The 1970 Women’s Strike: A Bit of History

Published on Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Fifty years after the 19th (the Suffrage) Amendment had passed, tens of thousands of American women abandoned their husbands, their desks, their typewriters and their waitress stations to march down the avenues in a number of cities to press for a new set of issues.

At the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 53nd Street, a large group of women hold a banner that reads ‘Women of the World’ at the Women Strike for Equality demonstration, New York, New York, August 26, 1970. Tens of thousands of women (and men) marched along Fifth Avenue towards Bryant Park to demand equal opportuntity in employment and social equality. (Photo: Michael Abramson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Time was, you didn’t need a strike to create “A Day Without a Woman.” That’s just how things were. If you walked into any voting booth on Election Day, or watched any Supreme Court hearing, or tuned in at dinnertime to any television newscast, or found yourself on a rocket ship headed for the Moon, that’s what you’d see: no women, nowhere. Not in the United States, not in most of the world.

That much has changed, thanks in part to women’s strikes, like the one being organized around the globe for Wednesday. The premise is simple: Stay home from work – paid or unpaid – and demonstrate your value by your absence. Make your voice heard by distancing it from the microphone. Whatever you normally do, don’t.

Make it clear what it’s like when women exclude themselves.

As the ancient Greeks saw it, abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

The prototype was “Lysistrata,” Aristophanes’ bawdy tale of fifth-century BC Athenian women who denied sex to their men to put an end to the Peloponnesian War. Played more for laughs than liberation, it nonetheless paved the way for centuries of similar tactics, some of which – depending on what talents women withheld – actually worked.

A few millennia later in America, the currency was cooking or charity work, both of which were executed almost exclusively by women. On a summer speaking trip through Kansas in 1895, suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony was asked what women should do to speed up the process of getting the right to vote. “They ought to withdraw from all their charitable work and let the men run things for a while,” she said merrily in Topeka. “[T]he women of Kansas should sit by and fold their hands. If they would stop their helping the men for six months, we would have equal suffrage granted us.” The concept so amused Anthony, she later joked about “the men’s howling over the idea that the women might possibly take our advice and sit down with folded hands refusing to do another thing to help them until the right of self government was accorded.” She teased a reporter in Chicago about men’s fears that “all women should cease even to cook dinner.”

It would take another 25 years, but women’s constant agitation won the right to vote in 1920. Our power is scary when you realize what it can accomplish. Over the years, women would also strike for peace, for improved working conditions, for whatever they were denied. Sometimes they struck out. Sometimes they struck a blow for history. The victories started to accrue.

By the late 1960s, despite half a century of suffrage and the doubling of women in the workforce over two decades, women were still undervalued, underpaid and underrepresented in leading professions. Never mind looking for a woman switching telephone lines, flying a commercial airliner, or rising to the level of U.S. Army general.

At the same time, poverty remained high in female-headed families. Politics was still mostly a boys’ club. There were no female governors or big city mayors, no women in the US cabinet, only 10 in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate. As for the Oval Office, it remained an impossible dream in a nation where managers tended to look at a potential staffer’s body before her resume.

The second wave of feminism revived the art form of the strike in the face of surprisingly glum statistics.

I’m talking about 1970 and the Women’s Strike for Equality.

Enthusiastic and resolute women (and men) in large parade down Fifth Avenue on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted the women the right to vote, as they march for further women's rights. (Photo by John Olson/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)Enthusiastic and resolute women (and men) in large parade down Fifth Avenue on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted the women the right to vote, as they march for further women’s rights. (Photo by John Olson/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

ghts  commanded strike organizer Betty Friedan, echoing Anthony’s earlier marching orders to the nation’s homemakers. “Sisterhood is Powerful!”

And how. On August 26, 50 years to the day after the 19th (the Suffrage) Amendment had passed, tens of thousands of American women abandoned their husbands, their desks, their typewriters and their waitress stations to march down the avenues in a number of cities to press for a new set of issues.

As a young reporter for the Associated Press (there were pockets of sanity in American society), I chronicled the journey of a self-described housewife and mom, 28, who lived in a conservative Republican section of Queens, New York. When the alarm sounded that morning, she bucked tradition and decided not to nudge her husband awake. “I thought, to heck with it. I’m on strike,” she told me. Four hours later, she was cheering at a demonstration for childcare centers. And then, trailed by my notebook and me, she marched down Fifth Avenue clutching one-fifth of a banner urging the Senate to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

Protesting women led by the Bread and Roses group march along Beacon Street in Boston demanding rights to abortion and equality in work opportunities and conditions, March 8, 1970. (Photo by Don Preston/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)Protesting women led by the Bread and Roses group march along Beacon Street in Boston demanding rights to abortion and equality in work opportunities and conditions, March 8, 1970. (Photo by Don Preston/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The women’s movement had gone mainstream.

