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American women skip work and take part in rallies on ‘A Day Without a Woman’

Sandra Kokaska, center, waves at motorists during the International Women’s Day rally Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in Cincinnati. (John Minchillo / Associated Press)
Sandra Kokaska, center, waves at motorists during the International Women’s Day rally Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in Cincinnati. (John Minchillo / Associated Press)
By Alexandra Zavis, Christina Boyle, Laura King and Barbara Demick Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – Women across the nation took Wednesday off, refrained from shopping, dressed in red and attended rallies to bring attention to their economic clout and the discrimination they face in the workplace and beyond.

Dubbed “A Day Without a Woman,” it was a second act by the organizers of the massive “Women’s March” in Washington and around the globe the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

The effect was hard to gauge. A number of schools and businesses closed for the day or gave female employees the day off. But the crowds who turned out in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and many other places were tiny compared with the millions who flooded the streets on Jan. 21.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, flanked by other congresswomen and Hill staff members, addressed a group of cheering supporters from the steps of the Capitol. Many carried signs reading “Women’s rights are human rights” and “Equal pay for equal work.”

“We are in solidarity with women across the country and across the world,” said Pelosi, who delivered a call for girls’ education and the full participation of women in electoral politics. “When women succeed, the world succeeds.”

Watching from the crowd, Nancy McInerney and her friend Janine Dunne were thrilled. “So great to see them all out there together on the steps, dressed in red,” said McInerney, who works for the Smithsonian Institution.

“And to hear about the importance of all these issues – health care, women’s economic importance, keeping families together,” said Dunne, a teacher. “It’s not just a flash in the pan.”

But for all the excitement, working women were a visible presence here and in other cities, serving coffee, waiting tables, operating cash registers, mopping floors and issuing parking citations.

Some said they had not heard of “A Day Without a Woman.” Others were just too busy or cash-strapped to take part.

“I can’t afford it,” Sabrina Lott said as she hauled a trash can, bucket and mop through a busy food court at the Peachtree Center business complex in downtown Atlanta. Without the $60 she earns from her daily cleaning shift, she said, she would struggle to pay her bills, buy groceries and care for her sick brother.

It would have been nice to have the day off, she said.

“I’d go shopping, get my nails did, get my hair did,” she said, laughing as she wiped crumbs and soda rings off a table top. “And then – ah! – I’d just sit back and chill.

Others said the protests could have been better promoted.

”I guess we didn’t get the memo,“ said Tonya Murray, a call center worker who was smoking a cigarette on Peachtree Street during her morning break. ”We have 60 people working, and only two guys.“

Even if she had known, though, she wouldn’t have participated. She started her job just two weeks ago and didn’t want to give her boss the wrong impression.

Still, she thought a strike was a good idea.

”Women are the backbone of this country,“ she said. ”We do it all – we are the most organized and compassionate workers – and we do it knowing our counterparts are paid more.“

Protest organizers acknowledged that many women couldn’t afford to take time off and said on their website, ”We strike for them.“ They also encouraged women to wear the color red as a sign of solidarity.

The protests were timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, which dates back to the early 1900s and is marked with strikes and rallies to celebrate the achievements of women and call for gender equality.

Organizers also drew inspiration from last month’s ”Day Without Immigrants,“ which shut down restaurants and grocery stores in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles as Trump took aim at illegal immigration.

Trump urged his legions of Twitter followers to join him Wednesday in ”honoring the critical role of women here in America & around the world.“

”I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy,“ he tweeted.

Women make up more than 47 percent of the U.S. workforce and dominate certain professions, including nursing and teaching, census data show.

School districts including Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia, Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland and Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools in North Carolina canceled classes Wednesday because of the number of staffers who requested time off.

In Prince George’s County, the closures sent many parents scrambling for last-minute care for their children in the district of 130,000 students. Unaware of the protest, some showed up at school with kids to drop off.

”I am lucky my boy is big and could be alone, because I needed to get to work,“ said Alex Martins, a taxi driver and the sole guardian of his 17-year-old nephew, a senior at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, Md. ”For people with little ones, it was a bad surprise.“

District officials in Alexandria tried to alleviate such problems by opening city recreation centers to the 15,000 kids getting an unexpected day off.

