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Grand Rapids holds International Women’s Day street rally

By Sam Tunningley

International Women's Day marked in Grand Rapids, MI.

Grand Rapids, MI – 15 people rallied Wednesday evening, March 8, for International Women’s Day at the corner of Division Street and Fulton Street in Grand Rapids to celebrate the Prop 3 victory in Michigan and speak on the ongoing struggle for women’s rights.

Cherie Stoll, a member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, emceed the rally and opened with a speech on the revolutionary tradition of International Women’s Day. Stoll then introduced Emily Butt, a ten-year member of the Teamsters, who argued for the necessity of militancy in the union movement. Butt said working class women face numerous obstacles and stressed the vital role women and gender non-conforming individuals play in the workplace.

“Right now is a critical moment in the history of the labor movement. There are promising trends developing, but there’s a lot of resistance from corporate America and their political stooges, as well as from old-guard union bureaucrats who have misled the union movement for decades at the expense of workers, and especially at the expense of women. The gender pay gap has remained stable for the last 20 years and it won’t stop unless workers take power in their unions and unions directly fight inequality in the workplace,” said Butt.

Butt added, “I am asking that everyone here stands in support of the UPS strike if and when it comes. We need to build a better future for women, workers and all oppressed people.”

Stoll led chants of “Fight, fight, fight, abortion is a human right!” and “My body! My choice! My transition! My choice!” before introducing the next speaker, Mariah Phelps, Planned Parenthood’s Regional Organizer for West Michigan. Phelps said her work with Planned Parenthood has been inspiring after the uncertainty of the Supreme Court decision, noting not only did the state pass Proposition 3 Reproductive Freedom 4 All, but also elected pro-choice candidates to the state legislature.

“We are so proud of all of you in Grand Rapids and in the state of Michigan,” said Phelps. She added the fight is far from over, noting Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s recent full-scale attack on reproductive rights.

After Phelps, Lily Cheng-Schulting, a progressive candidate and disability activist in the city for over ten years, said we need unity if we are going to beat the right-wing attacks on women. Cheng-Schulting wishes to bring together progressive forces in Grand Rapids to fight against the corporatism dominant in the city and defeat the big-money interests who wish to strip our rights away.

In the final speech of the night, Jessica Westra – the president of IATSE Local 26 – shared memories of her childhood in a conservative environment and struggling to adapt after lacking necessary education around women’s reproduction. Westra said her school often gave lip-service to the importance of women, but the school did not provide access to basic things like care for menstruation.

Westra, as president of her IATSE local, said she was instrumental in getting two resolutions passed for her union through the Women’s Committee: one to guarantee the support for bodily autonomy and contraceptive privacy for unmarried couples, along with a resolution recognizing respect for all-genders and the use of gender-neutral language and pronouns in union documents.

Stoll closed out the rally, organized by the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, by thanking everyone for attending and leading one final chant: “When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

#GrandRapidsMI #InternationalWomensDay