January 11th, 2012 was the 100th anniversary of the Bread & Roses Strike. It was more than a strike that successfully raised wages and improved working conditions for 250,000 textile workers throughout New England, more than a strike involving over 20,000 mostly immigrant workers speaking 45 different languages: it was a strike called by no one, led by no formal organization, but spontaneously initiated, organized, led and won by women. From the mass meetings—where the people’s mic consisted of continuous translations—to organizing actions that formed human chains around entire factory blocks; from organizing strikers’ welfare committees to going head-to-head with armed police and state militia called in to break the strike by any means; from organizing soup kitchens to ensuring the safety of their children by sending them to allies and supporters in other cities, it was the women who carried out most of the organizing and who consistently and persistently refused to let the men take over. It is the strike most famous for the banner carried by a group of women and young girls that read: “We Want Bread And Roses, Too.”
This understanding of the link between the personal and the political, between the human body and the human spirit, is what gives women our power and wisdom to lead. But you’d never know it from looking at the Occupy Movement.