I was among the thousands who marched down New York’s Fifth Avenue on August 26, 1970. We carried posters demanding pay equity, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, free abortion on demand, or an end to rape.
Like the people in Occupy Wall Street, and the other Occupy groups around the country, we didn’t have a set agenda. We were frustrated after millennia of a subordinated status and we were exhilarated by our camaraderie; we knew that in Iowa City, Lawrence, Kansas, and all over the west coast others were joining the demonstrations.
I remember looking up at a private men’s club along the route. A trio who might have been drawn by Thomas Nast was standing at the window, holding highball glasses, their faces reddened by whiskey, looking down at us with mingled incredulity and scorn. We cheered and marched on.
During the next decade, we achieved some of our goals, had frustrating defeats over others, never reached pay equity, but what we did do was change the conversation about women in America, just as Birmingham and Selma changed how we talked about race. I look at Occupy Wall Street, or DC or Chicago—my current home—and hope the conversation about wealth, privilege, and a decent life in America is about to start changing.
In the 1980’s, when I worked in the insurance industry, I read an op-ed piece by a health insurance executive. He said that just as Americans had learned to accept two different tiers of education—good for the wealthy and miserable for the rest—so we would learn to accept two tiers of health care. I thought this was so outrageous I wrote a book about it ("Bitter Medicine"), but the executive was correct: we swallowed two-tier medical care right alongside shockingly awful schools as if both were manna from heaven.