Karen grew up in Albany, NY and had been an anti-nuclear activist for years before helping create the Upstate Feminist Peace Alliance and becoming one of the primary organizers of the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice leading up to and through the summer of 1983. She was a part of the Syracuse Women’s affinity group detained on the base for three days after going under the fence and setting up tents on the runway. Although she moved on from WEFPJ at the end of the summer, she participated in the October 1983 mixed-action at the depot and continued to be active in local anti-nuclear and anti-draft organizing, which led to a 3-month jail term in 1985.
Audio excerpt from Karen's interview:
TRANSCRIPT: "That’s why I think so much is about context. That action [Women's Peace Encampment] grew out of that time and I grew out of that time and we converged in that moment in that kind of way. And I think, what about my daughter, she’s 13, okay, when she’s 17, because she’s drawn to who activism made me even though she’s not necessarily drawn to activism because she doesn’t know that yet, but what will happen in five years that will draw her toward it? Something that captures her sense of creativity – because she’s creative, something that captures her sense of passion and care, what will it be and it will grow out of that time. So I can’t really back myself up and answer that question [Would the "today you" have been drawn to the encampment back then?] about if I was who I was, what would my relationship be? Then I wanted to offer the best thing that I knew to what was happening which in my mind was training and a sense of what the possibility of nonviolence would be so I think I always would have wanted to offer the most of what I knew to whatever situation I was in which is what I see myself doing now, so that’s what I’m going to continue to do. The venue that I’m doing it in doesn’t really matter as much. And that will be whatever unfolds in front of me that I can connect to in a way that feels powerful. It’s important for everybody to be themselves in the world in a truthful way."
Interview: Karen Beetle
Date: December 14, 2005
Location: Albany, NY
Present: Estelle Coleman, hershe Michele Kramer
Date: December 14, 2005
Location: Albany, NY
Present: Estelle Coleman, hershe Michele Kramer
|Miriasiem, Carolyn, and Karen (l-r) in the living room aka "pit" at the Peace Camp in 1983. Photo by Ruth Putter.|
1983 ARCHIVE VIDEO:
Women's Video Collective. Copyright 1983. All Rights Reserved.
Karen (center) and Suzanne Sowinska speaking with a CBS reporter on the front lawn of the Peace Camp in early July 1983.
All these years later, what stands out for you about having helped organize the peace camp?
It’s the empowerment of having been there from the beginning and then knowing all of the things that came out of it. We got to create a reality that became a fixed part of the culture. That’s a very cool thing to do at age 20 - when do you ever get to do that? The feeling in that room in the fall of 1982 when we made that decision was incredible - we knew that it would be really powerful and we got to do it.
What was your history as an activist prior to the peace camp?
I grew up in a Quaker family in Albany. When my dad died in 1972 my mom took a pretty quick turn toward activism and by the time I was an early teenager she was very involved. I was attending peace vigils against the Vietnam War and in 1976 we took part in the Continental Walk for Peace and Social Justice from San Francisco to New York. We joined in on the feeder walk from Albany to New York City, so for the last two weeks of August, I walked from Albany most of the way to New York City - except that I had to go back to school. I campaigned for McGovern in 1972 with people from the Quaker meeting – I was 11. I was very aware and very involved at a very early age. I understood that peace had an impact on my life probably much more so than I would ever want my daughter who’s 13. I was also very involved in anti-nuclear activities along the Hudson River at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (1) and Shoram (2) on Long Island - but 1979 was when I really jumped into things. I was involved in the 50th anniversary of the stock market crash. We organized a civil disobedience action and that was the first time I was arrested - from that point until 1990, I was on a very fast activist track. I dropped out of college in 1980 to work for the American Friends Service Committee (3) - that was the year the draft came back so I was doing a lot of organizing around post offices which is where young men were registering for the draft. When the draft was initially proposed it was for women and men so there was a four month period before it became a men-only draft when we it looked like we were actually going to be getting drafted, too. In 1980 I went to the Soviet Union as part of a delegation because my overriding issue always had been nuclear weapons. I was part of conversations with Dr. Randy Forsberg (4) and others who were really looking at the damaging affects of nuclear war on the United States as a strategy to wake people up around the cold war which you know, as a young teenager is not really what you want to be spending your days doing. In 1981 went to the west coast and I did some organizing around some of the west coast nuclear facilities. I spent a year and a half out there and wanted to come back east so I applied for a job at the Syracuse Peace Council (5). I worked there from 1981 to 1985. When I got back here in 1981, one of the projects we were doing was organizing around nuclear facilities in New York state and our prime points of focus were the Seneca Army Depot [SEAD] (6), Griffiss Air Force Base (7) and Fort Drum (8). I was one of the people involved in the local organizing in New York state when this whole idea of a peace camp emerged. I was at the meeting when we talked about should we or should we not have a peace camp and what would it mean to do it at SEAD.
