Monday, May 21, 2007
HeRSToRy 009: Bird aka Johna Cochran
PeHP Oral Herstory 009: Bird aka Johna Cochran
Date: October 22, 2006
Location: Seattle, WA
Present: Estelle Coleman, hershe Michele Kramer
Bird was a soldier stationed at the Seneca Army Depot in 1988. She visited the peace camp and shortly thereafter decided to leave the army and live at the camp.
Bird’s Military Transfer Orders
“DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
HEADQUARTERS, UNITED STATES ARMY MISSILE COMMAND
ORDERS 68-7 8 APRIL 1988
COCHRAN, JOHNA K. PV2 CO C
YOU WILL PROCEED ON PERMANENT CHANGE OF STATION AS SHOWN.
ASSIGNED TO: 833RD ORDNANCE COMPANY SPECIAL AMMUNITION DS/GS (WB5NAA) SENECA ARMY DEPOT, ROMULUS, NEW YORK 14541
REPORTING DATE: 1 MAY 1988…”
E: Bird, tell us about your first impressions of the camp, when did your first hear about it?
B: I was stationed over at Seneca Army Depot (1) and we we’re in the orientation when I first arrived at the post, they gave us a talk about where we were allowed to be and where we weren’t allowed to be – that was standard protocol at any duty station. And they mentioned the peace encampment. They were giving us this lecture and I was with a group of men and the First Sergeant said, “And I don’t want to catch no soldiers,” and he points at me and goes “especially you, over there at the camp.” So you know they didn’t want us to come over to the camp and he goes, “And when we have protestors out here, we’ll need the extra troops to support and I’ll never ask you.” And I thought, “I wonder why not me?” It made me curious about what was going on that I should not be over there. And the first thing I did when I got off the post was to go over there to see what was going on [Estelle laughter].
E: What happened when you got there?
B: I showed up in civilian clothes so they didn’t know I was military per se. I was met by Andrea and she walked me through the camp and welcomed me and it was like I finally came home. I knew the military life, but it wasn’t until I stepped into that camp and I was welcomed in, that I felt like I was coming home.
Peace Camp Alice O'Malley, circa 1990
E: After that first encounter when you went back to the base, did they know that you’d been there?
B: No, they didn’t know.
E: And you continued to come over?
B: Yeah, I continued to return to the camp and then I eventually made a decision. I thought, I can’t stay in the military because it’s not me. It’s who I thought I should be because I come from a military family but it wasn’t me. This part of me I had forgot lived over at the camp and I wanted to find that person - this person in here [gesturing to heart], not this person out here. I could be a good soldier but it was a conflict. My morals and my values and my ethics were arguing with that soldier and there was a lot of internalized self-hatred going on between the two and I finally said, you know what, I gotta get out of the military. And I went and talked to my First Sergeant and he out-processed me.
E: How long was your interaction with the Encampment before you made that decision?
B: It was over a month, well over a month.
E: And how often were you coming over to the camp?
B: Almost daily. I was at that post for a while before I came over to the camp and I don’t know that time frame, but once I came over to the camp, I didn’t want to leave to go back to the post. The camp was like home - comfort, over at the Depot it was no longer comfortable. I had an awakening and that awakening didn’t allow me to cross back over the border and feel like I once felt. The pride I felt was no longer pride, it was like I know I’m doing wrong and I can’t stop. And then I started thinking about everything my mother taught me about, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do this,’ and the military says, “Do this, do this.” So it was like okay, I can’t do that anymore. I have to listen to what I was taught originally and go back to the camp and be comfortable in my own skin.
Femail boxes Photo by Alice O'Malley, ca. 1990
E: What kinds of things were happening over at the camp that made you feel it was the place you wanted to be?