The decision to close schools was ”based solely on our ability to provide sufficient staff to cover all our classrooms, and the impact of high staff absenteeism on student safety and delivery of instruction,“ Alexandria Superintendent Alvin L. Crawley, said in a statement. ”It is not based on a political stance or position.“

In Providence, R.I., municipal court was closed because of insufficient staff, and city officials warned that residents might experience delays in the delivery of nonemergency services.

In New York, women joked that the first participant in Wednesday’s strike was none other than the city’s most illustrious female resident, Lady Liberty.

For several hours Tuesday night, the Statue of Liberty went dark, her body and robes cloaked in black with only her torch shining on New York Harbor. The National Park Service, which operates the monument, blamed a ”technical glitch.“ But to some, the timing seemed too perfect to be coincidental.

”Lady Liberty got the memo,“ the protest organizers crowed on Twitter. ”Thank you Lady Liberty for standing with the resistance and going dark for #DayWithoutAWoman.“

Women in New York were also delighted by the sudden appearance on Wall Street of a bronze statue of a young girl, who appears to be staring down the iconic statue of a bull in one of New York’s most testosterone-fueled neighborhoods. Called ”Fearless Girl,“ it was commissioned by the financial company State Street Global Advisors to protest the shortage of women on corporate boards.

”I think it is exactly what needs to be here,“ said Layah Shagalow, who works in the financial district. ”It belongs here as much as the bull.“

Small demonstrations popped up around the city, including a midday gathering of several thousand women – and some men – in Central Park.

Friederike Fleschenberg, a historian from Berlin now living in New York, said she wasn’t really able to take the day off because she is caring full time for her young children. So she bundled up her year-old daughter in red and brought her to the demonstration at Central Park.

”As a historian, I’ve spent much of my life trying to understand how could the Holocaust happen, and so I know we have to work hard to protect the freedoms we have,“ Fleschenberg said.

At least 13 women were arrested as they tried to encircle the Trump International Hotel at the southwest corner of the park.

”We are blocking traffic as a form of civil disobedience,“ the march organizers said in a statement on their official Twitter account.

In Washington, marchers gathered in a downtown plaza to protest the restoration of a policy requiring that overseas family-planning groups refrain from performing or promoting abortions as a condition for receiving U.S. aid.

”We’re very worried about women’s health care, but also about all kinds of other rights and progress being rolled back,“ said Michele Cordoba, a marketer from Sherman Oaks who came to Washington on business and stayed for the march.

”We have to make out voices heard!“ said her 72-year-old mother, who accompanied her daughter to the protest.

Another rally, staged outside the Department of Labor, was meant to spotlight issues such as wage inequality but drew marchers worried about everything from minority rights to environmental causes.

With flashes of red standing out on the streets and in the city’s Metro system, a number of Washington businesses lent symbolic support – and made cash donations to women’s causes.

Chef Ruth Gresser, who owns four eateries in Washington, offered paid leave to all female employees and served up a special menu with half the usual food and beverage offerings, representing women’s share of the population.

”It was really busy without them,“ said bartender Daniel Weber, who was filling in for female colleagues at a Pizzeria Paradiso branch near downtown where the lines were out the door. ”But I support them and what they are standing up for, so I didn’t mind at all.“

Although International Women’s Day has not attracted the same attention in the U.S. in years past, it is a bigger occasion in other parts of the world.

In Ireland, thousands marched through the capital, Dublin, to protest the country’s restrictive abortion laws, bringing traffic to a standstill. In Spain, women gathered in a Madrid square to protest a culture of ”machismo.“

Women in Poland staged marches across the nation to demand protection from gender-based violence. They were joined in Warsaw by the American actress Jessica Chastain, dressed all in black in solidarity with the marchers.

In Germany, the airline Lufthansa had six all-female crews flying from several cities to the capital, Berlin.

The government in Iceland said it would introduce legislation in parliament this month requiring employers with more than 25 employees to prove that they offer equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality.

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