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Women, economic crisis and fightback

Published Dec 6, 2008 8:21 PM

Phebe Eckfeldt
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.

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 insurance.

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 revolution.”