Sunday, August 20, 2006

HeRSToRy 002 Carolyn Mow

     Carolyn was a member of an anti-war group in Ithaca, NY called Women Against Militarism (WAM). She had already been arrested at actions at Griffiss Airforce Base and spent 10 days in jail as part of the first Women’s Pentagon Action in 1980, when the idea of a women’s peace camp in the U.S. took hold. WAM joined with like-minded groups from Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse to form the Upstate Feminist Peace Alliance and began planning the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. Carolyn was a primary organizer in the year leading up to the Encampment and committed civil disobedience twice at the Seneca Army Depot in 1983, the second action resulting in jail time. Her involvement with WEFPJ ended after the first summer. 

Audio excerpt from Carolyn's interview:
TRANSCRIPT: "We had a really large affinity group for that action and we had gone through this whole thing of figuring out how, because about half the group did not get arrested. And they, and we had a big circle that was half inside and half outside the fence because we had this whole thing of wanting the support people to feel equally part of it. And we had all made these mask, one of these women did this whole thing, we made, we put plaster on our faces and let it dry, so we made our own face mask and then we painted them and we brought them and we hung them on the fence. So that was why we didn't want go later with everybody because we wanted to do our own thing. It took them a while, so it took them a while to find us. Actually, the thing I remember, just sort of one of these little non-violent stories.  The time we got arrested on the airfield was the first action of the summer so the base people were totally not expecting us and I think really unclear what to expect. And they, you know, so, and by the time they got there we had the tent up and were sitting becasue they just didn't know, we went under the fence actually, that was before they had reinforced the bottom of the fences. And the thing that really struck me, was that we were just sitting there in a circle next to the tent. And these jeeps all pulled up and parked all around us and these guys all got out with these big billy, and I saw this guy gets out with this big billy club and then he like looks around and then goes and puts it back in the truck.  He got it, phew. Because we didn't know, are they going to be rough with us? And it was just like, okay, he got it. We're fine."
Interview: Carolyn Mow
Date: October 22, 2005
Location: Phoenicia, NY
Present: Estelle Coleman, hershe Michele Kramer

Carolyn (left), with Michelle Crone at the newly purchased peace encampment land, June 1983. Photo by Nancy Clover.
Women's Video Collective. All Rights Reserved. Copyright 1983.
Carolyn sharing information, July 16, 1983, in the pavillion at the encampment in preparation for the August 1st mass civil disobedience action.  

How do you remember the idea of the camp evolving?
Well, I’ll tell you how I remember it and we’ll see how different it is from everybody else, right? I went to the Women’s Pentagon Action (1) in ’80 and, I guess in ’81, too. I remember ’80 more because that was my first big thing like that. Exactly how we got together I don’t know, but the Women’s Pentagon Action was definitely what lead to the peace camp in some way, I think because it was the first big women’s peace action like that. There was a women’s peace group in Rochester and one in Syracuse and one in Ithaca and at some point we said, “let’s start moving and let’s get together.” I think it was after we came back in ’81 that we decided to do other things and for a while all the local groups called themselves Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca Women’s Pentagon Action. We planned a women’s action up at Seneca Army Depot (2) - that must have been in 1982 and then Greenham Common (3) was happening and so we had this feminist thing happening that was sort of focused on the Seneca Army Depot and our region and then we got the idea of having a peace camp. But we really did think in the beginning that we were just going to go and set up our tents - we didn’t think we would buy the land – we thought we would do like Greenham Common and camp out and get arrested. We had no idea it would turn in to such a big thing. 

Can you talk about the politics behind the Women’s Pentagon Action?
I don’t know if I can even put it into words anymore because it was kind of new to me then and very exciting. There was a Call to Action for the Women’s Pentagon Action – a pretty long statement that was really beautiful and inspired me greatly at that time. The set of ideas included anarchism, consensus decision-making and changing economic structures – sort of everything. It was about feminism and peace and more than that, it was the way of seeing peace as being more than just stopping war but bringing justice and all sort of other ways and so even though we called the peace camp the Women’s Peace Camp, it was a long meeting in which we decided to officially call it the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice which was not such a good sound bite and nobody ever really called it that but we were trying to include some broader sense of what it was about. I had been arrested once, but not with any big consequences – at an anti-nuclear thing at Shoram. The Women’s Pentagon action was the first time I went to jail - it was quite an experience. I did something that I have since always discouraged people from doing - I got arrested when I was completely unprepared. We had a bus of women who went from Ithaca and no one had prepared for arrest. We didn’t have an affinity group - three of us just hooked onto this Albany group at the last minute and got arrested and we were completely unprepared for it. They took us right from the action in chains - our hands and feet were chained… and we were on the bus all night. It was only 10 days but they sent us down to Alderson, West Virginia and the people who were first-timers were there for 10 days and the people who were second-timers were there for 30 days. I don’t even remember what our charges were - some form of obstructing or blockading, but the people who pled No Contest were the people who went straight to Alderson. I hadn’t really planned on getting arrested and it made sense to me at that moment to plead No Contest. That was where I first met Susan Pines and Kate Donnelly and some of the other people who were involved in starting the peace camp – we met in jail.  

