The organizers of the massive post-inauguration women’s marches have called on female workers to stay home Wednesday, raising concerns among some supporters of the burgeoning feminist movement that the burden of the protest will fall too heavily on the poor.
The debate over “A Day Without a Woman” has been simmering on social media and flared in North Carolina last week, when the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools superintendent decided to cancel classes March 8 because so many staff members plan to participate.
While some applauded the school district’s decision, praising it as a gesture of support for its overwhelmingly female staff, others criticized it for suddenly forcing many parents to either stay home to care for their children or find — and pay for — back-up care.
Deborah Gilgor, 57, a home-based day-care provider in Chapel Hill, said she will not be taking the day off, even though she is a passionate supporter of the new women’s movement and has taken part in five protests in five states since the election. She said choosing not to work would have a direct impact on some of the parents who send their children to her center.
“If I don’t work, they don’t work, and if they can’t work, they don’t get paid,” Gilgor said. “I just thought I would have a bigger impact being here for the kids than not.”
On Monday, school officials in Alexandria, Va., announced that they would close schools Wednesday after 300 staff members requested the day off. Officials there attributed the requests to the protest.
Organizers anticipated concerns about the event, which is planned to coincide with International Women’s Day and is designed to draw attention to the role women play in the labor force. It also aims to create pressure for policies such as equal pay for equal work and paid family leave.
To make it more inclusive, organizers are urging women to take the day off only if they feel they can, and they are encouraging alternate actions, such as wearing red in solidarity on the day of the strike and refraining from spending money except at female-owned businesses.
Linda Sarsour, co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, said the strike also is a way to continue the momentum from the marches. More than 1 million people demonstrated across the country the day after President Trump’s inauguration, and many people said it was their first protest.
Organizers want to introduce those who are newly politically active to different protest strategies, including sending postcards to legislators and hosting “huddles,” or informal conversations, about their activism goals.
“The idea of the strike — it’s another strategy,” Sarsour said. “It was not going to be comfortable for everyone.”
Historically, the people at the forefront of labor strikes have not been from among the most privileged, she said, citing hourly-pay workers who have fought to raise the minimum wage and farmworkers who have left the fields to advocate for worker protections.
“They risked their jobs, and they had big wins,” Sarsour said.
Similar strikes have been carried out in recent weeks by bodega workers and taxi drivers in New York, and for a “Day Without Immigrants,” which saw some schools and businesses close or work with skeleton staffs as immigrant workers took the day off.
But the chasm between the haves and the have-nots is creating tension within the feminist movement. A half-century ago, women were uniformly shut out of many careers. The decades since have seen widening inequality between educated women who have benefited from new career opportunities and a growing class of low-wage workers who have not.
Among the goals of the new wave of feminist activism is the expansion of worker protections that many professional women already have, including a living wage, paid family leave and fair schedules.
On Twitter, some said they plan to strike for those who can’t.
“#IStrikeFor my grandmother who can’t be there . . . she was a maid for many years who didn’t get the benefit of promotions and raises” one person tweeted.
Another wrote: “#IStrikeFor all the unrecognized ways women drive our economy. @domesticworkers & caregivers take care of us; who cares 4 them?”
Others said they would not be striking because they work in health care or do not want to leave their employers in a lurch. They instead pledged to show their solidarity for the strikers.
Mercy Morganfield, regional leader of the Women’s March on Washington in the District, said it is not just low-wage workers who feel unable to strike. Many Washington-area residents who took part in the Jan. 21 march are federal employees and are nervous about the prospect of a strike.
“A lot of people are afraid of what this administration will do, especially for protesters,” she said. “There is such fear around this issue.”
The group told march participants in a letter not to worry if they can’t strike. “This is for people who can afford to do it and people who are not afraid of losing their jobs,” Morganfield said.
For restaurant employees who live on tips, they only get paid when they go to work, making a missed day difficult, said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which represents 25,000 restaurant workers.
She said hundreds are planning to attend a “Women Workers Rising” rally outside the Labor Department on Wednesday, organized by her group and others, including unions representing teachers and domestic workers.
“I have never seen workers so motivated to participate in these kinds of actions,” she said.
In Chapel Hill, the schools superintendent told parents that his decision to close schools was not politically driven. A district spokesman said Jim Causby polled his principals in advance of the strike and got a shock: About 400 of the district’s 2,000 employees are planning to participate.
“While Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools values and supports its female employees, the decision to close schools is not a political statement,” Causby wrote in a letter to parents. “It is entirely about the safety of students and the district’s inability to operate with a high number of staff absences.”
Alyssa Minshall, 38, whose two children attend Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools, said she supports the strike and appreciates the district’s decision to close. She noted that some parents have offered free child care for others who cannot take the day off.
“I completely understand the ones who have a really difficult time. But at the same time, I look at it as we have snow days and other things that come up that are unexpected,” said Minshall, who owns a toymaking business. “I love all the women that work in the school, and they make such a huge sacrifice, so I was so glad the school district supported their voice and didn’t make it hard for them.”