The first incarnation of WITCH—a group of related but independent feminist groups called Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell—performed their inaugural action on Halloween in 1968 in New York. Dressed in witch costumes, the activists flocked to the Financial District and chanted "Wall Street, Wall Street, up against the Wall Street" to hex the engine of capitalism. For a time, WITCH chapters—or covens—popped up across the country to join the socialist feminist movement, taking on the institution of marriage and cursing the American Medical Association in the name of reproductive rights until they gradually disbanded by 1970.
But now a new generation of witches is taking up the mantle from the infamous protestors and carrying on their blend of activism, occult, and theater. In 2015, a WITCH chapter formed in Chicago, and covens have sprung up in Portland and Boston in response to the 2016 election.
Political organizers on the left recognize that a multiplicity of tactics is needed to oppose Donald Trump and secure demands like a $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, police reform, and immigration justice. WITCH believes that the power of the craft to aid in achieving these goals shouldn't be discounted.
The group sees magic as a framework for political change. "While there are numerous ways in which people practice witchcraft, and what is even viewed as witchcraft may vary culturally and individually, most practices have a few things in common," WITCH Boston, who spoke to Broadly collectively, explained via email. "For example: worship of, or at the very least, respect for the Earth and a understanding of interconnectedness. Most witchcraft requires that you not impose upon another's free will… These concepts are inherently anti-capitalist."
Each coven typically has around 13 members and every member is anonymous. "Anonymity gives us the ability to stand for all marginalized people," WITCH Boston said. By removing our personal visages, people are able to see us, relate to what we stand for, and recognize that any one of them could be us."
The requirements to join WITCH are simple: You must stand for anti-racism, anti-fascism, anti-patriarchy, indigenous rights, gender self-determination, women's liberation, trans liberation, anti-rape culture, reproductive rights, sex worker support, LGBTQIA rights, environmental protection, religious freedom, immigrant rights, anti-war, anti-capitalism, disability justice, privacy rights, and workers rights. You must also have ample free time to devote to hexing, ritual ceremonies, calling your representatives, and attending marches.
In February, the disparate group, whose nominal acronym can stand for just about anything that corresponds to the letters (Women's International Troublemaker Conspiracy from Hell, Women Imagining Theoretically Creative Happenings, or We Instill Terror in Corrupt Humans, for example), participated in the mass hex on the president.
"Hear me, oh spirits of water, earth, fire, and air, heavenly hosts, demons of the infernal realm, and spirits of the ancestors," members of WITCH Boston chanted in solidarity with witches across the country. "I call upon you to bind Donald J. Trump so that he may fail utterly and do no harm to any human soul, nor any tree, animal, stream, rock, or sea."
But a lot of the work for each chapter happens on an intimate scale. WITCH attends demonstrations, holds vigils for local victims of police brutality, and performs public rituals in the name of healing their communities. At protests, they can be seen handing out tiny vials with uplifting spells inside of them, or a modified version of a tarot card that reads "UNITED IN RESISTANCE WE HAVE THE STRENGTH TO TOPPLE WHITE SUPREMACY."
In Boston, the coven is active in the fight for housing justice as the city becomes further gentrified. They are currently planning actions to support a ballot measure that would tax the city's wealthiest residents and use the revenue to fund education and public transportation infrastructure, in addition to advocating for affordable housing regulations on real estate developers.
Like their foremothers, members dress up as the stereotypical witch when they go out in public to call attention to their message. They wear all black: veils to cover their faces, pointed hats, and long smocks. Typically, their protests are silent.
"Anonymity gives us the ability to stand for all marginalized people."
The stark uniforms make their presence at protests is hard to miss. The Portland coven first gained attention when they showed up in full garb at the Women's March. In August, at a counter-white supremacist action in Boston, an image of the coven's members holding signs with slogans like "Goodnight Alt-right" went viral.
While the members avoid showing up at actions where their costumes may distract from—instead of amplify—a cause, they say the symbolic value of the witch is vital to what they do. "With it, we don't just represent our individual identities, but thousands upon thousands of witches and other victims of patriarchal oppression, including people who have been murdered in the name of upholding the so-called morals of the dominant culture," the members of WITCH Portland said. "We want to reclaim the fearsome, transformational, ecstatic power of being a witch to change that dynamic, and show how taking pride in that identity can shift the paradigm."