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'Our war for equality is right here!'

Published Aug 30, 2007 10:04 PM

“African-American women have to be like Fannie Lou Hamer who fought to end segregation. We have to be like Harriet Tubman who led our people out of slavery. We must raise our youth so they will not fight in imperialist wars,” said Amina Baraka, freedom fighter and poet, during a rush-hour speakout in New York on Aug. 27.

Brenda Stokely of Troops Out Now Coalition
speaks to New York women’s rally.
WW photo: Deirdre Griswold

The speakout was called by the National Women’s Fightback Network to demand full equality for all women. “Aug. 26, ‘Women’s Equality Day,’ marks the day, 87 years ago, that women legally got the right to vote in the U.S.,” stated the New York NWFN press release. “There was no equality for all women back then, and today there is still no ‘equality’ to celebrate.”

Groups from Detroit to Buffalo, New York to Boston responded to the NWFN call for activities from Aug. 24-27. The NWFN turned the day on its head by protesting the lack of equality due to sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and by fighting for economic, social and reproductive justice. The theme of most activities—”Stop the war against women at home and abroad”—was linked to the Troops Out Now Coalition’s mobilization in Washington, D.C., to take place Sept. 22-29.

Leading off on Aug. 24, Detroit Action Network for Reproductive Rights (DANFORR) held a spirited picket line and rally. Not only did many young women join the line, but it received a positive response from many passing cars.

Kris Hamel, a DANFORR organizer who chaired the rally, proposed renaming Aug. 26 “Women’s Fightback Day so our daughters and granddaughters will really be able to have equality.” Chris Cardenas, president of Wayne State University Students for Choice, and Katey Aquilina and Dessa Cosma, organizers with Planned Parenthood, addressed the need for reproductive rights and justice so all women can control their lives. Andrea Egypt with MECAWI (Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice) drew parallels between the war in Iraq and the one at home.

“We knew when we organized DANFORR that Detroit had to have its own organization fighting in the interests of African-American women,” Debbie Johnson, a founder of DANFORR, told Workers World. “We needed to have that voice for choice in our community. That’s why DANFORR has made a tremendous impact in Detroit. Other organizations look to us for activism. We have to make a difference in the lives of African-American women.”

Also on Aug. 24, members of the International Action Center held a rush-hour demonstration in downtown Buffalo calling for a fightback to end the Iraq war as well as the war on women right here. They also handed out leaflets linking the two struggles and supporting the TONC national march on Sept. 29.

In Boston on Aug. 25, the NWFN contingent marched two miles with TONC to protest the war at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Me. Along the route the women handed out leaflets to fellow marchers and bystanders linking the issues and carried signs that read “No to sexism and war” and “Money for health care, housing and AIDS.”

“We got a really good response from young women when we talked about poverty, racism, lack of access to reproductive services, and made links to Katrina survivors,” Maureen Skehan told WW. The Boston WFN has called a speakout on Aug. 29 to mark the second anniversary of that disaster.

“From the Lower 9th Ward to Roxbury, we’re coming out in solidarity with the survivors of Rita and Katrina and to speak out against the Katrinalization of our communities,” said NWFN organizer Mia Campbell. “This war is costing us billions of dollars. These funds need to be returned to our communities, not five or 10 years from now, but immediately.”

Wide-ranging New York speakout

Picking up where Baraka left off at the New York speakout, Viola Plummer of the December 12th Movement declared, “If we women get the absolute determination of a Harriet Tubman, we can do what we want. Each one of us needs to take that point.” Plummer is at the center of a struggle in New York involving the Black community’s right of self-determination. Plummer added, “The issue may be in City Hall today, but it’s the same wherever the U.S. tries to oppress people around the world.”

Acting the part of a “bag lady,” performer and long-time activist for social and economic justice, Vinie Burrows, took the mike: “Poor people are disposable. We have to fight back. After 9/11, people began looking for terrorists in all the wrong places. We need to look in the White House, in the Pentagon, in the corporations. I’m a single mother of three. If I can’t feed my children, that’s terrorism. We have to stop the war on women and on the poor. The real ‘weapon of mass destruction’ is poverty. Our war is here. We have to fight back.”

Black attorney Evelyn Warren said she used to leave public speaking to her husband, civil rights attorney Michael Tarif Warren, but not after they were both recently brutalized by racist cops. “That happens in this city everyday. We must speak truth to power. We have to demand a change.”

Many other issues, both domestic and international, were addressed during the speakout, which was chaired by LeiLani Dowell, a youth organizer with FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) and an LGBT activist, and Sue Davis, a long-time fighter for reproductive justice.

Among the 20 speakers were Nieves Ayres and Alba of the May 1st Immigrant Rights Coalition, who called for amnesty for all immigrant workers in this country. Brenda Stokely of TONC and Katrina survivor Christine Gavin-Latham denounced the despicable conditions Katrina and Rita survivors have been forced to endure over the last two years and called for reparations.

Valerie Francisco from FIRE (Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment) talked about the terrible working conditions in the U.S.-dominated Philippines that force many young women to seek work in this country. Cultural worker Nana Soul emphasized that Black women endure both national and gender oppression.

Joyce Chediac, an Arab-American, exposed how the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq has drastically worsened life for women who once enjoyed the highest standard of living in the Middle East, while Ellie Ommani warned of the Bush administration spreading the war to Iran. Rachel Duell, a professor of nursing and researcher on HIV prevention in women, spoke about women with AIDS and the need for universal health care, as did Sharon Eolis representing TONC’s Healthcare Not Warfare Campaign.

Members of the NWFN in Chicago had to abruptly cancel their plans for Aug. 23 when a tornado ripped through town.

This article includes reports from Kris Hamel and Debbie Johnson in Detroit, Ellie Dorritie in Buffalo, Maureen Skehan in Boston, Sue Davis in New York and Jill Hill in Chicago.