One of GABRIELA Santa Cruz’s first actions of solidarity is participating in the COLA strikes. Photo courtesy of GABRIELA SC.

When her husband Diego was assassinated, Gabriela Silang took up his role as leader of the revolutionary movement resisting Spanish colonialism in the Philippines. She became an icon in Pilipinx culture, representing the strength of women and the fight for women’s liberation. 

In the Philippines today, class struggle as a result of U.S. imperialism is a significant problem. Silang’s actions inspired the creation of the General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership and Action (GABRIELA). 

With chapters in the Philippines and all over the U.S., an emerging Santa Cruz chapter is gaining traction through involvement in the ongoing cost of living adjustment (COLA) strikes. 

“The fact that the graduate students have been doing this solid step-by-step organizing has really been able to show that people power works,” said Mikayla Aruta Konefal, member of the chapter organizing committee of GABRIELA Santa Cruz. “Whenever you pair political consciousness around the importance of workers’ labor with actually going out and demonstrating, that’s a contribution to people power movements all over the world, in addition to that of the Philippines.” 

Konefal praised how the strike provides opportunities to recruit more members into the upcoming chapter. GABRIELA SC needs 15 members to officially launch. They are currently at 11, but Konefal emphasized how they’re in no rush to reach this quota since they feel the relationships between members are more important than quantity. 

Members of GABRIELA SC participating in the strike organized by graduate students at UCSC. Photo courtesy of GABRIELA SC.

GABRIELA SC has ties to another organization already established at UC Santa Cruz — Anakbayan Santa Cruz, a political activist group that fights for human rights in the Philippines. 

“While Anakbayan SC organizes the sector of youth and students for national democracy at UCSC, GABRIELA organizes the sector of women,” said fourth-year Jared Semana, a member of Anakbayan SC, in an email. “Both organizations play a pivotal role in organizing the Filipino/a masses overseas to stand for the sovereignty of the Philippines, genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization in the Philippines.” 

The organizations coordinated with each other on what steps to take regarding the ongoing strikes, with Anakbayan SC releasing a statement last quarter expressing support for graduate students in their fight for a COLA. 

“Anakbayan Santa Cruz sees its prime importance in standing in solidarity with the graduate students who are exploited by the university and fighting for their democratic rights, much like the toiling masses of the Philippines,” Anakbayan SC wrote on Facebook. 

Marie Sosa, a third-year transfer student, joined GABRIELA SC because of its emphasis on fighting for women’s liberation and opportunities for political engagement. Although Sosa isn’t Pilipinx, she praised GABRIELA for tackling issues such as racism and sexism not only for women in the Philippines, but for all women of color. Sosa plans to continue outreach for more people to join the group to then educate others and organize actions of their own. 

Although not yet an official chapter, this emerging women’s liberation organization is making strides toward launching in early spring quarter.

“Every woman, femme, non-binary person feels like the patriarchy kicks them in the face every goddamn day,” said GABRIELA SC member Mikayla Aruta Konefal. “Women and femmes and queer folx are always at the forefront for social change because they feel the oppression from the patriarchy. GABRIELA SC is really here to create a space that Santa Cruz has needed so desperately.”