International Women’s Strike – Muskoka

When the call for a women’s strike came out in February, there was not a lot of time to plan. It fell during a time of recovery for me. After the Women’s March in Washington and everything that entailed, I craved rest. Truthfully, I dreamed that the march would be enough to show the world that women can and must be in decision-making roles and that we could get on with the work of making that happen. Instead, the backlash doubled down.

Sandra, who I went to Washington with, was on board with holding a rally. This was the first time for both of us doing something this big, something where we were the organizers. I’ve put together protests and rallies before but usually just contacting my friends and fellow activists who meet me in front of town hall with protest signs.

Rather than writing it out in detail, I’d like to work through this in a point-form timeline. I’ve included all the media covered that I’m aware of, and it was extensive for an event like this. I’m writing it like this to show how these things can come together, and to highlight that ANY WOMAN can create events like this in her own community, regardless of experience. I acknowledge that having contacts in a small town is exceedingly helpful, but I believe it can be done without even that. Absolutely any resistance is important.

February 25 – I put up the first post saying a rally would be held on International Women’s Day and more info was forthcoming.

This post was shared on a couple agencies’ facebook pages.

I wrote an article on the Unfounded rape cases in Canada and promoted the strike at the bottom of the article.

A few days later the facebook event was created. I used the promotional photo from another International Women’s Strike page. It’s important to credit when you do things like this.

The facebook event did not get a tonne of attention but I recommend creating one regardless, especially if you have media engagement. Make it clean and simple with a strong message, but keep it active by sharing quotes, articles, updates on weather, etc.

Sandra and I created a flyer:

4th edit SINGLE

The Doppler Online and the Huntsville Forester publish articles leading up to the strike.

I contact a singer I know, Christina Hutt, and ask if she is interested in performing at our event. She agrees!

I also contact Lauren Power, the executive director of Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, and ask if she would like to speak at the event. She agrees and offers use of her PA system!

I decide that I should contact the space where we are having the event to make sure it’s all good with them. Normally we just use it but we are expecting a bigger crowd and will also need to hijack their outlets. This takes some back and forth but the event is ‘approved’ and I sign a permit for the location, no fee. It turned out to be a good decision for a few reasons, not least because it created a contact with the Algonquin Theatre (which is owned by the Town of Huntsville).

CogecoTV Muskoka contacts me on facebook after having seen the flyer. I get a 7-minute interview to talk about women’s issues in Muskoka and the strike:

The event, itinerary, and flyer are shared around social media.

The woman who runs the Great Vine in Huntsville, a health food store, contacts me to see how she can support the strike. We request hot chocolate and coffee!

Sandra does some searching for coffee urns and tables and is able to get them from the Legion—she spends a good hour cleaning the urn, and then makes a huge batch of delicious organic hot chocolate for the attendees the night before the event.

My mom, Donna Parlee, agrees to host a sign-making station. She is an artist and has created many protest signs for me over the years.

Throughout this process, Sandra and I are distributing flyers and talking to women in our community. Muskoka can be a difficult place for a feminist uprising because of the classic ‘it’s not all that bad’ perspective that comes from being told that your problems are nothing compared to ACTUAL problems OVER THERE—which creates a sense of helplessness and resignation with the status quo. This is a hard battle because we face incredible inequality here in Muskoka, as women do all over the world, and it may look different, but the root cause—male dominance—is the same everywhere. Many women said they couldn’t attend because: they like their female boss; they need the money; they have to run their store; they are caretaking for children or parents. Most of these reasons are WHY we strike. But on an individual level, it is very difficult to try to convince people to risk anything for systemic change. All you can do is provide the opportunity, the information, the support, and hope they show up for themselves and their sisters.

