I’m not sure what year it was when I first got involved politically. I think it must have been when our high school newspaper staff decided we would have a campaign against conformity. I think that was the same year that I started a petition against mandatory girls’ gym. That wasn’t because of any deeply held belief, but because I always was assigned gym first thing in the morning, after I had spent a lot of time on my hair and make-up. People typically get involved in activism because something affects their lives directly. I had been affected.
During my years abroad, I was too busy raising a daughter and traipsing after a musician husband to worry about politics, but when I came back to the USA in 1970, I was shocked to learn about the Equal Rights Amendment and discover it was controversial. Equality seemed so very American to me. I became a heavily involved activist for the next 30 years.
In 2003, I was asked to donate my papers to the archives at my alma mater, the University of California at Irvine, as the library was establishing a collection on Orange County activist women. Of course I accepted, holding back only a few things that I continued to use in my classes at CSULB.
Last week, I took the remaining items in and had a meeting with the new archivists. It was great fun going over my files and explaining everything to them. I had been involved at the county, state and even a little at the national level, authoring the county’s Democratic Party’s statement on women for several years, serving on the national Board of the National Organization for Women, chairing the ERA Orange County’s coalition of 40 organizations, training people for and doing clinic defense, and organizing various demonstrations, marches, large fundraisers, telephone banks, lobbying, and what we called Zap Actions.
One of my favorite memories involves a Zap Action that I organized at UC Irvine in the late 1980s, when Robert Bork and Sarah Weddington put on a “dog and pony show” about abortion. Weddington had argued Roe v. Wade, the case that legalized abortion, before the US Supreme Court. Conservative Bork had been nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan but rejected by the Senate, in part because he supported State rights to impose a poll tax for voting and argued there was no right to privacy in the US Constitution. We decided that His appearance in Orange County called for a Zap Action.
Most of what I did was deadly serious, and in the late 70s and 80s, pretty discouraging. But I’m a fan of Saul Alinski’s and especially liked the part where he said something to the effect that you need to have fun while you are being political or you’ll burn out. Ok. He didn’t say exactly that, but that’s part of what I took from Rules for Radicals. A Zap action is one where you get in, make your point, and get out quickly. We decided that we would make a point about Bork’s stand against abortion and have fun while doing it. We had been so serious for so long.
So, of course, three of us decided to attend as tap dancing sperm, performing a rousing chorus of Monty Python’s Every Sperm is Sacred.
We arrived at the parking lot at UCI, our long white tails folded up under the dark jackets that hid the rest of our costume and our signs. The University Police were all over the place, and stopped us before we ever got out of the parking lot.
“What’s under your jacket?” The officer demanded of me.
I showed him my tail. I mean, I didn’t really have a choice.
“Oh no,” he said shaking his head. “We’re not having any protests or demonstrations here tonight.”
But then I was inspired. I don’t know how it happened, but I opened my mouth and said, most seriously, “Of course not, Officer! This isn’t a demonstration. It is performance art!”
And with that, he smiled, waved his hand, and let us pass.
Robert Bork never saw us, but it made the evening news and people learned that not everyone behind the Orange Curtain was anti-choice.