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How Ladies Against Women Flummoxed Phyllis Schlafly

"Ladies against Women" were a particularly effective form of political satire, or political theater that avoided some pitfalls used by the right to fight women's equality. This rather old article is By Barbara Winslow, by way of --------------- If not planned well, *guerilla theater*–frequently an accompaniment to protests or sometimes the protest itself,–can fall flat, can confuse more than enlighten, and can insult the very people it’s trying to reach. At its best, however, guerilla theater can be both entertaining and consciousness-raising. Every movement has its traitors, be they called scabs (labor movement), antis (women’s suffrage), Uncle Toms (Black movement), running dogs of imperialism (Chinese PRC in 1970s and earlier .or DPRK today) These traitors often have a lot of power and can be hard to deal with. Phyllis Schlafly, a right wing lawyer and conservative Republican Party operative, frequently led the charge against the feminist movement (among other progressive social change initiatives) in the last half of the 1900s. Here is an example of one group creatively and successfully taking on our nemesis in 1982. Who says radical feminists don’t have a sense of humor? We have been known to make people laugh when we go after misogyny’s jugular! Take 1982, for instance, when the Cleveland City Club, which liked to host “controversial speakers,” announced that Phyllis Schlafly, the leading right wing anti-feminist, architect of the successful campaign to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, had been invited to speak at its February meeting. The Cleveland Pro-Choice Action Committee, an organization of left feminists, decided to protest Schlafly, but we knew it had to be a carefully planned action. Schlafly was an expert at putting down feminists, relished calling protestors “Typhoid Marys.” A picket line alone would be boring, thus deadly. At one of those meetings which goes on late into the night, perhaps even early into the morning, we were talking, arguing, frustrated as we tried idea after idea, plan after plan. We were getting a bit punchy, thinking up outrageous forms of protest, when we remembered Ladies Against Women (LAW). Of course! LAW was a part of the Reagan for Shah coalition, which was founded by a guerilla theater troupe called the Plutonium Players following the 1980 Reagan landslide. Various groups affiliated with the Reagan for Shah Committee had marched in the 1981 Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena, California. I contacted Ladies Against Women, they sent us materials, and we created the Cleveland Chapter of LAW. The flyers we sent out, with a picture of Schlafly, announced how thrilled we were that “our dear leader” was coming to Cleveland and asked that everyone please come out and greet her. The leaflet was signed by faux groups whose names played on the various progressive groups in Cleveland. For example, “WELCOME,” an organization that promoted school desegregation, became “unWELCOME”; “Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice” became “Ladies Whisper for War and Injustice.” Schlafly’s organization, the Eagle Forum became the Vulture Forum…and so on.