This is a slice of life from 39 years ago tomorrow. The night of July 13, 1977, the lights went out all over most of New York City and nearby areas. It was also the summer during which a deranged man was killing young people at random in the city and referring to himself as Son of Sam.
I was at a meeting of feminists in downtown New York City to discuss how we could overcome the Hyde Amendment, passed by Congress the previous year, that prevented Medicaid funds from being used for abortion. We thought of starting a coalition of women’s groups to organize women, particularly poor women and women of color, and to fight for reproductive rights; this group become CARASA, the Coalition for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse.* We also talked about a zap action group, doing skits to make our political points, which evolved into No More Nice Girls.**
As the meeting was winding down, the lights dimmed, brightened, dimmed, and went out altogether. Our hostess found a flashlight and candles. The few of us who were mothers took turns on the phone in the kitchen to call our kids or babysitters. When I reached Frannie, the Barnard student babysitter with our five-year-old, she reported that my husband, a reporter at the New York Post, had called to say the lights were going out in northern Manhattan, and she should get the flashlight out of the cabinet in case they went out in our apartment – which they did as soon as she put her hand on the flashlight.
Out on the balcony of the 11th floor apartment, we could see some leftover fireworks from July 4 popping here and there, and a journalist said it reminded her of Vietnam.
Eventually we decided to adjourn to someone’s low-floor apartment elsewhere in the Village. But first we had to navigate 10 flights of stairs in darkness. Fortunately, many of us still smoked, so by the light of lighters and matches, we made our way, feeling adventurous.
On the street, however, it did not feel adventurous. Four of us who lived uptown were walking toward Sixth Avenue when a couple of young men walked by, and one muttered, “I’d like to fuck you into the ground.” Luckily, we were able to get a taxi pretty quickly, but lurching uptown with no traffic lights was unnerving. And only 10 blocks from my home, a car had been rammed into a Woolworth’s, breaking the gates guarding the windows and the windows, and people were looting.
I felt lucky to be home, and my daughter did, too. She grabbed my hand after I came in the door and said, “From now on, we are going everywhere together.”
*CARASA no longer exists, but you can find out more about its goals here.**No More Nice Girls can still be resurrected for imaginative protests and demonstrations. And Ellen Willis, feminist par excellence, who coined the name, also used it for one of her essay collections. You can view its contents here, and buy the book from BN.com.