Notes from the WILPF/Code Pink Gathering
Rochester, VT June 26-30, 2003
Some thirty of us met under beautiful skies at Wing Farm in Rochester, VT for the third (almost annual) Gathering. This time It was a convergence of the oldest and youngest of women’s peace movements, WILPF and Code Pink. With its 88-year history, WILPF has developed a hierarchy to structure our international and internal democracy. Code Pink, on the other hand, is strenuously trying to resist hierarchy, and to maintain the spontaneous energy of its formative months. Different organizing strategies did not get in the way of creative give and take and continual brainstorming on the question ‘Where do we (the women’s peace movement) go from here?’
Thursday, July 26:
Opening night featured a unique icebreaker: Vermont artist and activist Olivia Gay brought her collection of pink dressing gowns, ranging from a fake-fur trimmed ‘Betty Gable’ silk gown, to a terrycloth mumu, to a practical schmatah to wear while cleaning house and waiting for the husband to come home. Role playing proliferated and led to stories of foremothers and their efforts to combine the personal and political before the feminist revolution.
Friday, July 27:
10:00 am: “This Land is NOT Your Land: and how ‘the other’ is treated since 9/11.” Francine Serwili told of her childhood in Rwanda as a bi-ethnic child unaware of the ethnic fissures that were soon to destroy her country. She was 16 when the genocide happened, and lived in a refugee camp and the jungle in the Congo for three years before she and her family were given permission to emigrate to the U.S. as members of a select group (@300) of Rwandans of dual ethnicity. As Hutu/Tutsis, they would have a hard time fitting into either ethnic community after the massacre and thus were given special permission to come to the US. Her experience of violence did not end with her arrival in the US and points for the need for education or therapy for ex-combatants to readjust to life in a community of laws, not guns.
Michelle Jenness, legal services coordinator with Vermont Refugee Assistance, spelled out how the war on terrorism has become a war on immigrants. On any given day, 22,000 to 24,000 immigrants are in detention centers in the US. (In Canada, it’s 530) Her organization was on the front lines of this war when the Bush administration recently announced that men from Middle-Eastern countries had to register with the federal government. Many decided to move to Canada, but were delayed for entry to Canada, and then detained when they re-entered the US. VRA called on its volunteers to open their homes to temporary stays for families, and at the peak of this painful exodus 240 people were in homes and shelters in VT. Michelle also alerted us to the harsh aspects of the proposed Patriot Act 11.
World Citizen Garry Davis garnered interest and support when he described his planned lawsuit against the Bush Administration for war crimes. Garry is a unique position to bring such a case as an ‘excludable alien’. The Aliens Claims Tort Act allows aliens to sue the government for a ‘redress of injury’: “i.e. for pointing a nuclear gun at me, obviously a felony!”
2:00 pm: Our four intrepid WILPF UN Staff described their work monitoring the UN and maintaining two powerful websites: PeaceWomen.org and ReachingCriticalWill.org. Susi Snyder brought us up to date on the efforts to mainstream Resolution 1325, which has been key to women being represented at the peace table in Congo. A discussion followed about what is gender? Gender work includes defining masculinity and supporting its positive emanations. Men obviously have a key role in ending violence against women and earth. Sarah said that in their work with Peace Women they try to steer away from biological determinism and a view of women as victims, and to support women as active agents.
We struggled with the question whether credibility can be returned to the UN. Since it has kowtowed to the US after the Iraq war by accepting a subordinate role, it has lost its credibility with many.
Participants supported ideas of seminars at the UN for member of the US branches. (We all felt that the WILPF UN staff are excellent speakers. Branches should invite them out to the hinterlands more often. Susi is enthusiastic to do fundraising for WILPF. Her list of suggestions: 1) sign friend up. 2) Help them understand our herstory. What lessons have we learned? Teach a new generation. 3) Keg party. 4) Set a goal of having 90,000 members globally. 5) Give gift memberships. 6) Bring people together over food.).
8:00 pm: IRAQ. Cathy Breen makes soup and works at the Catholic Workers in NYC, but in the fall of 2002 she got to know Kathy Kelly and decided to go to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness. She stayed there through the war and ten days into the occupation. She showed photos of families she got to know during that time. Especially poignant were her occasional meetings with American soldiers, many of whom were not happy there, especially as their role as ‘liberators’ turned to ‘occupiers’. Their stories, when they return to the US could become the most powerful testimonies to undermine the support for Bush’s war. Cathy said that Code Pink has a delegation there right now, seeking ways to support Iraqi women. One idea is an ‘Occupational Watch’ Office. She believes the US occupation is doomed. Iraqi people from all walks of life said to her before the attack on March 19 that they would not accept foreign occupation of their mother country. The only way to move ahead (and for the US to save face) is for the UN to come back in. She recommends the ChristianPeaceMakers.org website for up-to-date reports from people on the ground in Iraq. She also urged us as activists not to let go of the issue of US use of depleted uranium, which has now polluted Iraqi land and people (not to speak of the US soldiers) for the second time.
