If this was a typical Wednesday afternoon, Leah Steiner would be in her AP Art History class at East Chapel Hill High School. But after a friend told her about “A Day Without A Woman,” she decided to do something different.
“I had the idea to kind of all just skip school and have a bake sale to raise money for Planned Parenthood, or any organizations that help women out,” Steiner said. “And it took a lot of planning and a lot of help from other girls. And then we ended up getting school off, which was amazing.”
A few steps away, Gabriela Dimate, a senior at Chapel Hill High, says today should be called a “day on.” She’s volunteering at the bake sale.
“I think it’s very important to spread the word and not just kind of sit around and enjoy the day and not do anything about it,” Dimate said. “I think it’s important to let people know what’s going on and empower other people to make a change.”
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools made national news when administrators decided to cancel classes today. They did so after many teachers indicated they would not be coming into work as part of the international “Day Without A Woman” protests.
Other than Chapel Hill-Carrboro, the Alexandria Virginia schools were the only other district in the country to close as part of the “Day Without A Woman” protest. That decision brought both praise and scorn from advocates and pundits across the country.
Durham Schools did not close for the day. In a release, Superintendent Bert l’Homme said administrators supported the cause, but that closing schools would cause hardship on low-income families needing child care, and negatively impact hourly employees like bus drivers.
He also offered this heads-up to parents the night before, via a distributed phone call.
“There is a possibility however that some buses may be running late in some areas due to driver shortages at the beginning or end of the school day,” the message said.
The decision to keep schools open got a mixed reaction from Durham teachers.
Nashonda Cooke teaches at Eno Valley Elementary School. She and 30 or so others gathered before noon in the shadow of the bull on the square in downtown Durham.
“I personally have some very supportive administrators at my school, and I think that’s the DPS way, that seems to be the sense, because there are a lot of schools that don’t have a lot of teachers there today,” Cooke said. “But it would have been nice to see a complete support from it, yeah.”
Today’s protest coincides with International Women’s Day. It’s billed as a worldwide “one-day demonstration of economic solidarity.” Many women took the day off from paid or unpaid labor and wore red.
Jocelyn Olcott is an Associate Professor of History and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University. Speaking on The State of Things, she said this type of one-day protest has benefits over a sustained strike.
“This one-day effort is not going to be as efficacious as something that could be more sustained, but I don’t think that’s what this particular action is trying to accomplish,” Olcott said.
One thing this effort has accomplished, said Cooke, the Durham teacher, is provide a teaching moment for her students.
“A very effective strategy that we use in the classroom is modeling,” she said. “I can get up and I can write the notes on the board or I can show them a movie or I can also say 'last week, when Ms. Cooke stood up and she spoke about keeping your family safe and you feel good about the education you are getting' that’s what I want you to get out of this.”
Cooke said she believes a day like today will serve as a springboard for women locally. She said she intends to run for a position in the local teachers association, and other women she spoke with have been inspired by the “Day Without A Woman” movement, and are planning a run for political office.