Tell us about the significance of the Women’s Pentagon Action.
The peace camp definitely grew out of the Women’s Pentagon Action (9) – in that it brought several of us from upstate New York down to Washington to gather with women nationally who were connected to peace organizing. Susan Pines was there from War Resisters League (10) and Kate Donnelly was there and that’s when we connected with the national network of peace organizing and women who were doing that. And it was the WPA that got us inspired to create the Upstate Feminist Peace Alliance where I met Carrie [Carrie Stearns PeHP 001] and Carolyn [Carolyn Mow PeHP 002]. We lived in three different cities but we were living the same lives in those cities. We were following what was going at Greenham (11) and we were already thinking we should do a woman’s action at a local nuclear facility. Then the Rochester newspaper ran an article about the role of the Seneca Army Depot and that really got us focused on doing it at the Seneca Army Depot.
Had any of you been to Greenham? No, none of us had but I think there was somebody at that first meeting about having a women’s peace camp who had been to Greenham. And Greenham was hugely interesting to us - we were already thinking about the Seneca Army Depot and Griffiss and that meeting really brought that all together. Carolyn and I were the people in that meeting who most embraced the whole picture of what was going to happen from a point of view of, what does this mean? and what is this time asking of us? because we were more of the strategists. Carrie was more, what’s this going to do to the organizing that exists? I didn’t really care about that – the camp was too great of an idea and I was always just really captured by a great idea. This had never been done in the United States and it was embarrassing that Greenham women were protesting against weapons that were coming from our country. We were feeling responsible for what our country was doing – and that was what really motivated us being at the local facilities – the sense that our communities were creating this huge international picture. We had the whole local organizing focus but it was always in the context of the bigger picture. So there was never anything but complete enthusiasm from me, being the idea kind of person that I am. I thought this idea is too good to pass up - we really need to make this happen, we really can make this happen
What was it about the times that made a women’s action such a good idea?
We were already moving in that direction - Cynthia’s Enlow had written Feminism and Militarism and Barbara Deming was doing all this really important writing, some of which was part of the initial Women’s Pentagon Action organizing. She was really the prime person articulating that vision that I really felt connected to, coming, as I did, from a pacifist tradition and being a feminist - that all really came together. So it wasn’t only that we’d been to the Women’s Pentagon Action (WPA) - the WPA grew out of a philosophical kind of convergence of these ideas. The WPA allowed our thinking to move from philosophy to actual experience. I think everybody was really excited about that because most of us had been feminist teenagers and we were coming from knowing that in our own experience. One of the things that I really understand a lot more after many years of being in activism is how powerful the time that you come into whatever you come into is. I’ve been organizing a children’s peace camp - Children’s Peace Week - for the last five years for the Quaker meeting locally. A lot of people in the meeting came into their activism during World War II but there are also a number of us who came into activism in the 1970s when for us, the front line of being yourself was about gender and sexuality and not so much about war. We were sort of post-Vietnam so that flavor was there but my experience of oppression personally was gay and lesbian issues and feminist issues. So at this children’s peace camp when we wanted to honor this particular gay person, the people who came into their sense of what is peace during World War II argued against it from the point of view that lesbian and gay issues are not the real issue. It’s not the real issue to them because it was never their real issue. What your real issue is, in my mind, has to do with what was your historical place is - what do you know through your own experience. And all of us knew through our own experience the importance of linking these issues because peace was a core issue to us for a lot of reasons – for me because I grew up in a pacifist world - but issues of gender and sexuality were close to our heart because they were our issues. So that was the personal piece that made the theoretical writing about peace and feminism and the practical experience of the Women’s Pentagon Action completely real for me and us and the peace camp grew out of those things in us. There was a sense of timeliness about it which is kind of hard to explain now but which really awoke everybody and got them there because everybody felt it.
How did you deal with those in the peace movement who didn’t think a women’s peace camp was a good idea?
I knew we would come up against people who weren’t happy with the idea but I was never that worried about people who were unhappy about a good idea because I had a lot of faith in the idea to prevail and I had a lot of faith in our ability to articulate what the peace camp was about and why it made sense. I didn’t have any capacity to worry about anything because I was just really excited about the idea and what it would mean. The idea of a peace camp pulled together really important things for me - inside myself and outside in the world. I was 20 – when you’re 20, you don’t think, I can’t do this, and you don’t think how much work this is going to be, you just think, great! This is fantastic! We’ve got to do this!
I was grumpy at people like Carrie who were dragging their feet saying, what about this and what about that? So I ended up playing the role of articulating what it was about and why it made sense because it did make sense to me and I didn’t have any issues about that. We did a lot of talking about why it was a women’s peace camp because those discussions were important. I was always willing to dialogue about that even though I wasn’t particularly movable on that question but it felt important to create space to discuss that and I didn’t have any resentments that felt like they couldn’t be overcome.
