Students joined members of the community in the Baltimore International Working Women’s Day 2018 March, initiated by the Women’s Fightback Network, on March 10. Tzedek, a student organization, organized a rally at the Beach and a subsequent march to the People’s Park in Station North.
After convening at the People’s Park, demonstrators marched to the St. John’s United Methodist Church where they listened to Takiyah Thompson. Thompson is an activist and student at North Carolina Central University who illegally tore down a Confederate statue at a protest in Durham, N.C. in the aftermath of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.
The morning of the March, students gathered on the Beach. Representatives from Tzedek and other student groups, including Refuel Our Future, Students for a Democratic Society and Students for Justice in Palestine, spoke about the injustices that they fight against.
Senior Miranda Bachman, a founding member of Tzedek, opened the speeches with a history of International Working Women’s Day, describing how it has been whitewashed by corporations and Western countries.
Bachman then discussed her personal motivations for attending the March.
“The reason I’m here has a lot to do with history,” she said. “My great grandmother was born into a Jewish village which is in Poland now, and she escaped from there in 1902 and came to America, fleeing religious persecution.”
According to Bachman, Tzedek’s overall goal is to encourage students to engage with the Baltimore community. She emphasized that the majority of Hopkins students come from privileged upbringings and small communities where they interacted with people of similar backgrounds or social status.
“You have to walk into a space and be like ‘I don’t know anything, I’m just here to listen,’” Bachman said. “The more you listen, the more you learn.”
Sophomore Kendall Free, representing the Black Student Union, spoke about her early exposure to feminism and the exclusion of women of color from the feminist white middle class agenda. She was astounded by the diversity of the women and gender nonbinary students who gathered before the March.
Free spoke about her experiences growing up and the complicated exploration of her identity. Her father was white, her mother black and she had a white half sister and two older mixed siblings.
In college, Free said she faced additional obstacles as a black woman. A Materials Science and Engineering major, Free explained that some faculty and staff question her commitment to the major.
“I will continue to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me, who stayed their course and followed their passion,” she said.
Free ended her speech by emphasizing the importance of inclusivity.
Freshman Sabrina Epstein, a member of Tzedek, gave a speech about disability rights. She described the many forms that fighting for disabled rights can take, from policy changes to changing the perception of the disabled community.
Epstein encouraged students to go beyond accommodation and to treat those with disabilities with respect. She emphasized that ableism is often experienced alongside other forms of oppression, as the disabled community often includes other marginalized groups such as immigrants and people of color.
“Our liberations are all connected, and disabled liberation cannot be ignored in our fight,” Epstein said.
According to Epstein, the exploitation of the disabled community has also rendered them voiceless.
“We do not want your pity,” Epstein said. “We want healthcare, we want rights and we want dignity.”
Epstein was proud of the work that Tzedek and co-sponsoring groups put into organizing the student-led march. She found that the March elevated the voices of women and non-binary people, allowing them to speak about different intersections of groups and the oppression they face.
Following the speeches, Tzedek led demonstrators to the People’s Park.
During the mile-long walk from campus, students shouted chants such as “every generation has an obligation for women’s liberation” and “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.”
Demonstrators also chanted “say her name” followed by the names of women who have faced oppression. These names included Sandra Bland, whose arrest and death sparked protest, and Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian activist who was detained by Israeli authorities in December.
At the People’s Park, protesters began the speeches with a solidarity chant.
Freshman Isabella Sarria spoke about the oppression she has faced as a Hispanic woman. She also stressed the need to give DREAMers the chance to thrive.
“We can and will be the voices for those that aren’t being heard,” Sarria said.
Other speakers included a representative from 1199SEIU, a healthcare workers’ union, who spoke about the organization’s goals to raise the Baltimore minimum wage to $15. She reported that the majority of minimum wage workers in Maryland were women of color.
A representative from Gabriela USA, a national Filipino militant women’s organization, spoke about the difficulties that working women face and criticized the Trump administration for their support of Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte.
After the speeches in the People’s Park, protesters made their way to St. John’s United Methodist Church.
Keynote speaker Takiyah Thompson began by explaining the origins of International Working Women’s Day. She spoke about the day’s radical beginnings, specifically the year-long garment worker strike in 1908.
Thompson stressed that oppression against women is experienced worldwide.
“Intersecting oppressed identities compound the violence that certain women face,” she said. “We have to broaden our scope to understand womanhood.”
Thompson encouraged the audience to reflect on how they plan to work towards a better future.
“We must reconceptualize our ideas of community, and we must reconceptualize what it means to be free,” Thompson said.
Epstein especially liked that Thompson introduced socialism in a non-intimidating manner. Rather than pushing for a radical agenda, Thompson emphasized that beliefs that many already hold, like climate justice and pacifism, are equivalent to socialist beliefs.
“Having people there, who aren’t as radical, be exposed to socialism in that way and be told that your beliefs that you already have worked with this political ideology was such a great thing,” Epstein said.
For second year graduate student Chalynette Martinez-Martinez, this was her first march. She heard of the March through Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), which advocates for graduate student working conditions.
Martinez-Martinez found the March empowering and said that the diversity of the issues presented was appealing to her.
“These are valid issues that need to be addressed and voiced, and I wanted to become a part of it,” Martinez-Martinez said.