As the television cameras panned across the chamber of the U.S. Congress last night, a group of Democrat women lawmakers stood out among all the dark suits. They were all wearing white in protest of President Trump and what they claim are his attacks on women’s rights. It was hard not to notice this theatrical attempt at a protest, but it is even harder not to think of the real Ladies in White in Cuba who are truly fighting for not just the rights of women, but the rights of all Cubans.
Unlike their similarly dressed sisters in Washington D.C., Cuba’s Ladies in White really know what oppression feels like. For years they have been beaten; stoned; tarred; sexually assaulted; imprisoned; and executed by the apartheid Castro regime. Every single day these courageous women put their lives and their families at risk confronting Cuba’s vile and repressive dictatorship. While the women in D.C. last night wore white to garner attention, the women in Cuba wear white to defy a totalitarian regime, knowing their choice of dress will make them targets of a violently repressive State Security apparatus.
Any woman can dress in white, but not every woman who dresses in white is a Lady in White.
Women in White, meet the Ladies in White
A group of women lawmakers made a silent protest during President Trump’s first speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening. The Democratic congresswomen dressed in white as an emblem of support for their definition of “women’s rights” — abortion, equal pay and the like. The protest is seen as a form or resistance to Trump’s presidency and presumably a nod to the women’s suffrage movement, which urged women to dress in white as a symbol of purity.
But it also calls to mind a contemporary women’s movement in which female followers don white as a sign of protest. The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) are a group of wives, mothers and other female relatives of jailed dissidents in Cuba. Since 2003, they have attended Catholic mass each Sunday morning wearing white clothes then marched through the streets of Havana, usually silently. They wear white as a sign of peace. And many of the women wear buttons bearing a photo of their imprisoned loved one and the number of years he’s been sentenced to serve. The Ladies have won several international human rights awards for their courage and witness.
This simple protest has attracted violent pushback from Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The Ladies have been beaten, jailed and harassed by state police and civilians who support the government. Just last Sunday, more than 50 members of the Ladies in White were arrested and prevented from making their peaceful demonstration.
Daniel Allott is deputy commentary editor for the Washington Examiner