Inspiration from 1968

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By Virginia Santy | Editor in Chief

Exactly fifty years ago cities across the U.S. were alive with feminist activism and protests. Often creative and irreverent and always undercut with a spirit of anger, these events gained considerable attention for the burgeoning second wave feminist agenda and served to garner more support for the movement. Today, there is inspiration (and fun!) to be had in looking back on the activities of these groups, and perhaps picking up their mantles.

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Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.): In 1968 the W.I.T.C.H.es participated in a variety of protests in New York, including a protest on Halloween wherein members chanted a “hex” on Wall Street. The next day, the market fell by 13 points. Coincidence? We dare not entertain the notion. The group and its chapters popping up across the nation in the late 1960s where grounded in loose conceptions of fighting the patriarchy—they increasingly became known for their hijinks at beauty pageants, bridal shows, and gentleman’s clubs—drawing attention to women’s issues, and not taking themselves too seriously. According to Chicago member Heather Booth, “It was fun. It was a little bit anonymous because we all dressed in similar witch-like costumes. Some put makeup on their faces so you couldn't tell who they were. Afterwards, you just returned to your normal life."

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The Redstockings: Some of the most famous phrases of the late 1960s and early 1970s activism emerged from the ranks of the Redstockings. “Consciousness raising”, “personal is political”, and “sisterhood is powerful” are all products of a group working to dismantle traditional, limiting conceptions of women. The Redstockings are perhaps best known for their angry, yet tongue-in-cheek Miss America pageant protest. Florynce Kennedy, lawyer and civil rights activist reported in her biography, "I also attended the Atlantic City Beauty Contest protest, which was the best fun I can imagine anyone wanting to have on any single day of her life. It was very brazen and very brash, and there were some arrests—Peggy Dobbins was charged with releasing a stink bomb. No bras were burned, though; that was a media invention. . . ."

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The National Organization for Women (NOW): In 1968 NOW conducted a boycott of Colgate-Palmolive and a five-day protest in front of company headquarters, including a “flush-in” of the company’s products. All of the above was NOW’s response to Colgate-Palmolive’s sexist policies keeping women out of top-paying jobs, including a longstanding practice of firing senior women and hiring lower paid men in their place.

Is it just me, or do these examples sound like the ideal way to spend a Saturday night, or a Tuesday morning these days? I believe I have a broomstick around here somewhere.