1970: The Women's National Strike for Equality

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September 3, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 36

Women on the March: 'We're a Movement Now!'
By Mary Breasted


...There was no great unity of styles or goals in the Women's National Strike for Equality. There were the three basic demands: free abortion on demand, 24-hour day care for all mothers, and employment, pay, and promotion opportunities for women equal to those for men. But no one seemed to harp much on these demands. The common bond was the demonstration itself, their presence in the streets together, sharing defiant sisterhood.

Mrs. [Betty] Friedan would speak about her "rich women, who know all women are poor," while Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's Human Rights Commissioner, would emphasize the plight of black women forced to leave their children untended as they went off to clean the homes of the rich. But for that day, at least, neither of these feminists seemed disturbed by their disparate constituencies.

Mrs. Friedan looked almost tearful as she accepted Mayor Lindsay's proclamation declaring August 26, 1970, Equality for Women Day in New York City. And though Richard Aurelio, the Deputy Mayor who presented it to her, disappeared abruptly thereafter, walking out on a promised dialogue with the feminists, Mrs. Friedan seemed overjoyed. Only Lucy Komisar shouted at his disappearing posterior from the other end of the car that served as a platform. She later trapped him up against a fence in City Hall Park to tell him that the Mayor had said nothing about day care centers for non-poor mothers. Aurelio looked pained and quickly backed off again...

Somehow, it got under way. And then, only then, did the women realize how large their demonstration was. As they moved down Fifth Avenue, they kept jumping above the crowd to get quick views of the numbers still behind them. "Did you see how far back it goes?" they kept asking each other in excited tones. They were amazed, those young women who had been meeting in small groups or taking part in small actions for months. And with each block of their route as the line stretched out longer and longer behind them, their jubilation grew. No one of them would have dared to say before that evening that the women's liberation movement had 20,000 members in New York City alone.

The march was liberally sprinkled with men. And in the end the newspaper crowed estimates were widely disparate. One march organizer said a policeman told her "there must be 50,000 people here." The New York Post said there were 7000. But Pete Hamill estimated that 35,000 had taken part in the march. Bryant Park, where they staged their final rally, holds 20,000 and every wet blade of grass in there was occupied.

The women were white, young, and college-educated. Their movement was, no getting around it, made up of the women least in need of a special politics to get their fair share of power and wealth. But for one brief evening they felt themselves to be standing up for all women everywhere. Tomorrow they could think of their old factions and divisions, tomorrow Betty Friedan and Eleanor Holmes Norton might discover that it would take more than womanhood to unite them. But that night, as the darkness fell on Bryant Park, they were simply amazed at their numbers.

Kate Millett uttered what they were all thinking as she looked out over the park. "Wow!" she said, "we're a movement now!" They cheered and cheered at this, for they all seemed to know that women's liberation had not really emerged until then. It had gotten by on humor and anger and shock effect. It had received a publicity far out of proportion to its size. The demonstration's organizers themselves were later to admit they had expected a much smaller turnout. They did not know until the end of August 26 that the women's liberation movement had finally earned its title.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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