Kshama Sawant’s International Women’s Day Speech
International Women’s Day, March 08, 2017, Seattle WA
Today is one of the largest ever celebrations of International Women’s Day. In more than 50 countries around the world, women are marching, rallying, and going on strike. Many globally are protesting against Donald Trump. Because the Misogynist in Chief and his vile right wing agenda are not just a threat to women in the United States, but to millions of working women everywhere.
While the protests today are much smaller than the tremendous Women’s Marches just 6 weeks ago — the biggest single day of protest in U.S. history — today is also historic.
Because today’s Women’s Strike has brought forward the question of power, of our power as working women. Schools closed down in a number of cities today, and, around the country, thousands of women courageously took the day off, called in sick, or left work early.
We, as women, have begun a crucial discussion about what is really needed to defeat Donald Trump. And what is needed is the enormous potential power of strike action. To hit Trump and his billionaire backers where it hurts — by shutting down their profits!
But, to do so, we will need to get better organized. And we will need to build on a far larger scale.
Sisters and brothers, as Sarah said, Women’s Day was originally called “International Working Women’s Day.” It began in this country, in the United States, over a century ago.
And it wasn’t about flowers or chocolate.
It was about working women standing up against their exploitation in their workplaces, for the right to vote and full civil rights, against sexual harassment, for the right to make choices about their own bodies, and for the right to equal pay for equal work.
And it was about capitalism. Because it is not only Donald Trump who is misogynist and racist. The capitalist system is deeply oppressive at it’s core — it has sexism, sexual violence, and racism written on its DNA. Capitalism relies on the brutal exploitation of women and other oppressed groups to divide and weaken the working class.
One hundred years ago, the Russian Revolution began on International Working Women’s Day. In Petrograd, thousands of women went on strike, led marches, went into the factories to call on other workers to down their tools. And they began the process that led to the overthrow of capitalism for the first time in the world, and to the creation of the first workers’ state: a government of, for, and by working people.
The Russian Revolution was the most progressive event in human history. It spurred a transformative change in society, the likes of which have not been seen before or since. Women won free and legal abortion, the right to vote, and equal pay for equal work. For the first time, divorce became legal and highly accessible, and community services such as laundries and cafeterias were set up to free women from domestic drudgery and patriarchy.
Many of the gains of the revolution were lost under Stalin’s counter-revolution and the rise of the bureaucracy, but that does not change the historic importance of what was won by women, all working people, and socialists in Russia a century ago. Gains that have still not been won, even in the “progressive” countries under capitalism today.
But these victories were no accident. They show the link between capitalism and women’s oppression. And of the need for women, and all oppressed people, to come together, to use our social power as a class to shut down this system and build a different kind of society.
Today, we are watching the birth of a new women’s movement.
Millions of us see Donald Trump as completely intolerable.
We have entered into a new period of radicalization of young women and working women who increasingly recognize that powerful collective action, civil disobedience, and mass strike action are what will be needed to stop Trump and the billionaire class.
As our other speakers have mentioned, this week the Republicans announced their replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
And at the same time they have announced their attacks on Planned Parenthood.
But my question is, why should the people of Washington State be held hostage to Trump and his billionaire cabinet? Why doesn’t the state legislature and the governor tax the rich, and fund a single-payer system in Washington State? Such a system would give guaranteed affordable access to healthcare to all women, to the trans community, to everyone.
California has already started talking about this. Imagine if Washington, Oregon, and California all taxed the rich, and set up single-payer, so we would have a West Coast-wide single-payer health care.
But you know what? I am not holding my breath that the Democratic Party will show any leadership on this. We will need to build a powerful independent movement on the streets and in the workplaces to make it happen ourselves.
It is good that some elected Democrats are fighting against Trump, but it is not sufficient. We need an opposition that is 100% against Trump, and against the billionaire class, not one that is looking to find “common ground” with Trump.
We cannot wait for establishment politicians to stop Trump.
We must take him down ourselves!
The women’s marches in January, and today’s incredible events are a huge step forward for our movement.
They are vital in beginning to build an ongoing, radical resistance.
And we need to go further. In order to fully tap into the power of working women and of the broader working class, we need to organize for broad strike action.
As Leticia and Nicole said, May 1st, or “May Day,” is International Workers’ Day — a day of historic labor struggles, but also of historic immigrant rights struggles.
We need to stand in solidarity with immigrants and refugees on May Day!
We have the potential to strike a major blow against Trump, but it will take organizing. It will take planning.
The discussion within the labor movement is already underway. Several local unions have passed resolutions supporting strike action on May Day, including the Seattle Education Association and the Washington Federation of State Employees.
The discussion is also beginning in the graduate students’ union at the University of Washington, which is UAW Local 4121. I wanted to quote a member of the graduate students’ union. Her name is Arshiya. She is a PhD student there, who studies renewable fuels. She’s also a proud and active member of her union.
As an international student from Iran, Arshiya has long dealt with our country’s unjust immigration system. Even before Trump’s executive orders, travel was so difficult that she couldn’t leave her country to attend her own father’s funeral. Now in response to Trump’s executive orders, Arshiya is courageously speaking out, along with other leaders in her union. Will you stand with Arshiya?
Arshiya has a message for you. She says, “Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we all join together, join unions, make demands, and organize for justice.” She says, “I don’t just want to do it for me — I want to do it for a stronger university, a stronger community, a better world.”
We need to build on this. All of us who are in unions should actively make the case for strike action on May Day! And we will need to be flexible about what that will mean for different workers. But whether we mean collectively leaving work early, lunchtime political actions, or a powerful strike action and shutdown, we need to push as far as we can.
There are many workers not in unions who will not be able to formally go on strike, but there are many other ways to take action: We can call in sick, as many of us did today; we can take a day off; but we can also collectively organize in our workplaces to leave early together, or to put pressure on our businesses or our school campuses to shut down for the day. Students can organize walkouts, lunchtime teach-ins, or occupy administration buildings.
Here in Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray should declare a public sector shutdown on May Day — allowing the employees of the City of Seattle to take a paid day off, so that they can march with their immigrant sisters and brothers on a day of conscience, in solidarity with immigrants, Muslims, refugees, women and everybody under attack by Trump.
Outside of workplaces, we can also organize for mass civil disobedience, shutting down airports, highways, ICE offices, light rail, and other key infrastructure.
The threat of Trump shows clearly that the need is not only for strike action, but for maximum unity in action.
We need to come together in solidarity with one another to build a powerful, united movement of resistance.
And to do that, we will need to not only be playing defense. We need to also fight for real gains that can make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, like you and me, and inspire thousands more to join our struggle.
We do not only demand an end to attacks on reproductive care, we demand free and accessible abortion for all, free childcare and paid family leave. We demand not only that we preserve the gains of the Affordable Care Act, but we demand Medicare for All. We not only defend against “Right to Work” legislation, but we demand a federal $15/hour minimum wage, and millions of new good-paying union jobs through mass green infrastructure and clean energy projects.
We need to not only fight to stop Trump’s worst attacks; we need to keep fighting until we drive him out of office.
But let’s be clear: This is not only about an end to Trumpism or to corporate politics. We also have to demand fundamental change, and, for that, we will need a powerful movement independent of corporate politicians. We need our own political parties. We need a new socialist party, as a step toward a new mass workers’ party.
Because like the women in Russia a century ago, we are not just fighting for a less brutal system. We are fighting for a socialist world.