How long before the summer of 1983 opening did you start planning the camp?
My vague idea is that we probably started planning it about a year before and I think that fairly early in that planning process that at least some of the New York City people we had met at the Pentagon action got involved - Susan and Kate who I was in jail with after the Women’s Pentagon Action and they were involved in the camp pretty early on. I don’t remember exactly when people from Boston, Albany and Philadelphia started participating but it grew so that we had a planning group that was broader than our local groups. I remember there was a WILPF (4) person from Philadelphia, Donna Cooper and I think, it took off when WILPF showed up but I don’t know if I thought it was all of sudden. It’s too long ago for me to really remember. But I know that when it came to the idea of buying the land – that was a bit shocking for everyone. Somehow we managed to come to a decision to agree that we would buy that piece of land, now that I think about it, I can’t imagine the discussion that led to that. I know some of the people who had a lot of experience with the women’s festival in Michigan (5) in terms of knowing how to set up the space and knowing what you needed to have for people to camp there and all of that logistical part. Michigan was a piece of the whole background to the Peace Camp – a lot of Michigan women came, and a lot of the daily life stuff at the camp came from people’s experience at Michigan. I’m just thinking that along with WPA, Michigan was one of the precursors that made the peace camp what it was.

What sticks out in your mind from that time?
You know when I think back, the things that I remember most are some of the transitions that were from, our - I call it local group, but it was that regional group. As the camp became bigger, there were many stages of letting go and one stage of letting go was when we were working with other people but it became much bigger than us. The other big one was when the peace camp actually started – there was a group of women, maybe 20 of us at the most who had been working for a year to plan it and then people came. All these women came for the opening of the peace camp and it was suddenly like, OK, actually, sticking to our principles, we are no longer the decision-makers of this group who have been making all of the decisions all along and suddenly now whoever is here is part of the decision making process. So that was a big. That was really hard. I don’t know that we had quite forseen how hard that was going to be. It was a struggle to live up to and practice to what we’d theorized - and all of the attempts to work things out between really radical lesbian feminist women with much more mainstream straight women trying to all work together was, I think the beautiful - one of the many beautiful things that happened at the camp. The big thing that I remember in the first transition from pre-peace camp to starting-peace camp was that we had made the, later realized, very stupid decision to open on July 4th and we had received a challenge from a local figure that if we weren’t anti-patriotic we better fly our flags. Where was our flags? And it came up because the official opening was supposed to be July 4th so that the challenge about, why aren’t you flying the flag. But people, but women were already there and there was definitely the perspective of, nope, no way – the flag stands for nothing but oppression! And other people were, no, we want to reclaim this symbol of freedom or whatever that was – that was not my perspective. And I think that it took the better part of a day to decide what to do about that - I don’t remember who facilitated that process but somebody did and it was long.

In those transitions was the conflict first-wave organizers vs. newcomers or straight vs. lesbian or radical politics vs. organizational local politics?
All of that, all of that - we crossed all, people crossed all kinds of lines in terms of that but I think first there was more sort of locally-focused versus outside influences and then there was always lesbian/straight trying to work things out in terms of visibility and how that affected the relationship with the local community. My sense was that the people who really tended to move in and stay were more radical lesbian feminists and the more mainstream straight women came for a while the first summer but weren’t the people who moved in. It was kind of for better or worse that people who were dealing with their own emotional stuff were drawn to the camp. There were a lot of struggles about people being there who needed a lot of support and took a lot of energy from other people who were there and people had very different ideas about what they wanted the peace camp to be in the long run and what kind of work it made sense to do. I never lived in that house but I had a tent pitched there probably all that summer that I slept in off and on. I’m trying to think, did I have a job or anything that summer? But I lived less than an hour away so I went back and forth a lot and in fact, many of the people who were most involved in organizing it never really lived there – it was sort of a different group of people who came and really lived there.

