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Feminism’s 1970s Flagship Faded From View — But In 2017 It’s Back With A Vengeance


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Feminism’s 1970s Flagship Faded From View — But In 2017 It’s Back With A Vengeance

Had the technology existed, August 26, 1970, would have been a big day on Instagram. Masses of women were marching down Fifth Avenue in New York City — Black women, white women, Latina women, Asian women — tromping step-in-step through the streets with their arms linked at the elbows. They were old and young and everything in between; they were wives and singles and mothers. They were carrying protest signs, big poster boards featuring clever phrases like “REPENT, MALE CHAUVINISTS” and “EVE WAS FRAMED” or the simple, ubiquitous “WOMEN UNITE.” One woman stopped marching and stood outside a peep show in Times Square with a placard demanding that a statue of Susan B. Anthony be erected on that spot at the corner of Broadway and 46th. Men on the sidewalk yelled “bra-less traitors!” and other abuse at the women passing by. But they didn’t care. They just kept on marching.
The Women’s Equality Strike, as the march was called, was put on by the newly-formed National Organization for Women (NOW) to honor the 50th anniversary of women winning the right to vote — and to demand that progress for women’s rights continue moving forward. The plan was for protesters to assemble at 5:30 p.m., a couple blocks north of where Trump Tower would be erected a decade later. The flier for the event also served as an advertisement for the liberties NOW was demanding: free abortion, equal opportunities in work and education, and free community-based childcare.
When the march ended NOW founder and acting president Betty Friedan ascended the stage as the crowds, which reportedly numbered in the tens of thousands, went wild. “This is not a bedroom war,” she boomed. “This is a political movement.” Later, Friedan would tell The New York Times that women’s lib was about to become the biggest force for social and political change of the 1970s. Sister marches had successfully launched all over America, from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Boston, Washington, D.C. and dozens of other cities. It was a phenomenon that marked a new beginning — for women, of course, but also for NOW to become feminism’s shiny new flagship.
That was half a century ago. We no longer live in the same world that Friedan was fighting. We have laws against discrimination in the workplace; laws affirming equal access to education and the right to participate in sports. We have Roe vs. Wade, which guarantees women the right to have an abortion (though with many caveats). Our culture has changed from a place where feminists are reviled to one where public figures who don’t personally identify with the word are considered regressive — it just means women are equal to men, after all.
Much of that progress can be traced back to NOW pushing the ball forward — growing a grassroots network of activists, pushing an equality-driven legislative and social agenda, starting in the ‘60s ever since. But we’ve hit a wall. A misogynist tweets from the White House. The dominating political party is not only hellbent on denying women family planning choices but also on cutting off millions of Americans’ access to healthcare; nor can we count on Democrats to stand firmly for reproductive rights anymore. Forget free childcare: The United States lags behind the rest of the developed world on maternity policy, as well as family leave.The wage gap persists. Access to abortion is crumbling, one state at a time. We are still protesting this shit, with no end in sight.
Not long after that first big march down Fifth Avenue commemorating the 19th Amendment, August 26 was officially dubbed Women’s Equality Day. But true equality still hangs in the balance. We need a feminist front line as much as we ever have. The question is: How will the National Organization for Women — the beacon institution of women’s liberation, with a wide-reaching grassroots network and experience up the wazoo; one of the most recognizable symbols of female might; the sisterhood legacy that launched a thousand marches — re-emerge as the sexism-fighting, activist-awakening power organization for a new generation?
While the Women’s March rose up seemingly overnight as the bellwether of activism in the aftermath of the 2016 election, a subtler revolution has been showing up at the doors of NOW. New York state and NYC chapter president Sonia Ossorio says she has been nothing short of stunned at the shift. “Before the election, on an average basis, we would have 50 new …

I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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