We had to deal with the Romulus/lesbian reality which was a complete clashing of cultures but there was no way that the lesbian issue was ever going to be back burner at the peace camp because of the fact that all of this for us evolved together and it was going to be a convergence of everything. It did create a fair amount of flack with the male peacemakers locally but I was totally willing to take them on and I was willing to take on those Rochester-area male peace activists who felt tremendously turf-threatened by this action because I had the perspective of both the timeliness of this whole picture and a care about the local organizing. There was definitely resistance from men and male peacemakers, particularly the male peacemakers – men in general, I think, weren’t as threatened as the male peacemakers were. At the Peace Council there were some men there who were just grumpy from this perspective of, this is a seriously cool thing that I can’t be a part of, which I had no room for. I thought they really should get over themselves about that because this really was what needed to happen.
Speaking of male peacemakers, how did your experience of civil disobedience at the peace camp differ from your experience of civil disobedience in mixed actions?
There’s so much in the male peace movement of arrest as right of passage and it’s really tiresome. I had been organizing around draft issues so there was always this, the men are important kind of thing going on and the peace camp was really a beautiful chance to see all of that be done differently and be thought of differently and become different. I had been involved in all kinds of affinity groups – probably five by that point – that had support people and in each one, the role of support people was limited – it was press contact, move the cars to the other side of the street but it was really the women’s peace movement that brought a sense of nurturing and family connection to that and it was a really different way of thinking about who we were and what our responsibilities was to each other so that was really beautiful and empowering and sustaining for those of us in it. My women’s affinity group in Syracuse and Carolyn’s became these families of women - I can’t even tell you the kinds of things that my affinity group did when were held in the depot during the Aug. 1 action. They just did everything that you could possibly want them to do – they brought us food and tried to get them to bring it into us and they said, look, they’re vegetarians, they’re not eating what you’ve got for them, we made them food and we want to bring it in. They took care of everybody’s cars, everybody’s houses, called our roommates, got our plants watered, went to court when we were there, demonstrated outside court before we got there. We really worked on the role of support person versus person arrested and saw the action as a seamless community of people creating change – there wasn’t this sense of us/them. It’s a very comprehensive view of what it means to be part of an action and I feel like it was the women’s peace camp and the feminist peace movement that brought that whole sense of nurturing to it in a very different way.
How did you deal with negative media attention?
I was undeterred by the negative press and all that kind of stuff because there’s always negative press – that wasn’t the enduring quality of what we did – the enduring quality of what we did was reflected in our presence there, in our commitment to the issues and the way we expressed ourselves there. I would get grumpy at the press like, aargh, do they have to take these pictures? Why are they always showing someone ripping off their shirt and hanging it on the fence – to me that sensationalism was a distraction. But even so, there were a bunch of editorials at the time in the Syracuse papers a lot of dialogue in the press in general about what the essential message of the peace camp was. I didn’t feel like that ever got lost.
My thing was nonviolence training because I really wanted to bring the whole history of nonviolent organizing to the camp experience. I wanted it to be really a conscience, reflective, Gandhian action - which it wasn’t for a lot of people. A lot of people were just in to the party energy of the peace camp and I was okay with that. I didn’t judge that, but I did try to bring to it, through the handbook and nonviolence trainings, a sense of its place. I always had that bigger picture, organizing strategy bent – I was considered one of the clipboard women at the camp because that’s what I was doing. I coordinated non-violence trainings and helped write the handbook with a group of other people and though I had put together probably eight other handbooks for actions in the 80s, we pulled a lot of new material for the Seneca handbook (12) because we were really trying to make the link between feminism and nonviolence and we really wanted to talk about the history of the region. It was very important to me to bring a woman’s perspective to the question of militarism because I had a strong feminist perspective. I trained peacekeepers and I watched them get swept up in the moment and lose track of peacekeeping. But I was always really curious about how the moment captured people and the camp was a huge opportunity to see how people become affected by setting up a particular situation. All these things happened – the counter-demonstrators happened and the empowerment happened and the new lesbian relationships happened and a place in history became attached to the camp and the land and it was tremendous grounds for just watching something unfold. It was a fascinating thing to get to do.
Carrie spoke about feeling overwhelmed once the camp opened and so many women showed up – how did you deal with the influx?
