BY TRISTA EDWARDS
The Women’s March on Washington is upon us. Organizers have predicted as many as 200,000 activists will attend the anti-Trump protest the day after the inauguration in D.C. There are hundreds of other demonstrations scheduled not only throughout the country but globally as well. The Women’s March website lists the affiliated Sister Marches throughout the world and encourages you to host a march if there is not one already scheduled in your area.
The dissent against the forthcoming administration is strong among women. The Women’s March declares on their mission page, “HEAR OUR VOICE.” The statement reads:
"The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us - immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault - and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.
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. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.
We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.
HEAR OUR VOICE."
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this mission statement and how not only this election but also the march the day after will be another significant chapter in women’s history. I plan to attend a local Sister March so I can stand in solidarity with those in D.C. My mind has also been wandering back to history of the women’s liberation movement of the 60s and 70s—its successes and faults, how it was inclusive and exclusive.
I’m reminded how much the symbol of the witch has been part of the history of women's liberation. As I read above mission statement, I was reminded of the W.I.T.C.H manifesto of 1968:
"WITCH is an all-women Everything. It's theater, revolution, magic, terror, joy, garlic flowers, spells. It's an awareness that witches and gypsies were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression -- particularly the oppression of women -- down through the ages. Witches have always been women who dared to be: groovy, courageous, aggressive, intelligent, nonconformist, explorative, curious, independent, sexually liberated, revolutionary. Witches were the first Friendly Heads and Dealers, the first birth control practitioners and abortionists, the first alchemists (turn dross into gold and you devalue the whole idea of money!). They bowed to no man, being the living remnants of the oldest culture of all -- one in which men and women were equal sharers in a truly cooperative society, before the death-dealing sexual, economic, and spiritual repression of the Imperialist Phallic Society took over and began to destroy nature and human society."
The manifesto has its downfalls, the racist mysticism of the gypsy people, the exclusivity that arises in their language and discourse. W.I.T.C.H, or Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, (one of the many iterations of this acronym) was a short-lived activist group of second-wave feminism born in New York City that remained active from 1968-1970. The founders of the group were socialists and called themselves “politicos.”
Unlike radical feminists groups that fought to overturn the patriarchy alone, W.I.T.C.H claimed they sought a wider social change. They attributed the oppression of women to capitalism, seeking to ally with other leftist causes such as the New Left, the black liberation movement, the student movement, and the anti-war movement to bring about socio-political and revolutionary change.
The group declared the witch as their symbol and used the dramatic tactics of guerrilla performance and costume in their protests. Notably, on their inaugural action, members dressed up as witches and marched down Wall Street putting a hex on New York’s patriarchal and capitalist financial district. They would distribute garlic cloves and cards with the motto, “We Are Witch We Are Women We Are Liberation We Are We." They would storm restaurants with brooms and black hats to chant, “Nine Million Women, Burned as Witches.” The chant a nod to the European witchcraft trails but an erroneous and inaccurate number claimed by many. Clearly a figure meant to shock if anything.
W.I.T.C.H declared that any woman could be a witch if she declared herself to be one. In one of their many distributed leaflets they claimed:
"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 choose to make your witch-self known. You can form your own Coven of sister Witches (thirteen is a cozy number for a group) and do your own actions...You are a Witch by saying aloud, "I am a Witch" three times, and thinking about that. You are a Witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal."
While it is easy to fall under the allure of mantra, I find the language here to be excluding of gender and sex; anybody of any gender, non-gender, or sex can be a witch. Also, the choice to remain invisible is a privilege that many POC don’t have, particularly in the 60s. I think about this because there have been calls to bring W.I.T.C.H back. But this is not the representation of witch we need.
Religious scholar, Cynthia Eller writes, "The most significant aspect of W.I.T.C.H was its choice of central symbol: the witch. By choosing this symbol, feminists were identifying themselves with everything women were taught not to be: ugly, aggressive, independent, and malicious. Feminists took this symbol and molded it - not into the fairy tale "good witch," but into a symbol of female power, knowledge, independence, and martyrdom."
The witch has always been important. The witch has also been altered since the writing of the W.I.T.C.H manifesto. She must be fluid. She must evolve. I wonder at how the witch as feminist icon and political battle cry has changed since the 60s? Where has the witch become more intersectional? Where do we need to challenge the witch more? In what ways as the witch not been altered as a political statement that is begging for revision?
Who do we need the witch to be in 2017?
Trista Edwards is poet, land mermaid, light witch, horror enthusiast, creatrix, traveler, feminist, and dog lover. She is also the curator and editor of the anthology, Till The Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry (Sundress Publications, 2015). She is currently working on her first full-length poetry collection but until then you can read her poems at The Journal, Mid-American Review, 32 Poems, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Boiler Journal, Sou’wester, Queen Mob's Tea House, and more. She writes about travel, ghosts, and poetry on her blog, Marvel + Moon. (marvelandmoon.com)