No woman is free until all women are free

[This article is based on a speech delivered to the International Women’s Day protest in Brisbane Square held on March 5. The rally of around 100 people marked the 100th year of IWD.]

We are protesting today to mark International Women’s Day. Today we speak out and resist the attempts to coopt and corporatise this day of struggle and the attempts to hide and subvert the history of the women’s liberation movement.

Every year now on IWD there are dozens of corporate luncheons and government press conferences. And you can bet your bottom dollar that they won’t be mentioning the origin of the day that they are supposedly celebrating - they won’t mention that it was radicals who initiated IWD - revolutionaries! It was initiated by socialist women who dedicated their whole lives to fighting the system of exploitation that oppresses women across the globe. They won’t mention it at their corporate functions, because it’s their system that we are still fighting.

Governments of lies

They’ll celebrate IWD and pat each other on the back at their corporate shindigs and their prize-giving ceremonies - with the prizes going to those who’ve been the most successful in a system and a world that is rotten to the core. Who wants to be granted this sort of success or legitimacy by a thoroughly sexist system?

The women who still speak out and declare loudly that we still have something to fight for are scorned by the system. “Look”, they say, “women have made it: we’ve got a woman premier!”

We have a premier who refuses to act to repeal the anti-abortion laws! A premier who lied about the case in Cairns when a young woman was charged under those laws, and actively participated in the attempts to isolate the case and the abortion rights campaign.

“Look”, they say, “women have made it” we’ve got a woman prime minister!”

We have a prime minister who continues to fight the campaign of dispossession against Aboriginal people in the form of the NT intervention. And an Indigenous Affairs minister who continues to lie through her teeth about the reality of the intervention and its impact on communities in the NT, all the while claiming that women in those communities support their policies. Lies. All lies.

A prime minister who is locking up refugees, deporting refugees back to danger. A prime minister who  continues the war on the people of Afghanistan. A prime minister who upholds the homophobic ban on same-sex marriage. A prime minister who refuses to act for equal pay for women.

And they tell us that our struggle is over!

Liberation, not privileges for a few

That’s not the liberation that those who founded our movement set out fighting for: the freedom for a few rich women to exploit and oppress others. The women who set out 100 years ago to build an international movement didn’t do it so a few women could get comfy jobs. They set out to build a liberation  movement.

We condemn the sell-outs who claim to speak in our name while they give speeches about how we’ve “made it”. We say no woman is free until all women are free. And anyone who stands in the way of that struggle is an enemy. Anyone who stands in the way, anyone who turns their back on the women, I don’t care who they are, they are not my sister. They are my enemy.

We don’t need fake sisterhood. We need real solidarity. We need the solidarity of the oppressed. We need to build a fight back that is based on the empowerment of the people at the grassroots. For too long there’s been too much trust put in those women in the so-called positions of power - people who long ago sold us out. Our movement is supposed to support them because they are doing it tough in a “man’s world”. That is nothing but a tactic to silence us. They don’t want us to criticise. They don’t want us upsetting their cosy arrangements. They don’t want us to rock the boat because they are well and truly in it.

It’s time to throw them and the sexist system they work for overboard! It’s time to rebuild an independent movement, a movement that cuts the ties with these feminist fakers, a movement that discards the illusion that just because someone is a woman they are  on our side.

Inspired by struggle

We need a movement that takes its inspiration from the struggles of the past, from those who sacrificed so much for the gains that we have won. We need a movement that never, ever takes those gains for granted and that fights tooth and nail against any attacks.

We can win. We are still strong. They tried to jail a woman last year for having an abortion. They tried and they failed. They were defeated, not by appeals to the politicians. Not by letter writing campaigns. Not by asking nicely. They were defeated by a movement on the streets. They were defeated by people’s power.

We have to take confidence from that. We have to know that what we do does matter. They will always do whatever they can to take that away from us. That is why they gut IWD of all its content: because the real history of our movement shows just what is possible when women fight back.

Understanding the history of struggle is important. This very place has an important part in the history of this struggle and the struggle for free speech. There are people here today who marched in the days when street marches were banned. On IWD marches and many other protests, the police would bash peaceful protesters as they tried to march on the streets. Right here on the streets of Brisbane, hundreds of people were beaten. Because that movement did not give up, because people were willing to put themselves on the line, we can stand here today and speak out. Don’t think for a minute it is because the coppers have changed. They still bash people senseless when nobody is watching, every single day in the watch-houses. They still murder Aboriginal people in custody and think they can get away with it like they did on Palm Island in 2004.

We can speak out here today, not because they’ve changed. We are here today because people before us fought for our right to be here. And we must never take that for granted.

Solidarity

I want to finish on another historical note. It is not the history of years ago. It is the history that is unfolding right now in the uprisings that are taking place across the Arab world. The victories of the people in overthrowing the US-backed dictators is so important. Our struggle is interconnected with the struggles of all the oppressed people around the world because it is the same system that oppresses us all. When there are victories for the people anywhere in the world, it should give us great hope and confidence. We must always show our solidarity and support and oppose any US attack on the people.

That’s the other part of our movement’s history that they don’t talk about in the corporate media or the government luncheons. Our movement is internationalist. We stand by our sisters all across the world. The struggle of women anywhere is our struggle also. Solidarity is our strength, always and everywhere.

The solidarity between the oppressed is powerful. It breaks the divisions that the system of oppression tries to build between us, the barriers of racism and nationalism. These are barriers that our movement must fight to smash just as hard as we fight to smash the patriarchy.

Because no woman is free until all women are free.

They’ll try to stand in our way. They’ll mock us. They’ll try to coopt our message. Some will sell out, but our movement never will. We’ll keep fighting until we win liberation!