The Occult Activism of 1960s Group WITCH is Still Relevant
When people think of feminist protests of the 1960s, they most often think of bra burning at the Miss America pageant. This is super lame because bras weren’t even burned at that protest, just discarded into a trash can. It’s hard to imagine why this trope has persisted over the decades. Bras are an investment, so I have a hard time believing that any of my friends would willingly burn expensive (and sometimes really fun) garments. Beyond that, there are way cooler and infinitely more badass protests that actually happened. Namely, anything that WITCH ever did.
WITCH, most often short for “Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell,” was born on Halloween 1968. They were the militant wildcard of the Chicago Women’s Liberation movement, the rebellious sisters of the Redstockings. Unabashedly anti-establishment, WITCH publicly hexed Wall Street, allegedly causing the DOW Jones to drop five points. Following this, autonomous covens popped up all over the continental US. Between 1968-1970, WITCH was busy staging spooky demonstrations and engaging in guerrilla theatre.
WITCH represented a split in the greater feminist movement between politicos and radical feminists. Politicos, like WITCH, were interested in allying themselves with the New Left, like the Black Power, Student Rights, and Anti-War movements. Radical feminists, on the other hand, viewed women’s liberation as a separate issue that needed to take the forefront ahead of all others.
The acronym WITCH was ever-changing and related to each of the autonomous groups needs. On Mother’s Day, it meant “Women Infuriated at Taking Care of Hoodlums.” Covens formed in industries fighting sexual harassment and gender discrimination, manifesting “Women Indentured to Traveler’s Corporate Hell,” and “Women Incensed at Telephone Company Harassment.” Still other groups renamed WITCH to “Women Inspired to Tell their Collective History,” or “Women Interested in Toppling Consumer Holidays.” While each coven operated independently, all engaged in public performance art pieces meant to further the Women’s Liberation movement whilst boldly reclaiming an identity that had condemned thousands of women to death centuries prior.
WITCH had no official roster. As a pamphlet for New York Covens points out, “If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a Witch. You make your own rules. You are free and beautiful. You can be invisible or evident in how you make your witch-self known.” It was during this time that “the personal is the political” started to become widely espoused, which greatly broadened the notion of civil disobedience. In short, being true to oneself can be a feminist act.
There was no shortage of creativity in WITCH activities. When a radical feminist professor was fired at the University of Chicago, the sociology department was inundated with hair and nail clippings. So next time your friend sends you seventeen e-petition requests, maybe whip out your nail clippers and go nuts. After all, a creepy and gross protest sends a message where slacktivism does not.
In another outwardly feminist WITCH protest, members stormed a popular restaurant handing out garlic cloves that read “We are WITCH, We are Women, We are Liberation, We are We.” While doing so, they whispered, “Nine million women burned as witches,” and asked the women why they were interested in having a man buy them dinner.
Blending feminism with socialism became WITCH’s calling card, as they saw the two forces as intertwined. WITCH was really fond of disrupting bridal shows, which they considered the unhealthy byproduct of patriarchy and capitalism. With the rallying call of “Confront the Whoremakers,” WITCH members cast spells, shared cocoa, and participated in a public Un-Wedding Ceremony, where they exchanged revolutionary vows:
“We promise to love, cherish, and groove on each other and on all living things. We promise to smash the alienated family unit. We promise not to obey. We promise this through highs and bummers, in recognition that riches and objects are totally available through socialism or theft (but also that possessing is irrelevant to love)….We pronounce ourselves Free Human Beings.”
While the whole “whoremakers” label is more than a little problematic, WITCH was not shy about their disdain for traditional gender roles. Future activists could take note of this and modify their language to be inclusive of sex workers. After all, they have a lot to say as well.
While WITCH was as fleeting as their public performances, a lot of what they did is echoed in the protests of The Satanic Temple. Recently, Satanists have been making waves with their counter protests at Pro-Life Rallies. As heavy proponents of the separation of Church and State, The Satanic Temple has really found its hallmark in public artwork pieces, notably the Snaketivity Scene and, of course, the giant statue of Baphomet they commissioned and created. Like WITCH, The Satanic Temple reclaims an identity feared and loathed by those who would put Puritanical sanctions on everyone else. This process of reclamation flips the morality script and forces people to reassess who exactly is good and what exactly is evil.