A Day Without a Woman: Fostering Employee Activism with ‘Social Justice PTO’

I lack a language for striking.

When I heard rumblings of a general strike earlier this year, and later saw a multi-organizational call for A Day Without a Woman, I knew I wanted to participate but had no idea how to begin. The company I work for is a socially-conscious small business, made up of 50% women and more-than 50% people of color — would striking be efficient? I’m a salaried employee — would taking an unpaid day from work put my employment at risk? Do striking workers use PTO?

This ignorance comes from not ever having a need to strike before. From never being under attack. It’s an ignorance that many women, people of color, Natives, queer people, disabled people, and working-class folks have not enjoyed.

As rights for certain groups have quickly been eroded through legislation and executive order, it is my personal belief that those of us who hold these ignorances must do the hard work of abolishing them.

So when such women — women from multiple groups and with broad collective-organizing history — made a call for others to join them in an organized effort, I jumped at the chance to participate. I asked my professional peers if they were striking, and most didn’t know how to ask their employers or felt certain that asking for the day would lead to negative repercussions at work.

Big Wheel Brigade’s approach was different.

I had already been in talks with my employers about feeling tension between my political and professional obligations, and worrying about finding time for it all. Compassionately, they allowed me to lead a conversation on alternative work schedules and pitch them ideas on making space for civic engagement within the workday. So, when the women’s strike was announced, I felt comfortable saying: “I want to strike on Wednesday, the 8th. How should I go about taking off of work?”

The company responded by announcing two days paid leave for social justice actions for all employees.

One of the things I’ve admired about my company is their commitment to social good in the Omaha community, through both donations and programs. By making space for employees to exercise civic participation without the stress of eating away at personal, parental, or sick leave, I believe the team at Big Wheel Brigade is doubling down on their values. Creating this option does not guarantee the time-off used is aligned with those values, but it allows employees to more-fully live theirs.

On A Day Without a Woman, it’s important to say that it would be extremely clear if three of our six-person team were gone. Valuable mentorship, skills, kindness, community connections, organizational accountability, and perspectives would leave with them.

Women around the country are striking today under a multifaceted platform. They are standing for: reproductive justice; a life free of gender-based violence; labor rights; full social provisioning; inclusive, anti-racist, anti-imperialist feminism; and environmental justice.  Individual testimonies cite prevalent assault, a demand for equal pay for equal work, the need for quality healthcare, and workplace exploitation among the many personal reasons for striking.

I strike today because the double-bind of resisting authoritarian policies while continuing to maintain a professional life is one that many of the people most-affected by the Trump administration find themselves in. It is simply untenable. We must stand together with those who have the most to lose.

Big Wheel Brigade has shown that they will stand with their employees. This sacrifice on the part of the company ensures that I have the time to do the work of educating myself and others, create lasting change in my community, and find my own language of resistance.

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