This morning, I was walking my dog when I found a Polaroid on the edge on my lawn. A few months ago, my neighbor passed away. She was amazing, super fiery and funny; we were actually quite close. We would go to Home Depot together and pick out plants for me to plant in pots around her house, and I would help her if she needed it. She was in her mid-eighties, and a total badass, and I was sadly at school in Boston when she passed away. But in the following months, and the last few weeks especially, her children have been cleaning out her house.
This morning, the last remaining furniture and garbage (which had been piled at the end of her driveway) was cleared away, leaving behind a few scraps and this grimy, grubby Polaroid, picture-down on my lawn. I flipped it around and it was a picture, taken from the stoop of my neighbor’s house of our street—A silver-blue Volkswagen Beetle parked on the curb, framed by lush green leaves. I took it inside, cleaned the grime off the back and the edges, and really looked at it. There’s no date on the Polaroid, but judging from the make of the car, and the amount of time my neighbor lived in her house, I would guess it was taken in the ‘60s or ‘70s.
Things in my life happen very serendipitously, so it’s funny that there have been so many things in my life happening that point to that era in time. I just finished watching GLOW, the Netflix show set in the 1980s that covered the nascence of televised women’s wrestling, and there have been a ton of articles pointing to the political similarities between President Nixon (1969-1974) and President Trump. Hell, we even dress like we did in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’m a medium-superstitious person, it fits that this old Polaroid would pop into my life.
In the world of politics today, it feels like we’re going backwards. Anti-choice activists are pushing for greater restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion. Republicans in Congress and Senate are trying to roll back healthcare benefits. Our President is trying to close off borders and immigration flow. He was elected under a banner of ‘Make America Great Again.’
In the 1970s, the second-wave of feminism was in full force. In 1963, Gloria Steinem had published her account of going undercover in the Playboy Club. Roe v. Wade was in 1973. Second-wave feminists sought workplace equality, access to abortion, better childcare. They wanted gender equality. And with any move towards progress comes an equal and opposite reaction. Phyllis Schlafly, a staunch conservative, came out against feminism and advocated for traditional roles for women.
In 1969, the Stonewall Riots began, marking the beginning of the fight for LGBTQ rights. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from a list of mental illnesses. Homosexuality began to be decriminalized. In 1977, Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay people to be elected to public office (he would later be assassinated in 1978). In 1977, singer Anita Bryant successfully caused the repeal of a gay-rights ordinance in Florida. All over the country, the increased visibility and activism of queer people led to greater backlash against them.
In 1972, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate complex. The men were later connected back to the recently reelected President Nixon, who dismissed the story as misleading and biased news. Eventually, it came to light that the Committee to Re-Elect Nixon, and later the White House, had attempted to sabotage the Democrats. Alleged tapes of Nixon from his private taping system in the White House were subpoenaed by the Watergate Special Counsel Archibald Cox, whom Nixon then fired in the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Eventually the tapes proved that Nixon had knowledge of the break-in and had attempted to interfere with the investigation. Before he could be officially impeached, he resigned and was replaced by his vice president, Gerald Ford.
In GLOW (NO SPOILERS BUT SLIGHT SPOILERS) there is a scene in which one character has an abortion. I was struck A) that the character was able to get one, and B) the similarities to today. Today, women are still faced with increased stigma, restrictions and policing over their own bodies. For every step forward, there seems like four steps back.
It sometimes feels impossible to ever achieve real freedom or equality. Every day, women fight to receive equality. Trans students are being denied federal protections. Trolls on Twitter ask why there has to be “Gay Pride.” Black men are being murdered in the streets by police officers who are acquitted.
Our bodies—those of women and queer people and immigrants and people of color—are being argued over like dolls. It can feel so disheartening that decades on, the same conversations are still being had.
But then I remember that, despite pushback, progress still gets made. Same-sex marriage was legalized in all fifty states. We elected a black man to the highest office in the land. A woman won the popular vote in a presidential election. Trans activists, and trans activists of color, are on television and in media.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The arc might surpass our lifespan, but the things that we’re doing in our lifetimes (marches for equality, fighting the power on Twitter, living unapologetically in our queer, feminine, immigrant, POC bodies) are lending themselves towards that moral arc.
We’re a part of history. Not just in a “duh, obvious” way—but we are a part of these fights for equality. We are witnessing things of such magnitude that we won’t see the effect until we have the space of years. But we’re doing it—we’re doing shit.
It sometimes seems like we’re stuck on a hamster wheel of inequality, but we’re not. We’re Groundhog Day-ing our way to freedom, one day at a time.