March 16, 2018
International Women's Day 2018

Vibrant local activists reflect the many fronts of working women’s struggles

Text by Helen Gilbert
Photos by Kathleen Merrigan

Women’s leadership in challenging injustice was front and center at Radical Women’s celebration of International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 11. Moving and powerful speakers from different races and backgrounds, working on a range of issues, expressed how life challenges propelled them into the forefront. In that process, they are finding community, confidence, and allies.

Lively discussion before and after the formal program showed connections being made that will bring these women’s efforts closer to victories for low-income tenants, Native sovereignty, environmental safety, union protections, and targets of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Titled “Working Women Rise Up: Many Fronts, One Struggle,” the gathering was chaired by revolutionary feminist Gina Petry. She explained how International Women’s Day originated in a massive demonstration against workplace exploitation by female textile workers in New York City on March 8, 1908. Inspired by this and other uprisings by working-class heroines, socialist women in 1910 declared March 8 as a day to recognize women’s struggles. Petry read greetings from women of a Mexican party, the Partido Obrera Socialista (Socialist Workers Party), who wrote, “The message of resistance and struggle of the women of the world comes as a hopeful wave to us as Mexican women militants.”

Below are brief profiles of some of the amazing grassroots movers and shakers who spoke from the panel and from the audience.

Anna Bean, a Puyallup Tribal member and Water Warrior, discussed the fight by tribal members and the Tacoma community against the threat to public safety, tribal sovereignty, and the environment posed by the PSE Liquid Natural Gas plant on the Tacoma Tideflats. Bean is building awareness by running for the Puyallup Tribal Council.

Lisa Frasene, a shop steward at City Light and a member of Seattle Silence Breakers, told how city workers of different genders, races, sexual orientations, and union affiliations are coming together to put an end to sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the municipal workforce.

Martha Zamora (pictured above) and Anita Brito spoke about organizing with their neighbors at the Firs Trailer Park in Sea-Tac to stop the eviction of more than 60 families. Their landlord wants to replace this low-income, largely Latino community with a motel. Tenants urged supporters to attend a court hearing later this month on the issue.

Maxine Reigel, a retired union tradeswoman, waitress, and accountant, represents Radical Women in Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity. She explained how the fight against the anti-union Freedom Foundation connects to survival issues for working women.

Riva Sheinkman, who is half Northern Kurdish, read a selection of poems by Kurdish women. This section of the program was in response to a call for solidarity actions from Kurdish women in Afrin, Syria.

Esteemed Puyallup elder Ramona Bennett, who led the tribe’s takeover of the former Cascadia Juvenile Detention Center in 1976, recounted how she led a walkout of Bell Telephone operators as a teenager in Seattle in the 1950s.

One of the original members of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party, Vanetta Molson-Turner applauded Radical Women for never taking a hiatus from organizing since its founding in 1967. She invited the group to participate in the Panthers’ 50-year anniversary event in April.