W.I.T.C.H. Zora Burden's introduction to interview with Peggy for Zora's collection ofverbatim interviews with Women of the Underground RESISTANCE
Women of the Underground RESISTANCE forthcoming from Amazon March 31, 2020
Peggy Dobbins is an academic sociologist, political activist, author, performance artist and founding member of the infamous radical, guerrilla, feminist activist performance group W.I.T.C.H., which for purposes of our interview she said stands for Women Inner-viewing Their Collective History. Wikipedia contributors say the W.I.T.C.H. of 1968 -70 stood for Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell. For Dobbins, W.I.T.C.H. was and still is an interchangeable acronym for any action she’s undertaking with other women to make the world better.
W.I.T.C.H. was part of the women’s liberation movement during that late 1960s. It emerged in New York City on Halloween 1968. One of the key elements of all W.I.T.C.H. actions, that differentiated them from other feminist groups, was their emphasis on the use of clever humor and satire in their actions. This had a powerful impact on the media and male dominated society and institutions.
Many in W.I.T.C.H. were or became socialist feminists. The original ones were members of NY Radical Women (NYRW) who began meeting at Pam Allen’s in the fall of 1967 to prepare for the January 15, 1968 Jeanette Rankin Brigadewomen’s march against the war in Vietnam. Young women, particularly those in SDS (Students for Democratic Society) had been objecting to their subordination in both the Civil Rights and Peace movements since the Position Paper: Women in the Movement was submitted by “(name withheld by request)” during the fall 1964 reorginization meetings in Waveland, Mississippi ofSNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). All were eager to protest the powerlessness of women’s protest because of the powerlessness of women. Dobbins delivered a Liturgy for the Burial of Traditional Womanhood effigyshe andShulie Firestone had made while Firestone, Kathie Amatnik and others carried the bier to Arlington Cemetery.
The NYRW who wanted to hex Wall St on Halloween opposed the idea that women’s liberation was just about what came to be called “piercing the glass ceiling. They became W.I.T.C.H. Those who opposed getting distracted from the serious business of raising women’s consciousness to the fact that we are subordinated to men became Redstockings. Chicago Movement women like Heather Booth and Jo Freeman adopted the name W.I.T.C.H. to protest the 1969 trial of the Chicago 7 protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The Youth International Party (Yippies) had disrupted HUAC hearings in October, 1968. At the protest of Nixon’s 1969 Inaugural Chicago W.I.T.C.H. and Red Stockings clashed. Dobbins was not present and discusses in the interview what she considered a false dichotomy or actually creative juxtaposition of contradictions that energized the movemen. Because W.I.T.C.H. emphasized the points where women’s issues intersected with a range of left wing causes, they catalyzed new fronts for new alliances and coalitions with the New Left, the Black Liberation Movement, the Student Movement, the Yippies, and the anti-war movement. Because Dobbins never believed women were subordinant by nature, even learning cunieform to search for clues to the origins of patriarchy, W.I.T.C.H. encouraged serious research as well as playfulness with any and all mythologies, she defined as the “poetic hypotheses” of pre-scientific ages.
Dobbins explained that embracing the iconography and archetype of the witch was an exercise in “suspension of disbelief” in trivial superstitions they could mockingly embrace to stand negative stereotypes and caricatures of feminists on their heads. Although the witch theme was mostly symbolic, W.I.T.C.H. encouraged reviving midwifery, herbal and other healing practices almost entirely eradicated as quackery by 1960.They disrupted a session of the American Psychiatric Association in 1969 to ask “How do we know Freud’s Anna O. wasn’t raped by her father.” By 1973, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English published Witches Midwives and Nurses, which is still being reprinted. No one today questions the existence of parental sexual abuse.
Many today consider W.I.T.C.H. of 1968-70 as forerunners of various forms of feminist-oriented modern Paganist groups and Dianic Wiccans which developed in the United States during the 1970s. W.I.T.C.H. promoted research on the persecutions of alleged witches in European history and vestiges of pre-Christian pre-scientific beliefs and practices suppressed by the Christian church and state.
One W.I.T.C.H. leaflet declared that any woman could become a witch by declaring herself to be one, and that, moreover, any group of women could form a witches' coven. According to one leaflet: “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.”
Another W.I.T.C.H. manifesto declared: “W.I.T.C.H. is an all-woman 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. (This possibly explains why nine million of them have been burned.)"
