“This whole system’s got to go:” Students walk out against inequality


Hannah Heisler | Staff Photographer

About 100 people gathered in Schenley Plaza to demand reproductive justice, environmental justice and an end to gender violence at Thursday afternoon’s student walkout.

By Emily Wolfe, Assistant News Editor

One day before the set of worldwide marches planned for International Women’s Day, including one in Downtown Pittsburgh, about 100 people gathered in Schenley Plaza for a student-specific walkout.

It was 3:08 p.m. — International Women’s Day is held on March 8 every year — and the protesters were circled in a tight group around an organizer with a megaphone.

“Queer, straight, black, white,” they chanted. “All unite for women’s rights!”

And: “When trans rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

And: “Low wages? We say no. This whole system’s got to go!”

A committee of students from Pitt, CMU and Allderdice and Woodland Hills high schools planned the event at Schenley Plaza, according to one organizer, Natalie Suzelis. The student organizers make up part of Pittsburgh’s coalition of the International Women’s Strike.

Suzelis, a graduate student in literary and cultural studies at CMU, said the event took a local approach to IWS’s list of international demands, which includes reproductive justice, environmental justice and an end to gender violence.

“For the City of Pittsburgh, we took those demands and made local demands for this City, such as making sure that trans women are protected at the Allegheny County jail,” Suzelis said. “We’re asking the City to make some concrete policy decisions about accessibility and environmental justice — clean air, clean sidewalks, things like that.”

The full list of demands of the Pittsburgh IWS, according to a pamphlet distributed by organizers, includes an end to abuse at the Allegheny County Jail; safe, free and legal abortion; Medicare for all; a $15-per-hour minimum wage and abolition of ICE. Speakers touched on a variety of other additional issues, including the Free Palestine movement, sex workers’ rights and prison abolition.

As Suzelis told the crowd, International Women’s Day has its roots in the socialist movement. The first Women’s Day was held in New York in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America, and the day was shortly after taken up by other socialist groups. Today, International Women’s Day is a United Nations-recognized holiday, and women around the world strike and celebrate in honor of the day each year.

Rosie Haynes, a CMU sophomore majoring in logic and computation and political history, spoke on behalf of CMU’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. Haynes emphasized her belief that the IWS’ diverse demands are all rooted in women’s issues.

“Today we make local demands about a living wage, housing security, health care, autonomy and safety for all women and nonbinary people in Pittsburgh,” Haynes said. “We make these demands as a part of a larger project to secure these rights for all women, walking out of school and work each year on International Women’s Day.”

Haynes also talked about campus-specific issues for Pitt and CMU students, earning boos from the crowd when she said the Department of Defense funds hundreds of millions of dollars of CMU research. Haynes also discussed a “Hacking4Humanity” event planned for March 22 and 23, at which Pitt students will ostensibly be able to create technology that will help defeat human trafficking. The hackathon has received criticism from groups like the Sex Workers of Pittsburgh, which says the event will help police go after sex workers who work consensually.

“This event targets sex workers and criminalizes them and further alienates them,” Haynes said.

Becca Tasker, the communications coordinator of the Pittsburgh DSA, shared stories about their parents, both of whom were briefly jailed in the past, and argued for the abolition of America’s prison system. Tasker said it’s necessary to implement better conditions in detention facilities today to protect the safety of trans women, but ideally, prisons wouldn’t exist at all.

“Don’t let anyone tell you the system is broken,” Tasker said. “It’s working perfectly for the investors.”

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