Revolution #227, March 20, 2011
International Women's Day in the U.S.
The following is correspondence from Revolution readers on some of the actions and events around IWD 2011 in the U.S. Other events are taking place as we go to press, including a celebration at Revolution Books in New York City featuring Revolution writer Sunsara Taylor, speaking on "Ending Women's Oppression: Imagining—and Fighting for—a Whole Different World."
On Sunday, March 6, an International Women's Day "Day of Defiance and Celebration" took place at Revolution Books, LA. The event featured an internationalist potluck, inspiring readings and poetry, skits and deeply felt collective discussion on the oppression of women in the U.S. and the world. As part of the event, those in attendance also discussed the need to take determined action to defy the oppression and together it was decided a concentration of the intensifying attacks on women—a women's right to abortion—needed to be challenged in the streets of LA.
In response to the letter in the online edition of Revolution (#226, March 6, 2011, "Suggestion for Creative Manifestation on International Women's Day") that International Women's Day include some kind of creative demonstration infused with the spirit of A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity (Revolution #158, March 8, 2009), in Los Angeles we identified a new Crisis Pregnancy Center. This is a fake women's clinic that lures women in by advertising "Free Pregnancy Tests," then lectures them on their moral decisions to have sex and, if they're pregnant, harangues them for hours (literally after they have their prey in tears) until, as their website states, "she chooses life for her baby... and the path of righteousness that leads to a better life."
This clinic is directly across from Los Angeles Community College. With only 24 hours to organize, we sent out a press release and emails, and made phone calls to let people know. At 3 pm sharp we had a big, bright banner reading "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology," and bilingual signs that read "Break the Chains, Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution," "Women Are Not Incubators," "Fetuses Are Not Babies," "Abortion Is Not Murder." We put up a literature table and, with a lot of rage, in front of the fake clinic we started to expose this Christian fascist "women's center" for what it really represents. The 18 of us were not big in number, but the rage and outrage were palpable. Our group included high school and college students and teachers, volunteers at Revolution Books, and others. One of the local TV channels took pictures and interviewed participants. Hundreds of flyers went out and we sold many Revolution newspapers featuring the statement on "On the Strategy for Revolution" as well as issue #223 with the cover, "The Morality of the Right to Abortion and the Immorality of Those Who Oppose It."
The response from people on the street and on the campus was overwhelmingly positive. At least five women confided that they had had abortions. One said she'd worn a purity ring in high school but later her boyfriend lied that he had a vasectomy and she became pregnant and then got an abortion. The church kicked her out, saying she was the devil. One woman passing by said, "Jesus wants you to have a baby" and another woman snapped back, "Is Jesus gonna feed it?" One woman who had an abortion said she didn't know this was one of those fake clinics and, since she lives around the corner, she would make it her duty to expose them every opportunity she got. Two young men talked with us and then joined in holding signs, and some of the workers in neighboring shops confided that they often heard women crying at that location and had wondered what was going on.
After three hours as we were closing down, a woman came up and hugged us saying we really got out the word. She was in an astronomy class way down the street and heard us when she was in class and had to run by to thank us for what we were doing and gave her name for the next event. A reporter for the school newspaper took pictures and came by the store later for an in-depth interview/conversation.
Emergency Panel in Berkeley
About 65 people came to Revolution Books in Berkeley for an Emergency Panel discussion called: Attacks on Women's Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood—What's Behind This Assault, and the Urgency of Resistance. This year International Women's Day occurred in the midst of a flurry of intense and dangerous legislative attacks on both the federal and state levels targeting women's right to abortion. When Revolution Books reached out to people active in the fight for abortion and reproductive rights, they responded very enthusiastically about the event and helped make it happen.
The five-women panel was comprised of a doctor who is a member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, a Stanford medical student and member of Medical Students for Choice, a Mills College student activist, a representative of Planned Parenthood, and a speaker from the bookstore. The doctor talked about her experiences caring for women in countries where abortion is illegal, painting a picture of the terrible consequences for women when this most basic of procedures is not available.
The Planned Parenthood representative spoke about the bills moving through Congress to defund Planned Parenthood and asked the audience to "stand up for Planned Parenthood." She also pointed out that defunding Planned Parenthood will eliminate not just family planning services, but other basic health services that the clinics provide, and that increasingly, for women who cannot afford insurance, Planned Parenthood is their main health care provider.
The Stanford student spoke about her shock at learning that the prestigious medical school barely mentioned abortion in its training and curriculum, and there was little to encourage students to take an interest in the field. Growing up under "Roe," she had taken for granted that abortion was safe and legal, but she had to come to grips with the fact that unless there are abortion providers this doesn't mean much. She discovered that the real situation is that there is a "greying" of skilled abortion doctors, a climate where abortion is under attack from "antis" and Congress, and that little was being done to educate doctors about this need let alone encourage them to make providing abortions a specialty. She mentioned that this is "crazy" because 1 in 3 women ages 15 to 45 have an abortion, it is the most common medical procedure for women. So she has stepped up to change the situation and to speak out.
The Mills College student talked about her awakening to the fight against women's oppression in high school, which began when she innocently wrote about and featured a picture of an anatomically correct vagina in the Valentines Day (Vagina Day) issue of her school newspaper. The paper was confiscated and the administration told her that it was obscene. The next day she mobilized the newspaper staff to wear T-shirts with the slogan "My Vagina Is Obscene," which set off a further furor. What kind of society is it where a picture from the "health books" is deemed obscene, especially when no such label is put on the penis? The experience set her off in the direction of challenging and rebelling against attacks on women, and she had recently played a major role in organizing the February 26 Walk for Choice in Oakland.
