International Women’s Day

These schools are closed because of the women’s strike today



‘This Kind of Strike Is Really Something New’

L.A. Kauffman, a historian of radical protest in America, fits the “Day Without a Woman” into history.

Protesters gather at a rally for International Women’s Day in Los Angeles.Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

L.A. Kauffman may have the best-timed book release in years.

For the past quarter century, Kauffman has been researching and writing a chronicle of post-1960s protest on the American left. She has found and interviewed the participants of Mayday 1971, a forgotten D.C. blockade that triggered the largest mass arrest in U.S. history; she has identified the origins of affinity groups and consensus-based decision-making; and she has detailed the actions of ACT UP, the anti-AIDS group that she calls “the most innovative, influential, and effective radical organization of the late-20th century.”

The fruits of that labor—a concise and comprehensive book called Direct Actioncame out late last month. It is her luck that it was released during the most fervent period of progressive mobilization since 1968. Many of the tactics that Kauffman details, previously on the margins, are now being deployed for the first time at a massive, nationwide scale.Wednesday is one of those deployments. “The Day Without a Woman,” a “general strike” led by the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, calls for American women to give up their labor at work and at home for 24 hours. I was curious: How did Kauffman understand the strike? How does it compare to other major, post-1960s actions? And how should interested Americans think about the efficacy of protest?
I spoke with Kauffman about how protest movements become popular and how she has come to think change actually happens in the United States. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Robinson Meyer: My sense is that general striking is not a tactic that has been successfully executed, really, since the 1960s in the United States. Is that right?

L.A. Kauffman: It has not. There occasionally have been calls issued by small organizations that don’t have any traction. But there really has not been something that looks anything like a general strike in decades.

I’m not really a labor historian, so I can’t answer in detail about some of the earlier attempts at broad general strikes. But those were so long ago, and so different in character from what people are talking about now, that it’s really apples and oranges. In particular, earlier general strikes were an attempt to leverage the power of labor unions and oppositional organizations, and they were met by very violent crackdowns.

The whole dynamic is very different now. The model that’s being used is the “Day Without an Immigrant” model. It’s sectoral—the framing is a “general strike,” but in fact it’s coming from a particular sector and looking to demonstrate a level of collective power through mass noncompliance. It’s an approach that people have not used as much.

People have used various tactics of mass noncompliance; they’ve used boycotts; but this kind of strike is really something new. And it’s particularly new in that it’s redefining the general strike for an era in which organized labor is not going to be front and center. It’s redefining the general strike without the sense of it being led by a labor movement. What I find so compelling about it is that it shows a level of innovation, of people stretching the limits of the question: What can we do in this moment?

Meyer: You’ve written this history of protest tactics after 1970 in Direct Action.Are we seeing some of the largest-ever deployment of those exact tactics right now?Kauffman: Yes, absolutely. People are trying these tactics in a way, and on a scale, that we simply haven’t seen before. And having that perspective [of the last 40 years] is important because, I think, a lot of people are going to be looking to compare what happens on Wednesday with the numbers on January 21. And that’s not really the point of comparison. The point of comparison is the absence of walkouts and sectoral strikes like this in the past, and that these tactics are being tried on a national scale for the first time.We’ve had boycotts, we’ve had divestment campaigns, but outside of the immigrant-rights movement—which has been doing these Days Without an Immigrant for a while, this is hearkening back to the extraordinary mobilizations in 2006—[this kind of strike is] a tool that’s been used much more in other countries than here.And it’s kind of appropriate that they would have this more global perspective on what tactics we might use in this moment. The immigrant-rights movement is composed of many people who had experience responding to authoritarian regimes in their own countries before they came here.

Meyer: What does success look like for those tactics in the United States?

Kauffman: There’s many different kinds of protests and mobilizations, and gauging the success of them is always contextual. It depends on what arena you’re struggling in, and what the objectives are, and what the time frame for evaluating the success is.

