On 'A Day Without A Woman,' The Role Of Protest In Democracy

On 'A Day Without A Woman,' The Role Of Protest In Democracy

11:20am Mar 08, 2017
Protestors marching past the site of the 1960 Greensboro sit-in at the Triad NC Women's March in January. Bethany Chafin/WFDD

Some women won’t be working today, regardless of whether that work is done inside or outside of the home.

It’s what organizers of the Women’s March are calling “A Day Without A Woman.” The act is meant as an expression of solidarity in support of equity, justice and the human rights of women.

In this time of political polarization, WFDD’s Bethany Chafin speaks with historian and Wake Forest University Women’s Center Director Paige Meltzer about the role of protest in democracy.

Interview Highlights

On the various forms protests can take:

Organized protests – because of course there are all kinds of ways in which people protest inequality and injustice every day – but organized protests [are] thinking about collective direct action...people or groups are coming together for a common goal. So it might be anything from a demonstration being in public spaces to lift up a particular message. It can be a strike removing some of your labor. It can be a boycott and removing your financial support. It can be a sit-in which is occupying usually a site of oppression to make a point and try to leverage for change. 

On "A Day Without a Woman":

We're seeing an attempt to highlight the importance and significance of women to the U.S. and global economies. And removing them from the labor force – both paid and unpaid, which is an interesting part about this particular day – is something that would ultimately underscore how incredibly valuable women are to the overall economics of societies in ways that they're often not recognized...[for example], by the wage gap, by gender segregation to the lowest paying fields, by lack of policies to support women's continued caregiving and paid employment or by the lack of recognition that unpaid work gets.

On the factors that influence which specific form a protest takes:

I think that has to do with your vision, your goals, a group's understanding of where its points of leverage are and how they want to reshape power. And I would also add communication networks and ability to mobilize, and a part of that is also resources. So if you think about something like the sit-ins in Greensboro as a statement in opposition of segregation [by] occupying a site of segregation [and] preventing that Woolworths counter from earning income from other people.

Or if you think about the Montgomery bus boycott, for example, that didn't just happen because Rosa Parks didn't want to get up from the bus. This was [accomplished] out of years of collective action among especially African-American women in that community and in the case of the Montgomery bus boycott that was nearly a year without riding the bus. And so using the power of the purse [can] really make an impact on an institution and force a change. 

On measurable ways to prove the success or the failure of a protest:

I think again it comes back to what were your goals and what did you want to see change. So workers who are protesting for a living wage and withhold their labor through a strike and then end up seeing a wage increase have something very measurable to turn to. If it's something like "we want to shape public opinion," that might take longer but can also be measured by what are the shifts in national discourse.

Around the Vietnam War, for example, when Walter Cronkite came out and said we were never going to win this war, you know, that was really the signal that the tide had turned in the United States. And so you have those kinds of moments that can help give feedback or help us understand some impact.

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