B: It was the love and acceptance. They loved me even though I was a soldier. They didn’t have a problem with that. I think the post would have had more of a problem if I took people from the camp over there [laughter]. They loved and cared for me at the camp and they didn’t care about my background. I had a spiritual awakening in those brief moments to say, you know what you’re doing, how can you support that when you see that is so wrong. And it wasn’t like the women at the camp said, you gotta do this thing, they said, go back to the post and try your life. And I couldn’t do it no more. It was their love and acceptance and tolerance of me that made me come back and come back and come back.
E: What were some of the differences between the camp and the base??
B: One of the differences, is that I was just having things barked at me in the military. We had our direct command. Well, at the camp, if I’m thinking right, they had their direct commands, too, but they had purpose behind them. In the military, sometimes they give you a command and there’s like, there’s no reason why I’m out here digging this hole when they’re going to come out and tell me to fill it. The camp had a command system but it was more relaxed. It was more like, “You’ve gotta do this, can I help you?” It was a more loving and kind direction. I had no problem accepting what went on at the camp because at the post, I lived with all these people from different backgrounds pushed together just like at the camp. The camp had its collective mission and the military had its collective mission - they were just two different missions. Although they were they’re the same in a lot of respects and I’m sure a lot of people would not be happy with me saying that, but that’s how I saw it. Everybody has their mission and I can stay with this mission [military], a mission I know but it’s not the mission I want. I can’t continue that mission because it doesn’t feel right. This mission [camp] feels like it’s more my direct path and that’s why I chose the peace camp over the army because their mission [military] they had me on was, it made me fill nothing here [gesturing to heart].
E: What were some of the things going on over at the camp?
B: There was just everything. It was like a festival. It was fun. You heard a lot of information and you were being taught but it wasn’t like being taught, but it was a different way of learning. You learn it, but you can’t teach it. I was learning even though it wasn’t being taught to me directly. I was learning because I talked with other women there and they would share their knowledge and they would share their experience and they’d say, this is what we want to happen. And they weren’t saying, you’ve got to do it, too. That’s the big difference. They were open with their feelings and their ideas and their expressions. They weren’t going, come on, you’re doing this, too! Where that’s what the military did, “This is our mission, we’re all going to do it.” So it was a big difference. It was like at a festival where you learned all this stuff from all these different people and everybody had different ideas but they were all heading toward that same goal. The many paths to the one.
E: Can you talk about some of the parts of yourself that you weren’t able to, to express or find in the military?
B: I wasn’t able to find my comfort with my spirituality. The United States Army takes a good stance on religion, but they don’t take a great stance on spirituality and those are two different things. Religion is for men that are afraid and spirituality is God-given. This is my personal opinion. And I didn’t fit in. I knew I was a lesbian and I knew that you could get kicked out of the Army for that. It was a part of who I was and I knew they wouldn’t accept it. Being a woman in the military, even though they said they accepted it, they didn’t. When I went over to the camp they accepted everything about me – all my goods and all my bads. When I was in the military, they only accepted my goods. They didn’t want to know any of my bads and my bads were being a female, having a sense of spirituality that wasn’t so widely accepted and expressing my love for who I wanted to love. I had to choose between freedom and happiness or constraints and happiness.
Twilight and Hershe in the Witches Room by Alice O'Malley, ca. 1990
E: Can you tell us a little bit about your life before the military? Where did you live, what was your childhood like?
B: I lived in a wonderful household. I had a grandmother who was a full-blooded native and she taught me a lot about the heart and living within your heart and I had another lovely grandmother who told me that you had to find your own belief – and it’s not something that someone can force on you, it’s something that you find happiness in. So I had real spiritual grandparents, from different sides of the family and I’m a firm believer. I love my faith, I love praying. I know that sounds corny, but I do. I couldn’t live those great spiritual ways in the military. You can’t practice the principle of destroying your enemy, killing your enemy and having a loving, just God in your heart. I couldn’t do it. I had to, excuse my language, I had to say, “Fuck God.” I had to say that. And I use the term ‘God’ because that’s a term we all understand. I had to say, ‘Fuck God’ because I know I’m doing bad things here and I don’t want God to see. Pretending like God doesn’t exist, was the only way I could go out and do the things I did in the military – we practiced target shooting at live human beings. Nobody wants to kill their own kind. And I drank because I hated myself. I drank a lot. The military doesn’t condone drinking but I think they see that it’s a way we can numb ourselves, to stop that pain that’s not anywhere except in here [gesturing to head] and in here [gesturing to heart].
