March 8th we celebrate International Women's Day. It has become a global symbol of women calling for equal rights in many corners of our Earth. The origins of this day – sometimes attributed to the struggle for women's suffrage – however remain hazy and/or contradictory.
One hundred years ago, in 1917, however, it was clear that women factory workers and widows of the over 2 million dead Russian soldiers from World War I, who went out on International Women's Day into the streets of St. Petersburg, precipitated the Russian Revolution that toppled Czarist feudal rule. The political leadership of the Russian revolutionary forces forbade the women's strike. But women by the thousands went out into the streets anyway, demanding “Bread, Land, Peace!” Four days later Czar Nicholas II abdicated.
Russian women in the streets of St Petersburg, March 8, 1917.
Seven years earlier, in 1910, at the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen, German Socialist Clara Zetkin with Luise Zietz called for a women's strike day as a means of demanding votes for women. They also, according to some reports, wanted to honor the garment workers, who in New York in 1908-10, demanded an end to sweatshops, and child labor. This call was first celebrated in 1911 when an estimated one million women poured out onto the streets throughout Europe.
Earlier roots of International Women's Day may lie in a New York City 1908 march from Lower East Side to a rally at Union Square when 15,000 garment workers demanded economic and political rights. Some even identify a 1857 march in the US, but others believe this was fostered, in part, by the French Communist Party to disassociate from Bolshevism.
The significance of International Women's Day faded in the 1950s and 1960s until the resurgence of the women's liberation movement. In 1968, the US long time activist Laura X learned about this lost history watching a film, “The End of St. Petersburg.” There for the first time she learned about the women in St. Petersburg who went out demanding Russia withdraw from WWI, and for bread and land. Laura X talks more about many details on the radio show Joy of Resistance that intrigued her as she learned more history as a result of seeing the film. Then in Berkeley on March 8, 1969 she organized the first US International Women's Day march in decades. The progressive news service, Liberation News Service (LNS) picked up the story and spread it across the globe. In 1970 30 new marches took place in other countries.
This year, tomorrow, International Women's March will bring the largest national U.S. participation of women and allies out to demonstrate. Called “A Day Without Women” organizing focuses on “equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people, through a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity.” by the Women's March. School districts are closing. (Chapel Hill; Alexandria) Three actions are sought: 1) Wear Red. It denotes action, love and sacrifice; 2) If you have to spend money, only do it at women and minority-owned businesses; and 3) Women, take the day off from paid and unpaid labor. The over all goal is to get half the world's population to opt out of the economy for 24 hours.