As long as it was all working out okay enough, I was okay As long as I was able to be part of it and still have my view - play the role that I wanted to play by doing the nonviolence trainings and bringing the perspective that I wanted to bring to it, I was okay. I felt like sensationalism happens - it happens anywhere - and I was into staying connected to my own motivation and the core part that this was about and I guess I didn’t fear the out of control nature of it, I just saw that that was happening and stayed connected to what was important to me and didn’t worry about where it was going. And it didn’t ever go anywhere that was truly awful, nobody murdered anyone at the peace camp - it stayed within a level of irritating at times or annoying or but nothing awful. And I never felt like people weren’t willing to dialogue - I just felt like people would dialogue about something and then they would get caught up in the moment and whatever dialogue they had just finished having went out the window. That theme reemerged for me in this huge way when I was involved in doing Central America organizing - Carolyn and I went on to do this huge amount of work for Peace Brigades International (13) and at times we would be the only people in the U.S. offices. We would have people on teams in Central America and the communication between the teams and the offices was always surreal – like the teams would say this and we would say this and we’d be like, what are they thinking!?! And they’d be like, what are they thinking!?! So finally Carolyn went down and she was on the El Salvador team and I was thinking, thank god! But it didn’t take long before I was talking to her and she said, what are you guys thinking! So it was just a huge wake up call that once you’re in a reality your perspective is shaped by that reality.
Given that the influence was Greenham, why and how did you all decide to buy land?
If there’s one thing that was the hugest thing for me about the peace camp it really was that whole land piece because I just learned so much about people’s connection to land through that process. For me the land was a tool. I was an activist. I was a strategist. We needed a place to be and it was not looking very logistically possible to pull off this camp without that piece of land. We had no idea what we were deciding when we decided to buy that land. We spent a lot of hours on that question and it was extremely intense. The argument that was swaying people in the direction of buying land was that we were going to have a lot of people coming and people on the committee couldn’t imagine how that all would take place without some kind of home base. I would never have gone that direction. I had a home base - I lived in Syracuse it was only an hour and a half away and I was used to this kind of thing. I was used to occupying nuclear power plant land and setting up camp there or whatever so I fought buying land. It wasn’t my inclination to use resources that way. But we already had a lot of land kind of people – and I’m thinking it was probably the festival influence. (14). In the beginning nobody would have bought land but by the time we were actually addressing that question it was several months later and we were a much bigger, more diverse committee and the diversity included people who had very much of a festival orientation. It’s a lot easier to take the festival model for a large group of women coming together so that was a huge influence. I was to the bitter end someone who said, I don’t think we need this land, but I saw that we weren’t going to be able to fight it. I saw that it had a lot of power behind it. In the end if we had just gotten the land and ditched it and moved on, I would have seen it as any other logistical question because the land per se was not a problem for the action - it ended up being a great staging ground. It was the attachment to the land that became the issue. But given how many people came and given that it was so far from where we lived - it worked. It wasn’t my vision but I don’t think I fought it in a big way once I realized that it really was happening. It always felt like we were on the edge of being able to manage all of the aspects and tasks that were required for this because they were numerous and they were just absolutely huge – the money piece, paying people and getting bank accounts established and all of that - if you’re doing it locally it’s a little bit easier – you just have your meetings with four or five of you, you make these decisions - but there were a lot of decisions that needed to be made and the infrastructure felt huge. We were all involved in these other organizations so it was always a question of, could my organization do this? Well, we’ve got a mailing list and we’ve got… so it was always trying to figure out what to do with these various resources, how to pull them together and in my mind, would they get pulled together. It felt like a huge thing and paramount in that was the buying the land question. None of us in that room during those lengthy land discussions had any idea what we were talking about in terms of what that land would become.
What was your take on the meeting at the end of that first summer when women decided to hold onto the land?
For me, land was about strategy – buying was about something that would work and it made no sense to me to do anything other than ditch the land once we were through. So when we were at this meeting in Albany post-peace camp (October, 1983), where we were talking about ditching the land, I just could not believe that there was so much sentiment for keeping the land. I was like, of what resource is this thing? I wasn’t somebody who was invested in that land, I probably didn’t know what it meant to be invested in that land except I came to understand that other people really were invested in that land and the longer you were on it, the more people got invested in it. It became a symbol of something for people. For me there was tremendous learning around the choices you make and the implications they have because I never ever saw it that way and I was so bummed because I really wanted to give it back to the Cayuga Nation (15) as part of the land claim. I thought, what better thing could you do than make a symbolic gesture of returning what was and should have been theirs in first place. But everyone had all these practical problems like, well, what will they do with it? and I’m like, who cares? It doesn’t matter what they do with it. So there I am being a complete idea person and the perfect idea here is to return the land, do a press conference and symbolically hand the land over – that would’ve really been a slap in the face of the U.S. government. The only other idea I remember from that time was to turn the camp into a battered women’s shelter and I was just like, why?!? I thought that idea made no sense at all in terms of safety, visibility – all of those things. It didn’t strike up in my mind anything that would really be nurturing for women in difficult situations. I guess we could’ve sold the land and then bought something somewhere else for a shelter. I would have been amenable to selling it and using it for other purposes – seeds for the next action or whatever because the money to get the land in the first place came from people who really believed in this idea, who really wanted to see a Greenham Common in America. If you talk about what was the motivation for people who gave us money it was to put this on the map in America. I totally would’ve gone with any idea to sell the land and use the money as a fund for women’s future peacemaking actions or something like that but there was nothing in me that wanted to keep the land or see the project continue. I was just baffled at the Albany meeting but I thought, okay, this is pursuing another path and I could tell really clearly that it had its own energy. I just took in what happened with the land as information that I really needed to digest over many years about how that really is for people because it is true for people and so I didn’t fight it I just really took it in and thought, this is truly fascinating – that the land is more powerful than our intent here, the land is more powerful than the idea. It’s a good thing to know about land - that tells me a lot about Palestinian issues, it tells me a lot about land claims, it taught me a lot. In the meeting people would say, well, somebody died and we brought their ashes and spread them on the land. The investment in the land itself had a lot to do with people’s memories. My memories were not attached to that land at all, that’s not where memories are stored for me. But for other people, walking on that boardwalk, the port-a-potties - it’s just very real and to maintain that land is to maintain those memories. The people who wanted to keep the camp alive had a different energy and for me, an unknown energy, so I just scooted back into the world that I knew and continued doing what I had been doing. I was in this allowing place around the land and what happened there but I wasn’t connected to it after that summer and none of my friends were connected to it.