E: So your grandmother had given you a spiritual background, were there other things from your native heritage that she taught you?
B: She taught me a lot about keeping the mother sacred. Our mother’s our earth and she taught me about the herbs and keeping all that into you. She believed she was a shape shifter and I believed this for a long time before I joined the military. I believed all that she taught me, all of the stories about how the deers got to be here and I believed it all and then when I joined the military I realized that, I didn’t realize it, I was told that that was a bunch of malarkey, that it was stories for little kids and I was shamed. How could I join an organization that shamed me? I did. Because I was young and dumb. That’s the reason why. I lived in an economy that was just horrible and I saw the military as my way out. I come from a pro-military family. They supported the Vietnam War [laughter]. So in reality the military was my way out of a small town and it got me to see the world a little bit. And it was a give and take relationship – let me take away everything that makes you you and let me give you everything that will make you what I want you to be. And if you can fit that and play those games, you’ll fit in. And I did that.
E: So, your time at the Encampment gave you the chance to be much more of who you were, how did that affect your life?
B: It let me reconnect. It gave me such a free feeling that I made the decision to leave the military. Some people I talk to now they say, oh, that was kind of stupid, but for me it wasn’t a stupid decision and it didn’t happen over night. I gave it thought. I had to weigh out my heart or my head. That’s my big joke, I was trying to keep my head and my heart together but my heart goes, [modified high voice] “love and care” and my head goes, [modified low voice] “kill everything!” [laughter]. And that’s the truth of me. It’s so much easier to love and caring for everybody - I can love and care for anybody – I don’t have to like them and that’s okay, too, but I can still say, “Let me help you. Let me love and care for you.” And sometimes we can’t give that to ourselves and that’s why I came from out of the military because I wasn’t able to give myself my own love. At the camp everybody would love and care for you and I had never heard that before. Love and care for me? What are they trying to do?
E: How long were you at the camp?
B: I don’t know, I know I was there a few months and then I had a bright idea to leave and I caught a ride with two other women and I kind of kick myself leaving with them but I knew I had to grow and I knew if I stayed at the camp I would stay stagnant. They were going out to Portland, Oregon. I was 22-years-old. I had no idea where Portland, Oregon was but it sounded like a great adventure. I wanted to grow and change and carry that message that I learned at the camp, soI went on a great adventure.
H: How long were you in the military before you got stationed at Seneca?
B: Two years. I’d already been in for two years. I knew the military life. My older sisters were in the military. My father was in the military. I understand the military.
H: How does one extract oneself from the military? Is it as easy as just saying, “I don’t want to be here anymore?”
B: Well, it is now, but when I went down there, you see, I was pretty smart. I pride myself on ‘If I don’t know, I read and I gain knowledge’ and I knew that being a lesbian would be the number one quickest way out and I went to my First Sergeant and I told him, “I’m a lesbian.” And he joked it off like I was kidding. He said, “Oh, you just want help over where you’re working.” I said, “No, I’m a lesbian and according to the books here, it says homosexuality needs to be articled out. So Chapter 15 me out.” I never saw the military move so fast - within a week I was out-processed. That’s fast for the military - they usually drag on for months and years about whatever. In one week I was out-processed.
H: Was your family involved in your decision? How did they find out about it and how did they react?
