A Place for Feminism in Occupy DC
By Julia Burke
By now, most of you have heard of the Occupy Wall Street protest that started September 17th in New York and has spawned similar occupations in cities around the world, including here in Washington DC. The mobilization’s growth from a small, committed group of organizers in New York to a global presence with hundreds of physical occupations has been met with surprise, condemnation, and, in some cases, a renewed sense of hope.
The media struggles to make sense of Occupy Everything because it is unlike any other mass political movement in the nation’s history, and their significance is their existence – a new form of social construction. An occupation serves as an end in itself: we are creating the world in which we want to live. Take a walk down to McPherson Square and you will see over 100 tents, lots of signs, and an incredible diversity of individuals. There is also a library, a medical area, a full legal team, a kitchen, and child care. And on any given day, Occupy DC hosts trainings ranging from the basics of the economic crisis to anti-oppression education. The occupations certainly exist as a symbolic display of discontent with the status quo, but mostly they serve as a space where all are welcome and encouraged to participate.
The occupations are a lot of things to a lot of people, but we firmly believe that they are relevant to feminism. The economic recession and subsequent austerity measures have hit women hardest. Women, especially poor women, rely heavily on social services such as women’s health programs so that they can “do it all” – be mothers as well as workers, a role without which the current capitalist system cannot function. Yet when governments look for places to cut to balance the budget – a budget that is out of balance largely because of the bank bailouts of 2008 – social services are the first to go. The message to women from the corporations and the government is loud and clear: you are vital to our society and our families, but we think your needs are less important than ours.
Some find it easy to trivialize the connection between capitalism and patriarchy by reducing women to purely sexual beings in constant need of reproductive services, forgetting that Planned Parenthood also provides essential cancer screenings. It is a bit more difficult to find people willing to trivialize the connection when austerity measures potentially threaten the lives of women. Just last month, the city of Topeka, Kansas voted to stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence for “budgetary reasons,” simultaneously releasing accused offenders awaiting trial. Yet research shows that domestic violence increases against women in times of economic struggle. The goals of the occupations and the goals of feminism are deeply interconnected, which is why it is so important for women to get involved.
The occupations have attracted criticism, even from within the feminist community. Many feminists question the ability of an occupation that detaches from state services and police power to properly address sexual assault and rape, for police sometimes seem to be the only solution. This is a difficult issue, and one that we recognize alienates some women from participating in the occupations. However, it is our stance that women’s participation is vital to the goal of creating a society that the current government fails to deliver.
If you are looking for ways to get involved, several GW students are collecting donations for Occupy DC. With winter fast approaching, the folks at the occupation need warm clothes, camping gear (sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents), and tarps. Any additional contributions, including monetary, would be of great use. There is a bin near the first floor entrance of Burns, and cash donations can be made through the lovely Cris at the info desk. Online donations can be made through http://occupydc.org/donate/what-we-need/. Legal observer trainings are held a few times a week at McPherson Square and law students are especially encouraged to attend. A schedule of trainings can be found at occupydc.org.
The GW Law Students for Reproductive Justice e-board.