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“This isn’t just a trend for us”: why New York women went on strike, in their own words

The crowd at the International Women’s Day Rally at Washington Square Park is ready to keep fighting.

Munira Ahmed

NEW YORK, NY — A little more than a century ago, the tragic deaths of 145 garment workers — most of whom were women, many immigrants — became a rallying cause for America’s burgeoning labor movement. The fire at the now infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, became a symbol for the right to safe workplaces, better work conditions for immigrants, and women’s rights more broadly. And on March 8, only blocks from where that factory once stood, women gathered in Washington Square Park to strike on International Women’s Day for equal rights and access in the workplace.

The crowd, awash in red, stood with handmade signs blasting everything from President Donald Trump to monochromatic feminism as it waited for the signal to march down to Zuccotti Park, the site of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Along the way, marchers would pass the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the Stonewall Inn, and the African Burial Ground. Many had taken off work to support the Day Without a Woman strike, some holding signs acknowledging that not all women could afford to join them.

Even though a shoddy sound system threatened to swallow the passionate speeches whole — and several strike organizers had been arrested for blocking traffic hours earlier — the crowd buzzed moments before taking to the streets, trading stories and chants. (“Feminism for the masses, not just for the ruling classes!”)

We went to the rally to find out why women felt it was important for them to show up in feminist solidarity today — or more accurately, every day. Here are just a few of their answers, in their own words.

“I’m a woman, and I exist”

Jill Waldman (Association of Legal Aid Attorneys), 39, Manhattan

I am a criminal immigration attorney … I was very lucky because my union, ALAA, negotiated for us to have a union release time. I’m very grateful to be in a union that supports women’s equality and gave me the opportunity to come to the rally.

I think it’s really important to continue the momentum that started with the Women’s March to send the message that women are angry, and active, and engaged, and not going away. And our rights need to be taken seriously.

Barbara Teague, 71, New York City

I took off work because I felt strongly enough to be active, when I haven’t been in the past.

Barbara Teague and Sandra McKenzie (in a rainbow pussyhat she bought at the rally).
Munira Ahmed

Sandra McKenzie, “New Jersey by way of Jamaica”

I left work early. That’s the best I could do. But I’m a woman, and I exist, and now more than ever, it’s important that, as women, we show the world that [it] needs to reckon with us for all our accomplishments and our value to society in general.

We are very powerful. It’s important to send this message to men who try to disempower us, and to other women to empower each other and show up in this community. It really strengthens me to be here, I love being amongst my own. It’s just a great day of celebration, for all those who have come before us, to create this road that we’re on. So I’m grateful for those who come before and those who come after, to keep the movement going.

“Even though we couldn’t strike from work today, we wanted to engage”

Maya Levine, 32, Los Angeles

I’m a photographer … I’m actually going to be working later today, because I can’t afford not to. But I made a point to pack a lunch, and I’m definitely not going to be buying anything today. I’m glad to be here to support today … standing in this square that so many other revolutions started from.

Ashraya Gupta and Emma Logsdon are trying to make differences in their schools for good.
Munira Ahmed

Emma Logsdon, 16, Washington Heights

The Women’s March was the same day as my SATs, so I couldn’t go. But I’ve been going to as many [protests] I can. Today at my high school, we did a silent protest. We couldn’t be absent — because that’s truancy — but we didn’t speak for the whole day.

We’ve been doing what we can, especially on an individual, local level, because I can’t vote yet. I’m president of my school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and our meetings have been a little more somber as of late. But we’re getting together campaigns and starting to talk to teachers just about how we can all make sure that under this administration, we’re going to continue to afford the same civil liberties to our students that we were granted before, regardless of what the law states at this time. I also went to my first ever town hall.

It’s exciting, but also terrifying, which I think is kind of a widely held belief right now. We’ve already got the first paragraph of the chapter that’s going to be written, and now we’re figuring out whether the rest of it is going to be, ‘and then everything awful happened and we tried to ignore it for 50 years.’ Or this could be a really great period of movement forward.

Ashraya Gupta, 30, New York

I work to educate students every day, and today, I’m trying to model for them what civic engagement means and what it might mean to imagine a different society. Because that’s what schools do, right? You create a community as you want it to be. So we’re trying to imagine a different kind of society.

“It’s important to keep the heat on, to keep up the fight”

Arlene Ducao, 36, Baltimore now Brooklyn

Ever since the election, I think a lot of people are “woke,” so to speak … I guess that’s the silver lining of all these things that are going on: bringing people out, bringing us together.

It’s extremely encouraging to see people turn out … it’s important to keep the heat on, to keep up the fight. The other side is going to try and tire us out, it feels like they’ve been in office for two years already! So I feel like if everyone who’s sort of newly awoken in activism can stay on track, we’ve got a really great thing going.

Thahitun Mariam, 26, The Bronx

Munira Ahmed

For a lot of us that live in immigrant communities, that are from more vulnerable areas of the city, there’s a lot of threat, there’s a lot of fear. I think people need to come out here to show that there’s support for our communities.

[But even though] the rallies are great for support and solidarity, a lot needs to be done outside of the rallies as well for our communities to be strengthened, for people to know that there are procedures and policies in place that will protect us. Being a Bangladeshi-Muslim, a lot of the problem is explaining to people what’s going on, so that they know that they can still travel, so even if they have a green card they’re still safe.

“We’re here because we’ve always been here”

Judith Ackerman (right) and the “Raging Grannies.”
Munira Ahmed

Judith Ackerman, 74, New York City (Upper West Side)

[I wanted to] make a statement with millions of other people, to acknowledge the loss of Lynne Stewart, the people’s lawyer, and the people that died in the [Triangle Shirtwaist] fire many, many years ago, to start the union. It’s women that started the unions.

We started out in the ‘60s, we were all young in large groups, it was wonderful. Then, as the “me generation” developed, we lost a lot of people … it’s much better now in terms of participation, and I love that we have young people, because we need young people. And we’re doing it for the young people! I mean, we don’t need to do this. I have two pensions and Social Security, I could sit home. But I’m out here all the time, because it’s the newer generation that has to survive.

Dara Baldwin, Washington, DC

I’m here today because I believe in women’s rights, and the world’s rights. I believe that we’re in a serious crisis now with having Trump as our president, but at the same time, I have hope, because I know we’ve done this before. One of my first actions was to free South Africa. They told us [Nelson Mandela] would die in prison and that South Africa would never be free, and that didn’t happen.

So I have hope. I want people to know that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to all things. And you cannot be afraid. So many people are saying they’re scared, and fear will not win. You have to be strong, be ready, and be hopeful.

Pili Lopez, 20, Miami and Djali Cepeda, 20, New York

Munira Ahmed

Pili: Today is important because this isn’t just a trend for us. We’re women of color, we’re Latina … I grew up with my mom talking about how this is not a new thing for us. It’s really great that a lot people are discovering it now, but we’re here because we’ve always been here.

Djali: My mom always tells me that as a woman of color, because I am here, that is an act of protest. We got out of colonialism. We persevered. We’re resilient.

Pili: We’re alive and well, and beautiful.

Djali: And we’re not feminists because we took a class on it in college and read like, a Gloria Steinem book. We’re feminists because this affects me, and affects my mom, who’s a woman of color. We are [in] triple jeopardy. We’re not rich, we’re not white, and we’re not men. So we had to be here, you know?

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