At this moment, the first and foremost job of the broad resistance is to continue to keep the Trump administration in a state of crisis, to contribute keeping them off balance and on the defensive. [Day Without a Woman] has the potential to be one of many moves that are contributing to that. I think it’s important—the organizers of the Women’s March have been very thoughtful and intentional trying to harness the incredible energy of January 21 and think about how to move forward and transform that mobilizing work into new kinds of organizing.
Meyer: What does that kind of mobilization and organization work entail?
Kauffman: Mobilizing is getting people to show up. Organizing is building groups, amassing collective power within some kind of organizational entity that’s going to follow an agenda over time.So the “Day Without a Woman” is getting a lot of attention, but there hasn’t been as much attention to the fact that in the wake of January 21, the Women’s March called for—and people organized—5,000 small-group meetings all around the country to talk about this moment, to think about what steps people might take, and to take the self-mobilizing energy that made January 21 so massive and powerful and figure out how to put down deeper roots. You don’t keep it going by just calling for march after march.
Meyer: It was interesting reading about the late 60s in your book, which was another moment of mass mobilization. There, it did get to a point where people were tired of going to protests, and it seemed like that prompted some of the factionalization of the 1970s. People would go to demonstration after demonstration against the Vietnam War, and then they were eventually like, well, what are we demonstrating for?
Kauffman: There’s certain tactics during that specific period, the late 60s, that are pretty much off the table now. People were like, “Well, our marches and our demonstrations aren’t working, so maybe we need to go to street fighting. Or maybe we need to go to armed struggle.” And all those attempts backfired so spectacularly that those tactics are—and I expect will continue to be—off the table.But this is a moment where people are looking very thoughtfully at what tools we have at our disposal that we haven’t used as much, like going to town-hall meetings. The left hasn’t particularly done that kind of organizing on a large scale, in the way that we saw during the “resistance recess” [last month]. Part of that is people thinking about running for office and engaging with the electoral process in a different way. We’re seeing a lot of interest in engaging with the Democratic party at a grassroots level in a way that… you know, the left has mostly defined itself against that party for decades.
Meyer: Why is that different now?
Kauffman: I think part of [the erosion of that divide] has been the decline of the ideological left and the rise of the many identity and issue-based movements, many of which have understood that they need to engage liberals and progressives in order to push forward their agenda. They may stand in oppostion to the corporate liberalism of the establishment Democratic party, but there’s not that same sense of a big ideological divide that there was for a time [during the ’60s].

Meyer: After surveying the long sweep of post-1960s protest on the left, is there a movement or story in your book that you hope people now would know about?

Kauffman: The one I always cite first and foremost is ACT UP, which managed to accomplish an absolutely staggering amount despite never having had very large numbers compared to, say, the anti-war movement. It’s always much smaller than other movements that we’ve had. It was always socially and culturally on the margins and proud of that. It was disruptive, and rude, and in your face, and very bold and aggressive. And it succeeded—through its persistence, and its willingness to use controversial tactics—in transforming the drug testing and approval process and saving literally millions of lives.

As people are experimenting now with the ways that we can be a check on the Trump administration policies, the lesson there is that we should be willing to be unpopular, to do things that are controversial, to use tactics that are going to be criticized—all within the broad framework of nonviolence. There’s a lot of evidence that when you step outside of strictly nonviolent tactics, the negative reactions outweigh the positive gains.