What was it like to be a part of organizing something that become so huge?
Well, I suppose no one who was there will ever be the same. We used to joke that we should retire afterwards because nothing we would ever organize would top it in terms of being in that sense so successful from having had started from such small roots. That’s an experience in itself, I guess, to see something to take flight like that - sort of the right idea at the right moment that captures people’s imagination draws people to it. There was a lot of press coverage. My parents even sent me clippings from the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. And at some point, I think it was before it opened, some neighbors of my parents called them up and told them that they saw me on the Today Show. So when I say retire after we did it, we knew it was unlikely that anyone of us would ever experience that kind of success again.

Did the camp achieve the political goals you wanted it to?
Oh sure. I think there was in some ways a fear that because the issues became so much broader than nuclear weapons, which they are of course, that that took the focus away but I think that that was always there and a part of it. We certainly started it with the idea of focusing on the cruise missiles (6) but I think that the way it tied issues together was just as important in terms of the effect it had on the peace movement. And I don’t think in that kind of organizing you usually thought with a goal that big that you would actually be successful in stopping it. But looking back at it, what was more important - the peace camp as an anti-nuclear protest or the peace camp as something that brought greater awareness to the peace movement?

Can you remember any specifics about how townspeople responded to you?
There was this guy who worked for Army intelligence - he was the one who would question us when we were arrested at the Depot and we talked to him and whatever and we got to know him a little bit – you’ll have to ask Carrie [PeHP 001] about this later because I don’t remember his name. But anyway, years later she ran into him buying a pillow at Kmart and he was just brimming with desire to open his heart to her. He basically told her, “you were right all along, I’m so sorry,” and this whole thing about how his interactions with us had changed him completely. He recognized her and it was just like he needed to tell somebody - Al, I think was his name. Carrie had a way of relating very personably with people even when she was being completely disobedient. There were people from the local community who were sort of ‘Nuke the Bitches’ (7) for a while but then at some point some people were like, well you know we don’t agree with you about some things but you’re right about others and we agree that you have the right to say them and we agree about nonviolence or we agree about this or that. And the local police department asked us to do a nonviolence training and there were a number of things that people who at some point were afraid of us, opposed to us who then began to change. Some time a year or two after the camp, a friend of mine and I from Ithaca gave a talk about the peace camp at Cayuga College and there was young woman who we could tell all through the presentation was very tense and afterwards we stayed talking to her and she was fine. She was a young woman who was from that area and I don’t remember what her story was but it was definitely affected by so much misinformation about who were and what we were doing, and finally she relaxed enough and realized we weren’t the enemy. It was so interesting the affect the camp had on the values and opinions in the local community. I think about my mother who lives in West Virginia but when I was arrested at the Pentagon action and was sent to Alderson, I did not call my parents until I got home because I knew that they would be very worried. They were initially pretty freaked out about all of that but by the summer of 1983, my mother came and participated in the August 1st mass civil disobedience (8) at the camp. She didn’t get arrested – she was one of the people at the truck gate who did not want to climb over the fence and they never arrested that group even though she spent the whole day sitting at the gate. I think it was a big change process for her to understand and accept what I was doing and get to the point of supporting us. There were a lot of mother/daughter combinations at the August 1st action and if you think about each of us and how it changes you and it changes, in some sense, all of the people who are close to you.

Were you arrested in actions that summer?
I think I was arrested twice – I hadn’t been arrested at the depot before that summer but there was one time early, early in the summer when a group of us including Carrie and I think, Karen Beetle, and we snuck under the fence and put our tents up on the airstrip and that was the first time that I was arrested there. I think that was us sort of saying, look, this is what we thought we were going to do all along. I probably have some newspaper clippings about that. It was a very small group - there were maybe six of us - and it was the first action of the summer so the base people were totally not expecting us and really unclear about what to expect. We had gone under the fence actually because that was before they had reinforced the bottoms of the fences. By the time they got there we had the tent up and we were just sitting there in a circle next to the tent. The thing that really struck me was when the jeeps all pulled up and parked all around us and these guys got out with these big billy clubs and then I remember this one guy looks around and he goes and puts the billy club back in the truck and we thought, OK, he got it, because we were a little nervous - are they going to be rough with us? But it was, OK, he got it, we were going to be fine.

