It's worth the risk for these women to march

A strike on International Women's Day
A strike on International Women's Day

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  • Domestic workers who rally instead of working risk losing their jobs, Ai-jen Poo says
  • But low-wage workers have long taken risks for families and democracy, she says

Ai-jen Poo is the co-director of Caring Across Generations, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and author of "The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America" (The New Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)On Wednesday, thousands of domestic workers from across the country are expected to participate in #DayWithoutAWoman by wearing red and refusing to shop. Some will also refrain from working and will instead participate in events such as the Women Workers Rising rally at the Department of Labor in Washington.

Ai-jen Poo
The rally will highlight the indispensable contributions women make to the economy, with particular focus on the work of the least visible among us. The fact is, that if domestic workers decide not to work, they may lose their jobs, but for many of them, since the election, such dramatic risk defines their daily existence.
But low-wage workers take risks all the time -- for their families and for our democracy -- and they have done so through the ages. The first strike on record of US domestic workers took place in 1881 when the black washerwomen of Atlanta sought to raise their poverty-level pay rate. It was a bold action that shook the local economy.
    The women were successful in building solidarity through collective action, raising their pay rate and proving beyond doubt the critical nature of their work.
    Many of our immigrant members, today's domestic workers, took tremendous risk simply to be in this country. Some put their lives in jeopardy to flee poverty, violence and war, to bring their children to safety and opportunity in this country. Now, under the Trump administration, they face risks that seem to multiply and intensify daily.
    As Trump's deportation army shows up at hospitals and shopping centers, immigrant women's daily acts of motherhood -- taking their children to school or to the doctor, or shopping for groceries -- make them vulnerable to deportations. There is even talk of separating Central American immigrant mothers seeking asylum from their children as they await deportation in detention facilities.
    Mother faces deportation, takes sanctuary
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    One of our members, Jeanette Vizguerra, is living in the basement of the First Unitarian Church in Denver. She sought safe haven there until Immigration and Customs Enforcement grants her a stay of removal so she can remain in this country with her four children, the youngest of whom is 6.
    An expired emissions inspection sticker put her on a path to deportation in 2009. Without the stay of removal, she would be separated from her family indefinitely. Jeanette took a great risk by publicly declaring her entrance into the church sanctuary. Her bravery is a call to action to all of us to continue resisting deportations and to stand with vulnerable communities.
    In campaigning for basic rights and protections for domestic workers in recent years, hundreds of workers have taken days off from work and lost wages to march in state capitals or to meet with legislators about the value of their work. Their sacrifice has compelled seven states to pass labor laws that extend and protect the rights of nannies, housecleaners and elder caregivers.
    Low-wage workers have always sacrificed and risked to make life better for their families and their communities. Rosa Parks was a domestic worker before she was a civil rights icon. Her risk-taking was catalytic in a movement that brought our democracy closer to its promise. Taking risks often leads to progress; sometimes it's the only thing that does. Low-wage women workers, unseen and unheard, yet often courageous, know this well.
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    Since the election, millions of American citizens and residents have marched, petitioned and donated. Every action counts, and it's essential that we show up in as many ways as possible. But one of the most powerful things about Wednesday's #DayWithoutAWoman, is that it asks us to imagine what it means to up the ante. What are we each willing to risk, and give up, to turn the tide and bring our country closer to its promise?
    Let's keep asking the question: "How can I be more courageous in what I commit to, to match what's at stake?"