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Duluth, MN - In honor of International Women’s Day (IWD), many organizations, coalitions, and businesses are coming together to appreciate women and represent a voice for women’s issues. The week of March 8, Duluth will be observing the holiday with a variety of political discussions, celebrations of women, and coming together in the name of feminism. Including but not limited to: marches, strikes, rallies, panels, art galleries, musical performances, films, and public forums.
The name of the holiday has seen many incarnations, originally called International Working Women’s Day, also often referred to as Women’s Day. March 8, is the mostly commonly recognized date for IWD globally, though the day has a complex history. It’s celebrated in many countries, some have kept the original sentiment generally focused around wage and rights disparities, others have more of a Mother’s Day sentiment. Some countries identify it’s original ties to Socialism, some redefining the holiday due to respective political spectrum evolutions. The earliest recorded observance of Women’s Day was held in New York on February 28 1909, organized by the the Socialist Party of America in honor of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union. This event later inspired the formation of the International Women’s Conference, which led to a German Nationalist Luise Zietz proposing an annual International Women’s Day. Then in March of 1911, the first IWD was celebrated by over million people combined in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. While in America still celebrated in the last week of February, eventually the United Nations recognized March 8 as IWD in 1977.
This day is not to be confused with America’s nationally recognized Women’s Equality Day (August 26), which celebrates women in America being granted the right to vote on August 26, 1920. IWD is more focused on the suffrage and disparity women still experience today, along with consideration that it’s Internationally celebrated, versus our Women’s Equality Day that is specific to our country and women’s voting rights. In 2011 President Obama proclaimed that March would be “Women’s History Month” in accordance with IWD, asking Americans to reflect on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women.” The UN now selects a theme every year, some examples of past themes include, “Empower Rural Women - End Hunger and Poverty” in 2012, “Time for Action to End Violence Against Women” in 2013, and “Equality for Women is Progress for All” in 2014.
This year, a national and international call to action was made by feminist activist groups for a strike on IWD. From what we’ve been told by local activists, at least roughly 30 countries will be participating in synchronized strikes that day. Since a large number of different groups and organizations will be holding various individual responses to the call to action, it’s expected that these will look a little different everywhere, but the general theme is in accordance with the sexism we still see alive and well today and specifically the political oppression of women often presenting itself as wage disparity. Some suggest that women take part in the strike by not working, or not doing things they would normally do for society that day, so that society can see what “a day without women” looks like. In Duluth, local Twin Ports feminist group, the Feminist Justice League (FJL), formerly know as Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition, will be holding a symbolic strike on IWD, March 8, 2017. We had the opportunity to speak with Heather Bradford, a central organizer to the FJL and the strike. Bradford said, “We will be hosting a 78 minute symbolic strike at the Minnesota Power Plaza, representing the 78 cents on the dollar wage disparity for women compared to men in our country.” They will also be ringing a bell at various intervals to represent the women of minorities who experience even larger wage disparities. For example, a bell at 64 minutes for African American women, who make on average 64 cents to every dollar a man makes, a bell at 54 minutes for Hispanic women, etc. This strike will begin at 5 pm, and after the 78 minute strike, the group will march to the Building for Women, where there will be a panel to discuss women’s issues. There will be a variety of speakers, touching on many topics, such as unpaid work, parental leave, sex work, the wage gap, sexual harassment, and other feminist labor issues. This event is also supported by the Feminist Action Collective, Northland Grandmothers for Peace, Twin Ports Anonymous, and Lake Superior Socialist Action.
As mentioned above, there will also be a variety of art events celebrating female artists the week of IWD. Studio 3 West, and Prove Collective will be collaboratively hosting two galleries of “thought-provoking works of art that advocate for social justice, community action, and civil engagement centered on Women’s Rights and related concerns,” titled WTF! Exhibit. The opening events kicks off at both locations on March 8 (IWD), at 7 pm and will include art of a variety of mediums.
To compliment the visual art shows, one of the organizers from Feminist Action Collective (FAC), Anna Tennis, decided a musical celebration was in order as well. Beaner’s will be hosting FAC’s event to highlight female writers and musicians in the Twin Ports on March 10 2017, at 7 pm, titled International Women’s Day Celebration. Sharing written works of prose, poetry, and essays at the event will include Anna Tennis, Ellie Schoenfeld, Sarah Agaton Howes, and April Smith. Hosted by Tina Marie Higgins Wussow, with musical performances by Lady Slipper, Jerree Small, Jen West, Ashley Northey, and Kat Hansberry. I had the chance to talk with Tennis and learn a bit about the event and the FAC. “We are a 1000+ member feminist group, inclusive of folks who identify as female, gender-queer, trans, or gender-non-conforming. We were actually formed on November 9, 2016, so the group is growing really fast.” Which makes their collective one of the fastest growing grassroots efforts in the Twin Ports right now. “Most of us were feeling, through out the whole election, a call to action. Some of the things I’ve heard echoed over and over again, as all these terribly sexist and bigoted statements were released through out the campaign, and floated through the media, was that there was an alarmingly little amount of reaction (to sexism referred to in the election). To us that meant, there is obviously still more (feminist) work to do than maybe one might have thought,” said Tennis, “I didn’t realize how much we still needed to do.” Tennis also went on to say though, that she “had never heard so many boots hit the ground (as did for feminism after Election night),” and that it’s greatly inspiring to see feminists jump into action in response to our current government.