By Brittany Hailer
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Red hats, scarves, boots, and coats were seen everywhere outside the Pittsburgh City-County Building on March 8 as women rallied to honor International Women’s Day and Pittsburgh International Women’s Strike (PIWS). Red is the color for labor rights, but also the growing democratic socialist movement nationwide. A banner “Social Feminism is the Future” nearly ten feet long made PIWS’s message loud and clear.
PIWS, a coalition of more than 10 regional organizations and individuals organized the event this year and last. About 100 people were in attendance. From 4-6 p.m. attendees gathered and listened to various activists talk about a wide range of women-centered issues. The crowd then took to the streets and marched downtown.
During the rally, the group reminded the crowd that International Women’s Day is a tradition born from socialism. In 1857, socialist women garment workers walked out of their factory jobs in New York City. They protested working conditions, a ten hour day, and equal rights for women. Women commemorated their sisters for centuries later. By 1910, March 8th was declared International Women’s Day. Seven years later, tens of thousands of women took to the streets continuing a tradition of demanding equal rights and the end to oppressive practice and governments.
But, in the years to come, the holiday lost it’s political labor-based message.
Emily Culver of Socialist Alternative told the crowd that PIWS “took back March 8 and politicized it.”
Activists spoke to a crowd of about 100 people educating them about various causes and organizations in the region and city.
Gabrielle Monroe represented Sex Workers Outreach Project Behind Bars a national social justice network dedicated to the rights of people who face discrimination from the criminal justice system due to the stigma associated with the sex trade.
She handed out red umbrellas before taking the microphone, then read a poem about instances where men manipulated women into having sex, raped women, or “slut-shamed” them in some way. She asked the crowd to open an umbrella whenever they heard a story similar to their own. Umbrellas cropped up throughout the crowd as she read.
Monroe called for end of sexual assault by police, prison guards and government officials. She said that “sex by deception is rape” and police arresting prostitutes after touching, fondling or having sex with them is a grave injustice.
“Prostitution is a victimless crime,” she said.
Cori Frazer is an Autistic and queer/nonbinary activist and director of the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy. They educated the crown on Disability Day of Mourning, where Pittsburghers come together to memorialize people with disabilities who have been killed by their parents or caregivers. Frazer told the crowd that dozens of people with disabilities were killed in 2018 and so far in 2019, there have been 13 deaths.
Frazer also talked about how parents with disabilities are more likely to lose their children to the state and how many people don’t recognize those with autism or down syndrome as parents or partners. The stigma surrounding people with disabilities overshadows the nuances of their lives and relationships. Frazer said that when people talk about those with disabilities, “we tell a story of tragedy” and we use words to describe them like “special.”
They said that folks with disabilities span the LGBTQ spectrum, have the right to marry and have the right to family. However, those families and relationships are tried due to medical costs, low-wage jobs, and steep waitlists for community or government-backed services.
Laura Perkins is Casa San Jose’s Emergency Response Organizer, and is on call 24/7 for when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) comes to take individuals who are undocumented. Perkins said “Public spaces have become unsafe for Latinx women” because of ICE presence and prejudice against undocumented people in the region.
“It is a lie that there are more immigrants than ever before coming into the United States,” she said.
Many undocumented migrants flee countries where police or gangs have militarized only to come to a city where armed police officers walk the hallways in public schools.
Perkins called for the abolition of ICE because there is a lack of due process: people facing deportation (even if those seeking asylum) are not provided a public defender. Even if that person is a toddler.
“Their trauma is reginited in the United States,” she said.
The rally’s speakers included Dena Stanley of TransYOUniting, Jewish Voices for Peace, Gabrielle Monroe of SWOP Behind Bars, Cori Frazier of Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, New Voices Pittsburgh, E, Ni Una Menos, Laura Perkins, Casa San Jose, and Alisa Marie of Access Mob.
The Pittsburgh International Women’s Strike’s list of demands are as follows. Leaders read the list outside the City-County building as the crowd chanted “We can!”
1. Fight back against sexual violence and harassment on the sidewalk, in the home, at school and on the job! Bring #MeToo into the streets!
2. Reproductive justice for all! Make abortion safe, free, and legal! Provide workplace childcare and parental leave for all!
3. Medicare for all! Guaranteed coverage for all aspects of women’s and trans people’s health including disability and accessibility services, hormonal therapy and gender surgery.
4. Equal pay for equal work! A $15 an hour minimum wage!
5. Black Lives Matter! Abolish ICE! End racist state violence and demilitarize the police! For a democratically-elected civilian control board with full powers over the police.
6. End the abuse at the Allegheny County Jail! Trans women must be given full medical treatment, and all reports of abuse and assault fully investigated by an independent review board.
7. Decriminalize sex work! End the stigma against sex workers and fight for protections on the job.
8. Housing is a human right! Build high-quality public housing and stop runaway gentrification. Build a movement for rent control.
9. We need clean water and a healthy environment! End the privatization of water. Build more mass transit to reduce carbon emissions.
10. Tax the rich to fully fund social services and education! Our communities deserve better schools, transit, and infrastructure.
PIWS also welcomes input from community members and grassroots organizations all throughout the Pittsburgh area. The organization can be reached via email and phone number to offer support or ask questions: firstname.lastname@example.org and (412) 436-9160.