The election made Ann want to do something big and bold.
As a working mother who is also a first-generation Muslim immigrant — and who declined to give her full name for fear of President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to create a Muslim registry — she has much to be concerned about. “The recent election and just all the negative commentary and hateful remarks around immigration, immigrants, and Muslims and people of color really has impacted me,” she said. “All the rhetoric around taking away women’s reproductive freedoms, even such basic freedoms as access to contraception, the thought of not having that is frightening.”
“Even the thought of the Muslim registry…the thought of registering my child, it gives me goosebumps even just saying it,” she added.
So on January 20 and 21, inauguration weekend, she will not just be joining a March in Seattle that’s affiliated with the Women’s March on Washington. She is also committed to going on strike.
While she works in health care and says she can’t leave her patients for a day, she’s going to go on strike from all the unpaid labor she does. For those two days, she plans to refuse to do all the housework and will step back from primary parenting for her four-year-old daughter, leaving it to her partner.
She’s planning many other ways to protest. “I’m going to stop answering the question at least for one day, ‘Where are you from?’” she explained. “I’m not going to apologize when I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m not going to smile when I don’t feel like smiling.”
She hopes her actions will “show the folks in power that women are powerful, that we play a vital role in our communities, in our society, in the workplace, that our voices need to be heard. And we’re not going to go down without a fight.”
Ann is one of more than 3,300 women who have publicly pledged to strike from paid and unpaid work over inauguration weekend. The women’s strike, which is being organized by National Women’s Liberation, calls on women to refuse to do paid jobs, household work and childcare, and emotional labor like flirting or fake smiles.
And women are striking in support of a series of demands: an end to racial and sexual assaults, reproductive freedom and access to contraception and abortion, health care for all, a $15 minimum wage, the protection and expansion of Social Security, free childcare and paid family leave, and, as the website puts it, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
The idea for the national strike was put forward at a National Women’s Liberation meeting just after the election. That meeting was so well attended that not everyone could fit in the room; 200 were inside, while an estimated 500 women had to stay outside. “Women lined up around the block to get into the meeting, we were at capacity,” said organizer Paulina Davis.
And when the proposal to organize a national strike was put forth, “it received thunderous applause,” she said.
Such a large action seems to have spoken to people’s desire to do something more. “After the election, we felt like it’s a state of emergency in this country,” said Candi Churchill, another organizer. “We needed to do something different and try something bigger than we usually do.”
So the organizers got to work. Even before they formally started promoting the strike, Davis said, they had received 500 pledges from women who vowed to strike. “That shows us that women want to mobilize,” she said. The group doesn’t want it to be small potatoes, however; the strike will only get formally launched if they reach 20,000 pledges in the next two weeks. “It’s ambitious,” she said. “It’s the biggest thing that the National Women’s Liberation has undertaken.”
But they see a strike as the right way to fight back. “White male supremacy didn’t start with Donald Trump,” Davis pointed out. But she pointed to the sexism and misogyny on display during the campaign, including the tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. “The election of this candidate really sends a clear message about not only the value of women, our lives, our bodies, but also our safety.”
“The strike is really a way to show that we as women have the power to disrupt systems, outside the home and inside the home,” she added.
For Erin Mahoney, going on strike will mean taking a day off of her job as a union organizer on the Friday of inauguration weekend — the first strike she will participate in, even though she’s supported striking workers throughout her job. She’ll also abstain from doing emotional work to smooth things over in her relationship and in her family. “I won’t be doing the normal picking up around the house, or figuring out projects that need to be done, or delegating work,” she said.
Her strike will also extend past those close to her. “I won’t be partaking in any fake smiles or cheerfulness,” she said. “For those two days I don’t plan on making the world easier for everyone.”
Why strike? “I felt like it was a time for a movement in the United States,” she explained. “In order to build the resistance over the next several years, we’re going to have to do some really dramatic actions, show women are willing to take to the streets and throw a wrench into the machine.”
The strike is also meant as a companion to the massive march that will occur in Washington, D.C. on the same weekend. “It’s not competing at all, it’s really complementing the march,” Davis said. Plus, she added, “A strike can be done anywhere. If you can’t get to the women’s march in D.C. or the women’s march in New York City…you can still be taking action in a very political way by pledging to strike.”
Women around the world have recently used strikes in a number of countries to make themselves heard. Women in Barcelona went on strike en masse in 2014 to fight back against a range of inequalities. Last year, women in Iceland and France left work early to protest the gender wage gap. Thousands of Argentinian women walked out of work for an hour in October after a woman was raped and murdered. And in Poland, after thousands of women went on strike and marched in the streets, the government backed off its proposal for a near-total ban on abortion.
The organizers of the upcoming U.S. strike have looked those those international examples. “We’re inspired by women in other countries who are fighting for different things,” said Churchill.
There’s even a history of women going on strike in the United States. In August of 1970, 50 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment, women went on strike from paid and unpaid work and 50,000 marched in the streets of New York City. Thousands more staged protests in other locations throughout the country. At the time, the women’s liberation movement was just getting off the ground; Roe v. Wade wouldn’t make abortion legal across the country for another three years, while Title IX wasn’t passed until two years later. But the massive action made it a household concept.
The organizers of the upcoming strike hope that it can have a similarly long-lasting impact. “We need a serious feminist movement again all over the country,” Churchill said.
Already, the interest seems to be there. In Gainesville, Florida, where Churchill lives and organizes, she said meetings that had previously attracted 15 or 20 women have been packed with 200. “Women have been finding the strike and pledging to strike who have never been involved before,” she said.
The same has happened to Mahoney, who is also helping to organize the strike, particularly among her friends. “So many people want to get involved. It feels like the challenge now is figuring out how…to keep people involved and engaged,” she said.
“Coming out of the strike, I hope women have more consciousness of their power,” she added.