[People have said,] “Well you’re not going to be reaching Trump voters if you do this, you’re not going to be reaching that broad middle.” I mean, that’s not how change happens in this country. There are kinds of change that happen that way, but the kind of change that has led us to have progress for LGBT folks across a period of mostly conservative governance, for instance, comes from bold, outsider activism that has been sustained and persistent and usually controversial in the moment.Meyer: There’s been this discussion among writers on The Atlantic: Should protesters be bold and uncompromising and disruptive, or should they be visibly patriotic, and think about how their actions will play on TV in Ohio and Michigan? What’s an example of a disruptive and controversial but ultimately successful tactic like that from, say, ACT UP?Kauffman: You can go to something that people know better than they know ACT UP, which is the movement to end racial segregation in the South in the Fifties. At the time, if you go back and look at public-opinion data from the period, the Civil Rights Movement was very unpopular. And its actions were consistently criticized as being polarizing and not reaching this mythical person in Ohio. “People are turned off by this. Why do you have to sit at the lunch counters? Isn’t there a way to do this that’s less disruptive? Did you really have to put everybody on that bus together and cross state lines? Look at the violence you provoked!”
There’s a way in which people fail to see that the consensus in favor of the changes that movement wrought—they always come after they’ve won. Nothing makes a movement popular like winning. And to get to winning, you almost always have to do things that are controversial and unpopular. That doesn’t mean you have to be rioting and burning American flags—people will criticize you just for marching on Washington. But particularly when the odds are long, it’s in those stronger tactics that you’re able to create the crisis that forces decision makers to move your way, to accede to your demands.Meyer: You just alluded to this, but I want to get your I’ve-been-working-on-a-book-for-25-years-and-here’s-the-answer-I-finally-came-up-with answer. How does change happen in this country?Kauffman: I think, in a way, it’s kind of how Trumpism happened.Change happens slowly and unevenly over time, but it usually starts at the margins. It usually starts with people who are putting forth a vision that is dramatically at odds with the existing reality, whether their vision is women being able to vote, or black and white folks being able to live together in harmony and share public accommodations and schools. It’s been, time and time again, the actions of unpopular trailblazers that have over time catalyzed change, persuaded many others, rallied them to their pole of action by standing strong with a vision of something different—rather than watering [that vision] down with some idea that you’re going to get more adherents by doing so. That’s the great mistake of neoliberalism and Clintonism and the Democratic Party, and it’s why the Democratic party lost.

A gift of taking 25 years to write a book is that, by the time I finally got around to finishing it, I was able to take a long view of what has worked and what hasn’t worked. [You can] evaluate what movements did on a long horizon, so that you’re not just saying, “Well, the occupation of Seabrook Nuclear Plant [in 1976] kind of fell apart, and the movement dissolved into infighting, and they weren’t able to mount another protest.” Instead, you say, you know what? Not another nuclear plant was built for decades after Seabrook.

You have to have the long view and say, what that [protest] did was that it threw a monkey wrench into a process that was otherwise going to just unfold smoothly. With the longer time frame, you’re able to see that these protest movements—that appear marginal and unpopular in the moment—are often what succeed in catalyzing changes that the broad majority goes on to cherish and value.



Women’s Strike brings paid leave supporters to D.C. by the thousands

by  Alan Pyke

They’re saying Trump’s paid leave plan is a sham.

Participants in Wednesday’s Women Workers Rising rally at Labor Department headquarters. CREDIT: Screenshot/V-Day

A quarter-century ago, Safiyyah A. Muhammad almost lost her job.

The, her oldest son threw up in a trash can in front of her boss.

“I had called three hours before my shift to say, ‘my son has a 100-degree fever and he’s vomiting.’ And they said ‘well if you aren’t coming in today then don’t come back at all,’” Muhammad, now 47, said in an interview.

Then a 22-year-old single mother, Muhammad decided to bring her son with her to the retail store where she’d just been threatened with termination for trying to stay home with the boy. Two bus rides and two hours later, she plopped him down behind the register in his school uniform and went to work.

“Right as the manager walked by,” she said, “he keeled over and threw up in the trash can. My manager said, ‘He can’t be here! You have to take him home.’ That’s what I’m trying to tell you!”

On Wednesday, Muhammad and 2,000 other working women like her rallied outside the Department of Labor’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to urge lawmakers to get serious about paid sick leave legislation.

Convened by the national Family Values @ Work organizing network, Wednesday’s demonstration is just one of dozens being staged for International Women’s Day. These “A Day Without a Woman” protests and strikes are a direct response to the misogynistic shadow President Donald Trump now casts across American politics.

