Susan Pashkoff on the possibility of a new movement arising from the mass protests that took place across the world on January 21. The article was originally written for Left Unity.
Having participated in Saturday’s Women’s March in London and looking at all the pictures from the various sister marches in the US and around the world, this is a question we need to ask ourselves. For a long time, women on the left have been wondering whether we are seeing a new wave of feminism and, if so, what shape will it take?
I have thought for a while that we were seeing a new wave of feminism. Yesterday’s demonstrations confirmed this for me. The response which was international in scope indicates the massive potential for a new women’s movement.
Women in the US face an immediate crisis due to the election of Donald Trump and the right-wing led Republican Congress in which they are facing the elimination of the guarantees to women’s health care by the repeal of the ACA (e.g., affordable contraceptives, pre-natal and maternity care, expansions and protections of Medicaid and Medicare coverage), the probable federal de-funding of Planned Parenthood, and the inevitable attacks on abortion rights all of which will affect working class women and women of colour deeply. The issues of social, political and economic injustice in the US and the strengthening of the forces that have historically oppressed women (e.g., religion, so-called “family values”, racism, and misogyny) are a serious danger that cannot be dismissed as business as usual.
The Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles of the Washington DC march were far broader than those of liberal feminism and addressed the demands and struggles of women of colour and working class women. The fact that so many (estimates of 2 million plus) women and male allies came out to demonstrate has the potential of being the crystallisation of a new movement and not only one for women. Yes, there will be contradictions, yes, there will be analysis formed by liberals rather than from a radical perspective; but this potential is important and it must be nourished if the seed will grow into a tree and then hopefully into a forest.
If we don’t want it to be only a moment or a movement dominated by white liberal feminists, we (the socialist left) need to be there participating rather than criticising from the side lines. If we leave the organisation of this movement in the hands of liberal feminists, it is the error of socialist feminists and the left. If we do not stand with and in solidarity with women of colour, disabled women, working class women and put forward a different perspective then there is a strong possibility that this will collapse into support of the Democratic Party (which will destroy its potential to actually fight the right-wing shift) in the US or only into fulfilling the needs and demands of wealthy white women.
If you expect this nascent movement to understand the fact that it is at the intersections of race, class and gender that women’s oppression is felt the hardest, then we need to be there ensuring that the voices of women of colour, working class women, LGBTQ people, and disabled women are heard and their demands are taken on board. It is a nascent movement, if you expect that they will not make errors or put out wrong slogans, you are asking far too much.
Left Unity was the only socialist grouping that endorsed the Women’s March in London. We endorsed this march because we stand in solidarity against women’s oppression and we understand the dangers of this shift to the hard right in the advanced capitalist world. We handed out placards, our literature and posters; we raised the linkages between Brexit and Trump. We were there, we engaged with people, we listened to their concerns; certainly there were people that did not accept what we were saying. It was a march of women across class, across race, across generations and across political lines; if everyone agreed with us, we would be in a revolutionary moment. We are not, but we are at the beginning of the start of a response to the shift to the right. What we didn’t need to explain was the importance of international solidarity, that was one thing that everyone that was at the Women’s March in London understood. In itself, that is the foundation of a global movement and that is something that should never be wasted or derided.
It is essential that socialist feminists and the left participate in this movement and not just criticise from the outside. We need to be there shifting the boundaries further to the left, to support the demands of working class women, women of colour, LGBTQ comrades and disabled women. We need to make certain that this potential movement is not seized by those that would subvert its aims to further the needs of mainstream political parties and the liberal feminist movement.