1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building.
Of all the second wave feminists who exploded into action over the 1960s and 70s, no group seems to have had quite as much fun as WITCH—the fabulous acronym for Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell. Like so many other groups, WITCH was formed from a split, this one from New York Radical Women. Their counterpart, Redstockings, became the more famous “intellectual” feminist group, producing such visionary minds as Ellen Willis and Shulamith Firestone (who, among many other far out things, argued for the option of robotic wombs to liberate women from childbirth). WITCH on the other hand was the wild and wooly protest group, easily identifiable by their Halloween get-ups.
Protesting beauty pageant circa 1969.
The group specialized in disruption of the sensational bent, shrieking and chanting in black clothing and white face paint, and “throwing hexes” at enemies of the people. Among their many targets were beauty pageants, Wall Street, bridal fairs, Chase Bank, the presidential inauguration, and even sexists in the politically left anti-war movement. Some of the more famous work was actually quite modest in its goals (hey, all politics are local politics), including protesting public transportation fare hikes with this little hex:
Witches round the circle go
to hex the causes of our woe,
We the witches now conspire
To burn CTA in freedoms’ fire.
Bankers gall, politicians guile,
Daley’s jowl, lackey’s smile,
Trustee’s toe, bondholder’s liar
These we cast into our fire.
Meetings held, messages sealed
When the fare hike is revealed
We, the people, are the prey
Of the demon, CTA….
WITCH were one of many radical feminist groups of the second wave (1960s and 70s), and one of many that is sadly understudied and overlooked. Luckily women like director Mary Dore work on projects like She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, a new documentary that chronicles the feminist lay of the land in the days of the counterculture revolution. It’s baffling to think that explicitly socialist groups like WITCH and the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union started out on the same footing as Hillary Clinton boosters like the National Organization for Women, but we all know that even in the feminist movement, the game is rigged towards Wellesley girls.
You can find a screening of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry here, and I say it should be mandatory viewing for all girls under the age of eightteen. Where else are we going to get the next chapter of WITCH from?
Via Mother Jones