Kira Elliott, owner of Comfy Fitness in Chicago, discusses the "A Day Without a Woman" protest and how she is showing her support at her gym in Bucktown. (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)
Emily Panci knew she’d have the blessing of her manager if she was absent from work Wednesday to take part in the "A Day Without a Woman" protest, but it was that very privilege that caused the 26-year-old from the Avondale neighborhood some consternation.
"One of my biggest conflicts is that I can afford to take a day," she said. "But is that really doing good for the women who can’t afford to take the day off, which are generally women of a lower socioeconomic status or women of color who don’t have the same privilege that I do?"
The protest — held on U.N.-designated International Women’s Day — called on women to take the day off of both paid and unpaid labor, as well as wear red in solidarity and limit spending money to women-owned businesses. The U.S. event was crafted by the organizers of women’s marches that attracted more than 1 million protesters after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Across the globe, women marched and held rallies Wednesday in Warsaw, Rome, Tokyo and Madrid, as well as Washington. Locally, various restaurants and businesses suspended operations or held special events in honor of the strike, which comes on the heels of last month’s "A Day Without Immigrants" protest that attracted a large rally in Union Park and closed dozens of business across Chicagoland for the day.
As for Panci, she ultimately decided on a compromise: She worked remotely from Free Range Office, a co-working office space in the Wicker Park neighborhood offering a "sanctuary space" on Wednesday for women looking to network or write letters of protest to legislators.
Panci, who is employed by a nonprofit management company, said she didn’t want to halt their work, which could in turn hinder their clients. But she did spend some of her free time sending postcards to members of Congress supporting the Affordable Care Act and protesting the recent travel ban and suspension of the refugee resettlement program. By mid-afternoon, Panci was among about 20 women who had stopped by Free Range Office, which also offered free child care in a conference room.
"So I’m trying to live in a space where I can do both," she said. "Where I can get my work done, I can do what’s important. But I also want to make sure I am taking action for those who are unable to take the action."
It was Ashley Little-Rae’s second day back after maternity leave, and the gym where she works as a trainer suspended typical operations in honor of "A Day Without a Woman."
Instead, Comfy Fitness in the Bucktown neighborhood scheduled a day of discussions about modern feminism, a "power voice" workshop and yoga sessions. Little-Rae brought her 2-month-old son, Fisher.
"My husband and I believe very strongly that we’re raising him as a feminist," she said as she rocked Fisher, who was clad in his own red jacket and tiny red Converse sneakers. "It’s almost symbolic of how I want him to grow up, the ideals I want him to have."
Little-Rae, 33, had just given birth and wasn’t able to join the women’s marches in November, so she participated this time, in part to help mold the world into a better place for her son.
For example, she hopes for universal paternity leave in the future — a support for both women and men alike. In some ways, she said having a child has also made her more committed to fighting for access to birth control and health care, as well as reproductive rights.
"I do feel like I became somewhat complacent in feeling like I have these rights and that’s great," she said. "It’s easy to forget where they come from and to forget all that has been done to get us where we are right now. I think this political climate has brought a resurgence of recognizing all that."
Paige Tyler has been preparing for "A Day Without a Woman" by preparing fudge.
After years of working in a shared kitchen, the baker signed a lease in June on her first brick-and-mortar store in the Edgewater neighborhood with her business partner, Kate Merrill. After months of planning, and painting and construction, they plan to open the Edge of Sweetness Bakery this month.
"It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears," Tyler said, crying a little. "It’s finally feeling like it’s real. In days we’re going to be open."
Their bakery is one of more than a dozen women-owned businesses scheduled to participate in the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce International Dinner Crawl Wednesday evening, with a portion of ticket sales benefiting GirlForward, a nonprofit to help girls displaced by conflict and persecution. The event is part of a celebration of International Women’s Day.
The Edge of Sweetness prepared "Ooey Gooey Cake," gluten-free chocolate chip brownies and chocolate-peanut-butter-salted-caramel-bacon flavored fudge for the event.
Tyler said it’s empowering to work alongside so many other restaurants and businesses owned by women in the neighborhood. She was the first woman to own a business in her family and acknowledged there were obstacles along the way. In particular, some of the contractors they interviewed seemed to be dismissive because the prospective clients were women, she said.
"I hope we can be an inspiration for others if they’re hoping to grow a business," she said. "There’s always been someone ahead who’s laid some groundwork."
The Associated Press contributed