B: I told my mother after the fact and she didn’t talk to me for a while. My sisters were supportive because they knew that I was going to do whatever I pleased anyhow. They might have been doing the sister thing, “Can you believe it!?!” But I knew that they cared about me and they thought I did right. They just didn’t like that I was moving across country. Like I said, I didn’t know where Portland, Oregon was - it could’ve been right below New York for all my brain knew.
H: Did your mom and your sisters know that you were a lesbian prior to joining the military?
B: Yeah. That’s something I didn’t hide. When they asked me about that in my interview for the Army -because they ask you when you’re first enlisting, “Are you a homosexual?” - I learned early on that if I joke a lot, I can get away with murder [laughter]. So when they asked me that question, I said, “I don’t know, is it a requirement for me to be one to join?” I never said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that question so I never lied. I never lied when I was in the military. That was one thing they pounded in, honor, and I still don’t lie no matter what. I will not lie. I’d rather get in trouble for my honesty then get in trouble for a lie that I tell somebody.
H: What year did you join the military?
B: I joined in 1986, October of ‘86.
H: So when you came to the camp, it would that have been 1988?
H: And Andrea was there?
B: Uh-huh. Yeah, because she met me at the front door and walked me around. She introduced herself. And she goes, [modified voice] “Be prepared, some of the women don’t wear shirts.” I think she didn’t want me to go into a shock or panic or freak out.”
H: Did you have any opinion about the use of nuclear weapons or what was going on at the base and then what the women at the camp were saying? Did that shift for you?
B: I was a good soldier. They’d tell us to say, ‘I can neither confirm nor deny’ [the presence of nuclear weapons at the base]. I’m sure you know that saying, ‘I can neither confirm or deny.’ If anybody from the outside asks about them, the military will tell you to contact so and so. You don’t give your opinion. Of course everybody knows they had weapons there – you could tell by the patrollings. And what was I? I was ordinance. Why would they have ordinance personnel there if there wasn’t weapons there? I worked out of the farmhouse, that’s what we called it. Packing and unpacking weapons. So I knew and I respected the military when they said, don’t tell what we have out here. I never told anybody at the camp. I was real honoring. I might say, “Oh, I imagine they do have weapons over there.” But I never specified what kind because I was living in a dual world. I had to live over at the Depot and I wanted to be at the camp. And I didn’t want to be dishonoring because that’s something that is important – honor, honor, honor. I didn’t want to be dishonoring to the military because I was still part of them. Even when I got out I never said, oh yeah, you wouldn’t believe what they…” I never did that because that’s still being disrespectful. They probably do have weapons over there, it was an old Air Force base previously and it has a long history, a long history – it’s just one disaster into the next disaster into the next disaster and then it finally died. I remember reading in the newspaper, ‘Seneca Army Depot closing’ and it made me cry. It wasn’t because any other reason than I thought, “It finally can rest, that ground can finally rest.”
H: While you were at the Depot, did you have any interaction as a soldier with women from the camp?
B: Oh, no, I had a Sergeant who kept me away anytime there was female protestors because he didn’t want me to be confused in with them. There wasn’t too many females on the post. I think there was me three others on the post at the time.
H: How many people were posted there altogether?
B: I don’t know the exact number. It wasn’t a large post. It was a small post. I had been stationed at posts where there was 3000 soldiers. At Seneca there were maybe 300, but there wasn’t that many females. There was one who was in the office and there was a sergeant and another female, I think, and then me. So whenever there was any protestors from the woman’s camp they didn’t allow us out there because they didn’t want to get us confused with the protestors because they might have uniforms on or we might be in civilian clothes and they didn’t want to mistreat their own kind in the confusion it could cause.
H: Is that something they actually told you or something you understood by the way they interacted?
B: That’s something they told us. I think that was their way of protecting us. Even though, you would think if you work day-to-day with somebody you’d know who they were in a crowd, but if I got mixed in with the protesters, it could be confusing especially since lots of times they’d send their troops over there dressed in civilian clothes. So that was something they did to protect us. That was their own way of doing it and that’s okay - I can’t say they’re wrong.
