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Yes, I’m a Witch! Lesbians in the 1970’s

outhistory.org

outhistory.org

Fans of deep music trivia will recognize the title of this blog as a Yoko Ono song, from an album released (by Astralworks) in 2007 in which artists remixed earlier Yoko Ono song. The title song was originally issued in 1974.

Fans of deep women’s liberation herstory might recall one of the first direct action/zap action groups in the movement was called W.I.T.C.H. (the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy From Hell) founded in the late 1960’s by activists like Robin Morgan and others (see wikipedia).

Yoko was clearly influenced by women’s liberation movement, as was John Lennon – its evident in both of their songs. (An identification with women’s liberation could also have been influenced by the misogyny that greeted her as the gal who “broke-up” the mop-haired boys).

Poster of Zap by WITCH from JoFreeman.com

Poster of Zap by WITCH from JoFreeman.com

The 1970’s were a fascinating decade. From the end of the Vietnam War to the start of Reagan and the Right’s public domination of national politics. From the systematic infiltration and destruction of the black liberation movement by the US government to the institutionalization of the civil rights movement into politics and law. From the explosion of women’s liberation to the emergence of lesbian and gay liberation. It was a decade that harbored both a previously unparalleled experimentations in sexual freedom as well as the founding of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority; a decade in which the Equal Rights Amendment (to the US Constitution) was passed iN Congress in 1972 only to be ultimately defeated by 1982 because of the emergence of the backlash feminism that gives us Palin today.

120px-Button11Lesbian politics, culture, art and communities also emerged and flourished in the 1970’s in the US (and around the world – this blog is about the US version). Women’s bookstores, women’s land, women’s music – and fascinating deconstructions of the word “woman” itself (e.g., wimmin, womyn) marked a decade of brave thinking and institution building. Poets ruled lesbian politics – Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Kate Rushin, June Jordan, Pat Parker, Muriel Rukeyser, Olga Broumas, Marge Piercy, Cheryl Clarke and the list goes on. Music was the vehicle through wwhich we organized and found communities – the women’s music concert was the first place I saw several hundred lesbians gathered together, ever. And when I think about my life today, I experienced a more visceral connection to other lesbians and to various lesbian communities in the 1970’s than I see in my life in New York City in 2010.

Perhaps the US lesbian movement’s rootedness in art and culture– and not politics alone — explains our incredible idealism and the current dearth of lesbian power and presence in mainstream LGBT politics. Perhaps art had nothing to do with it and the disintegration of lesbian communities had to do with their rigidity and a strain of nationalist purity politics. Perhaps it was the fact that so any of us went on to have children and make families, which took us away from the very community building that helped those families emerge.

There are hundreds of other explanations for what lesbians experience today. That’s what an upcoming conference on October 8-10, 2010 in NY hopes to explore. Sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at CUNY the national conference is titled “In Amerika They Call Us Dykes: Lesbian Lives in the 1970’s” (see www.70slesbians.org). Check it out, ALL are welcome and the goal is reflection, discussion and consideration of how that decade influenced and continues to set the conditions for the feminist and LGBT liberation movement today.

Remembering is different than nostalgia. Memory can be transformational, providing a chance to understand and incorporate the past into a present practice. Nostalgia is a longing for an impossibility – a return to another era. That is the difference between the left and the right.

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