Violating the Fence – August 26, 1981 White House Action


One year later – again the chains. This time to the White House fence. Out intrepid chainees moved downtown to the broad sidewalk in front of the White House.

his time the action was much bigger and attracted a lot of press. Needless to say, the Park Service was not happy because the occupants of the White House were not happy (When the White House is not happy, they pass the unhappiness along), calling in the multiple ‘protective services’ to cope with the dangerous army of women in white. At least, unlike real criminals, we didn’t shoot at them. So getting in a little women bashing probably made their day. (Apologies to Dirty Harry). Since it was a chaining event, we displayed the chain banner and, as always, the full text of the ERA.

Shortly thereafter, the press arrived in force. As didthe demonstrators with their unique messages.

Frankly, we were surprised at the number of reporters since there was another ERA action at the Capitol that day attracting the big names.

Tourists, foreign and domestic, soon followed. It being prime visiting time in Washington, DC, despite the heat, the chainees soon attracted press and tourists, including many international visitors.

I heard one little boy exclaim, “Mom, look at all the nurses!” (Nurses looked like nurses in those days, not adults in kiddie pajamas.)

After several orders to leave, the chainees detached them selves from the fence and sat down on the sidewalk.

Finally the police finished their coffee break across the street and moved in. Picking up a lot of heavy women chained together was a challenge to the police to say the least but they managed it and some of the demonstrators still have the bail receipts to prove it.

Note: Incommoding has nothing to do with toilets; it’s DC Government-speak for blocking the sidewalk.

Women in Chains banner

The chainee’s fame spread far and wide and the famous AP photo of them appeared in papers all over the country and perhaps the world and in one rather unusual setting. Years later one of the women was passing through Buffalo. NY and saw a rock concert sign for a local garage band called Women in Chains under the famous photo! One never knows what constitutes inspiration!


Demonstrators as Tourist Attraction


For the August 26th 1980 action, I and others were asked to be there with camera in case there was any police brutality (There wasn’t any).

So I arrived at the site just before the demonstrators did. A British couple with two small children exited the METRO and were confirming with me their directions to the Capitol. We chatted briefly, commiserating on the heat, when the demonstrators pulled up, some in a pickup truck, and jumped out, rushing the door of the RNC. Their delivery vehicles sped off as fast as a cabbie with a fare to Dulles Airport whose passenger just promised him a bonus for fast delivery.

Demonstrators arriving

I was amazed at how fast the “chainees” got to the steps and chained themselves into position, quickly followed by their supporters and the picketers with their signs and banners.

Shortly thereafter news crews arrived, and since the site was across the street from the METRO escalators, so did tourists, Capitol Hill workers, and eventually the various “protective forces” (Women in white dresses are so dangerous, you know.).

The British couple stuck around, fascinated by it all and snapping photos madly for the folks back home. They must have shot two rolls of film. They asked me what the demonstration was for and who the pickets were picketing against. I told them. They couldn’t believe that US women did not have equal rights. Later, when they left because the kids were getting sunburned, they told me it was the high point of their trip (They we there at the beginning and saw the demonstrators arrive).

More passersby stopped to stare, and some even joined the picketers and took part. I know that reporters talked to many of the passers-by but never saw any coverage. Maybe someone else can supply copies.

Most visitors I talked to did not know that without the ERA, the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee that the rights it protects are held equally by all citizens without regard to sex. If I talked to a random set of people on the street today, I’m afraid I’d get the same result. (The first – and still the only – right specifically affirmed as equal for women and men is the right to vote. )

There was considerable interest by the crowd in the colors of some of the banners carried by the picketers – purple and gold. These colors were used by many suffrage organization in the early battle for votes for women. ERA supporters revived the colors, although there is no ‘official’ color for the movement. Some of the August 1980 demonstrators carried photographs of the original suffragists holding similar banners.

The Bolt Cutter


Why is the bolt cutter significant? Why was it sitting unused against a motorcycle?

To understand this, you need some background on the relationships of the various DC police forces with protesters who come to Washington.  All (Park Police aka The Tree Fuzz, DC Police, Executive Protective Service and the US Capitol Police) are experienced with protests and protesters. People who chain themselves to various public objects in DC are nothing new to them. Their vehicles are equipped with sturdy bolt cutters to make short work of any chains, handcuffs, cables, ropes, etc.

What happened when the police and the bolt cutter arrived?

The officer got out of the car, took one look at the chain and said, “Oh shit!’ and put the bolt cutters down, knowing they would not work on the tough chain and padlocks. One of the female cops was next to me, snickering, while some of her male colleagues urged the first officer to at least try. I heard the female cop say, sotto voce, “Ain’t nothin going to shift that!”

The women had given much thought to the defeat of the bolt cutters. National Organization for Women (NOW) members did considerable research of the properties required to send the bolt cutter packing. Luckily, NOW had many friends, including a PhD physicist and materials scientist. They eagerly took on the challenge of foiling the bolt cutter – successfully.

The police took it very well; we were nothing new to them. Not so employees and managers of the RNC who used language that would have gotten their mouths washed out with soap had any proper mother overheard them. Having to scuttle in through the garage past the trash cans should not raise such a snit, but it did. Some individuals tried to cover their faces as if they’d done something wrong, like perps exiting their arraignment.


Hello world of August 26th


Why would any sane person spend a hot August Day in Washington, DC chained to a fence in the noonday sun?  If it was August 26, 1980 and you left the Capitol South METRO station and looked across First Street at the Republican Party National Headquarters building and seen a bunch of women in white chained to the front entrance, you would have said, “What is going on?”

The women were really, really angry, that’s why. The Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddie Roosevelt, had just removed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from its party platform where it had been for decades. This blog will tell you about what else happened that day and on many other August 26th’s.

The questions the women asked the party then have gone unanswered to this day.

For more Information on the ERA, click the links beow: