Women, economic crisis and fightback
Published Dec 6, 2008 8:21 PM
WW photo: G. Dunkel
Less than a week before the historic election of Barack Obama, racist,
right-wing forces were continuing in their effort to bring him down and
threaten other Black politicians. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tried to
deport Obama’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango, who had been living in South Boston
since 2002. She was forced to move out of state.
Then the FBI entrapped and arrested African-American State Sen. Dianne
Wilkerson on alleged corruption charges. She was never indicted nor did a grand
jury convene. Wilkerson has represented the African-American community in the
State Senate for 15 years and is very popular due to her progressive stances,
including supporting same-sex marriage rights. Our party defended both
Women are suffering the brunt of the crisis, especially women of color, single
mothers, older women, immigrant women, disabled women, and lesbian, bi and
trans women. For many poor and working women, life is a constant struggle to
provide the most basic necessities for themselves and their children. Some 15
million women in the U.S. live in poverty. One out of three single mothers is
officially poor and one out of five female seniors is poor. Black and Latina
women are twice as likely as white women to be poor. Thirteen percent of
children in the U.S. live below the poverty line.
Women earn less than men, are more likely to work part-time, less likely to
have health insurance, and are less likely to be eligible for unemployment
Since [Bill] Clinton eliminated welfare in 1996, the number of single mothers
who are unemployed and who receive no welfare assistance has doubled. Many are
homeless and live in extreme poverty. Many women have their children taken away
by the state, are forced to stay in abusive relationships, go to prison for
acts of survival, or turn to substance abuse.
There is a newly built women’s prison in Massachusetts where 40 percent
of the women have mental health issues and 85 percent have substance abuse
issues. In the wake of severe budget cuts, instead of providing social services
like drug treatment programs, mental health programs, jobs, childcare, etc.,
the state is throwing women in jail.
The Women’s Fightback Network in Boston is demanding that the governor
declare an economic state of emergency. WFN brings to the forefront how women
have been disproportionately victimized by foreclosures, evictions, job loss
and budget cuts. Anita Hill wrote an article last year stating that women were
particular targets of subprime predatory lenders, especially elderly women and
Black and Latina women. One loan officer talked about how she would add many
additional costs to the mortgage loan if the client “appeared uneducated,
inarticulate, was a minority or was particularly young or old.”
With winter coming, one demand is that the governor order the utility companies
to immediately stop all shutoffs of heat and electricity and restore services
to all who have been shut off, along with the demand for debt cancellation.
The largest electric company in Massachusetts issued more than 100,000 shutoff
notices this past May. Four thousand people entered the winter last year with
their utilities shut off. How many will die from using unsafe space heaters,
candles and stoves to keep warm? After a recent press conference we received
many calls from people who had had their heat or electricity shut off. The
majority were from women, mothers with very young children—children who
were sick or disabled, women caring for elders. One woman could not pay her
electric bill because paying for medications was her priority.
We like to call our campaign Power to the People because, as women leaders,
what we have foremost in our minds is how to help empower women to fight back;
to lead the struggles that affect them most; to go against the grain of
capitalism which isolates women from each other, sows distrust, shames,
demoralizes and blames us.
How can we engage women who are struggling just to survive? How can we win more
activists to the party and the WFN who can reach out more broadly?
The working class today is thoroughly multinational and more than one-half
women. This lays the basis for the political leadership of our class to be
taken up by the more oppressed. No revolution can be successful without the
participation of women.
As Hugo Chávez said, “Capitalism is sexist; socialism can’t be
sexist. ... Only women have the commitment, passion and love needed to make a
revolution; to be the motor, the cutting edge and the fire of the
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