“It’s a blessing that business owners understand the value of having healthy workers.”

FV@W’s rally is a bit more delicate, politically speaking, than many of the other protests and rallies Wednesday, such as the large demonstration against Trump’s devastating “global gag rule” on abortion services. Where many of the causes bound up in Wednesday’s gender strike face outright opposition from Trump and his allies, the new president has at least claimed to support the idea of paid leave laws for working families.

The Trump team’s lip service to paid leave “was a testament to the power of our movement. But the devil’s in the details, and the details we’ve seen so far from the administration are devilish,” FV@W head Ellen Bravo told ThinkProgress.

Trump’s version of paid family leave — which the president is entrusting to daughter Ivanka, much as he did during the campaign — would be too small and too restrictive to help most of the people who need it, she said, and would be paid for with money from the already underfunded unemployment insurance system.

“It’s not just that it doesn’t go far enough. It’s that it’s a step in the wrong direction,” Bravo said.

Paid sick and family leave laws have spread rapidly in the past few years, in part because they don’t fall into the same oppositional political polarization that so often leads conservatives to oppose anything they perceive as liberal in intent. Business owners are often among the most fervent advocates for the laws, out of the recognition that a healthy workforce is far more valuable than one worked to the edge of sanity and ill health.

Big business is far from perfect here — especially on family leave laws — but corporate sympathy to these ideas gives groups like FV@W a powerful conduit to conservative politicians. And enough cities and states have adopted paid sick days or paid family leave policies that economists can now confidently debunk apocalyptic right-wing predictions about their impact.

A tentative alliance with the business community and a mountain of real-world evidence in favor of the laws could could have made it tougher for Bravo, Muhammad, and everyone else at Wednesday’s rally to connect their cause with the broader liberal and feminist backlash against Trump. Antagonizing an impulsive misogynist with the power of the federal government at his fingers could threaten the trans-ideological power of the paid leave idea.

Bravo isn’t worried.

“Our coalitions are great places to build bridges,” she said. “In many places we have people who signed a petition for paid leave and then voted for Trump. Maybe they have been fed the story that immigrants are the reason they are losing their farm or their job, but our coalitions are a venue for breaking down that lie.”

“We have people who signed a petition for paid leave and then voted for Trump.”

Besides, she added, Trump’s broader agenda is so objectionable that FV@W “can’t look at things piecemeal. When you say you’re going after ‘bad dudes’ and in fact you arrest a dad who’s taking his kid to school, when you have a president who demonizes an entire group of people based on their religion or where they come from,” Bravo said, “we have to oppose that in the strongest possible way.”

All else equal, Wednesday’s rally participants trust that the bleedingly obvious economic logic of the paid leave idea will eventually steamroll any petty partisanship or stick-in-the-mud tribalism from Trump allies.

Muhammad has seen for herself how math can triumph over ideology. Back home in East Orange, New Jersey, city leaders passed a paid sick leave law in 2014 — about 20 years after the day her oldest son threw up in front of her boss.

“This was brought up by our city’s Chamber of Commerce. It’s a blessing that business owners understand the value of having healthy workers,” she said. “We really hope that this administration comes on board, because we can see they are driven by economics, by big business.”

Today, Muhammad’s oldest son is 30 years old with two kids of his own and a third on the way. She’s had four other kids — three sons on the autism spectrum, and a daughter who’s about to graduate high school — and married again.

Now, she works as a peer support counselor for special-needs caregivers like herself. She works part-time so she and her husband don’t have to spend big bucks on child care, on top of the expensive support and care her three younger sons need.

“I get so excited when I look at my pay stub and see those sick days being accumulated,” Muhammad said. “Now I can say, ‘You know what, I’m not feeling well, I need a sick day.’ And I can take one.”



“A Day Without Women” aims to put an economic price on women’s political power.


