A day after celebrities and corporations — from Stephen Curry to Google to President Trump — marked International Women’s Day, Bay Area activists rallied Saturday in Oakland’s Fruitvale district for a more explicitly political version of the holiday celebrating blue-collar women.
Called International Working Women’s Day, organizer Jennifer Abella of the Filipino women’s empowerment group GABRIELA Oakland said the holiday “is different than the kind of mainstream International Women’s Days you see (that are) really popular right now.” The rally and march honored the contributions of women to the labor movement.
“We know that women are suffering from unemployment, low wages (and) dangerous job conditions,” Abella said.
“We want to center these women’s issues, beyond just ‘breaking the glass ceiling,’” she said, referring to the concern — typically associated with better-paying, white-collar jobs — that sexism keeps women from ascending to leadership roles.
“What about the women who are still part of the toiling masses and don’t have a glass ceiling to break?”
Speakers in English, Spanish and Tagalog recounted the struggle of women who work low-wage jobs and migrate across oceans and borders to seek better opportunities.
Nearby, members of a slew of Bay Area organizations stood at tables offering services from medical clinics to legal aid to free massages for women in the diverse, historically working-class Fruitvale neighborhood.
The event’s organizers and participants were a collection of community and leftist groups, including the Communist Workers League, the immigrant women’s organization Mujeres Unidas y Activa, the Vietnamese social justice organization VietUnity East Bay and the Council on American-Islamic Relations California.
Marchers chanted “long live international solidarity” and “we protect each other.” Speakers and signs decried what participants described as American imperialism and interference around the world, particularly in the political instability in Venezuela and support for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
The event started with a performance by traditional Aztec dancers, who filled the plaza with the smell of incense and overwhelmed the noise of traffic and music on International Boulevard with drumming and a conch shell.
Typically, rallies and protests like the one Saturday might be held in downtown Oakland, said Amber Butts, a tenants right counselor with another event organizer, the black and Latino activist group Causa Justa Just Cause.
But she said it was important to hold International Working Women’s Day in East Oakland’s Fruitvale district to bring organizations directly to working-class Oakland residents who face pressure from rising rents and gentrification.
“I think it’s very political to have it in this space,” Butts said.
Standing in the plaza, holding her 15-month-old son and watching the speeches and performances, Oakland resident Natalia Stark said she appreciated the event’s international focus.
A teacher who went on leave to be a stay-at-home mom, Stark said she attended Saturday’s rally in part because she grew up being brought to protests and cultural events as a child, and tries to do the same for her son.
“Women’s work is undervalued,” Stark said. “I wanted to be around people who value women’s work.”