“Feminism in the Heartland” and Ever so Much More

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It is mid-winter and as winters go the SW Ohio, winter of 2020 has been a pretty easy one. Snow has been almost absent, and when it does snow, it seems to vanish almost immediately. As one who remembers the brutal Yellow Spring’s winters of 1977 and 1978, this is just fine. 

In 1977, it was so cold the village water tower froze, and in 1978, a snowstorm with 80-mile-an-hour winds resulted in 16-foot snowdrifts and the National Guard having to come in and cut snowdrift canyons on Route 68 on both ends of the village. 

David Vincent checking out a red rail previously painted by VWP. Photo courtesy of David Vincent.

Although Ohio winters can be dreary, there are always enough things happening on campus to distract one from any dreariness. Recently members of the Volunteer Work Crew came for Winter Work Project and spent time making West Hall more habitable. When members of the Volunteer Work Crew arrive, it is always like they have never left. Great extended family! They help knit Community between generations! They’re always hungry to see how the batch of Antiochians are doing! And they do that sweat equity that really has an impact. 

Within a fortnight, the Coretta Scott King Center will be running a Bootcamp for Activism, which will include training in grassroots organizing skills and a keynote speech from Philip Agnew co-founder of the Dream Defenders. The Bootcamp for Activism is a three-day power-packed, intensive skill building experience for activists of all levels. It will provide an opportunity to learn from and connect with dynamic leaders at the forefront of social justice movements; build your skills, and engage in exciting sessions from power mapping to social media organizing.

The College has long been an unofficial “Bootcamp” of sorts for organizing to work on many of society’s shortcomings. In the 1970s, for example, the Dayton area was seen as a “heartland” trailblazer in that era’s feminist movement and many of those leaders came from this blue dot in the great red Ohio sea. 

Last night was Oscar night, and it was awesome to see Julia Reichert ’70 and Steve Bognar (former visiting faculty in the ’00s) receive the award for Best Documentary for “American Factory.” Of course Julia’s passion for documentary began decades ago with “Growing up Female” (1971).

Photo courtesy of Scott Sanders.

A few years ago when Kevin McGruder, current Vice President for Academic Affairs and history professor, was teaching “Ohio History” there was a book on reserve for that course called “Feminism in the Heartland” by Judith Ezekiel (Village resident and Women’s Studies professor from nearby Wright State University). 

Some way or another, the book fell open and right to the page where there was a story about Julia and her start at Antioch College in the mid ’60s. It could very well be about the transformation that many Antioch students still seem to have and is even applicable today. From page 87:

Reichert came from a small New Jersey town. Her father was a butcher in a grocery store and her mother was a nurse. ‘Where I grew up everyone seemed to be a Republican’, she said. ‘There were no Jews and blacks all lived in one little part of town.’ In 1964 Reichert became the first in her family to go to college and although she was a Republican like her parents, she chose progressive Antioch. ‘I had no idea that Antioch was radical or that I was conservative’ she said. During high school, she had written to dozens of colleges in alphabetical order, hence her early interest in Antioch, where she liked the sound of the work-study and travel abroad programs. Then her family, on a trip out west, drove by Yellow Springs; Reichert insisted they stop, ‘ I remember three things: girls with long straight hair and guitars slung on their backs, my dad looking at the names on the student mailboxes and noting how many were Jews, and the wail of a saxophone coming from an upper dorm room. That last thing really did it.’ Within months her political sympathies shifted completely. Julia said ‘Nothing made my life make more sense the way the women’s movement did’ and it was through the movement that she ‘got deeply connected to radical ideas.’ In late 1968 or 1969 Reichert started a feminist radio program on Antioch’s WYSO that may have been the first ongoing program of its kind in the country.

When you are a long term villager or Community member you know people like Julia or Steve as friends and later find out how there is so much going on and how fabulous they are. Yellow Springs and Antioch College have a hub of deep thinkers and people who want to make changes for the better. I have no doubt that there are more than just a few more future trailblazers passing through here. I see them everyday in the OK Library. 

People are here one day and then they are out there winning awards. More filmmakers not even a generation out are following Julia’s lead. People like Jesus Canchola-Sanchez ’00, Rani Crowe ’01, and Johanna Bermudez-Ruiz ’98 are already, receiving awards at various festivals and are breaking barriers and raising consciousness when it comes to enlightening the world about issues connected to race, sex, and class via documentary or something more “novel.” In their cases this was their “bootcamp” of the ’90s. 

Recently a visitor to the Library was interested in how to write screenplays. I escorted him down to the basement to our film section. I was sure to tell him that the College has a tremendous legacy of award winning filmmakers. One more big award was received this week and for sure there are many more in the pipeline. And please be sure to know that there will be future doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, environmental activists, teachers. I see people working on their passions every day, and I just know they will get there. And perhaps some saxophones will continue to wail if we are lucky.