Friday, 19 April 2013 00:00
As communities today struggle to recover from the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, let’s take a look at how one community on Long Island faced a financial crisis during the 1969 recession…
During the summer of 1969, the cost of living was soaring and meat was increasingly more expensive. Middle-class consuming families were choosing to buy cheaper cuts; while, many working-class families as well as senior citizens on fixed incomes were finding it impossible to afford even the cheapest cuts of meat like hamburger. Unwittingly following in the footsteps of thousands of housewives before them, two women in Levittown kicked off a consumer protest that gained national attention.
Despite no prior political involvement and having just given birth to her second child that summer, Mickey DeLorenzo, a local housewife, and her sister, who recently moved to Nassau County, decided to call a boycott of meat. Placing an invitation in the local newspaper, Mickey called on families from her close-knit community to gather at the Levittown Hall, a community space in the town center. The room filled with families angered over the high cost of living.
With no shopping centers in Levittown, 100 housewives gathered to picket the grocery store at the Hempstead Turnpike shopping center on August 12, 1969. They called themselves For Lower Prices (FLP). Handing out menus for “tasty fish dishes,” the women chanted, “Let the meat rot!,” and “Prices too high, we won’t buy!”
Making this their first stop, the women split up and targeted three supermarkets in the shopping center (L.I. Housewives Stage Boycott on Meat Sales,” New York Times, Aug. 12, 1969.) With her two children including her newborn son in tow, Mickey organized pickets around Nassau County. The pickets enraged the supermarkets and FLP members were threatened with arrest on more than one occasion. By October, DeLorenzo estimated that 1,500 housewives on Long Island were actively participating in the boycott activities (“An Angry Wife Warns of High Meat Costs,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 8, 1969.)
The boycott generated significant media coverage beyond the greater New York area. Within a month of organizing their first picket, FLP members were putting together FLP Kits, starter packets to help other communities organize a meat boycott. With no national coordination, meat boycotts sprung up in Virginia, Connecticut, Colorado, and Florida (“Meat Boycott Leader Criticizes House Panel,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 8, 1969.)
Prof. Emily E. LB. Twarog, University of Illinois