The other time I was arrested was on August 1st. We knew they were going to be sort of arresting people as they climbed over the fence which seemed unappealing to us. So my group – I was with Carrie that day, too – went early in the morning and did our civil disobedience because we knew that later in the day they would be expecting people. We had a really large affinity group for that action and we had gone through this whole thing of figuring out how to do it because about half the group did not want to get arrested. We were in a big circle with half of us inside the fence and half of us outside the fence. We wanted the support people to feel equally a part of it. We had all made masks - we put plaster on our faces and let it dry so we made our own face masks and then we painted them and we brought them and hung them on the fence. It took them a while to find us. That was sort of why we didn’t want to go later with everybody else – we wanted to do our thing. So we were able to carry out our action the way we wanted but then we missed the whole day – we missed the big action and the march and everything. And it turned out that even though it seemed silly to get arrested climbing over the fence with everybody else, it actually turned out to be a really inspiring kind of a thing for people. So while everything was happening I spent the whole day sitting by myself in a holding cell and they actually released everyone in my group except for me because it was my second time. We got arrested first thing in the morning and they processed and released everyone else in the group and they held me on the base all day and then finally decided to send me to Rochester right before everyone else got arrested. There were other people who eventually got sent to Rochester but I was all by myself through the whole day. Not that I minded - it was fine - there was some lawyer in Rochester who got me out of jail later that day. They put everyone together who had been arrested twice during the summer in one trial and there were 20 or so of us who all had to go to court. I think this was the first court date which would have been sometime in the fall of ’83. It was some time when people were still around and we all planned and went to court together and had this really, really interesting trial. We had an agenda and we just kind of did our own process that was a completely different way of approaching the court experience – it’s not like we were going to say that we weren’t there or whatever - it had nothing to do with trying to get out of anything. It was great. It was beautiful. When we finally got to the judge we’re like, OK, this is the agenda. I remember there were a lot of songs that were a part of it and somehow we ended up getting to do it all because there may have been kind of a deal – we agree from the beginning not to contest the basic facts if you’ll let us do our thing. And so then we did our thing and they gave us all fines and we brought bags of grocery to pay the fines. We said, we’re taking these groceries to the poor, we’re not going to pay you your $50, we’re going to take $50 worth of groceries to the food pantry.

What impact did the camp have on you politically?
I had gotten involved in that kind of politics before the peace camp because it’s what lead to being involved in organizing the peace camp but there were certainly times after the camp when I was involved in an organization that made decisions by voting, that I found it very alienating or if there was a lot of male energy. I had been used to something different – whatever struggles we had at the camp, I think the way that we handled them was an honest attempt at listening to everybody. There was a set of shared values that people really tried to implement and that just doesn’t exist in all groups. I was in other women’s affinity groups over the years where we did some civil disobedience together and even mixed affinity groups that worked in that same way - although it was always a different kind of energy if it was mixed as opposed to being just women. The next place that I saw a lot of the peace camp women was at the Supreme Court sodomy decision action in 1987 and that was a whole new thing because there was a lot of lesbian women and then there were gay men and that was a whole new thing dealing with a whole bunch of gay me in the same action It was cool, but it was very, very different.

For me personally, I was a graduate student studying economics at Cornell and I didn’t have a job and I spent most of the summer of 1983 in and out of the peace camp and involved in court stuff and other things – we had a Griffiss action that summer too, where I was also arrested. So I was just living in that world and that fall I went back to my graduate department and I was just like, no way am I doing this. I was just so alienated and I decided to quit so that was really big, in terms of immediate effects on my life - I quit my graduate program. It was just the contrast - it was a very male department, very conservative although other parts of Cornell weren’t and I remember going back into that department after the camp and the contrast was just too stark. I thought, this is not me, and I can’t do it. I still stayed there that fall because I had some work responsibility or something but I let people know at some point in the early fall that I wasn’t planning to stick around. That next winter was actually a very hard time for me because I had jobs that were basically really crummy so that it didn’t matter if I ended up going to jail and losing them. There was a process, a series of things that happened at both the Seneca Army Depot and at Griffiss Air Force base when people were arrested. The first time you would be given a Ban and Bar letter, the second time you would go to court and generally would not be sent to jail, but then the second time you went to court, which would then be the third time you were arrested, you would usually get jail time - that was what was happening – I was continuing to do the same kinds of things and then getting jail time.

