By: Kelsey Neubauer
Amy Richards is a feminist writer, producer and organizer, who has been influential from the early 1990s through today. Here are snippets from our interview, where we spoke about a critical meeting of eight people in a Chelsea apartment in May of 1992 that would lead to the Freedom Summer of ‘92, in which over 100 people traveling on three buses registered voters across the country. The non-profit that organized Freedom Summer, called “The Third Wave,” was named after a term one of the organizers, Rebecca Walker, daughter of Alice Walker, coined in her essay, “I am not my mother’s feminist, I am the Third Wave.” The Third Wave was led by some of the most influential third-wave women’s rights activists, including Ms. Richards and still exists today. These women, inspired in part by Anita Hill’s testimony, the subsequent confirmation of Clarence Thomas and the public outcry that came afterwards, would lead feminism into a new age, where conversations around how sexism interacted with racism, homophobia and transphobia became a key element of organizing and activism work, one that has come to define women’s rights activism today.
Q: So, take me back to the 1992, you’re a student at Barnard College and you’re about to be a leader in the Freedom Summer, what was that like?
A: Well, I am going to go back a little. There was a lot of things happening in the fall of ‘91[the fall before Freedom Summer]. There was the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings that happened in the fall and then as a follow-up to that there was a conference at Hunter College and the Rodney King protests that happened in May [of 1992]. There was the William Kennedy
Smith trial [a well-known member of the Kennedy family was acquitted of a rape charge in 1991]. So, there was a bunch of things that were swarming at the same time. I, like many others, would … think, “What’s happening?” and then I always said, you kind of expected Oprah to do something for you, and she didn’t do it and then you’re like okay, I gotta do it by myself. And the Anita Hill one I think was the most sort of specific to me and I think the people I was with just because we were sort of, at the time, I believed Anita Hill but not a lot of people did. I think there were a lot of people that kind of looked at each other and said that kind of level of humiliation was unacceptable.
It was finally the Rodney King verdict, where a bunch of us were like, hey wait, I want to do something, I am so tired of being silenced. So many of us came to us and sat down and did a brainstorm, over a weekend and we went to Shannon Liss’s [another organizer and now prominent lawyer] apartment and we tried to brainstorm, and the ultimate goal was we were trying to figure out [was] how to get young people’s voices heard in the political discourse, so that was kind of the thing that we were looking at and then the uh, the other things we were specifically trying to document is young women in particular, why were they so isolated around these things. There were eight of us that were there, we didn’t go into the weekend thinking, “We have to do a voter registration drive,” but it was an open forum of what could make the most sense and what could make the most sense to everybody was registering voters and really just got to work, that was sort of it. And the next three months after that was planning the trip, and I will say there was a benefit to being naive, meaning you just think anything can be possible.
Q: So when people started saying, “I want to join The Third Wave,” How did that name come about and how did you arrive at that name, what did that discussion look like?
A: I sort of distinctly remember mid-planning Freedom Summer, it was the mid-July, and we were sitting in the offices and there was a big debate about what to call it, just because we had to do it, you know, we were being registered as a charity there were alot of things we had to do, so even though we were calling it Freedom Summer there was this engine behind it, that we had to give a legal name to. The sentiment was definitely like felt a strong connection to the feminist history and legacy but felt the reason we needed to create our own organization was because how we expressing our feminism wasn’t being heard, and so how could we distinguish ourselves, while at the same time, showing respect and so Third Wave became the name that best represented us for those in the room.
Q:What was the day of the first meeting like? Can you take me back there? What was it like outside? What was the apartment like?
A: Yeah, it was a spring day, you know, it was in May, it was Shannon’s apartment…it was a tiny Chelsea apartment, you know futons and kind of sparse, and I don’t remember a lot of windows, which was you know, typical and, just in that way you are…when you first realize your own power, I think there was a sense of, “Yes, let’s do that,” and “Yes, let’s take down the patriarchy,” “Yes, Yes, Yes,” and everybody kind of left with different assignments and you have to remember this was pre-popularity of the Internet and so when we had to leave and kind of get to work on this it meant getting to a phone or like going to Triple A and borrowing maps and so what followed in the wake of that was sort of hands-on investigation.