Activists mark International Women’s Day

  • The Raging Grannies chorus sings protest songs at an International Women’s Day event put on by the group Western Mass Code Pink Women for Peace on Sunday, March 8, 2020. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2020 11:39:29 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Anti-war signs plastered the walls of First Churches of Northampton on Sunday, surrounding the Raging Grannies chorus as the activist group began singing protest songs.

“No more rape and no more beatings. Women rise! We’re tired of pleading,” the group sang to the melody of the standard “John Brown’s Body.” “We’re rising up to tell you that our bodies are our own. We’re rising up today.”

The performance was part of a celebration of International Women’s Day put on by the group Western Mass Code Pink Women for Peace. As the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment approaches later this year, some 50 people showed up at Sunday’s event to talk about continued voter suppression and the fight for reproductive justice today.

The academic and writer Arlene Avakian was the event’s first speaker. She talked about the history of the movement for women’s suffrage, highlighting the grassroots efforts that made up the movement. But she noted that it wasn’t until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act passed, that black people could vote.

“We always have to say, ‘Who are the people who benefit from this?’” Avakian said. “When you talk about women, which women are you talking about?”

Avakian also spoke about the Movement Voter Project, a group supporting grassroots organization turning out the vote for the progressive movement.

Desta Cantave, program coordinator for the reproductive rights organization Civil Liberties and Public Policy, was next to speak.

Cantave spoke about the exclusion of transgender and non-binary people in the women’s movement, and stressed that when celebrating the accomplishment of women’s suffrage, it’s important to account for what went wrong within the women’s rights movement in addition to its successes.

“Feminism aims to uplift the whole person a woman is and erase the idea that women should perform or live in a certain way,” Cantave said, drawing a contrast with the exclusion of trans, black and indigenous people from the women’s movement.

As examples of the exclusion of trans people from the movement, Cantave mentioned the booing of the trans activist and singer Beth Elliott during her performance at the West Coast Lesbian Conference in 1973. Cantave also noted the policy at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival of admitting only “women-born women” throughout the festival’s 20-year history, which ended in 2015.

Cantave said that an important concept to bring into the conversation is “reproductive justice,” which the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”

“The women’s rights movement was focusing on simply the legalization of women’s rights ... without creating access, and that’s what reproductive justice aims to do,” Cantave said.

Those were sentiments echoed by Meghan Lemay, a member of the Socialist Feminist Working Group from the Democratic Socialists of America. Lemay said that the reproductive justice framework applies to many situations, such as to asylum seekers separated from their children at the border.

Lemay also spoke about exposing “fake clinics” — sometimes known as pregnancy resource centers or crisis pregnancy centers — that she said shame and pressure women seeking an abortion.

Tanisha Arena was the last to speak. The executive director of the group Arise for Social Justice, Arena spoke about the concept of sisterhood, asking the question: “Are we really united and aligned in sisterhood?”

Arena noted that famous suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked for the liberation of privileged women like herself, and that Susan B. Anthony once said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”

Arena used the examples to ask whether women could meet each other at the intersections of their various identities.

“Uplifting and supporting each other as women in sisterhood means speaking out about the injustices that affect women who do not look like you,” Arena said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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