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Women’s Strike for Equality: Ruthann Miller’s 1970 Speech

The following are major excerpts from Ruthann Miller’s speech at the Aug. 26, 1970, Women’s Strike for Equality march and rally in New York City. Miller, 22 years old at the time, chaired the rally and was coordinator of the NY Aug. 26 Strike Committee, which organized the demonstration.

The 50,000-strong action was the largest of the Women’s Strike for Equality protests that took place across the United States that day. They marked a qualitative new stage in the women’s liberation struggle.

In addition to the New York action, demonstrations occurred in about 90 U.S. cities. They included 8,000 in Philadelphia; 7,000 in Chicago; 5,000 in Boston; 3,000 in Cleveland; 3,000 in Indianapolis; two separate actions of 2,000 and 1,000 in Washington, D.C.; 2,500 in San Francisco; and 1,000 in Baltimore. Smaller protests took place across the country in cities such as Austin, Berkeley, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Jose, San Raphael, Seattle, St. Louis, and Syracuse.

The New York Times had this to say about the composition of the N.Y. action: “Every kind of woman you ever see in New York was there: limping octogenarians, bra-less teenagers, Black Panther women, telephone operators, waitresses, Westchester matrons, fashion models, Puerto Rican factory workers, nurses in uniform, young mothers carrying babies on their backs.”

The Aug. 27, 1970, Washington Post reported on the march and rally of over 2,000 in Washington, D. C.: “It drew Weathermen and League of Women Voters members; Black women, suburban housewives, professionals, office workers, women of the peace movement, Black Panthers and religious orders,” the Post said. The Philadelphia Tribune, an African-American newspaper, reported that at least six Black women’s groups were participating in Women’s Rights Day in Philadelphia. They included Citizens for Progress, Welfare Rights Organization, Philadelphia Women for Community Action, Young Lords, Kensington SelfHelp Women’s Group and Sojourner Truth Disciples. Flight attendants, government employees, and other working-class women took part in the actions. Even nuns and other religious women were demonstrating for their rights that day.

These mass actions had three central aims:

  1. Commemoration of the courageous women who fought for and won women’s right to vote 50 years earlier.
  2. Popularizing the strike’s three main demands: Free abortion on demand—no forced sterilizations; Free, 24-hour child-care facilities controlled by the community; and Equal educational and job opportunities. These demands were loud and clear in the widespread publicity preceding the strike. They were a concise and powerful program that spoke to the needs of millions of women and drew thousands of them into action, many for the first time.
  3. Advancing the broader concept of genuine women’s equality and liberation. That is, women’s refusal to be treated as sexual objects, and their assertion of their dignity as individual human beings who have a full and equal role to play in all of society, not only in the home.

Fifty years later, Miller gave an interview to Nancy Rosenstock about that momentous experience. The interview first appeared in Jacobin.com magazine. It was subsequently re-printed in johnriddell.com. World-Outlook has just re-published it (https://world-outlook.com/?p=407), with permission from Jacobinmag.com, in honor of Women’s History Month.

The text below is published with the author’s permission. The introduction, subheadings, and endnotes are by World-Outlook.com.

By Ruthann Miller

NEW YORK, Aug. 26, 1970—Sisters, we have come here today to make history, to begin a new era in American and world history. We come from many different backgrounds, different political outlooks, different generations. But what is important today is the things we have in common, the things that have brought us together and will, if we continue to build our movement, bring together the millions of our sisters throughout the country who are not yet active in the women’s liberation movement.

What we share is a growing awareness of our oppression as women, and a determination to break the chains that keep all women oppressed. Specifically, we are united on the three demands of this demonstration: free abortion on demand—no forced sterilization; free 24-hour child-care centers controlled by those who use them; equal access to educational and employment opportunities.

Women, and women who have become sisters in struggle, are a mighty force. Look around you and feel our power. We, together, in massive action like this, have the power to draw the rest of our sisters into action and to win.

This is the main lesson that we should learn from this experience today, from this demonstration. We can depend on no one to fight this struggle for us.

What we see here today is the power of united struggle of thousands of women organized in our own movement, independent of the Democratic and Republican Party politicians, a movement controlled by us. This demonstration shows us the power of being united in mass protest actions, making our clear, just demands in thousands of voices that nobody can ignore, and reaching out and drawing all our sisters into struggle.

