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FRSO leader Jess Sundin speaks on International Women’s Day

By staff |
March 10, 2019
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Jess Sundin
Jess Sundin

Minneapolis, MN – The following speech was given by Freedom Road Socialist Organization Twin Cites District Organizer Jess Sundin at a Minneapolis International Women’s Day rally, which was held on March 9.

Comrades and friends,

I’m so happy to be here with you to celebrate this important holiday, our holiday, International Women’s Day. Because it’s not taught in schools, I don’t assume everyone here knows where this holiday comes from, so let’s start there.

It goes back more than 150 years, when the first recorded organized action by working women anywhere in the world took place in New York on March 8, 1857. Hundreds of women in the garment and textile factories staged a strike in protest of low wages, long working hours, inadequate pay, inhumane working conditions and the lack of the right to vote. Many were beaten by police. Two years later, again in March, they formed their own union.

U.S. women continued to struggle for decades for economic and political rights. Marches of 10,000 and 20,000, strikes for months, including women at New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Tragedy brought the attention of the world to the struggles of working class women in the U.S. in 1911, when 146 young women either burned to death or died desperately trying to escape the heat and flames by leaping from the ninth floor windows of the factory to the pavement below. The factory’s only fire escape, a flimsy contraption, collapsed under the weight of the fleeing, terrified young women.

Socialists were some of the leading fighters in these struggles the U.S., just as they were in other countries. Inspired by the New York women garment workers’ struggles and the strong role of women socialists, German communist Clara Zetkin proposed designating International Women’s Day at an International Socialist Congress in Copenhagen in 1910. Women delegates from 17 countries unanimously concurred.

And so, more than a hundred years later, here we are.

We have in the White House today, a president that shows no respect for anyone, and open contempt for many, including women. His attacks aren’t from his own imagination, but part of an agenda much bigger and older than his time in politics.

Roe v. Wade was a 1973 Supreme Court decision to protect women’s reproductive rights. With his successful appointment of drunken misogynist Brett Kavanaugh, along with conservative Neil Gorsuch, and dozens of other federal court judges, the door is wide open for rolling back women’s rights 46 years. Civil rights, workers’ rights, native sovereignty, LGBTQ rights, environmental protections and so much more are also up for grabs.

The high court isn’t the only battlefield. The administration has directed its Department of Homeland Security in the outrageous policy of placing immigrants in detention, where many women’s charges of sexual abuse at the hands of their captors are ignored. The Department of Education is trying to undermine the undermine the rights of rape survivors. And the Trump administration is aggressively working to erode transgender rights, many that have only recently been recognized.

Meanwhile, Trump is notorious for speaking of women as sexual objects (the pussy grabbing video), for sexually assaulting women (with 19 accusations), and openly supported buddies like Congressman Roy Moore, accused of molesting and sexually assaulting teenage girls. Not content to fueling a climate of disrespect and misogyny, his Education Department changed Title IX standards to now favor the accused over the victim in college sexual assault cases.

These are just a few examples. We’d be here all week, if we wanted to cite all the ways Trump and company have harmed women since he took office. In considering all of this, keep in mind that the inequality and oppression that falls on women in the Black, Chicano and Latino, Native, Asian and Pacific Islander community’s hits extra hard. Statistics on unemployment, wage disparities, lack of services, or just about anything else that can be measured, bear this out.

The White House, Pentagon, and Wall Street have globalized the attacks on women – creating an empire that is marked by inequality and discrimination. Women are among those hit hardest by imperialism, and that can be seen in the caravans of refugees fleeing the ‘made in the USA’ poverty and violence that has engulfed Central America and so many other places, or in the faces of the families starved by the U.S. and their Saudi allies in Yemen.

What I am describing is an ever-growing storm of attacks by the ruling class of this country. Just like we came in here for shelter from today’s coming snowstorm, our movements are our defense against patriarchy, white supremacy, and the entire capitalist system that keeps us from our liberation as women, as oppressed people, and as the working class.

So let’s talk about the kind of movement are we trying to build.

This day was born out of the struggle of immigrant working women in this country, and now, across the world, millions upon millions of women, including trans women and non-binary people, are leading actions for our freedom and dignity. This day is important, but as you know, it’s not just about one day. International Women’s Day is about building a movement that can change the world we live in.

We could certainly use more Ilhan Omars in Congress, but that alone won’t do it. If you think the ruling class will be talked into change, just look at how she has been attacked, simply for speaking out against U.S. aid to the murderous apartheid government of Israel. What our local congresswoman is doing is helpful - it makes a crack in the monolith. But she is there because for years, Palestinians are fighting for their own liberation there, and because Palestinians here have worked with solidarity and student activists for years to oppose U.S. support for Zionism. And it was an outpouring of support that pushed back condemnations of Omar by the other politicians in Washington.

We know that it is not individual politicians or other leaders that make history. It’s the masses of people in motion, fighting for ourselves and our own freedom, that will make the changes we deserve, the changes we need. I look forward to hearing from the other speakers today talk about the fights they are leading. At the same time, I will be thinking about what it will take to put an end, once and for all, to the system of capitalism that stands in our way.

A woman’s place is not only in the struggle, but at the front of it. And not only in the struggle for today, but the struggle for tomorrow. A woman’s place is in the revolution!

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