Saturday, July 28:
10:00 am: CODE PINK. Victoria Cunningham is an enthusiastic 24-year-old who ‘lucked into’ a job on the staff at Code Pink in Washington D.C. and has been working nonstop to build the organization since then. She said it has grown to 97 groups in 37 states and 7 countries. There are four offices: NYC, LA, San Francis and Washington. Two of the staff are in Washington. Code Pink doesn’t want to endorse candidates or do lobbying. But they want to get people involved, especially those who vote the least; young women from 20 to 35. A discussion ensued about the presidential elections. Concern was voiced about the digital voting machines that states will be required to install, and whether they leave a paper trail (without which fraud is impossible to detect).
Code Pink is cognizant of the fact that they were founded by upper middle class white women and they are struggling not to let that determine their style.
Carole of Montpelier said that this war was motivated by racism, and that racial justice work has to undergird all that we do.
One outreach idea that was enthusiastically received was to set up pink lemonade stands at events during the summer. Paul Newman is being approached to help develop a line (He currently markets a ‘virgin’ lemonade which is yellow, but one can add cranberry or strawberry juice to it, while we wait for an official juice to be marketed!).
2:00 pm: Moving the movement forward: What’s next? Short reports were given by Sophia Lloyd, a high school student who walked out of school with other students on the protest day before the war, and by Paij Wadley-Bailey, WILPF Uforje activist. Since 9/11 and because Vermont was one of the two states designated by the US government to be a Resettlement state for Refugees of Color, the number of complaints of racial harassment and profiling in VT has increased significantly, according to the VT Human Rights Commission and VT Anti-Racism Action Team (VARAT). Paij said that these factors are cause for the establishment of several new organizations doing anti-racism work. Several study-circles on Racism were organized in Burlington, involving approximately 250 people. VARAT, who looks for many other alternatives for dealing with racism in VT’s public schools has had to, nonetheless, take a case to court (along with the ACLU), and now has a fall 2003 court date in Central VT. Anti-racism, Diversity, Cultural Sensitivity and cultural Competency Trainings are all available through VARAT and the African American Alliance of the Northeast Kingdom, however, the Department of Education has not availed itself, enough, of these trainings. Many parents are stressed and in pain because of their inability to protect their children in schools – during the best part of children’s days. Many children of color have adoptive parents of European descent, who did not “realize racism exists in Vermont until I adopted a child of color.” One of VARAT’s and African American Alliance of the Northeast Kingdom’s goals is to make the link between racism and sexism, racism and militarism, racism and classism, racism and looksism, racism and ageism, racism/anti-semitism, and so forth because with a clear political analysis we end polarization among these oppressions and work in coalition, increasing our strength, numbers and effectiveness.
Racism is major in all movements. If women’s organizations are sincerely concerned about having a diverse organization, then dealing with racism within their organizations as well as increasing their numbers to seriously and respectfully include women of color is critical.
Saturday evening: Theater benefit for WILPF/Code Pink: Kathryn Blume, initiator of the Lysistrada craze before the war, performed her one woman play, The Accidental Activist with musician Emily Ladd. The play is a funny, poignant account of how her monomaniacal focus on her career as an actress in NYC became infiltrated and ultimately subverted by the momentum of the anti-war movement. Her little idea to do a reading of the Greek play of Lysistrada, mushroomed, as we all know, into an avalanche of performances around the world.
Sunday, July 29:
The Listening Project. Betty Hoover of the AFSC led us on a three-hour encounter with the Listening Project. In small groups we pondered two questions: What are the important and unique elements that we as women bring to the movement? And, how can others in a racist patriarchal society be encouraged to accept and embrace these values? Even now, after decades of the mainstreaming of feminist values, women continue to feel oppressed, even in the antiwar movement. Paij: “They do all the mapping, and all the raping.” Nancy: “But we have to cool it on calling men names. We have to be partners with men if we ar going to build a strong movement.” This discussion continued after the workshop. For example, Burlington WILPF is planning a WOMEN, WAR and PEACE conference in September. How do we involve men?
2:00 pm: Grace Paley brought us all together with her poetry and reminiscences. Charlotte Dennett followed with reports on two recent women’s gatherings: Women and Power at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck NY, and a meeting of AAFL-CIO women in Chicago. Women are revving up everywhere to fight the reelection of Bush.
Finally, Sha’an Mouliert, in what became a sort of closing ceremony, led us in improvising a series of frozen statues formed around the question “How do you know your value?” and “What strategies can you use when you’re negated?” She also asked us to keep gathering signatures on petitions for what is a UFORJE/WILPF priority, HR 40: The Commission to Study Reparations Proposal for African Americans Act, a bill submitted to Congress by John Conyers every year since 1989.