So after that October meeting you were no longer involved with the camp?
I continued to do actions there and my commitment to the issue remained and I went on to be arrested numerous times at Griffiss Air Force base but I definitely moved on from the peace camp and I moved on from women’s peace organizing because it didn’t take another direction. I didn’t actually move on in the full sense because the Syracuse women’s affinity group stayed together and we continued to do things in Syracuse for a while after that. We were a core affinity group for the national actions in Washington after the Supreme Court sodomy decision – we went to that action and had a women’s presence at that action. The Syracuse women’s affinity group had a longer life than just the peace encampment – we were together for another three years doing various kinds of things. It existed before the encampment and existed after the encampment and for the most part the women I was involved with and doing organizing with were not involved in the encampment to a large extent after the summer of 1983.
Syracuse Affinity Group, 1983
What did your activist life look like post-peace camp?I took the feminist perspective from the peace camp and went right into women’s anti-draft organizing. We did a shut down selective service action in Washington which we had a women’s affinity group for and I was hugely involved in Andy Major’s indictment and trial. He was one of the people targeted by the Justice Department as a non-registrant. We did all kinds of stuff around his trial. We had theater pieces for all of the stages of his trial – the indictment, the pretrial. We did a collective pretrial motion kinesthetic motion piece in the federal lobby area. We had 250 people for his trial and I was involved with all of the logistics about that. I had 104 degree fever the day of his trial and it was 20 degrees below zero and I remember sitting in the car thinking, OK, do I go home or do I go to Upstate Medical Center? It was a very, very intense time for me. I was also involved with him and he was going to jail for six months. Carolyn and I were arrested at his trial and we were in jail briefly and that ended up being what sent us to jail for three months in 1985. Carolyn and I were both arrested at the federal building on June 12th in this day of actions that people all over the country did and we got the longest sentences of anybody - 105 days because we were re-sentenced on our convictions at Andy’s trial. We were arrested at the congressional offices – carried out of the U.S. Attorney’s office on the U.S. Attorney’s leather furniture which was kind of fun but then recharged on the first conviction. So we got 60 days for the U.S. Attorney’s office and 45 days for that second action. That was a powerful moment – they put leg shackles on us for our sentencing which they never do to people charged with misdemeanors. We’re standing there with our arms and legs shackled, me and Carolyn with the judge who had just sentenced us to 60 days and then he says, OK, now your former judge is going to come in and re-sentence you on your conditional discharge. So we had a moment to seek mitigation in our defense and all I’m saying in my mind is, concurrent, concurrent, concurrent – whatever they give us but just get it over with! So he says, 45 days consecutive and I was just aarghhh! So we were in the Onondaga County Jail from Oct. 11 to Dec. 5, 1985.
Has your civil disobedience arrest record been a challenge when filling out applications and such?
To get liability insurance I had to list the actions that were misdemeanors and I realized I only have three counts that were misdemeanors and none of them had to do with the peace camp – those were all violations. Carolyn did three months in Onondaga County Jail and she actually recommended to me – through her lawyer to do a completely behavioral picture of what I did, to say, I sat in the U.S. Attorney’s office, the office closed and we were arrested on the day that congress was voting on aid to the military government in El Salvador. And that’s how I’ve always portrayed it – I was weaving yarn across the entrance to Griffiss Air Force Base… so you’re conveying a sense of your intent and the ambiance of the demonstration but you’re not making a political argument. That’s actually been the cleanest way to articulate it and it’s a really powerful way to articulate it too, because then people are thinking, well, why would she be weaving yarn across the entrance to Griffiss Air Force Base?” Carolyn helped me with that and I’ve had actually no problems whatsoever – people find it colorful, you know what I mean? If you say, I was arrested. I don’t tell employers that I did the three months, but I would certainly tell a client that has a dad in jail or whatever because it’s a way that we are connected. I listen to court descriptions and information through the perspective of having been a defendant and it’s tremendously helpful – anything you do in your life is tremendously helpful for you. When I became a nationally-certified counselor, in the ethics section of the application I checked off that I had been arrested and wrote them a letter and they wrote me back the sweetest letter saying, we really appreciate your honesty, now that’s what makes you a great counselor, we want to embrace everything that you are. I’ve never gotten a response like that.