THE DAY OF THE STRIKE

We striked on March 8 2017 from 1-5pm in front of the Algonquin Theatre, a public space in Huntsville. We had great turnout in the beginning, with many women I didn’t know attending—that’s always a great sign. However, with it being March in Ontario, the weather was deeply unpleasant. It was very cold with a wind that knocked over 4L water jugs and anything lighter. Because of this and the long timeline of the event, many attendees came and went, with a dedicated few staying through the entire event.

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Precious baby-striker! #hervoice

I opened the event, discussing the events that created International Women’s Day—the strike of the women textile workers in 1909. I also introduced the speakers and performers and thanked the supporters. We had opportunities for women to share their stories by coming to the mic or using a twitter hashtag.

A short time after, I gave my speech (these are my notes; not everything is written out in detail):

 “The very first international women’s day was 1909. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union. The textile industry was, and still in, one of the most dangerous industries for women to work in across the world, and as with many ‘women’s jobs’, the lack of protection, inhumane conditions, and sexual harassment violence is rampant.

It’s wonderful that over a century later we are continuing this tradition, but it’s devastating that the changes these events fostered have not yet brought us to a place of equality. And I’m not just talking about building collapses in Bangladesh, as horrific as those are. Bringing it back to Muskoka, I know we all know about workplace injustices that weigh on us. Women are the primary force of the serving industry, and that industry gets away with paying employees less than minimum wage and relying on women’s emotional labour to get tips to make up the difference.

Many businesses and indeed schools still get away with forcing women to conform to absurd and restrictive gender performances, dictating what women and can’t wear, all with the aim to be pleasing to someone other than ourselves. Airline attendants are forced to wear make-up and high heels. Servers are required to wear revealing clothing or uncomfortable footwear. “Grooming’ for female employees is over-the-top in terms of effort and financial investment. And as always with capitalist patriarchy, we need to follow the money. Did you know that every last major make-up brand boasts a male CEO? Even in 2017, men are still benefiting every day from women’s lower status on the hierarchy.

So not only are women expected to earn less on the job—with a wage gap here in Muskoka of 64 cents on the male dollar—but we are forced, in many instances, to spend our wages on clothing and grooming products that are not what we would choose, are unhealthy, and outrageously overpriced.

Speaking of overpriced—there’s this thing called the Pink Tax.  (explain)

Women-specific healthcare is still not appropriately covered by OHIP. Antibiotics specifically for yeast infections are not covered. Plan B is not covered and is hideously overpriced. Women’s healthcare is barbaric—mammograms, anyone? And we are expected to tolerate pain as par for the course of womanhood. Research for medication is performed on male mice only because the hormone cycles of female mice are ‘too complicated’. Women are prescribed sedatives instead of painkillers for the SAME EXPERIENCES of pain that men go to the doctor for.

In the home, a lack of affordable childcare keeps women out of the workforce. Universal childcare is an imperative measure in investing in women’s equality. Housing in Muskoka is so outrageously priced that women are forced to stay in unhappy or even dangerous relationships because they can’t afford to live on their own, even without children, but the situation is all the more dire with children involved. Our affordable housing waitlist is at least 7 years long.

If we move into the legal system—if you can stand it—you’ll recognize that our laws were created by men to benefit men. Lawyers and judges, on the air of impartiality, remove the context of women’s oppression and women are compelled to interact with abusers in custody arrangements.

In criminal court, accused rapists are not compelled to take the stand, but victims are. Rape myths abound in the court system, which relies on the premise of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. A more just application of the law would be trying cases on a ‘balance of probabilities’. (extrapolate to the Halifax cab driver)

Every five days in Canada a woman is killed by her male partner.

Our women’s shelters are over capacity.

Our crisis lines are overwhelmed.

We are tired. Tired of having to fight for ourselves against rape AND rape culture. Against intimate violence AND systemic violence. Against stereotypes and harassment. Women are human beings – inherently worthy – and we deserve to exist on this planet as equal beings. We KNOW we are equal. And we are SICK of not being treated that way, in the workplace, in the legal and medical institutions, and in our homes.

