JASS at the US Social Forum

We’re in Detroit where more than 8000 grassroots and union organizers and activists of all stripes are debating, performing, strategizing. It’s an awesome multigenerational, multiracial, multi-everything mix with great vibes, smart politics and incredible T-shirts. Bringing life to Detroit for sure – called the ground zero of the failures of capitalism – USSF attendees seem to multiply the city’s population, a resilient town limping along with 30% unemployment and staggering poverty.
 
We’re here to learn and build alliances withUSgender justice and feminist activists. But amidst all of the critical and urgent justice issues on the table – JOBS, WAR, CLIMATE, HOUSING, HEALTHCARE – we’re hard pressed to find the words “gender justice”, “women’s rights” or “feminism” on banners, t-shirts or session titles. Women are present and powerful everywhere – mobilizing, speaking, leading, performing – but slogans about gender equality and justice are rare with the exception of the powerful and visible presence of Domestic Workers United, Code Pink, World March of Women and the many queer activists.
 
What’s that about? Where is gender equality in this country where women earn significantly less than men, bear the overwhelming burden of childcare and families for nothing, are losing reproductive rights and healthcare, face unchecked violence from intimate partners, navigate the threat of sexual violence at all times, represent only 17% of national legislatures? Is it strategically tucked into other agendas? Or is it pushed aside in the familiar pattern of being second to more urgent matters? Or is it merely simmering ready to bubble up?
A bit of simmering was detected during the inauguration on day 1 when the eloquent Ojibwa Chief explained what distinguished his people, highlighting that “we believe that woman was the first human, not man.” Loud cheers erupted. He explained how women are like the earth. The source of life. With this, he placed women at the heart of climate justice and all the related struggles for life.
 
Since the cheering, we’ve discovered that passion about gender justice is definitely there and popping. It’s easy to tap. Handing out fliers for our session – A Crossborder Gender Justice Dialogue – we are met with activist enthusiasm, lots of questions about who we are and where we’re from. We detect a deep desire to know more and link our struggles for equality and justice. And as one woman said when she looked at the flier – “that’s right, we’re not that different when it comes rights down to it.” Looks like gender justice may be popping here at the USSF after all.