Women leaders meet in Texas, plan October offensive for abortion rights
A session at the main stage of the Women's Convention in Houston in August. | @WomensMarch via Twitter

HOUSTON—“We are in Texas because this is the frontline of the struggle.” That’s the message Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the Executive Director of the Women’s March, had for a gathering of nearly 500 women in Houston determined to stop the right-wing’s assault on abortion rights. And come Oct. 7, they’ll be leading marches nationwide as part of a “Fall of Reckoning” to save reproductive freedom in the November elections.

The Women’s Convention, held in Houston Aug. 12-14, brought together activists to organize for the long fight to save reproductive freedom and develop plans to confront ongoing sexual and economic exploitation. Attendees were urged on by prominent female speakers, from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, to feminist writer and activist Roxane Gay.

Among the convention’s key proposals for action: national marches in both Washington, D.C., and in cities across the country around abortion rights on the weekend of Oct. 7 to 9.

Breakout sessions covered topics such as the #metoo movement in schools, running for local office, and implementing feminist economics. The overturning of Roe v. Wade was the main focus of discussion, but there was a renewed focus on challenging a patriarchal capitalist economy obsessed with owning and controlling female bodies.

The resounding victory in Kansas for abortion rights was a cause for celebration. Activists there mobilized voters and were able to protect reproductive rights in that state. Republicans are now panicking because they realize that any time the abortion question is put up to a vote, people are choosing abortion/pro-choice rights almost every time.

Participants discussed the many ways to stop the GOP’s relentless attacks. For instance, there is already a strong divergence of living and health care standards between Republican-governed red states and Democratic-governed blue states. It’s expected that GOP-ruled states that ultimately ban abortion entirely will see a further rise in female deaths and suffering and an overall decline of health for everyone.

Documenting that information is important. Statistics concerning deaths and complications from pregnancy that occur because of enforced motherhood will play a major part in swaying public opinion away from anti-abortion positions.

Right-wingers no doubt will step in and make it difficult, if not illegal, for hospitals, nurses, and doctors to report or keep this type of data. So outside agencies need to step up.

With the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, the right has found a 21st century version of an old idea for controlling women: enforced pregnancy. Economic exploitation under capitalism thrives on women being locked into the position of compulsory motherhood.

Women who are desperate for jobs that can pay for the costs of raising children or those searching for reliable, affordable daycare are much more susceptible to dropping out of activism and supporting the status quo in a desperate bid just to get by.

Another travesty brought up at the conference is that so many restaurant servers, mostly women, still do not make a minimum wage because their tips are assumed to be, and taxed, as part of their salary. There is a racist history to this practice.

After Emancipation, restaurants hiring Black women didn’t want to pay them wages; they essentially wanted to keep them as slaves. So, they created jobs where they received no or very small wages, and only worked for tips.

This, like so much else in modern society, comes from the combination of racial and gender discrimination, aspects of the country’s obsessive capitalist accumulation.

One of the most inspiring breakout sessions was “Vote/Run/Lead.” It was designed to give women a practical plan to run for local offices. The session started out with the speaker asking how many women in the audience were thinking of running for local office in the next year. In a wonderful moment of solidarity, almost 40 women stood up.

Another exceptional session, “Building a Feminist Economy,” outlined the crisis capitalism is creating with regard to the “care economy.” Kaitlyn Henderson, a senior research advisor at Oxfam, gave startling statistics:

“Our studies show that 52 million people in the United States make less than $15 an hour. And 40% of all women make less than $15 an hour. The numbers get worse when you look at women of color: 50% make less than $15 an hour.”

The numbers clearly illustrate the intensive exploitation women face right now, especially women of color and trans women.

Too many women are trapped in a neoliberal rat maze in which they receive low pay while also playing the role of mother or the “caregiver” of the family, where they absorb the emotional needs of their husband, children, and/or parents—and all without compensation.

The stereotyped view of women as “natural” caregivers leaves them in a position where their mental or emotional needs are tossed aside, as too many men do not consider women as needing emotional support.

Some positive points were mentioned in this session. Amy Hanauer, Executive Director of the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, remarked that “the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, while inadequate in many ways, is at least a start.”

The bill is supposed to crack down on major companies that do not pay taxes. Also, the size of the IRS is being expanded so it has the ability to go after major tax evaders like Apple and Amazon. It also addresses our deteriorating planet: $369 billion has been set aside to fight climate change, the biggest investment the federal government has ever made for the environment.

Each day featured notable speakers in the women’s movement, people like Houston Hoochie’s co-chair/president Nia Jones and Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Executive Director Kelly Robinson.

The running theme through everything, explicit or implied, was the realization that capitalism and patriarchy are viciously entwined, and fighting for a better future requires the destruction of both.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, spoke fiercely for women to stand up and become “ungovernable.” She spoke before introducing the keynote speaker, writer Roxane Gay.

One major idea Gay discussed was that “the promised land of feminism is not imitating white male power.” Replacing white male capitalists with white female capitalists gets women nowhere. Women must work to destroy white male patriarchy and exploitation, as simply changing the faces at the top will have less impact on society.

Speakers also recalled the 1977 Women’s Conference held in Houston. It was here that a major split in the feminist movement occurred.

“Gloria Steinem said…that [ the conference] is one of the most important things that ever happened that no one knows about,” as quoted in a 2017 article by Lorraine Boissoneault in The Smithsonian.

Support for the Equal Rights Amendment had been growing since the early 1970s and seemed like a given in 1977. The Women’s Conference was supposed to be a culmination of the achievements of Second Wave feminists. It produced a document called “The Spirit of Houston,” which featured a National Plan of Action about how to implement significant political and social change for women going forward.

But also in Houston, anti-feminist and right-wing extremist Phyllis Schlafly hosted a rival convention. It brought together conservative women, the majority of them white, to give their unequivocal support for the system of capitalist exploitation and misogyny that simultaneously imprisoned them but also gave them distinct economic privileges.

Their much smaller rally was a disturbing preview of the immense backlash against feminism that was approaching with the 1980s and the rise of Christian far-right. It also played a role in the eventual defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The 2022 Houston convention emphasized the importance of getting out the vote for the November elections and the development of a new generation of female candidates to run in more local races throughout the country.

While anger was certainly an emotion that permeated the convention, there was also a strong feeling of power and solidarity. This was not uncontrolled rage; it was a determined and rising fury from women preparing to launch a major attack on all forms of capitalist patriarchy.

The next stage of the offensive comes the second weekend in October.


Pleiades Talukder
Pleiades Talukder

Pleiades Talukder is a young activist and poet writing from Texas.

Kurt Stiller
Kurt Stiller

Kurt Stiller writes from Texas.