So back to your post peace camp adventures, what did you do after serving your 105 days?
I got involved with Peace Brigades and went to Guatemala for three months in 1986 and came back and organized for Peace Brigades – there was no U.S. office so I created a U.S. office and trained volunteers. I was the emergency response contact for the team – I’m getting stressed out thinking about this – and it was like going out of the - I’m going to forget the analogy, out of the frying pan into the fire because I just finished jail. It was a culmination of all these years of direct action after direct action and then I went into Guatemala and we were escorting people who had disappeared tfamily members and I was learning a language - I spoke Spanish - but I spent a month in language school. And personally for me - I was in my later 20’s - a lot of my family trauma issues were getting activated by the disappeared relatives. I think I actually put myself in that position because I was working through that, but what got me there politically - and who knows exactly what that motivation was about - was really wanting to be on the cutting edge of nonviolence. I’d always wanted to be in the place where I felt like nonviolence was really being tested and the people in Guatemala were using nonviolence as their means of protest and we were using the escorting idea - protective accompaniment - as a way to really further the thinking on what nonviolence could mean in that particular setting. Being the strategist and idea girl I was, I wanted to be a part of that unfolding idea. I designed the training programs and all that kind of stuff so that I became a thinker too about how to prepare people for this environment. I ended up being the emergency response contact so I ended up having to create this whole congressional network for support to the team members of the disappeared. I had to tell these parents that their daughter had been knifed. It was a very intense experience. Carolyn was completely involved in that with me - she was on the team in El Salvador and we ran the office out of Albany. In 1990, I crashed and just could not do that anymore. I could not be on the front line of activism and I had to really look at what in me motivated me to be on the front line of activism in a way that was not a nourishing, holistic personal vision for myself and I had very few ideas about what that was … what that meant for me so I really needed to understand in myself what motivated me and brought me to that. I have not been involved as an activist doing direct action since. What I did after that is I recuperated for a year and a half. Carolyn and I both worked at the CSA farms here and I spent a summer bagging spinach. I just really needed to slow down, re-center and I did a lot of reflection. I did a lot of, eventually, just feeling the bodily experiences of everything I had been through over the course of many months - just allowing tension in my body to release. I realized at that time that what fueled my mother’s activism was my father’s death and I know in me now that a lot of my activism was fueled by unfelt grief. I was always really curious about what was the edge for me? What was the driven-ness that I found in myself and in other activists? I would run into people who weren’t driven and I would really feel the difference between my own activism and those people who I felt like were coming from a more centered place in themselves. As time went on I was more aware that there was another way to be so I spent all of the next chunk of time really cultivating in myself another way of being that will hold the space for my own grief and the grief of the world and a vision of that that I can hold.
How are nonviolence and peace a part of your non-activist life?
I am a therapist with kids. My practice right now is psychotherapy counseling and mindfulness so I’m really developing that aspect of my practice which is about teaching mindfulness. Children’s Peace Week - which is the only project that makes my mother happy because she wants me to be an activist – is for kids 5-12 and the first day we teach about peace with yourself, the second day we teach about peace in your family, the third day we teach about peace with friends and neighbors, the fourth day we teach about peace in the environment and the fifth day we teach about peace in the world. So I get to construct this curriculum which is really about learning about peacemaking by finding peace in yourself and moving it out into the world and I love that, I love that chance to work with kids and help them find a sense of stillness so that’s really the primary work that I’m doing now is helping people reconnect with a sense of stillness and possibility and to kind of move that out.
I just got a client this week who is a fourth grader whose family’s from India and his aunt lives in Delhi where the bombings were and he is really having a hard time – he’s having a hard time being 10 and knowing what’s going on in the world and trying to understand that in himself and sit in his fourth grade classroom and make that work. I feel like this is a full circle for me of being a child activist and having this vision that things can be different but what can I do, I’m 10. I’m really happy to sit with a 10-year-old and sort of help him sort out – how do you care and still feel safe - because nobody helped me sort out how you care and still feel safe and I want him to care so I’ve put myself right now in my life in a place of being a resource for people to be who they are and have a caring relationship to the world and have a sense of balance.