In closing comments, Sandra Wayne said she is working with world citizen Garry Davis on his suit against President Bush. Nancy said that there needs to be an international movement to bring the Bush junta before a world tribunal and charge them with war crimes. Keeping the pressure up on Congress to initiate an open and independent investigation of the Bush’s pre-war claims of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is the first step to charges of war crimes. This could be a major organizing tool, on the global level. As has been acclaimed, there are two superpowers in the world: the US and public opinion. We - people - world citizens, need to insist on global structures and hold people accountable. This could begin a new stage in human history and law.
peace & justice news August 2003
Encounters with Gaia
BY Robin Lloyd
The Universe is forever evolving. First there was pure energy. From energy, evolved matter. From matter, life. From life, consciousness. From consciousness, self-reflective conscious awareness. The End? Hardly.
~Peter Russel, Author, The Global Brain Awakens
As I look into a cigar box on the roll top desk in my parents' bedroom at Wing Farm in Rochester (VT), I think, "These fossils were living once." I lift out a stone bivalve, a symmetrical sea mollusk. The fossil is as big as an egg; heavy in my hand. A prehistoric worm has left a rutted track on its stone shell. Six of them fit cosily in the cigar box, with a note on top, written by my father: "Fossils gathered at Geo. M. Maverick Ranch near Boerne, TX on the slopes of a hill leading up to the house of Lola Maverick Lloyd (my mother)." Who is he writing this for? (My father died in 1995) For me, perhaps?
Now a doorstop in my apartment. - Robin
l read my father's note on Sunday night, June 30 after a weekend gathering of women at Wing Farm combining members of WILPF (the world's oldest) and Code Pink (the world's youngest) women's peace organizations. Most participants have left, and a storm is gathering, stuck on Brandon Mountain to the west. The frogs down at the pond and the myriad lightning bugs escalate their song and dance in anticipation.
Listening was a theme at the gather ing. Our facilitator, Betty Hoover of the AFSC, handed out a flyer that quoted Karl Menninger: "Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand."
Betty asked us to ponder two questions: What are the important and unique elements that we as women bring to the movement? And, how can others in a racist patriarchy be encouraged to accept and embrace these ideas?'
Looking for a pen to put together my notes I came across the fossils. Dad's note is perfect, almost. But it doesn't mention time. I want to know when he picked up those fossils and brought them to Vermont and put them in a cigar box and wrote a note. And now, the fleeting present, I open the box and read the note and hold the fossil in my hand and imagine the mollusks at the bottom of a shallow sea that receded millenniums later to become land that more millenniums later was called Texas. On a timeline from the living mollusk to now these recent events would be marked as only a millisecond.
As I return the fossil to its box the storm is upon us; the most magnificent display of lightning I've ever seen in the West River valley, a tributary of the White River. The attack - the celebration - is coming from all directions.
Nature has sent the 4th of July a week early, totally in 3-D. I look at the cedar outside the bedroom window: Sometimes it's lit in silhouette from a lightning bolt across the valley; sometimes each twig is illuminated in eerie detail from a flash behind me. The thunder is now careening down Hawk Mountain Road. Bam! The third great clap, and then the rain falls in earnest.
Why is nature given to such violent excesses as storms? In an astonishing, announcement on global warming and extreme weather, the World Meteorological Organization, which normally produces detailed scientific reports and staid statistics at year's end, highlighted record extremes in weather and climate occurring all over the world in recent weeks, from Switzerland's hottest-ever June to a record month for tornadoes in the US - and linked them to climate change. Supercomputer models show that, as the atmosphere warms, the climate not only becomes hotter but much more unstable. "Recent scientific assessments indicate that, as the global temperatures continue to warm due to climate change, the number and intensity of extreme events might increase," the WMO said.
I like our gathering for what it is not: it is not a meeting or a conference. It is women getting to know each other. We talked about the words light and dark; black and white. Sha'an Mouliert said that in our culture these terms have racist connotations. Some talked about yin and yang, and Jung's effort to elevate the shadow side to help an individual be whole.
We talked about what some see as male chauvinism in the peace movement. Paij Wadley-Bailey said they do "all the mapping and all the rapping". Nancy Lee said we should cool it on calling men names. "There's no way we can build the movement without men." How do we turn around this ongoing tension?
Grace Paley spoke about the three poets selected by Laura Bush for a White House poetry reading: Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes. "What a trio! The three most radical poets!" she exclaimed. "Laura Bush has resurrected poetry as valid entertainment for Americans." There has been standing room only at poetry readings held in response to the White Houses' cancellation of the official readings.
Poets listen, especially Grace, and then they write it down. The climax; double fireworks. The raindrops rolling off the roof are illuminated like minnows against the silhouette of the tree. Women need to listen well, our safety depends on it. We all need to listen to the roiling earth and each other: to become aware of our togetherness and dependence. This is the only road to peace.