Tag Archives: resistance

Feminism: Not Just for Middle-Class White Ladies

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Debbie says:

Lane Windham, writing in The American Prospect, examines the role of working-class feminism in the Trump resistance. Windham gives us a little history:

[W]orking-class feminists have long been potent champions for women’s advancement, and 1970s second-wave feminism had deep cross-class roots. The late-night huddle in Betty Friedan’s hotel room that first sparked the National Organization of Women (NOW) included a number of union activists, among them Caroline Davis and Dorothy Haener of the United Auto Workers and Catherine Conroy of the Communications Workers of America. NOW’s founders were fed up with the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s refusal to target gender job discrimination while enforcing Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Working women activists formed more than a dozen organizations to improve “pink collar” office work in the 1970s. … Women like … roaring NYC firefighters fought their way into all-male blue-collar enclaves in the 1970s and 1980s, filing lawsuits and demanding respect.

She also delves into what’s happening now:

A big difference between the working-class feminism of the 1970s and that of the 2010s has to do with the economy. When those firefighters and pink-collar secretaries fought for inclusion 40 years ago, they demanded access to an economy marked by broad prosperity. Working people’s share of the pie had been steadily growing for decades, and they saw no reason why that wouldn’t continue. Since that time, working people’s prospects have dimmed and their wages have stagnated; the United States has largely traded manufacturing jobs for low-paid, contingent service jobs.

Windham doesn’t talk, in this article anyway, about what has happened to the “working people’s share of the pie,” and how it has relentlessly been transferred to the very rich and the super-rich. She doesn’t talk about how intersectional progressives need to think about work, and jobs, and income in the 21st century. She does talk about the disconnect between American women and feminism:

While the majority of females voted for Clinton, a full 61 percent of white women without a college degree walked into a voting booth and filled in a bubble beside the name of a man who bragged about grabbing women’s genitals without consent. … it’s clear that many of these women share the sense of dislocation and despair that drove white, blue-collar men’s votes.

In an Obama presidency, even in a George [pick your middle initial] Bush presidency, we had some luxury to divide ourselves, to say “that’s your feminism, this is mine,” or “that’s your anti-racist approach and this is mine.” Those of us with privilege need to be working hard at making our skills and resources available to those with less privilege. All of us need to be focusing on the goals: not just removing Trump and his band of vicious anti-human policymakers (a good start!) but building a country that puts people and the planet first, and is perfectly happy to empty overflowing pockets to fund our priorities. Windham namechecks Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter, drawing the connections between economic justice, racism, and sexism.

Movements like these, unions with 21st century values, and mobilizations of working class women are all building blocks in the big fight of our time.

 

Black Lives Matter T-Shirts Matter

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At the Women’s March in January, my friend and I were behind a bunch of people wearing matching t-shirts. All we could see was the back, which said “Wear Out the Silence.” I didn’t understand what it was about, so I pushed my way through the dense crowd to ask them.

They turned out to be from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national group I was aware of, but hadn’t connected to.

Through community organizing, mobilizing and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.

We work to connect people across the country while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice organizing efforts. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills and political analysis to act for change. 

We envision a society where we struggle together with love, for justice, human dignity and a sustainable world.

The fronts of the “Wear Out the Silence” shirts said Black Lives Matter. The idea is particularly for (white) people to wear BLM t-shirts on Fridays, to create a critical mass of shirts with one message.

A few weeks later, I bought a BLM t-shirt from SURJ. I don’t wear it every Friday, but I do try to wear a politicized t-shirt most Fridays. (This is very weird for me, because I spent 25+ years of my life with a personal policy of not wearing t-shirts that say anything. I had, however, ended that period before Mike Brown was murdered, for different reasons.)

So I wear the shirt fairly frequently, in my rather diverse and somewhat progressive home town of Oakland, and occasionally I get a [positive] comment, but often not. It isn’t uncommon to see someone else in a similar shirt, Fridays or otherwise.

A couple of weeks ago, I had occasion to be in a whiter, less progressive suburb of San Francisco on a Friday, and I wore the shirt. I must have gotten 10-15 comments, all positive, many from people of color. I was at an event in a hotel, and two hotel employees (one black, one brown) went out of their way to comment on the shirt. I was out to lunch and a black man got out of line to come over and compliment me and give me a dap. It just kept happening.

At work the next week I told a white friend who lives in that town that she should start wearing a shirt like mine pronto, because people clearly aren’t seeing them enough.

Yesterday was not Friday, but I was having lunch in another suburb of San Francisco, one I think of as somewhat browner and somewhat lower-income, but not especially progressive, so I wore the shirt. I got two compliments in Oakland, one from a black man in my morning t’ai chi class who said he was inspired to get one. And I hardly walked at all in the suburb where I had lunch, but in the few minutes I was out and about, a black woman walking the other way interrupted her phone call to say “Nice shirt!”

I’m beginning to really understand “Wear out the silence.” In my progressive-to-radical bubble, I think of Black Lives Matter as an everyday, basic response to systemic oppression that never leaves my consciousness, or the consciousness of many (most?) people I know. But I only have to take a few steps outside of that bubble to change an everyday basic response into a conversation starter. I have yet to encounter a negative response to the shirt; I’m sure that is coming and I hope I’m prepared enough. If not, I’ll learn.

If you don’t have a Black Lives Matter t-shirt (and/or patch, and/or bumper sticker, and/or lawn sign), especially if you’re white, why not? The materials are available everywhere. Please buy from an organization raising money to do anti-racism work rather than from a for-profit exploiter. The particular Wear Out the Silence shirt I have can be purchased here.