The power of an independent women’s movement

We have seen in the past few months the power of our independent women’s movement. We have become a power. And we are winning concessions because the people who rule this country know that we are speaking for millions of women in this country, who will raise hell if they aren’t satisfied.

For instance, we have succeeded in striking down the reactionary abortion law in New York.[1] And although we still have a long way to go to make abortions available to all women, this change was certainly a victory and a sign of our power to win further victories if we continue to organize independently.[2]

And our power has even forced the men in the government to move toward including women in the United States Constitution for the first time in history. The Equal Rights Amendment[3] is another sign of our power.

Aug. 26, 1970, rally for women’s equality at New York’s Bryant Park.                   Photo: Howard Petrick

But we must not stop with equal rights. This movement is for complete liberation.

There are a lot of politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties, parties which defend this capitalist system, who say they are for equal rights for women, but within this system. They are against challenging this system.

But we must keep our eyes not on these politicians but on the needs of women. If this system cannot bring justice and liberation for women, we must go beyond this system, and find an alternative.

So, I think it would be disastrous if this movement—as a movement—were to get sucked into supporting these Democratic and Republican politicians, ringing doorbells for them and trusting them to lead our struggle. We must remain independent, in the streets, with our eyes on our goals, and ready to go all the way to attain them. If the politicians will support us in any way, wonderful! But we must remain independent as a movement. Because sooner or later the politicians who defend capitalism are going to have to oppose us. The logic of our demands is to challenge this whole system of oppression based on a few people making profits.

What we are saying is that things like the care of children, medical care, like the right of women to free abortions if they want one, housing, food and clothing—all these things should be rights of each individual in this society.

Each child has the right to the best possible care, food and education that this society with all its riches can offer, regardless of the poverty of the particular family the child happened to be born into. Each woman has the right to control her body, the right to information on contraception and the right to a free abortion if she so desires, no matter how little money she makes, and the right to as much education as she wants and in any field that interests her.

These demands have begun to shake the country

These demands that women are raising and demanding will shake this country to its roots. Because in order to completely win these demands, we must have a complete and total revolution, a transformation of the entire system of institutions and values in this society.

In order for these demands to be completely met, it will be necessary to win control over the great wealth of this country, and to turn this wealth over to be used to satisfy people’s needs, women’s needs and children’s needs, rather than, as is the case now, going into the pockets of a handful of billionaires. These billionaires control the big wealth of this country, they decide that billions of dollars go into producing bombs and napalm and germ warfare methods. They decide on putting billions into killing Vietnamese and Cambodians and American GIs. And they are the ones who do not put the wealth of this country into schools and hospitals and who will not spend any of their profits on keeping their filthy gases out of the air we must breathe. And they will not give women equal pay because it is unprofitable.

That is why I am a socialist. I think that in order to create the basis for the liberation of women we must put the wealth of this country under the control of all the people, rather than a few people who own the industries.

And that’s why I am a candidate for public office, for comptroller, on the Socialist Workers Party ticket. Because I and my party are determined to use the pre-election period to reach all New Yorkers with the message of the women’s liberation movement, to call upon all women to join us, and to explain to women that we have to go all the way, together—we have to continue our struggle until our goals are met, and that means that we have to be prepared to fight the mightiest enemy in history—the capitalists who now run the United States. And that if we keep organizing as an independent movement, if we draw all of our sisters into struggle with us, that we can, and will, win.


ENDNOTES

[1] In 1970, New York state repealed its 1830 law and allowed abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy. It was the first U.S. state to legalize abortion on the request of a pregnant woman. This victory for women’s rights was registered three years before the 1973 Roe vs. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that decriminalized abortion across the country.

[2] In 1971 New York also repealed its statute that made inducing an abortion a criminal offense.

[3] The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for all U.S. residents regardless of sex. It reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The U.S. Congress passed the ERA on March 22, 1972. It then sent it to the states for ratification. In order to be added to the Constitution, the ERA needed approval by legislatures in three-fourths (or 38) of the 50 U.S. states. By 1977, 35 states had approved it. In 1978, Congress voted to extend the original March 1979 deadline to June 30, 1982. However, no additional states voted yes before that date, and the ERA fell three states short of ratification. Between 2017 and 2020, three more states—Nevada, Illinois, and Virginia—also ratified the ERA. Resolutions with bipartisan support have been introduced into the 117th U.S. Congress in 2021 to extend the deadline for ERA ratification.

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