Spiritually I’m no longer really connected to Quakerism and the Quaker Meeting, I’m not living in the world of Quakers but I’m very connected to it and the Meeting sees me as their child and so that’s just how it is. I’m into a more Buddhist practice now - doing a lot of sitting meditation and doing a little teaching meditation sometimes with the mindfulness practice so that’s kind of what’s been nourishing me. I also became a parent in 1992 and being a parent is very process oriented for me in thinking about what it means to raise a child who is herself, who is caring, who is able to kind of live in the world of her time and make it hers and care from a place that is authentically hers. So that’s kind of what I’ve been growing in me, in her, in my kid clients and the world and to me it’s all one seamless piece.
Do you have a sense of where this evolution will lead you in 20 years?
I’ve been idea-driven but I haven’t been vision-driven, so that’s hard to say. Have you heard of Carl Kline? He’s an activist in the midwest and he came to Peace Brigade and he embodied something that I had never seen - a sense of stillness and a sense of connection to activism. I got the Peace Brigade’s newsletter and looked at the pictures and he’s the only person that I still know that’s on that national committee. I think, will I ever come back to a relationship with activism? Will it ever be an activist thing that I do? Local activists did a peace conference here recently and one of the things they talked about was fear and I’m really interested in fear from the perspective of what does it mean to create a sense of resilience in the face of fear? I did a workshop for the local Catholic Worker about strengthening inner resilience and I’ve thought about doing things with Carrie that would be connected to the activist world on the question of cultivating resilience. I also think about using expressive arts techniques in some areas of the world that are experiencing trauma. So I could do international work which would probably be about trauma and expression, and I could do work related to cultivating stillness with the activist community which is what I’m doing through the Peace Week. Sometimes I think if they really knew where I came from would they want me to direct the week because every once in a while they say they want it to be more of an activist training program - and it’s not. It’s a program to experience peace and it is so popular and the kids who come really love it. They say this is like nowhere else and that they wish school could be like this. So I’m sort of subverting the Quaker’s activism model by having these kids really love getting to be together in a way that feels different. I don’t know what really changes - it’s just a question in my mind, I guess, about how big is people’s vision of what peacemaking is? I could be inside it or outside it, if you draw a small circle of what it is, I’m outside it; if you draw a big circle of what it is, I’m inside it. And I think, truthfully, that the bigger circle is where things are going - in terms of people’s perception of what peacemaking and change means now. I think people are realizing a bigger vision of it is a helpful thing.
If you were who you are now and it was 1983 and you heard about this women’s peace camp happening at the Seneca Army Depot, would you be drawn to it?
I think so much about activism is context – that action grew out of that time and I grew out of that time and we converged in that moment in that kind of way. And I think, what about my daughter, she’s 13 and when she’s 17 (because she’s drawn to who activism made me even though she’s not necessarily drawn to activism because she doesn’t know that yet), what will happen that will draw her toward it? It will be something that captures her sense of creativity, something that captures her sense of passion and care and it will grow out of that time. So I can’t really back myself up and answer that question - at that time I wanted to offer the best thing that I knew to what was happening which in my mind was training and a sense of what the possibility of nonviolence would be so I think I always would have wanted to offer the most of what I knew to whatever situation I was in which is what I see myself doing now so that’s what I’m going to continue to do. So the venue that I’m doing it in doesn’t really matter as much and that will be whatever unfolds in front of me that I can connect to in a way that feels powerful. It’s important for everybody to be themselves in the world in a truthful way.
Do you ever get a chance to flex your peace camp peacekeeping muscles?
I went to the 2000th Soldier Killed in Iraq demonstration (16) with my daughter there was a counter-protester there but there are no peacekeepers. The counter-protestor was saying all these things and nobody was doing anything and my daughter was like, “why is he saying all these things, why doesn’t he move on?” And then I sort of found myself talking about what a peacekeeper does and I actually did talk to the person talking to the counter-demonstrator to ask him a few questions, like, do you think what you’re saying is helpful right now for him or for you and how’s it helpful? And he was like, what?!? But that doesn’t matter because then he engaged in a dialogue with me, he calmed down and he said, well, yeah, I think I am really angry right now, and I said, I could tell you were angry, so, so, so thank you for being willing to talk with me about that and my daughter was like, what are you doing, Mom? And I’m like, just diffusing things. So there is an attachment to that role of peacekeeper and an understanding of what it plays which I sort of got a window into in that moment and how important I still find that to be.
1. Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant- a three-unit nuclear power plant station located in Buchanan, New York just south of Peekskill, New York, on the east bank of the Hudson River, approximately 35 miles (56 km) north of New York City. Interest in shutting down Indian Point dates back to 1979 following the Three Mile Island incident, a partial core meltdown with no injures. Indian Point has become controversial to environmental activists and there has been renewed interest in shutting down the plant since September 11, 2001.