And I am tired of being told that we are equal so just give it up already. How can anyone have even a precursory glance into social realities and attempt to make that claim? I am grateful for how far we’ve come, yes. Our mothers and foremothers never stopped speaking their truths about women’s oppression. We battled for the vote and won—it was not given to us. It certainly was not freely given to Indigenous women – they were only enfranchised in the 1960s. That is in many women’s lifetimes.

Across the world, women are RISING. From Standing Rock to Ferguson, from the Women’s Marches in January to the Black-Out protests last year, to work-place walk outs in France, Iceland, and other countries where women left their shifts early to indicate the amount of time they normally work for free due to the wage gap. The women’s marches was the largest collective march in recorded history. We marched on all seven continents, and women marched in Muskoka.

We have so much work left to do. When I was younger and learning about feminism, I remember feeling bereft—all the fights had been won. We were equal, there was nothing left to do! Yet, there was violence in my home. Yet, there were slurs used against girls in my school. Yet, I never saw myself or any other ordinary extraordinary women I knew reflected in the media.

So I no longer believe the work is done. Our work is ongoing. But there IS an end in sight. Women’s Movements are an unstoppable force. We cannot unknow what we know, and we know what we deserve. This movement is approaching critical mass, and you are all here to participate in that. To show your support, share your vision, tell your stories. We are ready for a world where women’s value is recognized and respected, and we are willing to fight for it. STRIKE!”

A short time after, Sandra gave her impassioned speech. Here is an excerpt.

CogecoTV Muskoka was there and did interviews and recorded some of our chants, developed or collected by Sandra.

In the interim, I riffed on the mic for a bit and engaged people, discussing rape culture, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the Unfounded rape cases, and other areas of inequality that we see and experience every day.

The weather cleared and sun shone for 10 minutes while Christina Hutt performed. I HIGHLY recommend having a performer at any event you create. Singing, music, melody, all bring women together and create a hope and levity that can be difficult to achieve otherwise with such a heavy topic.

The hail came while Lauren was speaking. By then, there were only maybe 10 really committed women at the strike. The weather went from bad to HAIL so most had to call it a day. Lauren’s speech was powerful and a great close to our event.

We cleaned up and went home to warm up, which for me took hours.

A few days later, Dawn Huddlestone from the Doppler contacted me to do a follow-up piece.

And the Forester printed this article as well.

Being able to participate in a global movement is profoundly powerful. It’s important to be BRAVE and create the opportunities for discussion and change that you want to see. Of course, I say this now at thirty years old, but if you’d asked me five years ago if I’d ever do something like spearhead and speak at a rally for women’s rights, I would have laughed, then cried, then had an anxiety attack. And yes, all those things still happened, but I ALSO co-organized a strike. So to paraphrase Audre Lorde, when speaking and staying silent are both terrifying, decide to speak.

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I’ll talk about what I learned, what worked, and what didn’t.

What worked:

Social media presence, a sharp looking flyer, reaching out for support, asking for help, delegating, letting go of the little things, debriefing throughout the experience, getting the event approved for use of the space, asking for what you need in terms of supplies and equipment, creative activities like the sign-making station, requesting engagement from attendees (this wasn’t taken up but it’s a good idea and I’ll do it again and try to make it more accessible).

What didn’t work:

Fucking March weather, having the rally be 4 hours long with big gaps between speakers or events (this may have worked in the summer or somewhere with a lot of seating, but expecting people to stand for 4 hours in the freezing cold holding signs is a lot).

What I learned:

Women want to help and participate but they need to be met where they are at. Making women feel guilty for not participating is not a long-term strategy. Accessibility is key: seating, comfort, encouragement are all important. Women will help any way they can, if you ask or put the word out.

For next time:

We are planning a summer event, similar in message to this one but with a tighter itinerary, more ways to participate, and a petition or demand.

One thought on “International Women’s Strike – Muskoka

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