“The Summer of Love” would have delighted to be a sequel: “The Winter of Respect for Women.”
Twenty-three years ago, a newspaper ad from a young magazine called the Village Voice brought together four college students who—by chance, destiny, or fervor—met each other during a memorable July day in San Francisco. They’d become the first women’s group in America to write and publish an issue centered on women’s rights. They convened a forum to challenge “the patriarchy” (a word they would live to fine). And they protested the oppression of women by demanding women be brought to court, specifically women such as themselves. They were on the front lines against repressive and undemocratic regimes in a number of places around the world, among them the Sierra Leone and Hungary. In the wake of the Velvet Revolution, in 1989, they invited the former leader of Hungary’s Communist Party, Márton Gyöngyösi, to lead the march for democracy from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Admittedly, something else happened on July 4, 1984, on the waterfront in San Francisco, not far from the Richards building where the Voice office was located. But with each new anniversary, and each possible reason why it could have happened, it’s worth remembering the injustice of what happened to the Village Voice, the Richards’ building, and the voices that called for a “free” and independent media and a more just world.
The Village Voice, for instance, drew support from many influential men—including some of the most famous names in American journalism and literature. Some backed the magazine’s vision to undermine the Republican Party. Others backed the voice of conservative writers, such as my brother Ben, Ed Koch, and Neal Gabler, who founded a conservative media empire that continues to play an important role today. The last mayor of New York City and former Mayor of Los Angeles—and a man who is still a force in American politics today—Frank S. Sinton Jr., wrote to voice his support for the Voice. Also to support the Voice’s position and mission was film director Martin Scorsese. Another former Village Voice writer, Gene Weingarten, who went on to become a New York Times columnist, wrote to say he wasn’t concerned at all with its commercial viability, since the Voice was that very, very important.
Guided by a highly charged passion about women’s rights, the Voice built on a rich legacy of creative power and vitality. For a year, from early July through August 1984, its editor Tom Robbins was honored with an exhibit at the City College of New York building, which led to a long-lasting cultural relationship between the school and the Voice.
But the expansion of the Voice beyond the borders of its tiny offices in a dingy artsy neighborhood was threatened. Joe Lieberman, a former Minnesota senator and a self-described “renegade,” wrote to say, “It is not in the financial or journalistic best interests of the Village Voice to have a continuing editorial presence in a major city.” Among a long list of demands, Lieberman wanted the Voice to operate exclusively on content provided by independent, non-profit groups. Ultimately, what Lieberman wanted never happened. The Voice folded; Lieberman went on to become an influential part of the Clintons’ inner circle; and his political career was derailed by his advocacy of a failed Clinton-era policy that sought to arm Bosnia’s Muslim leaders against Serbian forces.
Today, residents and business owners of San Francisco still remember the saga. They are mindful that since 1999, they have had free, legal abortion—until last year, when the Legislature changed course and restricted abortion and attempted to place barriers around reproductive health care. Three activists were brutally slain in 2016 after being stalked by the president of the Virginia Republican Party. Then this past December, video of a man, Donald Trump, calling for a ban on Muslim immigration was posted on social media. The following month, Facebook came under fire and lost half a billion dollars for continuing to allow white nationalists to promote their hateful, dangerous views.
Twenty-three years after the Voice stopped publishing, the president of the United States remains addicted to the deliberate and calculated killing of women and children. He lies to voters and that fabricates the story of civil and human rights. If you believe, like I do, that our rights and our rights to free speech and assembly ought to be firmly placed within the bounds of a free and democratic society, then you must also demand that women’s rights be so firmly placed. That by now Mr. Trump and his administration should not be able to get away with anything that could be described as normal