2. Shoreham - a 455-acre site between the sparsely populated hamlets of Shoreham and Wading River in Suffolk County, NY bought by Long Island Light Company in 1966 to build a $65-$75 million nuclear power plant for use by 1973. The plant never opened however because following the accident at Three Mile island, the citizens of Shoreham did not want a nuclear power plant in their community. In June, 1979, 15,000 protesters at the site participated in the largest demonstration in Long Island history. Police made 571 arrests. Shoreham citizens prevailed against all odds and prevented a completed and fully licensed nuclear power plant from operating for the only time in American history. By the time Shoreham was fully decommissioned on Oct. 12, 1994, its $6 billion price tag -- about 85 times higher than the original estimate -- had nearly wrecked the regional economy.
3. American Friends Service Committee - a Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) affiliated organization which works for social justice, peace and reconciliation, abolition of the death penalty, and human rights, and provides humanitarian relief. The group was founded in 1917 as a combined effort by American members of the Religious Society of Friends and assisted civilian victims of war.
4. Dr. Randall Caroline Forsberg - wrote the "Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race," the four-page manifesto that launched the national Nuclear Weapon Freeze Campaign where she served as co-chaired on the national advisory board, 1980–1984. Dr. Forsberg also founded IDDS in 1980, an independent nonprofit center for research and education on ways to reduce the risk of war, minimize the burden of military spending, and promote democratic institutions. She is the editor of the forthcoming IDDS annual survey, ArmsWatch 2005: Global Trends, Prospects, and Policy Options and has authored or co-authored several books on nonproliferation, defense, war, peace, and more.
5. Syracuse Peace Council - antiwar/social justice organization. It is community-based, autonomous and funded by the contributions of its supporters founded in 1936. The Peace Council educates, agitates and organizes for a world where war, violence and exploitation in any form will no longer exist. It challenges the existing unjust power relationships among nations, among people and between ourselves and the environment
6. 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 1940’s 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.
7. 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.
8. Fort Drum - a military reservation in Jefferson County, New York consisting of 107,265 acres. Its mission includes command of active component units assigned to the installation, provide administrative and logistical support to tenant units, support to tenant units, support to active and reserve units from all services in training at Fort Drum, and planning and support for the mobilization and training of almost 80,000 troops annually.The population was 12,123 at the 2000 census.
9. 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.
10. War Resisters League - formed in 1923 by men and women who had opposed World War I. It is a section of the London-based War Resisters’ International. In the 1960s, WRL was the first pacifist organization to call for an end to the Vietnam War. Their opposition to nuclear weapons was extended to include nuclear power in the 1970s and 1980s. WRL has also been active in feminist and anti-racist causes. They also work with other organizations to reduce the level of violence in modern culture. Today, the War Resisters League is actively organizing against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the impact of war at home. Much of their organizing is focused on challenging military recruiters and ending corporate profit from war. They publish the quarterly magazine WIN: Through Revolutionary Nonviolence and are involved in a number of national peace and justice coalitions.
11. 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 Common Trust and returned to a variety of civilian uses.
12. Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice Resource Handbook, 1983 – A 51-page peace camp preparation manual containing information on nonviolent action, feminism and nonviolence, the European disarmament movement, the Cayuga nation and the local area.
13. Peace Brigades International – a non-governmental organization founded in 1981 to protect human rights and promote nonviolent transformation of conflicts. It primarily does this by sending volunteers to accompany human rights workers whose lives are at risk in areas of conflict. In 1983, the Peace Brigades’ first team was sent to Nicaragua during the Contra war. In 1989 in Guatemala, a grenade was thrown into a Peace Brigades’ house. Three months later, three volunteers were stabbed walking home. In El Salvador, five volunteers were arrested and temporarily held until being asked to leave the country. One volunteer was severely beaten. Past projects include the Balkans, Sri Lanka and Haiti. Current projects include Colombia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nepal and Mexico.
14. 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. The Michigan community is based upon an essential participatory ethic and is designed and crafted each year by a new combination of womyn, ranging from first-timers to those who have worked on it for over 30 years.
15. Cayuga Nation - the Gayogoho:no, which means People of the Great Swamps. This name refers to the marshy lands that were a part of their original homelands. The Gayogoho:no, also known as the People of the Pipe, are one of the original Five Nations who joined together with the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, and Seneca to form the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is also know as the Iroquois Confederacy. The original homeland of the Cayuga Nation extends from Lake Ontario to the Susquehanna River, which includes the land that housed the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. The Cayuga were forced onto a 64,000 acre reservation in 1789 and lost additional land illegally when the state of New York bought reservation land in 1795 and 1807. The Cayuga have been attempting to regain their land since 1849 but to this day do not have a reservation or land base. In the early 1980s, the tribe successfully sued the state of New York for the return of 64,000 acres and a federal judge awarded them $247.7 million in damages. The case has been appealed and as of May 2005, is awaiting further proceedings.
16. October 25, 2005 - nationwide demonstrations against the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq commemorating the 2000th U.S. soldier killed there.