International Women's Day: Bread, Roses, and Rose

By M. Lehrer

In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned to the ground, trapping and killing 146 people--123 of whom were women, many of whom were supporting families--because the factory owners found it financially inconvenient to build fire exits. The funeral march for the victims drew a crowd of over 100,000. The memorial meeting was so big it was held at the Metropolitan Opera. One attendee, Rose Schneiderman, 29 years old, had been working since she was a child of 13. She stood in front of the people who had come to the meeting and surveyed the crowd. They were mostly wealthy, well-meaning women, many in the Women's Trade Union League, of which she herself was a member. They donated to the right causes and wrote letters to newspapers bemoaning the conditions of the factories and the foundries. They wanted words of comfort.

"I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship," she said. "This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death." She continued to the speechless crowd, "We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us." She wanted to comfort them, the good liberals of her time, but she couldn't. "I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled."

One year later, trying to stir women of the upper classes into suffragist action, she coined the slogan that gives the DSA the rose on its flag: "What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with."

A year after that, she became the Women's Trade Union League president. A founding member of the ACLU and a member of the Roosevelt brain trust, she presided over an era of economic justice, of bank-busting legislation, work-safety reforms, and the enfranchisement of women. Having labored herself in factories and coming from a background of poverty and discrimination as a first-generation Polish Jew, she understood what the moneyed, well-intentioned liberals of the time couldn't: liberation of women had to be liberation of all women, and that meant ending capitalism. Rose would fight for socialist policy for the rest of her life.

Today is International Women's Day, born in part of the work that women like Rose did so long ago. Today, on International Women's Day 2017, the DSA stands very nearly where Rose stood over 100 years ago. Many of the reforms that she fought so hard for have been rolled back or legislated around to the point of impotence. Unions have been broken. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted. Millions of poor workers are again left to die, not from unventilated factories but from skyrocketing healthcare costs and an administration that describes ending health care coverage for people in poverty as "a mercy." Once again those who bear the brunt of this damage are women. And once again we face well-meaning liberals who call themselves "feminists" but cannot conceive of a world that prioritizes people over profit.

We must follow Rose's lead. We must advocate for all people, not regardless of their race or class or gender but because of it. We cannot end one kind of oppression without ending them all. But the term for this, "Intersectionality," coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw and probably the most important social theory of our generation, has been co-opted as a buzzword. Let's take it back. Let's make our advocacy truly intersectional, liberating oppressed people from the chains of racism, sexism, and classism so we are all free to fight against the great oppressor: capitalism. A century ago our forebears changed their country for the better. Let's do it again.

M. Lehrer is a software engineer and DSA member. She writes mostly alarmist tweets and production code, and her main advocacy at the moment is health care.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

Film Discussion: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Directed by Dorothy Fadiman, When Abortion Was Illegal (1992, nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject) reveals through first-person accounts the experiences of women seeking abortion before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We are one Supreme Court nominee away from a return in many states to back-alley abortions. Join Amanda Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, to discuss challenges to reproductive justice and abortion access. (Lilith Fund funds abortions for women in need in the Central and South Texas area.) Learn about how to participate in April Bowl-A-Thons to raise funds for low-income women. View the film here for free before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

March 30, 2017
· 39 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel, peg.strobel@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 30 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 53 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

What Is DSA? Training Call

April 05, 2017

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 15 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 6 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.