H: Besides telling you not to go over to the camp, did they share any other information about the camp?
B: Well, some of the sergeants did and it wasn’t too nice. But that was after the briefing that they gave us, during the scuttle, how everybody talks afterwards. They’d say, “Yeah, you wouldn’t believe what they do over there.” And it was all fallacy what they were spreading in there because they didn’t know. So when I went over to the camp, I had all this malarkey in my head because and I had to go see.
H: Can you give us an idea of what they said?
B: I don’t even remember, it was just silly, it was so outlandish.
Leeann and ? cleaning out the fridge Photo by Alice O'Malley, ca. 1990
H: Did you get the sense in your time at the Depot that they were using surveillance so they would know what was happening at the Encampment?
B: The Army teaches you, ‘keep your enemy close.’ So I imagine they did. I was in the ordinance, I wasn’t on the other side of that but I’m sure they did because you’d have to because you’re a risk, you’re a security risk for their own safety. At the camp you did your own kind of surveillance – you were over to check the fences and, so you did your own kind. You did what you were capable of, the military just had a little bit more experience in that game.
E: And they had more equipment.
B: Yeah, they had more equipment but they also had more experience – they’d been doing it for hundreds of years. So yes, I imagine they did. I’d be lying if I said, [modified voice] “Oh no, not them. They would never do…” No, I imagine they did just because they want to know what was going on. That’s what they do with everybody. They spy on them for a long time. [modified voice] “Let’s dissect them in a thousand different ways and let’s see if we can think like them.” And they never can think like them because they’re so stuck in their little blocks.
H: By 1986, women at the Encampment were concerned that microwave zapping  was happening from the base - is that anything you ever had any inkling of while you were stationed there?
B: I heard the women talk about it at the camp. I don’t want to talk about it anywhere else. There are certain things I’d rather not talk about because I respect, whether it be right or wrong, I respect a lot of things. It’s just like I’ll only tell women’s first names because I respect their anonymity not to tell their last names. God knows, there might be a thousand Otters out there or something like that [hershe laughter]. It’s my way of being respectful. But I’ll say, I know more now than I did back then about what our military government does. And it tells me that they continue to grow and make mistakes and we continue to grow and make mistakes and the way we learn from our mistakes is by continuing to grow. Right or wrong.
E: Once you left the camp, did you stay in touch with people?
B: I tried to for the first year or so and then I got involved in my own life and my own world. And then a while ago, after I had gone through a bad experience, I thought, I want to go find the things that made me happy in my life. And one of the things that made me happy in my life was being at the camp and meeting those people and I tried for months tracking them down on the computer, because I can be a geek on the computer, but I had no luck. I was praying about this and I’d pray and pray and pray and finally the little door opened up and I was right back there. I got names and phone numbers and was calling people and I was happy again to have found that bond.
E: What did you find on the internet?
B: I did a whole mess of searching. I did people’s names that I knew and it was like, how many people can there be out there with this kind of a name? Oh, believe me there’s more than one…hundred, two hundred. And then I started doing an active search for the camp because I figured in the day of computer, people should meet, and I found your little blog site and I messaged it and signed it from a Jane White Doe, because I though, I don’t know who’s running it so I’ll put a name that they’ll recognize. And the name I chose was ‘Jane White Doe’ because that was a standing name at the camp. And that’s when I got my response back.
E: It amazes me that, that when you looked back, the months, the few months at the camp were such a place of happiness for you, can you talk about that?
B: You’re going to make me cry. I was 22-years-old when I came to the camp and you know when you’re in your 20s you think you know everything, and at the camp I realized I was a woman. I looked in the mirror one day and I didn’t recognize who I was. And it scared the shit out of me. And there was another woman at the camp and she said, “You’ve become a woman.” And it was that moment that I said, “Okay.” And I fell in love for the first time at the camp. I had had girlfriends before, but not lovers – there’s a difference. Anyways, and it was, it was just that, [heavy sigh] ahhh, that acceptance, I don’t know, it’s that, ‘I love you no matter what and I’ll love you until I can, until you can love yourself.’ That’s what I got from the camp. [beginning to cry] And so when I share that…
E: Do you want to stop for few minutes?
