The Women´s Strike is on its way. It´s set for March 8th, International Women´s Day. I took music and literature classes in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building, the place where that disastrous fire took place taking the lives of scores of immigrant working women: it is one of the events that is commemorated on Women´s Day, although the date is not exact. Students from all nations walk between those floors, many of them probably don’t know that those events occurred on that very same spot.
This country has never seen a general strike, though there have been some attempts to organize one. But never before has a social movement jumped over so many differences: generational gaps, race, religion, social status. The Women´s March, on January 21st, was a demonstration not only of power, but of unity with no precedent. Muslims and Jews, atheists and Christians, young and old from all races, men and women from all over the country took to the streets totaling more than 400 simultaneous marches. At the end of the day, there were zero arrests. My favorite sign was one that became popular thanks to a picture that shows with humor and acceptance the absurdity of our moment: “I can´t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit”, held by an elderly woman who smiles with irony. “I´m so angry I made a sign”, said another one. The outrageous recording of the president talking proudly about his sexual assaults found an answer in “This Pussy Grabs Back!” The squares were full of women who screamed “My body! My choice!” while the men replied “Her body! Her choice!” in reference to the atrocious agenda that will endanger our options regarding birth control.
Without intending to, Trump has awakened a movement that unified a very wide sector of USA society. Neither the movement against Vietnam War nor the civil rights movement had been able to bring together so many people divided by so many social differences. Now it is the majority, outraged by the lack of respect for its vote and its taxes, by the neglected environmental problems, by the attacks on the human rights of immigrants, Muslims, Afro-Americans, Mexicans, by the general corruption and incompetence. But the outraged-number-one are women. The fact that a sexual harasser made it to the presidency – and took the seat of she who could have been the first woman president, questionable and unpopular as she was – has caused more indignation than expected. The Women´s March has set a tight and radical agenda, giving no break to the Trump administration. They are also on the task of rethinking and recalibrating feminism, turning it into a weapon not only against sexism, but in a more general way, against Neoliberalism and its apocalypse horsemen: social inequality, systematic destruction of the environment, tyranny of corporations.
I believe something good will come out of this, something will change. These moments are the kind that write our history, and enthusiasm is the right response from someone aware of its transcendence. On the day that CNN released the news about the Russian involvement in Trump´s campaign, we all listened at the end of our training at the Shaolin Temple, and we celebrated the vague possibility of impeachment. I heard a teenager say, “I´m very excited to live here and during this time.”
At my university, an Afro American student dresses every day with her Black Lives Matter shirt, or Stop Shooting Us shirt. On Halloween, she disguised herself as someone murdered by the police, with a perfectly made-up bullet hole in her forehead which made me jump every time I turned to look at her. Another student originally from India dressed in her traditional dress on the day when university students organized a walkout in support of immigrants; it was her way of telling her Republican neighbors on Long Island that when they are talking about immigrants they are talking about her. Another student got arrested at one of the marches. We all were worried for her, but the next day she looked pretty relaxed and said in her record it wouldn’t be more serious than a traffic ticket.
I know going out to the protests and risking arrest is not for everyone. My part-time roommate trains dogs, she has a nice rent-stabilized apartment in the East Village, and my guess is she´s not crazy about marching in the streets; but her unique way to express her indignation about the current situation was to make dozens of dispensable bags for dog shit with the face of Donald Trump: #DumpTrump. In Mexico, one of my aunts had an almost opposite, conciliatory gesture: she went to the USA Embassy and hung a sign that said, “…and for the one who builds a wall against a friend, I´ll plant no thistles or nettles: a white rose I will plant”. The original is José Martí´s, and even the cops who guarded the embassy understood the poetic act and wanted to take pictures of themselves with the sign. To some, these all may seem like pointless gestures, but the point is to do something, even if it´s a small thing, for as Susan Sontag wrote, doing nothing, living in lethargic impotence, will eventually turn into frustration and apathy.
And those conquered without remedy by apathy and individualism will always be present, they will grow indignant if we disturb their agenda, full only of themselves. During one of the marches on 5th Avenue, close to the Trump Tower, a woman with many plastic surgeries, a fancy coat and shopping bags in hand screamed at us, enraged, “Get down from your ivory tower!” I can´t even imagine where she heard the phrase, and what made her think that the right moment to howl it was at the underpaid Hispanic crowd that we were: #Lady Ivory Tower. A Latina online insists that she´s not scandalized by the recording in which Trump insults women, she has real self esteem, Trump doesn’t intimidate her: and that´s exactly why she voted for him: #LadySelfEsteem. An arrogant bloviator writes in a newspaper about how much current feminism makes her yawn, same as those pasteboard marches that are so far below her intellect, and besides they just ruined her family dinner: #LadyYawn. I refuse to call these women “victims”, as some branches of feminism, more generous than me, would diagnose. To me they are just mercenaries, conformists. My immediate reaction to these ladies is always the same: I freeze, I cannot believe they exist; but that says something about my privileges, too – I consider that the biggest one of them all is to be surrounded everyday by intelligent, admirable, supportive women. Sometimes I even want to believe that even if it´s not all of us, there are still more of us.
At times when an overwhelming pessimism has been my everyday mood, I have no idea where these optimistic thoughts came from. Deep inside, I believe we will put up with Trump and his henchmen for four long years, and the damages will be irreparable: for the environment, for immigrants, for women. The setbacks will be devastating and the protests will continue for the same basic demands as always, because Trump supporters will keep saying that is better to have a president who is a billionaire, with a top model for a third wife, someone they can have a beer with instead of a damn know-it-all, or worse, a woman. The incidents will continue. Just a few days after the election, while walking down a lonely street, a man kept screaming behind me like a lunatic, “Donald Trump is president! All women are bitches!” I just waited cautiously and let him pass me by. A few blocks away from the Shaolin Temple, two skinheads stabbed two anti-fascists outside a bar. Close to home, somebody wrote on a piece of cardboard, “Jews belong in the oven”. On a subway line, somebody covered a car in swastikas written with sharpies, but someone posted on Facebook that other passengers put themselves to erasing them quickly with hand sanitizer. For sometimes it´s just about that, about not letting them have the last word, about insisting on our idea of a more dignified world and not losing it from sight. The Women´s Strike will be another way to insist on that, it will come and pass, maybe as an historical event in the social struggle, maybe just as another protest more or less well accomplished. Personally, I know I will keep fluctuating and some days I will embrace the most idealistic, impossible #LoveTrumpsHate, and some other days it will be that other message full of indignation and tiredness, but equally valid and nonconformist: I can´t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit.
New York, 2017