Petrograd, Russia. March 8th, 1917.
It is the first World War, although it is still called the Great War. The people then do not yet know of the horrors to come. The streets of Petrograd are crowded with women. They are factory workers, pushing their way through in throngs. Their faces are dirty, covered with filth, their hands rough, hair wrapped in hats and scarves. They hold banners with Russian letters printed on them, chanting words: Peace, land, and bread, and Down with autocracy! Down with the war! It has been Women’s Day on March 8 since 1910, yet nobody has given these women, workers, mothers, protestors, wives, rebels, a second glance. They work twelve hours a day in the factories, breathing in smoke, filling their lungs with ash. Later, they will stand in line for the bread, not even a full loaf, which they will split between themselves, their husbands, their children. These women have had enough. Today, they will not go to work twelve hours in the factories that are slowly killing them. Today, they will not stand in line for a meager piece of bread, which will never fill their children’s stomachs. Today they will strike.
Today, Tsar Nicholas II will send soldiers after them. He will tell them to shoot the women if they have to. But they won’t. They will lay down their arms. They will not shoot. They will join the women.
Later, Lenin will come. The tsar and tsarina and their son will be murdered. Russia will collapse, pulling itself out of the Great War to bring peace. Soon, they will be the first communist country the world will ever see, a country that will start cold wars and hatred, and a lifetime of Americans saying, Russia is bad. But that will come later.
Today, the women did it. They did something the men could never have done. They did what the women did in France on October 5, 1789, marching on the Palace at Versailles. They started a revolution.
They demanded bread.