Whenever I travel to international gatherings to talk about the war in Iraq, economic development and women’s rights, the question I get asked most frequently is: “Where are the women in the United States? Why aren’t they rising up?”
I hear it from women in Africa, who have lost funding for their health clinics because of the Bush Administration’s ban on even talking about abortion; from Iraqi women, who are suffering the double oppression of occupation and rising fundamentalism; from European women, who wonder how we can tolerate the crumbling of our meager social services; and from Latina women opposed to unresponsive governments that represent a tiny elite.
The question is variously posed with anger, contempt, curiosity or sympathy. But always, there is a sense of disappointment. What happened to the proud suffragettes who chained themselves to the White House fence for the right to vote? What happened to the garment workers, whose struggles for decent working conditions inspired the first International Women’s Day in 1910? What about those who emulated Rosa Parks, risking their lives or livelihoods to confront the evils of racism? Given their tradition of activism, why aren’t American women today rising up against a government that dragged them into war with lies, that spies on their peaceful activities and diverts money from their children’s schools or their mothers’ nursing homes to pay for an immoral war?
I mumble excuses. We have no strong opposition parties or militant trade unions. We have a corporate media that keeps women ignorant. We’re either too affluent to care or too poor to do anything about it. I insist that we keep trying, with efforts like CodePink: Women for Peace, the National Organization for Women and other women’s groups, like Gold Star Families for Peace. I say that millions have come out to protest against the war but get demoralized when our government refuses to listen. But deep inside, I ask myself the same question: Where are the women? Why aren’t they rising up?
I remember when we first started CodePink before invasion of Iraq, and we felt compelled to leave our families, our jobs, our warm homes, and camp out in front of the White House to try to stop the war. “We’ll put a call out to women across the country,” we said, “and the streets of Washington, DC, will be flooded with angry women saying no to an unjustified war.” During the four cold, winter months we spent in front of the White House, hundreds of women came to join us, and more than 10,000 marched with us when we ended the vigil. But we kept wondering, Where were the millions of women who, according to the polls, were strongly opposed to the war? When a grieving Cindy Sheehan called on people all over the country to join in her vigil at Crawford, Texas, last summer, a few thousand people responded, most of them women. But why didn’t tens of thousands come? Or 100,000?