The strike itself was described, at a time when police estimates actually mattered, as the largest demonstration ever held for women’s rights. It led to the enormous advances so many of us enjoy today. So many, that for a time many of us believed the Revolution we’d just begun was actually over.

The 2016 election proved just how wrong we were.

The coarse misogyny of the campaign and the victorious candidate, along with new threats to women’s health and bodies and rights and sanity, inspired the January 21 Women’s March, an exhilarating day of purpose and uncommon wit. My thirteen-year-old granddaughter is still wearing the pink pussy hat she helped knit. A friend from Vermont giggled over a photo she took of two women carrying brass instruments and the hand-lettered sign, “Fallopian Tubas.”

And when someone asked – pre-empting my own concern – what had really been accomplished, or was it just a feel-good event, someone else pointed out the rise of political activism, the rush to run for office, the numerous lists of Things You Can Do Every Day being emailed around cyberspace. As a result, the power and scope of the January 21 march has galvanized women for the next show of strength – today’s women’s strike.

Organizers understand that many women simply cannot stay off the job; that many more don’t want to leave desperate clients without resources. No problem: Wear red as a show of solidarity; do something – anything – to support the cause. Just maintain the momentum.

“Life hands all of us setbacks,” Hillary Clinton told a thousand cheering supporters at a New York luncheon Tuesday, accepting an award from Girls Inc. for her lifetime of inspiring girls and women. “Everyone gets knocked down. What matters is that you get up and keep going.”

Shaun Robinson, the former TV anchor, now full-time social advocate, was more explicit. Advising a prizewinning Girls Inc. overachiever now headed for college, she said, “You fall down seven times, sister, you get up eight!”

Or, as the woman from Vermont put it, “Why am I taking part in the strike? It’s simple: I’ll keep going because I have to.”

We all do. Because no day should ever be without a woman – unless it’s our choice.

Lynn Sherr

Lynn Sherr is an award-winning journalist and has been covering politics and women’s issues for more than 40 years, mostly at ABC News, where she was a correspondent for World News Tonight and 20/20. Her best-selling books include Swim: Why We Love the Water; Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space and Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words. Sherr currently freelances on a variety of platforms, and can be found on Twitter: @LynnSherr.

Posted in Democracy, Donald Trump, Human rights, Nonviolence, politics, Protest, resistance, Stories of engagement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Wondrous Quartet

Women’s International League, May 1, 1922. In the public domain.*

I have often preached on the indispensability of empathy in cooperative human relationships—e.g., here and here and here. But to “make the world a better place,” as so many of us want to do, empathy is not enough. It is also essential to sympathize with individuals and groups treated inhumanely, to feel compassion for the sufferings and misfortunes of others, and to accompany those who are struggling against violence and injustice.

If we ask people with which sex they are most likely to associate these characteristics, my guess is that most of them would say “women.”

Not coincidentally, all four of the indispensables are reflected in the mission statement of the Women’s March on Washington, which led the protest movement against the Trump agenda in January. For example:

“In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore… We practice empathy with the intent to learn about the intersecting identities of each other….[Nonviolence] is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice and utilizes the righteous indignation and spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation…. ”

Wednesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day.  The theme this year is #BeBoldForChange. The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington are staging another series of events for Wednesday—a Day without a Woman action. Please read about the plans for that campaign, and think about how you can express empathy, sympathy, and compassion, and also accompany the protestors in words and spirit even if you will not be actively protesting, as they strive for social justice, human rights, and peace.

To read some suggestions for participation in Wednesday’s events, read this.




Posted in Champions of peace, Democracy, Donald Trump, Human rights, Nonviolence, politics, Protest, resistance, social justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Time to thank the trumpeters

Cygnus buccinator, Trumpeter Swan, Binder Park Zoo. In the public domain. Author: Ltshears.

By Kathie Malley-Morrison

The growing torrent of protests against the assaults on life and liberty being perpetrated by the Trump agenda are a welcome sign of resistance in the eyes of millions of Americans, including me. But we must remember that Trump is just the tip of a deadly, destructive iceberg about which former Republican President David Dwight Eisenhower warned us all.

Trump was elected President in part because of a flawed electoral systerm, but also because millions of Americans have seen jobs disappear, incomes plummet, the rich get richer, the middle class crumble, the poor get poorer, safeguards fail, health worsen, educational and occupational opportunities recede, and health care costs rise—with limited help from a government they have reason not to trust.