The speaker from Revolution Books drew on articles from Revolution newspaper and writings by Bob Avakian to talk about the reason the system denies women the basic right to control their reproduction. She defended the morality of abortion, exposing the view of the Democrats that it should be "rare," and argued that there must be an unapologetic and massive fight for abortion on demand. And she brought out the history that shows women's oppression only arose with class divisions, and why only revolution can and will liberate women.
During the discussion there were different views among the panelists on why these attacks are happening, what should be done to fight the attacks and how to really win this battle. Most of the panelists were critical of the Democrats but still placed a lot of hope on appealing to them and working to influence electoral politics. However, all panelists also strongly voiced support for protest and for outspokenness. There were also interesting comments and questions from the audience including what could be done to train non-doctors to do safe abortions, if abortion becomes completely illegal. The panelists all voiced the opinion that it was most important to fight to ensure that abortion rights are strengthened and not lost, that abortion must not be driven underground, and that men need to be in this fight with women. It was extremely inspiring for the audience to hear from these women who risk a lot, every day, when they speak out, counsel women, provide care, and fight for the right of women to decide when, whether or if to bear a child.
Pro-Abortion Action, Berkeley
As part of celebrating International Women's Day, we called on people to come out on March 10, the National Day to Support and Celebrate Abortion Providers. There were about five of us who went out to the UC Berkeley students. We had a bullhorn and A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity, fliers for the protest and for the Sunsara Taylor/Dr. Susan Wicklund film showing that night at the bookstore. We made stickers that said, "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" We hung up coat hangers to show what women had used to terminate a pregnancy before abortion was legal.
We were at the main intersection going onto campus for the class rush. It was raining, but we had a spirited little march, with chants and agitation, over to Dwinelle, one of the main buildings, where people were about to get into class, and we did some agitation inside the building while people were rushing to class. On the way there, a couple of women gave us the fist and inside someone patted me on the back.
We did an announcement in the Free Speech Café, which was very warmly received. As soon as I started talking, the room went quiet and people intently listened. The basic message was—today is the Day of Appreciation for abortion providers and if you don't think that women are breeders or lesser beings or the property of men then you should support abortion providers and the right to choose and enough of this being ashamed for having an abortion, because if women can't control their bodies and their lives, they have no more freedom than a slave. I told them about the event that night and that they could raise their hands if they wanted the Declaration, because we think that nothing short of revolution can break all the chains on women. When I finished, many people broke into applause. People took stickers, flyers and newspapers.
Outside the café we got in a good exchange with some students. One guy came up to say he really appreciated me getting up there and not being afraid and speaking eloquently because there are all these people who just declare things and they don't have the argument for it; they just declare, "because I believe it and that settles it" and he appreciates that we have the argument for it. And I said thanks, but what about the content? He said, "I appreciate that you are focused on the content too." He said he thinks, "Women should have the choice to abortion, but do you think all abortions are OK? I'm in ethics and we're dealing with these kinds of questions—what are the social effects or is the intent important?" I said, "Yes, unless the woman doesn't want one—forced sterilization and all that is a part of our history too—because we do have to look at the social effect of women not being able to control their own bodies." He said that he thinks that "abortion shouldn't be used as birth control." I asked, "Why?" and he said, laughing at himself, "Because I believe it and that settles it."
Then a woman joined the conversation, who turns out to be from the group SANE (Students For A Non-Religious Ethos, the atheist group). She had a good metaphor that even if you give that the fetus is a human being, say he's 45 friggin' years old, no human being has the right to be a parasite on another human being. You wouldn't let someone get dialysis through someone else's kidneys, for instance. She had obviously thought a lot about this question, and when we brought up the fetus cube (a humongous display of bloody fetus put up by anti-abortion Christian fascists) last year, she said, "People get all squeamish cause it's bloody, but it's my blood! And it may be violent, but so is surgery." One of us continued to talk to the other guy whose dad is a gynecologist who was saying, "But there are differences between men and women, right? We have to acknowledge that," and our comrade said, "First, we have much more in common than not and it is exactly the differences that are being used to oppress women." And the dude said, "You are absolutely right."
We followed that impromptu discussion with an announcement in a popular coffee shop, and as soon as I said, "National Day to Support Abortion Providers," a guy started a round of applause. It does seem that no one is really talking about this and that when you get up there boldly putting out a really radical line on the oppression of women, people are moved, especially women but also some men. We found that many people are really glad that we're standing up and saying, "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology" and this seems to be emboldening them as well. Our revolutionary message that women's oppression comes from capitalism and can only be changed through revolution is a message that is definitely attracting some people.
A small (about 15 people) but spirited celebration of International Women's Day was held at Revolution Books Outlet Atlanta on the evening of March 8. The program was centered on readings from A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity and included a live performance of John Lennon's "Imagine" by a local musician, a video of a Tunisian woman singing in the midst of a massive demonstration during the uprising, and excerpts of a recorded dramatic reading of the novel Little Bee. An Iranian friend read the statement from the March 8 Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan). During the reception afterward, people signed Thank You cards to abortion providers and delegations were organized to deliver the cards along with flowers to all the abortion clinics in the city on March 10, the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.
Celebrations, protests, marches, forums, and other actions took place around the world for International Women’s Day 2011—including in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa rocked by recent upheavals. In Cairo, Egypt, around 500 women, joined by some men, assembled at Tahrir Square to demand full participation of women in the transformation of Egyptian society. The protest was attacked by hostile men. But the women stood their ground and carried through with their protest. IWD protests also took place in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in occupied Palestine; Arab towns inside Israel; Benghazi, Libya; Tunis, Tunisia; Rabat, Morocco; and Manama, Bahrain.
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