BY LESSA LEIGH
Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati

On March 8, 2018, a coalition of local  organizations gathered at Piatt Park in downtown Cincinnati to celebrate International Women’s Day. Throughout gusts of wind and snow showers, representatives from the coalition spoke about the need to end all forms of oppression towards women.  

Pulling no punches, the themes of the day were the importance of withholding labor as an effective method to achieve rights for workers, the need for intersectionality in all aspects of the movement for women’s liberation, using mass action to protect women’s rights, and the value to society of honoring women’s bodily autonomy.

Hayley from DSA

Hayley Powell from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) of Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky kicked off the speeches by reflecting on her inspiring experience with direct action. Alongside her comrades in DSA, she was part of protests, community meetings and other work that resulted in some local victories, such as  saving the Hamilton County Public Library’s Main Branch North Building from sale and setting up needle exchanges in northern KY. These experiences left her with a better understanding of her power and the outcomes she can help create. Haley  said, “Change is possible when you fight hard for it. Now is the time to be radically righteous and not just settle for reform.”

Speaking on behalf of the American Indian Movement, Heaven Soto talked about the ways women are constantly objectified by men, especially if they can be considered “exotic. She pointed out instances where she saw this objectification play out in her own romantic relationships. Heaven also spoke about the impact racism and sexism have on the safety of Native women. She noted that compared to women of other races in the U.S., Native women are the most likely to be victims of sexual assault.  In addition, seventy percent of the perpetrators of these crimes are non-Native men who largely go unpunished.

Mary O’Connell from DSA served as the event MC

Caroline Lembright from Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio (PPSWO) highlighted the range and volume of their essential women’s reproductive health services. In a typical year, they provide  43,000 STI tests, nearly 20,000 units of birth control, over 9,000 pregnancy tests, and 2,000 well woman visits.. Her message turned even more ardent in regard to the recently proposed Medicaid cuts, citing how 1 in 5 women of reproductive age access critical medical services such as birth control, cancer screenings, and maternity care through these funds. She acknowledged that for some women – such as black and brown women – who would be disproportionately affected by these attacks on women’s health, the outcomes may be devastating. 

Kristin Shrimplin, the CEO of Women Helping Women, spoke rousingly of the need to support women and all survivors in the fight against gender-based violence. Stressing the intersectional mission of her organization, she said, “When we say “all survivors”, we mean all. If you are a person of color…an immigrant…gender non-conforming, trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual…deaf or with a disability, you are welcome at our agency. If you’re a man, guess what? You are welcome at our agency.” Kristin declared gender-based violence to be “one of the greatest human rights violations in the global community and the world.” Noting pervasiveness of the issue across social and economic lines, she explained that Women Helping Women realizes their work must connect with all fights against inequity and oppression. (Click here to see video of the speech.)

Representing Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati, Kai Porter spoke passionately about the power of mass action, relaying the story of how women in Delhi, India stood up in outrage over the brutal rape (and eventually death) of a local woman, Jyoti Singh.These mass protests in 2012 led to pressured governments in Indian to make several concrete changes,  such as changing laws about sexual assault. Kai pointed out in order to successfully win women’s liberation, we must organize mass action like the women in India, but we cannot stop at policies being slightly adjusted or political parties offering up more progressive candidates. Our movement has to be long-lasting to bring radical changes. We must join en masse to stand in solidarity and demand liberation for all women. Kai explained that in order for this to happen “we cannot gloss over the concerns and struggles of other women, other femme-identified people, and other non-binary people simply because they don’t reflect our specific struggles. ” (Click here to see video of the speech.)

Ed from CRS

Ed Vaughn from Cincinnati Revolutionary Students spoke of her concern and fury about people who call themselves feminists and pro-women claiming that real women are assigned that way at birth. Calling them “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, she stressed that they would rather deny transwomen their actual truth than  building a movement. She asked how these so-called feminists focus their work on inflicting violence on some of the most vulnerable, marginalized people in our society? “I say that to once again double down on the fact that when we talk about inclusion, this is not a matter of option. When we talk about people’s identities, this is not a debate. We do not get to talk about people and say whether or not they are real.” She concluded by declaring that a women’s liberation movement that fully embraces transwomen is an urgent matter to her in part because trans-women, especially trans-women of color, are the most acutely affected by sexual violence leading to murder.

Closing out the speakers,  Julz Bressler from Socialist Alternative reminded the audience of how women withholding their labor throughout history have driven positive changes for workers. From her perspective, International Women’s Day is about “us standing up against exploitation in the workplace, against sexual harassment, and for a right to a living wage, affordable housing, and reproductive healthcare.”

This gathering made it clear that a number of groups in the Greater Cincinnati area are ready to stand up and fight back when women’s rights are under attack.