L to R: Judith Beckett, Bradford VT; Paij Wadley-Bailey, Montpelier VT; Genevieve O’Hara, St Louis, MO; Frelime Bell Hempstead, Burlington VT; Lizzie Poole, York ME; Lucy Nichol, Montpelier VT; Marilyn Clement, NYC; Robin Lloyd, Burlington VT.
A Small Group Gathering: a report on the first few days of the WILPF VT Gathering, July 7-16, 2000
In the midst of the cheering at the helicopter plants in Texas and Connecticut where much of the recently allocated military aid to Colombia will end up;
in the midst of the failed missile test - a small glitch in the Pentagon's determination to control and command in space in 2020;
in the midst of the water rising in the Pacific, washing over the inhabited atolls...
in the midst of all this, a few women met for a WILPF Gathering in Vermont.
As no one had ever been to a WILPF 'Gathering', no one knew what to expect.
As the organizer of the event, Robin Lloyd had never 'done' a 'Gathering' she had no idea what to expect.
She had some hopes though. To bring women together to listen to each other, to talk to each other, to ponder the sorrows and hopes of our time.
What has happened so far?
Ten of us gathered Friday night for the opening with a welcome to the house and the land and a brief account of WILPF history by Robin Lloyd, and a summary of WILPF's campaigns by Marilyn Clement, ,with a special focus on UFORGE, WILPF's campaign on racial justice. The high point of UFORGE's three year campaign will be participation at the UN Conference Against Racism in South Africa in the fall of 2001. Can WILPF send string delegation? (Can we write and obtain grants to enable us to send a large delegation?) How can WILPF contribute to the conference and what workshops might US WILPF propose?
These were ideas we were holding in mind the next morning during our powerful presentations on racism in America. Roz Payne, an archivist of radical history and former member of the 60's film collective News Reel, showed us slides of her research into COINTELPRO: 'Our Government's Successful Effort to Destroy the Black Panthers'. She showed us how, through the use of spying, divisive cartoons, innuendo and violence, the FBI caused the Panthers to turn on each other, decimating their ranks, and through the manipulation of public opinion, isolated and destroyed them. Part of her interest in this movement, as white American, is to analyze the mixture of emotions whites had when confronted by armed black militants: fear, anger, fascination and support.
Next, Marsha Burnett, participant in our 'War and Drug' Tour to six cities in the fall of 1988, spoke about the difficulty a low income mother faces in obtaining treatment on demand for her cocaine addiction and the racism and intolerance she faced in her efforts to get clean and raise her two daughters, even as she struggled against the health problems of being HIV+. She pointed out the racism inherent in the war on drugs: the large number of incarcerated black men & women, far in excess of their percentage in the general population and in the addicted population. Paige Wadley Bailey, professor at The University of Vermont, talked about language as a purveyor of racism. She read a statement that highlighted the numerous ways in which the word black is used in a negative sense, in English. (Some examples: "blackly = angrily; "denigrate" = cast aspersion; "black guard" = scoundrel; "black balled" = ostracized). She also noted how t=use of the passive voice in English has often succeeded in disguising the identity of oppressors. (Example: "slaves were bought") Or hidden the accomplishments of oppressed people (Example: "railroads were built").
And finally, Marilyn Clement read from Randell Robinson's book DEBT: What Americans Owe Blacks. Leading to a wide ranging discussion on reparations. We felt that all these subjects: techniques of government repression, racism in written and spoken language; the war on drugs and reparations were interesting themes which, with input from women from other WILPF branches and international sections, could lead to engaging workshops in South Africa. Other suggestions were: street children in Haiti and South Africa (Frelime Bell, one of our participants, had studied 'restevak' (child slavery) problem in Haiti).
Marilyn pointed out that work on planning for the racism conference would take place at the IEC meeting in Berlin in late July, and that UFORGE was planning a conference in October in Philadelphia to develop a WILPF strategy toward the conference. It was suggested that invitations should get out right away urging them to select representatives and start fundraising for their trips now for the conference. That afternoon twenty women and men assembled in the lobby of a residence on the square of Rochester to hear Karl Grossman speak on the looming danger of star wars. Grossman, the author of The Wrong Stuff: The Space Programs Nuclear Threat to our Planet, cautioned his audience not to be complacent about the failure of the NDM missile test that occurred the day before.