Although favoring some actions that represent horrendous threats to democracy and human rights ,Trump supporters also have many legitimate complaints needing to be voiced.

It is good to recognize that much is wrong with the American political and economic systems. Injustices abound. It is good that people are trumpeting their woes.   But how can the injustices be repaired? Aye, there’s the rub.

The populist rebellion—the eager embracing of alternatives to the self-serving imperialistic establishment displayed in the enormous support for Trump among disenchanted Republicans and for Bernie Sanders among disenchanted Democrats—was long overdue.

Yes, it is time to recognize the discontent, clean the house, and clear the swamps.  But more than words are needed.

People will not be able to participate in the necessary resistance and reform if they spend their evenings sitting in front of the boob tube watching the horror stories offered by the corporate media to divert them. Nor will knocking over gravestones or attacking the scapegoats at whom  fear-mongering leaders point.

What to do? We can start by actively (and non-violently) participating in and supporting the most effective environmental groups, anti-nuclear groups, anti-racism groups, pro-peace groups, pro-human rights groups, and so forth.

Good start, but to truly reform government, we need to work on ways to break the hold of the richest individuals and corporations, the dark and non-elected shadow government working behind the scenes to promote nobody’s interests but their own.

To create a more perfect union, all the many individuals and small groups working for peace and social justice must find ways to work together.

There are many other good ideas out there about how to Take America Forward. Please share them.


Posted in Democracy, Donald Trump, Human rights, imperialism, Media, Military-industrial complex, Nonviolence, politics, Propaganda, Protest, resistance, social justice | 3 Comments

Looking for inspiration?

The logo of the US Peace Memorial Foundation. See and/or “World Peace: A First Step” at Reprinted with permission

In our country right now, frustration, anger, and fear are running rampant, along with the scapegoating that inevitably accompanies those emotions.

But know what?  If you are alive, you can make a difference.  Millions of people are striving actively on behalf of human rights, animal rights, environmental rights, and the bedrock that supports all of them—peace. You can join them if you have not done so already.

To see some examples of what extraordinary ordinary people can do, visit the US Peace Registry of the US Peace Memorial Foundation.

Here are just a few exemplars:

Philip D. Anderson of Maple, WI, is a retired public servant and military reservist (U.S. Army, Wisconsin Army National Guard, and Naval Reserve, 1975-2002) who is an activist for environmental, labor, social justice, and peace issues. Recent articles: Nation overspends our tax money on military, shortchanges us on essentials, 04/09/2015; Is a nuclear-free world still possible?, 08/08/2015; and All victims of war need our help, 11/08/2015.

David O. H. Barrows, born in Boston, MA in 1947, has been an activist with a variety of social justice groups including the ACLU, Amnesty International, Gray Panthers, American Indian Movement, The Catholic Worker, and Free DC. Dressed in Guantanamo Bay prisoner of war garb (orange jumpsuit and black hoods), he joined Witness Against Torture in protests including a march to White House where he chained himself to the White House fence, January 2007; fasted for 12 days, and was arrested at the U.S. Capitol steps and charged with trespassing, January 2010.

Charles F. Clark, MD, MPH served as a captain in the Medical Corps during the Vietnam War, a lieutenant colonel with NATO, and currently practices psychiatry and addiction medicine in Denver, CO. E-mails to congressmen opposing war, 2003-2011.Letters to the editor opposing invasions, war, torture, drone strikes, and prison camps, including “Media only cares about oil, money”, Boulder Daily Camera, 2002-2014.

Scotty N. Bruer of Los Angeles, CA, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, is an author, public speaker, father, grandfather, entrepreneur, and graduate of Purdue University with a degree in forest management.Founded, PeaceNow, 05/2013.Organized the successful effort to have the City of Los Angeles become an International City of Peace, 09/2014.Executive Director, PeaceNow, 2014-2016.

Stephen D. Clemens, Minneapolis, MN, peace and justice activist, member of the Ecumenical Community of St. Martin, has been active in Koinonia Community in Americus, GA, Habitat for Humanity, racial reconciliation, abolition of death penalty, and immigration justice issues. Founding Board Member of IARP (Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project), 2006-2014.

If you have enough to eat and adequate shelter, consider yourself not just as fortunate but as having a moral obligation to pay back and pay ahead. Join the ranks of the nonviolent protestors and peace advocates.

To learn more about the U.S. Peace Memorial project,  click here.

And please remember to contribute to engaging peace by submitting comments on posts as well as supporting us financially.

Posted in Champions of peace, Commemorating peace, Human rights, Nonviolence, Pacifism, politics, Protest, resistance, social justice, Stories of engagement, Torture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments