Monday, October 7, 2013

Laura Whitehorn on the Takeover of 888 Memorial Drive

A cold March morning in 1970 at the corner of Pearl Street and Memorial Drive.
I stand on the front steps of an old warehouse owned by Harvard and watch in
near ecstasy as a throng of women march toward me. After months of secretive
planning meetings, a few of us had broken into the building early that morning, then
waited nervously to see how many of our sisters would join us, marching from an
International Women’s Day demo in downtown Boston to our outpost in Cambridge.
We had expected a tiny crowd, fewer than 100, because it had been made clear that
the destination was an illegally held building, and arrest was likely. Instead, we were
overwhelmed with hundreds of our sisters, ready to take on the continuing struggle
for freedom and solidarity.

One of my favorite snapshot memories of the morning happened as the last of the
women swirled into the yard and the building itself: Following helplessly at the tail
of the march rode a handful of police we knew as the local “Red Squad.” We had
successfully kept the location of our takeover a secret, avoiding a preemptive arrest.

We expected to be arrested by police just hours after claiming the building for a
women’s center and a center for women’s solidarity with the people of Vietnam.
Instead, we held our spot for the next 11 days.

Now, I watch the nearly completed film of our takeover and feel joy and relief. Joy at
the way the passion we felt for our cause and our love for each other has held strong
over the intervening years (42 and counting), and relief that the intricate, hard-won
action we took has now been recorded. I watched one rough cut of the film with my
dear partner Susie Day. Together we have viewed more indendiary documentaries
about the cop-fighting, bomb-throwing 60s and 70s than we can count. This one, she
said, is different: Instead of reminding you that you weren’t involved, or that you
could never do what they did in those heady times, “Left on Pearl” not only brings
you into the events but allows you to realize that things like takeovers could still be
happening, and that it wouldn’t be all that hard to take part in them.

Being interviewed for the film was another high point—remembering much, finding
the flaws in my own recollections, then seeing how my memories fit (or didn’t) with
those of other women involved. I loved the process, I love the film, and I love both
the memories and the extended family of women who share them. Keeping this
groundbreaking action alive through “Left on Pearl” is a powerful way to remind
ourselves—and tell younger sisters—that winning does not necessarily mean seeing
a law passed or a case won. It also means building the persistence of action for
human rights, with our beating hearts at the center.

Thank you to the women who continue to work hard to get this film completed. It is
a great gift to all of us.

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