Story and photos by Jon Melegrito
WASHINGTON D.C. A Filipino American teenager from Gaithersburg, Maryland skipped school on International Women’s Day, March 8, and brought along her mother and 10-year-old sister to march with hundreds of other women on Constitution Avenue – the same street filled by more than half a million protestors the day after President Trump was inaugurated in January.
“I missed the Women’s March on Washington,” says Paula Fudolig, a 16-year-old sophomore student at Magruder High School. “This time, I was determined to be part of this organized protest for women’s rights. I also want to learn more about the issues that are bringing out women and children to raise their voices and be heard.”
So, Paula’s younger sister, Isabel, and their mother, Patricia, took the Metro from their home in Gaithersburg early Wednesday afternoon, and found their way to the doorsteps of the Labor Department on Third and C Streets, near the Capitol, where hundreds of demonstrators wearing red (a symbol of love and sacrifice) assembled for a rally.
“This is our building,” they chanted. Organizers said their goal is to bring attention to “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system — while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequalities.”
Thus, the theme “A Day Without A Woman,” focusing on the absence of women in the workplace and its impact on the economy. And it coincided with International Women’s Day, marked in a dozen cities across the U.S. and 50 countries around the world. The coordinated protests called for pay equity, paid leave, dignity and respect in the work place, and an end to sexual discrimination, harassment and violence.
“I’m very concerned about Trump’s anti-women and anti-immigrant policies,” Patricia Fudolig said. “Being a mother, I want to be able to raise my daughters to learn what they are worth, to grow up to think for themselves and to stand up for their rights.” As an accounting student at the Lyceum of the Philippines 25 years ago, Fudolig joined hundreds of students stage a walkout to protest planned tuition increases. “That’s when I realized what collective action can do. I’m glad my children are learning how to stand up and fight.”
Adds daughter Paula: “It’s important for us to be involved and speak out because it shows those oppressing us that we won’t go down without a fight.”
In addition to being a member of her school’s Feminist Club, Paula also mentors Middle School students once a week. “I talk to them about things they feel insecure about, about image problems or their sense of identity,” she says. “It’s empowering when you make them feel less alone.”
Her dream is to become a scientist someday. “As a young woman about to head into the world, I hope to be able to make the same amount of money as my male counterparts when I begin working,” she points out. “I’d also like to be able to choose what to do with my body.”
After a brief rally at the Labor Department, which featured a flash mob, mother and daughters marched with protesters along Constitution Avenue to John Marshall Park, near Capitol Hill. “This is our street,” they chanted. “Women united will never be defeated.” They waved their signs in a spirited display of solidarity, made even livelier by spring-like temperatures.
Other Filipino Americans who showed up at the march and rally were two union organizers from California. Grace Himatay and Billy Yates are activists with National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of registered nurses in the United States. They are in the area to help nurses at Holy Cross Hospital form a union.
“Unionized nurses are in a better position to demand better pay and respect in the workplace,” Himatay says. “That’s why we must speak out and fight for what we deserve.”
According to the U.S. Census, as reported by the Associated Press, women make up more than 47 percent of the workforce and are dominant in such professions as registered nurses, dental assistants, cashiers, accountants and pharmacists. They make up at least a third of physicians and surgeons, as well as lawyers and judges. Women also represent 55 percent of all college students. Still, American women continue to be paid less than men, earning 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. The median income for women was $40,742 in 2015, compared with $51,212 for men.
Another NNU activist, Maria Ronquillo, said she joined the rally because she wants to protest the Trump administration’s move to repeal Obamacare. An RN for more than 20 years at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the District of Columbia, Ronquillo says people will no longer able to obtain Medicaid coverage under the law’s expansion, and lots of people would be unable to afford health insurance without the help of federal subsidies currently provided under the law. “As a health professional, I am deeply worried,” she says.
Ronquillo has been actively involved in the last three years fighting for the Patient Protection Act and demanding action from the District City Council..The measure would require minimum numbers of nurse-to-patient ratios and solve understaffing at six District hospitals. In her 22 years at the VA hospital, Ronquillo knows how short staffing puts patients at risk. “I have experienced what it’s like, both as a nursing care giver and as a patient myself,” she said.
She adds: “Now more than ever, we – as women workers – must rise and demand fair treatment for our service and sacrifice. We call attention to the labor we provide because we deserve the right to be heard and treated with dignity and respect.”
Among the speakers at the rally were Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler and U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Pramila Jayapal, Rosa DeLauro, and Marcy Kaptur.
The organizers include One Billion Rising in Coalition with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, the African American Policy Forum, American Federation of Teachers, Family Values @ Work, International Labor Rights Forum, Jobs with Justice, National Nurses United, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Organization for Women, OUR Walmart, Good Jobs Nation.