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Fifteen people marched in Bracebridge on January 18, 2020. This is the most recent of the now-annual Women’s March, and the Muskoka Chapter made sure it happened, despite numerous challenges.
There are good, and unfortunate, reasons behind the significant drop in marchers this year. To consider a few, the location was changed from Huntsville to Bracebridge, the organizers are extraordinarily busy people with large workloads and other actions to plan and attend, there was a blizzard…and maybe people are just a little over it.
I’ve talked about marching on Washington in 2017. Once you’ve marched with half a million women, the difference between 125 (Huntsville 2018) and 15 (Bracebridge 2020) doesn’t actually seem that vast.
Of course, I would love to see the streets of Huntsville and Bracebridge lined with women and our supporters, shouts and signs demanding justice on various women’s issues—MMIW, the wage gap, creation of a consent culture, the end of horizontal hostility within our own feminist or LGBT communities, the end of violence against women, forever. But I know how valuable it is for one woman to stand up and demand better treatment, for one woman to say, “This isn’t right and I am going to change this.”
It’s easy for an activist to burn out, even when they have supports in place, when they are self-aware and practice self-care. It’s one of those great un-ironies that the people fighting so hard to change a system that is fundamentally insufficient for the vast majorities of its participants are fighting without compensation, without an income for the significant amount of effort and energy involved in this work. We work to make things better, but so many of us can’t participate in this most basic democracy because we have to work the underpaid and often unfulfilling jobs that don’t quite cover the bills. If everyone who wanted to was able to march, we’d have almost every woman and ally in Muskoka on the streets. Stores would shut down, services would halt.
But then again, if we had a system that provided for that, well—what would we be fighting for? In the ’70s, women in Iceland held a strike to demand fair wages and more supports like childcare, as well as an end to violence from the men in their lives. This strike was extremely effective because almost all women participated—meaning their husbands couldn’t go to work because they were suddenly left to mind their children or parents, work that had been left to women for so long, in addition to their paid jobs. Communities came to a grinding halt and suddenly the impact of women’s work had a spotlight shone on it.
In Muskoka, an activist group I was a part of attempted to organize a women’s strike in 2017. We went to retail stores and restaurants to share the concept and hear from local women about what they wished would change. Although the women we spoke to were almost universally supportive of the idea, our turnout that day (and yes, there was a blizzard) was about 40 women.
Here are some things I learned from local women in trying to organize a strike:
1. They are in no way blind or in denial of the inequalities in their workplaces. Most women worked for men—and the resounding response to a suggestion to walk off the job was disbelief. They were sure they would be fired. I shared my own surprise—is it healthy or good to work for someone who would fire you for fighting for a better life for yourself?
2. Women were very quick to share the injustices of their particular workplaces. As a result of pounding the pavement during that time, there are several stores that I boycott now because of the sheer misogyny, ineptitude, and corrupt practices of local men in positions of power—even just a little bit of power.
3. Women are tired. We got a lot of people thanking us for the work we were putting into this effort. Women told us about their own activist days, and how disheartening it is that we still have to do this same work. Some noted a horror at a perceived backslide of rights. Many women seemed apologetic that they didn’t or couldn’t ‘do enough’.
It could never be enough. We are working against a hugely entrenched patriarchal, colonialist, oppressive machine that eats activists for breakfast. It is not a broken system, it is working as designed, and therefore cannot be fixed, only destroyed so we can start again.
My sign on January 18 read “Violence Against Women = Hate Crimes”.
Abuse against women by men who know them is the only crime that apparently lessens in severity because the person committing the crime is known to the victim.
If my brother robs me, is that not worse than if a stranger were to do it?
If my best friend burns down my house, is that not a larger betrayal than a random act of arson?
Why is it that when we label violence as ‘domestic’, we decide it isn’t as heinous, as cruel, as wrong as it would be if it had happened outside the home?
Isn’t it worse that women are most at risk of violence from those who claim to love us? Isn’t that more horrible, not less? Why are the sentences lighter, then? Why are violent abusers released on bail time and again, taking the opportunity to escalate their acts of terrorism against someone they claim to love?
And it is terrorism.
Hearing the stats and the personal stories serves as social chains for women, influencing what we do, where we go and at what time, what jobs we accept, what harms we will tolerate. And as Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
I have loved the work I’ve done alongside women activists. They are some of the most passionate, incisive, hardworking, and fun people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. But I see myself in them—tired, underappreciated, misrepresented, frustrated. So we write and we speak and we make signs and we show up, and we always will, because we share a vision of world where justice is the driving factor, where cruelty and divisiveness and greed are traits of pariahs, not those in position of power.
It’s okay if you didn’t march for women’s rights or strike for teachers’ rights or sit-in for climate justice. Just don’t stay silent about it, don’t ignore it, read everything you can on it, and take care of yourself. Choose your battles, but remember inaction is a choice as well, one that puts you in the camp of the oppressor.
You are needed, you are important, we are waiting for you.
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