One hundred five years ago today, hundreds of women workers, mostly immigrants in what was then called the needle trades, marched in New York City from their tenement homes on the Lower East Side to Union Square, demanding higher pay, better working conditions, and the right to vote. Their courage and determination so inspired progressive women in Europe that at a women’s meeting during the 1910 Socialist Conference, they succeeded in having March 8 designated International Working Women’s Day. And ever since March 8 has been commemorated by women the world over who strive for equality, freedom, and liberation.
Though IWWD had fallen out of the public eye in the U.S. by the 1950s and 60s, it took the newly emerging women’s liberation movement to revive IWWD in 1970. I’m proud to say I was in the women’s group that revived the tradition of IWWD with a rally in Union Square that year. After that, March soon morphed into Women’s History Month, when marches and meetings are dedicated to demanding what should be ours by birthright.
We thought our cause so righteous in 1970 that we could change the world in no time. Having abortion legalized three years later was proof that we were on our way. But after that victory came the backlash. And the start of the current avalanche against legal abortion, which makes access increasingly difficult for the 99% of working and poor women.
And it ain’t gonna get better with this sequester! Or whatever fancy name is used to disguise the austerity measures dictated by the 1% who control society’s purse strings. Cutting 600,000 vouchers for WIC, the supplemental nutrition program for mothers and kids, sure won’t put a dent in the deficit, but it will endanger the health and lives of those women and children.
How is that fair? We know it’s not.
That’s why we need to rededicate ourselves to political activism this month. Will knowing that it’s the centennial of Harriet Tubman’s death on March 10 inspire you? She was one of the most amazing freedom fighters in this country’s history. Not only did she personally escort scores of slaves to freedom by following the North Star via the Underground Railroad, but during the Civil War she was the first and only woman to lead a major armed expedition behind enemy lines to South Carolina, where her Combahee River Raid is credited with freeing 700 slaves. I like to remember this fearsome/fearless liberator when I need inspiration.
I’m requesting that you take at least one action in honor of IWWD and Harriet Tubman this month. A terrible travesty of justice has been going on since 1977 when the Hyde Amendment ended access to funding for abortion for millions of women, except in cases of rape, incest, and medical threats to a woman’s health. That legislation, which has been renewed every year since then, penalizes poor women who rely on Medicaid for their health care, disproportionately women of color; federal employees and women in the armed forces; women who rely on the Indian Health Service; and women in prison; among others. Hyde divided women into two classes: those who can afford to pay for abortions and those who can’t. And the number of those who can’t is growing. Recognizing the increasingly urgent need to help poor women gain access to abortion, the National Network of Abortion Funds was founded in 1993 and now, with 100 affiliates in cities all around the country, gives thousands of women the financial means to exercise their constitutional right to abortion.
But that doesn’t begin to cover all the women who need help. A couple of years ago, NNAF started a campaign to overturn the Hyde Amendment, but now it’s even more imperative, with nearly 47 million people living below the poverty line as of 2011 and nearly 40 percent of them children. Educating people about how Hyde discriminates against and penalizes poor women is critical. And creating a movement to overturn it is another. Take the first step and sign the petition addressed to President Obama: “End bans on abortion coverage” on www.fundabortionnow.org.
I thank you in advance for continuing the spirit of IWWD!
On a personal note: I was delighted to see the following tagline on NNAF’s site: “Getting an abortion means getting a second chance.” I like to think that maybe the title of my novel, Love Means Second Chances, inspired that. But even if it didn’t, it confirms that great minds like alike!
P.S. Please share this with friends. If you haven’t yet bought a book, please buy one via the website: www.lovemeanssecondchances.com. Or send me an email requesting an autographed copy.