Fresh off the success of the Women’s March, which drew 3 million to 4 million protesters in the United States alone, activists are urging women across the world to go on strike Wednesday, turning the annual International Women’s Day into “A Day Without Women.” The organizers of the day of action, which include a team orchestrating protests in dozens of countries around the world, are calling on women to take whatever action their lives allow for, including taking the day off from work; refraining from doing both paid and unpaid labor like childcare or household duties; attending 1 of the 50 rallies happening in cities across the country; declining to shop at male-owned or corporate businesses; or even just wearing red in solidarity.

The Women’s Strike, as the event is being called, is a way of leveraging women’s labor and spending to put an economic price on women’s political power. The goal, organizers say, is to recognize “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.”

The idea of a general strike is foreign to many Americans. The labor movement in 2017 is far weaker than it once was, and general strikes haven’t been popular in the U.S. since the 1940s, though activists hope to change that. Unlike a strike against a company, in which workers pressure their employer for improved work conditions or better pay, a general strike has less specific goals. A Day Without Women—which takes place during a work day—is a more aggressive kind of protest than a Saturday afternoon march. It’s a means of reintroducing the concept of a strike into the political consciousness of the everyday American.

Specifically, in the case of the Women’s Strike, it’s a way to translate protest into economic impact. The goal is to make the absence of women and their labor felt, and in the process, make mainstream the concepts of striking and labor issues so that a day of action has lasting impact. “A lot of what people are trying to do is start to rebuild a muscle,” Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, told Bloomberg. “They are trying to get people to think about how they might participate.”

The strike is the latest in a series of mass protests that have taken place since President Donald Trump began rolling back his predecessor’s progressive agenda, energizing the left in opposition. The “Grab Your Wallet” boycott, started by anti-Trump activist Shannon Coulter after the election to educate consumers about companies selling Trump products, has called on participants to contact stores like Macy’s and Amazon to urge them to stop selling Trump-made goods. Since Coulter’s boycott began, companies like Nordstrom and T.J. Maxx have started to phase out their Trump-related inventories. In February, hundreds of Yemeni-owned bodegas shut their doors for one business day in protest of Trump’s executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. Next week, Silicon Valley’s tech workers plan to walk out from their jobs in protest of the president. The group’s goals include urging “our tech leaders to stand up and speak out for our users when the current administration enacts policies that negatively affect our community,” according to its GoFundMe profile.

Some writers have criticized the Women’s Strike, saying that it requires some amount of privilege to join a day of action, particularly for women who take care of young children at home or work hourly jobs they can’t afford to miss. But this criticism fails to take into account both the diverse means by which people can participate in Wednesday’s day of action, and the fact that the Women’s Strike has the support of domestic workers, restaurant workers, the bodega owners who went on strike in New York last month, and immigrant groups. In recent years, it has actually been groups with the least privilege—and the most to lose—that have often been at the forefront of social-justice protests and strikes. The Fight for $15 and other labor protests have seen thousands of fast-food and other low-wage workers go on strike for a higher minimum wage over the past two years. In 2016, Black Lives Matter supported prison strikes in 24 states, the largest coordinated effort in U.S. history to protest forced labor.

Both President Trump and his daughter Ivanka co-opted the message of the Women’s Strike on Wednesday, perhaps attempting to defuse some of its political power. “On International Women’s Day, join me in honoring the critical role of women here in America & around the world,” the president tweeted, adding, “I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy.” His daughter wrote, “Today, we celebrate women and are reminded of our collective voice and the powerful impact we have on our societies and economies.”

Few are likely to be persuaded by the effort. Although the Women’s Strike is not explicitly aimed at protesting Trump, some of the organizers’ goals—abortion rights, for example—are a direct rebuke of the president’s policies. Under the House G.O.P.’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, which provides women’s health care and abortion services, would effectively be defunded. The Women’s Strike on Wednesday will invariably draw comparisons to the widely attended Women’s March, and unlike the march on Washington, the optics of a general strike are less likely to include impressive aerial crowd shots and photo ops with witty protest signs. But if Wednesday can introduce the concept of a general strike to Middle America, organizers believe it will be a success in its own right.


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