On a Grim and Bloody International Women’s Day, Let’s Build Feminist Solidarity

On this International Women’s Day, as the world watches a historic and bloody war unfold in Europe — while people in the United States and Europe largely continue to ignore the suffering of the millions of Black and Brown people who have been rendered stateless by war, corruption and the climate crisis, many of them women — we need to fortify ourselves, pump up our optimism and bolster our resolve to fight for a better world.

In the context of war or occupation, women are always at risk for sexual violence and abuse. War is both a spectacle and a manifestation of toxic masculinity. It involves the use of state power to conquer, dominate, or occupy other territories. Although some women are soldiers (militarism doesn’t just happen to cis-males), the majority of wars are fought by men.

I invite us to remember women who were internationalists and solidarity builders, peacemakers, and who crossed borders to undercut borders. They built trans-national bridges that were based on a shared vision for post-colonial and post-capitalist futures. These are women who stood up to empire with all their might.

I invite you to think about the women who have left behind legacies of resistance and defiance to patriarchy, but no monuments to honor them. Next, you can say the name of each woman profiled. Presente!

These are movement rituals for remembrance and a way of disciplining hopefulness (to paraphrase Mariame Kaba).

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti (1900-1978), a Nigerian feminist activist, is one example of a woman who seldom gets recognition. Cheryl Johnson Odim, historian, wrote a powerful biography of Ransome Kuti some years back entitled For Women and the NationMany of us were introduced to the incredible life of this woman by the book, Ransome-Kuti was a women’s rights activist, suffragist, educator, political leader and self-proclaimed African Socialist. Perhaps her most famous role is that of the mother to the late Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. She was also a member of the internationalist group, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and traveled around the world. Ransome-Kuti was a strong critic of Nigerian military rulership and was often harassed and attacked for her activism. Ransome-Kuti was killed in 1978 when the military invaded her family’s home and attacked her family members. Her courage and perseverance are an inspiration to all women, not just to African and Nigerian feminists, but to all of humanity.

Grace Lee Boggs (1915-1915) was another woman who had a profound influence on me as a teenager in Detroit during the 1970s. A Chinese American philosopher, leftist, writer, humanist, organizer and visionary, she built her political life inside of Detroit’s Black freedom movement for over 60 years. Grace Lee Boggs is the perfect example of Black solidarity and Asian women who stepped out of their limited roles society may have given them. She was a life partner and political collaborator of James Boggs, a Black auto worker, organizer, and intellectual. Together they co-authored the provocative political tome. Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth CenturyIt is still being read in classrooms and study groups to this day. Grace Lee Boggs lived a life of struggle and worked alongside, debated, built campaigns, and collaborated with C.L.R. James and other. She hosted Freedom Summers Detroit in which young people from around the globe came together to work in community garden and study political history. Stephen Wards’s book In Love and Struggle is a great testimony to Grace and Jimmy’s egalitarian marriage and lifelong comradeship.

Marielle Franco (1979-2018), a young, queer Brazilian political leader, was brutally assassinated by the Rio de Janiero police in 2018. Franco grew up in the favelas outside of Rio and was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and for the poor. As a member of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), she was elected to the city council. Her work, which included opposition to militarism, state violence, and other issues, was primarily focused on Brazil. However, she became an international symbol for feminist resistance in her death. In tribute to her, many countries have created murals, street names, gardens, and scholarships. In protests after her murder, thousands of voices roared through the streets of Rio, saying “Marielle lives!” in Portuguese.

In the work and sacrifices of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Grace Lee Boggs and Marielle Franco, we are reminded not only of brutal repression but also of endurance and perseverance, of the spirit of women’s resistance transcending borders and transcending individual lives.

So, what can we do on International Women’s Day to honor the legacies of feminist internationalists? Here are three options. Go to the website Grassroots Global Justice AllianceLearn more about their work to create grassroots feminist networks all over the globe and help them. Learn more about groups such as Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)Today, they are supporting feminist resistance against war in Russia and Ukraine. Join us at Portal ProjectThis afternoon, join Angela Y. Davis and Gina Dent for a conversation featuring feminist abolitionists Beth E. Richie, Erica Meiners, and Beth E. Richie.

Despite narrow and disparaging reductions of left feminist politics as “identity politics,” left feminism demands that we infuse all of our organizing with a spirit of internationalism, with radical democratic practice, and with a deep and unshakeable commitment that we throw no one under the bus in our envisioning and fighting for a better world.

We need a revolution in values, systems, and cultures to move forward. And feminist organizers and cultural workers must, as the late writer-activist Toni Cade Bambara reminded us, “make revolution irresistible.” That is our task. Let’s embrace it.