Our hope is in ourselves

March 10, 2017

On March 8, International Women's Day, large numbers around the country took part in protests, stay-aways and other events as part of "A Day Without a Woman" and an International Women's Strike to shine a light on the role of women workers.

In Chicago, some 650 people attended an indoor rally at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters, where speakers representing the struggles for trade unions, Black Lives Matter, Palestinian justice, LGBTQ rights, Planned Parenthood and more. Here, we print a speech, edited for publication, from the Chicago event by Charlotte Heltai, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and a member of the International Socialist Organization and the UofC Resists coalition.

I'VE BEEN asked to say a few words about what Trump's America looks like for queer, trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people. The short answer, from where I stand, is that it looks really scary--and a lot of people are in far more precarious positions than I am.

But I, as a socialist, as a queer and gender-nonconforming woman, and as the proud sister of a brave trans man, am afraid. I am afraid because Donald Trump does things like rescind Obama's executive order which had given trans students, like my brother, the right to use the bathroom they wished to, and I am afraid because I know the real, human cost of policies like that one being issued from the White House.

No less than seven trans women of color have been murdered in this country in the last two months alone: one of them right here in Chicago. Her name was Tiara Richmond. She was just 24 years old.

So more than afraid, I am angry. I am angry at Trump and the people who support him, because they do everything they can to embolden the ugly forces of bigotry which already exist in our society--a society in which trans people are fully twice as likely to be unemployed as non-trans people and a society in which the life expectancy of Black trans women is just 35 years.

Protesting an anti-trans ordinance in an Alabama town
Protesting an anti-trans ordinance in an Alabama town (WAMU 88.5)

Those statistics remind us that we cannot allow our anger to begin and end with Donald Trump. We must also be angry because after eight years under Obama, trans and queer and gender-nonconforming people are still not legally protected in their workplaces, and thousands of queer and trans folks are still homeless and hungry.

WE MUST be clear about the fact that Trump is a hideous symptom, and the escalation, but not the cause of a society in which a myriad of bigotries, including queer and transphobias, are both pervasive and institutionalized, and purposefully so.

It is the entire political establishment--constituted by both Republicans and Democrats--that is complicit in upholding that oppressive and exploitative status quo. Republicans and Democrats alike have failed queer people, they have failed working people, they have failed women, and they have failed all marginalized communities.

I do not believe that hope for the oppressed can be based within that political establishment.

The Democrats expect that bathroom bills and marriage equality are enough to win the allegiance of queer people, but in isolating those issues, they ask us to forget the thing that we know: all issues are queer issues, because there are queer people of every color, faith and nation on this earth, and because all people--not only queer people--are adversely impacted by things like rigid gender norms and heterosexism.

So when the Democrats ask us to put our "radical" demands aside in order to campaign for them and the lesser evil they promise us, we must remember what that lesser evil really looks like for oppressed people.

Barack Obama's lesser evil looked like thousands of unarmed Black people shot down by cops, it looked like millions of xenophobic deportations, it looked like a generation of young people in crippling debt, it looked like pipelines poisoning our water and orphans in Iraq, and Syria and Palestine.

The Democratic Party and their lesser evilism surely cannot be our hope, but that doesn't mean there is no hope.

There is hope--it is right here. In this room is our hope! Our hope is in the millions of people who have marched over the last two months, for women's rights, for immigrant rights and in solidarity with Muslims and refugees.

Our hope is in the people who have been part of the Black Lives Matter movement and the heroic struggle at Standing Rock and in the Chicago Teachers Union teachers, who fight to stop schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods from closing.

Our hope is in the thousands of people who took the streets of Chicago just last week to fight for trans* liberation. It is us, we, the workers and the marginalized, who have the power and the motivation to fight for and win more than just a lesser evil.

We can win a better world: if we are organized, if we are unapologetic and independent in our aims, and if we are united in our commitment to stand in solidarity with all oppressed people--whatever they look like, wherever they come from, whoever they pray to and whoever they love.

On this International Women's Day, and on every other day, we must remember that none of us are free until we all are free, and that opening the borders and ending the wars and closing the prisons, and winning education and health care and reproductive justice and a living wage for all--those are women's issues, those are queer issues, those are everybody's issues!

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