Polibooks

Politics and books, ideally at the same time.

A Day Without Women: Who Are The Organizers & What Do They Believe?

The recent Women's March was, by any measure, a huge success. Now, the organization has announced its support for a follow up event in the form of an 'international women's strike' on March 8th, which is International Women's Day.

In the aftermath of Trump's election liberal politics have felt like a bit of a scramble. Many people are concerned, or downright afraid, and coalitions are forming on the basis of opposition to Trump. Hell, even Michael Moore is back in a prominent role. In this kind of environment, I think it's more important than ever to know exactly who is leading which faction, and what their beliefs and goals are, so that an informed decision on who to support or not support can be made. With that in mind, I wanted to do some research on the leaders of the upcoming women's strike.

An essay written by a group that included several of the strike's official organizers was published in The Guardian and elsewhere on February 6th. Here is a list of the authors and a summary of their backgrounds:

Cinzia Arruzza

Cinzia Arruzza is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. She has written several times for The Jacobin, a print and digital magazine that "offers socialist perspectives on politics, economics and culture." In a review published in The Jacobin's 'About Us' section, Chris Hayes described the outlet as "very explicitly on the radical Left." She wrote the book "Dangerous Liaisons: The Marriages and Divorces of Marxism and Feminism."

Rasmea Yousef Odeh

Rasmea Yousef Odeh served as an associate director at The Arab American Action Network in Chicago. In 1969 she was sentenced to life in prison, serving 10 years, in Israel after being convicted of involvement in two terrorist bombings in Jerusalem. She was also convicted of immigration fraud in the United States and sentenced to prison followed by deportation - the conviction was vacated by a higher court, and a new trial was scheduled to begin January 10th, 2017. Rasmea contests her conviction in Israel, stating that her confessions were extracted under torture.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis is an academic, and author, and an activist. She was a member of the US Communist Party from 1969-1991, twice running as the party's Vice Presidential candidate. She is currently a member of a democratic socialist group called Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

Barbara Ransby

Barbara Ransby is a historian, author and activist who has also written for The Jacobin. She is currently employed as a Professor of History, African-American Studies, and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. She wrote the book Ella Baker and The Black Freedom Movement, about one of the most influential women in the civil rights movement.

Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor

Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor is an Assistant Professor at Princeton's Center for African American studies. She has also been published in The Jacobin, and is a member of the editorial board of the International Socialist Review. She has written extensively about the value of viewing race through a Marxist lens.

Note: 'Jacobin' is a reference to the 18th century group in France of the same name. The Jacobins were, according to the Google definition result, "the most radical and ruthless of the political groups formed in the wake of the French Revolution, and in association with Robespierre they instituted the Terror of 1793-4."

Linda Martin Alcoff

Linda Martin Alcoff is a Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She has written on feminism, race theory, epistemology, and more, and was a supporter of the Occupy movement, which she wrote about here.

Nancy Fraser

Nancy Fraser is a Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at The New School who is known for her work on the concept of justice. Wikipedia lists her areas of work as critical theory, post-structuralism and feminist philosophy, and lists Michel Foucault and Karl Marx among her influences. She has written of the importance of Marxist analysis in new, 'postmarxian' schools of thought, and has written in The Guardian criticizing neoliberalism, saying that "In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women's liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society."

Tithi Bhattacharya

Tithi Bhattacharya is a Professor of South Asian History and the Director of Global Studies at Purdue University. She sits on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review (ISR), and is described by her website as having written extensively on Marxist theory. In an ISR article based on a presentation she gave at the Socialism 2012 conference in Chicago she writes about Maoism and, after listing the countries which have officially condemned Maoist organizations as terrorist groups, says "There can thus be no doubt that the Maoists are back in the news and by all accounts they are fighting against all the right people." (Source: ISR.)

Note: Estimates of the number of people killed under Mao's regime range in the tens of millions. Historian Frank Dikotter, who is based in Hong Kong and has reviewed Chinese archives from the period, has said that documents show at least 45 million people were killed. Historian Martin Malia has estimated the total number of people killed under Marxist regimes worldwide to be between 85-100 million.

One clear theme present in several writings I reviewed by the above authors, and in the jointly written statement published in The Guardian, is a condemnation of neoliberalism. The point of this article is not to pass judgment on the beliefs of the authors, but simply to inform. In that spirit, it's worth balancing out some of their criticisms. On neoliberalism they wrote;

Women’s conditions of life, especially those of women of color and of working, unemployed and migrant women, have steadily deteriorated over the last 30 years, thanks to financialization and corporate globalization.

There are valid criticisms of the neoliberal order from these authors, both in this piece and in other writings that I reviewed, but we shouldn't ignore the overall trends that have been produced by the last few decades of global policies.

A few pieces of relevant information help balance the argument. First, according to Pew there have been substantial improvements in extreme poverty levels around the globe.

The first decade of this century witnessed an historic reduction in global poverty and a near doubling of the number of people who could be considered middle income.

This data shows that approximately 700 million people worldwide were lifted out of poverty during this time period. Additionally, from 2007 to 2014 the life satisfaction of citizens of emerging economies skyrocketed, with 51% of people rating their life satisfaction at a 7/10 or above in 2014, compared with 33% in 2007 (Pew).

And finally, Pew documents widespread and rising global support for gender equality, only listing one country - Nigeria - as not having a majority of the population in support of equal rights. Obviously women do not have equal rights around the globe, either in law or in practice, but public support for equality appears to be moving in the right direction.

As I said, I'm not writing this with the purpose of analyzing or passing judgment on the organizers. I am curious, however, about what others think. Do the viewpoints described above represent your own? Do you think that these views belong at the fore of the progressive movement? Are they what you expected to see from this group? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

One recurring theme among the authors is a socialist viewpoint, and affiliations with socialist institutions. For those interested, you can find my overview of George Orwell's critique of socialism here.