Were you still a part of the camp that winter?
I didn’t really stay involved in the peace camp after the first year – that was the other big transition, letting go. I remember this meeting in Albany in the fall of 1983 in which all the original organizers wanted to close the peace camp and all the people who had moved in, of course, wanted to keep it open. That was a really hard meeting because the people who started it felt responsible for what happened there and yet didn’t want to continue to be responsible for it. And I think there was some lack of trust from the first group toward the second group because essentially it was passed on to this new group of responsible people. I think what needed to happen was that the first group needed to feel like they no longer had to be responsible for what happened there. But then there were times when it was painful. I used to hear about things that happened there and I completely lost touch with all of that. There were times when I was embarrassed by what was going on at the camp and there were times when issues about nonviolence… at certain points people had very different philosophies from what mine was and that really made me sad. I had times of frustration about stuff that happened at the there, but I didn’t really ever have any really deep bad feelings. I definitely distanced myself after the first year but I still went to things there occasionally. I remember we organized a pretty big, mixed action at the depot in the fall of 1984. I was very involved in that and we were still doing a lot of stuff at Griffiss Air Force base and the peace camp women were always part of that. And there was some demonstration at the depot in 1985 that I went to. So I didn’t stop doing that kind of work in the region but I was identified more then as an Ithaca person than as a peace camp person per se.


1. Women’s Pentagon Action
- a nonviolent, direct action in which 2000 women blocked three entrances to the Pentagon on Nov. 16, 17, 1981 to call an end to the nuclear arms race. 143 were arrested. A second Women’s Pentagon Action took place November 15-16, 1982.

2. Seneca Army Depot (SEAD) - a former U.S. military base, pre-1941-2000. Located on 11,000 acres in Romulus, New York, the depot was one of several facilities used to store nuclear weapons for the Department of Defense. The earliest known use of SEAD for nuclear weapons related work was in the 1940s when uranium was stored at the depot for the Manhattan Project (the project that developed the atomic bomb). SEAD was approved for Base Realignment and Closure in 1995 and closed in 2000.

3 Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp - an ongoing nonviolent protest outside the U.S. Air Force base at Greenham Common in England, 1981-2000. On August 28, 1981, 40 women marched 110 miles to the U.S. Air Force base at Greenham Common, the proposed site of 96 U.S. cruise missiles. Eight days later, four women chained themselves to the air base fence. From this direct action a women’s peace camp was born. On March 21, 1982, 10,000 people demonstrated at the base. 250 women engaged in a 24-hour blockade - 34 were arrested. On December 12, 1982, 300,000 women linked hands to embrace the 9-mile fence encircling the base. Although the last of U.S.’s 96 cruise missile were removed in 1991, women stayed on at Greenham until 2000 to ensure that the base was closed down. In March of 1997, the land was purchased by the Greenham Com mon Trust and returned to a variety of civilian uses.

4. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom - Founded in 1915 during World War I, with Jane Addams as its first president, WILPF works to achieve through peaceful means world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all.

5. Michigan Women’s Music Festival - a yearly all-female gathering on privately-owned land in northwestern Michigan each August since the 70s. The festival is marketed as a cross-generational multi-cultural event for womyn to gather and listen to concerts, make art, explore politics and community, live simply among the meadows and woods and have an outrageously good time.

6. Cruise missile - a guided missile which uses a lifting wing and most often a jet propulsion system to allow sustained flight. Cruise missiles are, in essence, unmanned aircraft. They are generally designed to carry a large conventional or nuclear warhead many hundreds of miles with excellent accuracy. Modern cruise missiles normally travel at supersonic and at high subsonic speeds, are self-navigating, and fly in a non-ballistic very low altitude in order to avoid radar detection.

7. “Nuke the Bitches” – a saying on T-shirts made in the summer of 1983 and worn by Romulus-area townspeople in reaction to demonstrators at the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice.

8. August 1, 1983 – Mass civil disobedience action at the main gate of the Seneca Army Depot where 250 women were arrested climbing over the fence.

9. Griffiss Air Force Base (1941-1995) - former U.S. Air Force base in Rome, New York. home to the 416th Bomb Wing and equipped with the B-52 Stratofortress. The base was realigned for civilian and non-combat purposes in 1995. It is now home to the Griffiss Business and Technology Park, and it is still home to Rome Labs. At its peak, the base was the largest employer in Oneida County, New York. Griffiss was the site of the notorious Woodstock 1999 concert festival.

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