison in the field, the young “dreamers” who occupied Capitol Hill for the right to an education, and women teachers who shut schools down today to defend their migrant students’ right to earn a diploma, even if they don’t have papers.
The barriers women resist today extend a historical lineage between the migrant women activists of early twentieth century, and the relentless defiance women continue to bring to the borders that threaten to break them every day.
Those women may not be able to strike today, but their presence is everywhere. To borrow a phrase from the domestic workers movement: women’s activism is the labor of resistance that “makes all other work possible.” The women locked up, banned, and in hiding still own this day, as long as the world remembers what it owes them.
--March 8, 2017