In Their Own Voice: An Oral History of the 1985 Cambridge Anit-Pornography Referendum
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In November 1985, in the city of Cambridge, feminists nearly succeeded in passing civil rights anti-pornography legislation by voter-initiated referendum. As Andrea Dworkin writes: "We got 42 percent of the vote, a higher percentage than feminists got on the first women's suffrage referendum." During the petition process, activists spoke with the Cambridge community and were able to mobilize people on the issue of pornography at a grass roots level. As the report on the campaign by Women Against Pornography states: "Pornography became the central issue in Cambridge in the Summer of 1985." This work is a history of the Cambridge campaign. It discusses central Issues surrounding the campaign: the organizing, the events, and the opposition. Why study Cambridge? Details of the campaign demonstrate that it was very local and used the types of grass-roots and community-based strategies consistent with feminist political ideology. Besides garnering a significant populist vote, the campaign was the first to use a referendum strategy. Although opponents and critics of the campaign maintained that the organizers were not from Cambridge, a significant number of the core group working on the campaign had recently been residents of Cambridge, and others either lived in Cambridge or were students there. This particular attempt at passage of the ordinance was the first to be initiated and organized primarily by feminist community members. Third, such grass-roots organizing, integrally linked to community education, merges legal and more traditional education-based strategies of feminist anti-pornography work. In addition to the utilitarian aspects of studying the work done In Cambridge, recording feminist history constitutes a political act. The historical information available to women about the feminist movement, on theory, feminist writing, and especially activism, is limited. I continue to be inspired by Sheila Jeffrey's observation that even feminist literature of the 1960s and 1970s is being lost: "Well worn feminists insights are seen to be new and exciting.· And indeed it may well be. that they are seeming exciting to a whole new generation of young women who don't have any access to feminist literature of the sixties and seventies because that literature does not appear on their courses and is nowhere referenced. " Though the details of this research project are discussed at greater length below, an oral history approach provides an opportunity to not only study feminist insights, but feminist analysis of past events as well. It creates the possibility for discussion not only of the events of a campaign, but also the possibility of analyzing those events in an interview setting.