W.I.T.C.H. was born in 1968 on the way back to New York City from Peggy Dobbins’s trial in Atlantic City for “emitting a noxious odor,” smelling like a Toni Home Permanent solution, the sponsor of the Miss America Pageant. She, Bev Grant and Meriam Boxer had sprinkled it on the floor of the coliseum as other members of New York Radical Women dropped a banner reading WOMEN’S LIBERATION from the balcony as the 1968 Miss America was crowned. Dobbins had been caught and arrested. Dobbins was telling Florika Remetier, Marcia Seavy Patrick, and Merriam Boxer about Robert Briffault’s The Mothers: Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins (1927) and Margaret Murray’s in The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921), when Marcia said,”If we’re successful and Women’s Liberation does become a household word, there will be witchhunts, and we’ll be the witches they hunt down.” “Then,” Dobbins responded “let’s affirm it and call ourselves Witches.” The power of affirming a put down by turning it up side down was something the New York Radical Women who had volunteered in Mississippi Freedom Summer had learned from Stokely Carmichael’s “Say it loud, I’m black and proud”. When “Consciousness Raising was criticized as “just bitching,” Kathy Amatnik had put up a sign saying “Bitch, Sisters, Bitch”
W.I.T.C.H.’s most famous action was its emergence from the underground at the Wall Street subway station dressed as witches on Halloween 1968. They marched around the Stock Exchange chanting a tune Florika and Tanya Ross made up on the train coming downtown: “Wall Street, Wall Street, Mightiest Wall of All Streets, Stock Exchange, Wife Exchange, foreign exchange.. Up against the Wall Street,” muttering nonsensical hexes, and blowing kazoos. “Like Joshua blowing horns for the walls of Jerricho to fall, we didn’t expect Capitalism to collapse overnight,” but, Dobbins laughed, “we raised some consciousnesses. I picked out a couple of stocks that had fallen and told Robin [Morgan] to tell the press those were the ones we’d hexed.” Dobbins is most proud of the two groups of W.I.T.C.H.es (Women In The Capitalists’ Headquarters) who returned to get jobs in typing pools at Travelers (Women In Travelers’ Corporate Hell) and AT&T (Women Incensed at Telephone Company Harrassment) “People who interview me never include that, so I’m glad this will be verbatim. I want to believe the ‘vibration’ got out into the air and inspired Jane and Lily and Dolly to make the film 9 TO 5.”
Dobbins talks about some of the other W.I.T.C.H. actions she was part of in the interview. Wikipedia and various historians of the Women’s Movement have described them differently and have described actions by W.I.T.C.H.es during that time that she was not involved in. Some she knew of. Some she didn’t. Aside from her activism, punctuated by her arrests and firings, she has spent most of her life’s work attempting to explain her hypotheses on the origins of patriarchy as a response to the emergence of surplus labor time, thence class inequities from “equitable exchanges as marriage contracts between matri-kins specializing in different forms of labor time, the productivity of which developed unevenly inevitably.” Initially presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and critiqued by Margaret Mead, it was edited and published as From Kin to Class, by two other original W.I.T.C.H.es, Judith Weston and Marcia Patrick in 1981.
Other members in the original W.I.T.C.H. group acknowledged in From Kin to Class are Bev Grant, Joyce Miller, Robin Morgan, Florika Remetier, Susan Silverman, Lynn Laredo, Miriam Boxer, Naomi Jaffe, Cynthia Funk, Ingrid Rice, Page, Mary, Perry, and Jackie. Roz Baxendall was a W.I.T.C.H. Heather Booth and Jo Freeman in Chicago for sure. Erica Munk never came to meetings but said it was her only involvment in the early Women’s Movement. Kathy Barrett, Pam Allen, Josephine Cleary, Eve Hinderman influenced Dobbins’s conceptualization of W.I.T.C.H. before Halloween ’68, as well as Edie Black, Lynda Ann Ewen, Sonja Michel, Dottie Zellner, Susan O’Malley, Mary Ann Bohlke, and Karen Hilfman after 1970.
In 2003 she revised From Kin to Class for translation and publication by He Ping, Director of Women’s Studies at Wuhan University, Peoples Republic of China. In 2010, Dobbins reworked it as installation and performance art entitled “…dwelling in Tents” in which she presents seven ancient myths as seven stages in the evolution of patriarchy.
Peggy along with the Women of the Underground book series created a new call to action on Halloween 2016, on social media for another generation of activist W.I.T.C.H.es to emerge from the “underground”, as they did for their first action proclaiming -we W.I.T.C.H.es are rising up! The message for women artists, witches, feminists, activists and those who love us read:
“You don’t have to call yourself a witch to be a W.I.T.C.H. - Woman Imagining Theoretically Creative Happenings - but you should dress up like one, be in a coven, with no more than 12 others, though anonymous ones, who as a group, should never commodify their craft, always aspire to do good, have fun and move on.” W.I.T.C.H. actions are usually the most fun those involved have ever had and raise their consciousness about the worthiest things they strive for throughout their lives. Good W.I.T.C.H. Crafting and Creating, is very serious and not serious at all and inspired by women everywhere. It should be something that women care about that men are not addressing, that does good for everyone and you do it in a way that’s fun. Guerrilla Girls could be W.I.T.C.H. because they never say who they are. So the possibility of putting on unifying masks to do good, has that spirit. Regarding the communal ownership of revolutionary magic: the important difference between movements and institutions is Revolutions catalyze and Institutions stabilize. W.I.T.C.H. Craft is non-proprietary, anonymous and not just resistant to proscription and prescription, but POOF! whatever magical power it had is destroyed and destructive when claimed as definitive. SPOOF, however, survives healthily!" - W.I.T.C.H.
Instagram quote on WITCHpdx 10.31 2016 Zora's Intro above approved by Peggy 06.01.2017
updated February 6, 2020 Now working off air on Art and Ideogy and W.I.T.C.H. for iLiana's panel at Vera List Center Feb 22,2020. Please come if you're in NYC. Please feel free to use anything here and I'll be honored if you do but please include a link to peggydobbins.net