In late November, 1980, 3 weeks after Ronald Regan was elected president, a feminist organization called Women and Life on Earth from Western Massachusetts and New York City, called an action.
This action in four parts would ultimately seek to make the connections between militarism, violence against women, racism, and the destruction of the environment. The action, whose opening salvo was a march through Arlington National Cemetery and drew women from up and down the East coast, took place in four ritualized stages:
Mourning, during which time we planted handmade grave markers bearing the names of women who were victims of patriarchal violence, both personal and institutional, into the grounds of the pentagon
Rage, during which drummers beat out a throbbing rhythm and we chanted slogans, keened and howled
Empowerment, during which we managed the spectacular act of completely encircling the pentagon while office workers and others looked out at us from their windows
Defiance, during which women who had taken workshops on nonviolent civil disobedience began sitting down and blocking the entrances of the pentagon.
While I had the strange privilege of marching through the cemetery as Congress Woman Bella Abzug tried to talk author and trouble maker Grace Paley out of sitting in and getting arrested (no such luck), I was most drawn at this stage of the action to an affinity group of dykes from Vermont who sat on the steps in their variegated lesbian yarmulkes weaving multicolored yarn through the railings of their assigned entrance. It was fascinating to watch as large, uniformed military police tried to cut through the yarn with wire cutters to no avail. The yarn twisted into the cutter blades but wasn’t taut enough to be sliced apart and the women just sat and chanted and bowed and spun as the cops kept trying to cut the yarn apart.
I don’t remember watching them get arrested exactly, though I do remember white plastic flexi-cuffs and burly policemen doing the cuffing and carrying limp, flannel shirted lesbians away. I remember hearing the next day that the police had a terrible time that night keeping the captive dykes from Northampton out of each other’s beds in the holding cell, and that one or two women were in much more serious trouble for throwing blood at the pentagon itself.
And today, in the beginning or the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic depending where you live, I remember something and someone else:
A woman army officer, crisply uniformed, cap, medals, bars on her shoulders, and pumps on her feet, picking her way over the Vermont spinners and their web of yarn. She looked out over them and over at us observers as she made her way down the concrete stairs and through that wonderful barricade. “Have your fun now,” she scolded, “before Regan is in.”
And why do I think of her now?
As we learn more about the people who are advising 45 on the best ways to handle this virus—we learn for example, that beloved, stalwart Dr. Anthony Fauci, went to Holy Cross College in my home town of Worcester, Massachusetts—we learn that Dr. Deborah Birx, aka Scarf Lady—rose to the rank of colonel in the United States Army. And I wonder, as I listen to her begin to rationalize a little bit on behalf of her boss…I wonder if the timing works out…whether she might not have been that woman officer, poking her way over those magical spinners from Vermont, admonishing all of us then, to have our fun now.