B: Yeah. I have to.
BREAK IN INTERVIEW
Elizabeth Claire and ? on front porch Photo by Alice O'Malley, ca. 1990
E: While you were at the camp, can you talk about some of the things that you either got to do that you hadn’t done before or that you taught someone to do that they hadn’t done before?
B: I taught one woman, and I can’t remember her first name, I had it wrote down at my house, I taught her how to drive. I had an old, rust-box of a car, but I had a car and she didn’t know how to drive and I taught her how to drive. And it was scary and fun. I mixed concrete with another woman and we filled rat holes, because it wasn’t killing the rats then, it was just preventing their entry. Because you know how consensus works, everybody has to vote until they get their own way [Estelle laughter].
E: I remember the rats did sometimes get to be a problem as it got cold.
B: Well, do you blame them? [modified voice] “It’s cold outside, I want to go inside and live.” That’s what I would do. We were all rats, we were all heading inside. We weren’t camping out in the back field no more.
We were all heading indoors.
E: Were people still eating meals together?
B: Somebody would fix meals. It wasn’t like, oh, it’s your turn to cook, but somebody would always take the initiative to get food together and we’d eat together. If it was cold it was down by the woodstove but it wasn’t at a dinner table, it was more sit around and bullshit about what you were doing. I used to think it was funny because all these people ate different types of meals, and one of my favorite stories is, I like scrambled eggs and there were some other women at the camp who would eat scrambled eggs with me and it wasn’t a big ordeal but there was this one woman who, I’ll give her the anonymous grace and I won’t rat her out because she might be eating scrambled eggs today [Estelle laughter], but she would say, “How can you eat those whipped fetuses?!?! [all laughter] And I would just die and I would go, “With ketchup.” [all laughter]. And it wasn’t an argument, it was just this healthy bantering we had going. But then she would put brewer’s yeast on everything, and I’d say, “How can you eat those living organisms?” So we’d mess with each other about what we would eat but it was nothing harsh. She was expressing her concerns about us eating eggs and we were expressing our concerns about her eating yeast [laughter]. It was all done healthy, it wasn’t done hurtfully, there’s a difference.
E: Do you have any outstanding memories of particular women?
B: I have lots of great memories of groups of women – going over to the lakes and skinny dipping - I’d never been skinny dipping in my whole life and that was fun and hanging out with Estelle, of course, and Otter and Samoa and Leeann and other people. It was like a family, like the family you wanted, not the family you had, with everything good and everything bad all rolled in one. And you knew who you could talk to about what and you know who you couldn’t talk to about what. It was a community and everybody had their own role but it wasn’t assigned, you just stepped up to the plate. You knew what had to be done and you stepped up, you didn’t go, “well, somebody else will take care of it.” When Cindy Sangree came with hay bales to put around the outside of the house, people didn’t say, “she brought them, she can put them up,” everybody went out there and helped. It was a family. You worked together as a unit, you loved together as a unit and you watched after each other.
From Finger Lakes Times, Geneva, N.Y. , Tuesday, August 2, 1988
“EARLY MORNING ENTRY
SIX RESIDENTS OF THE WOMEN’S ENCAMPMENT FOR A FUTURE OF PEACE AND JUSTICE CLAIM TO HAVE ENTERED SENECA ARMY DEPOT ALONG ROUTE 96 EARLY FRIDAY AND AFFIXED STICKERS, LIKE THE ONE SHOWN, ON FIRE HYDRANTS, STOP SIGNS AND THE DEPOT HEADQUARTERS. ALL THE ACTIVITIES SUPPOSEDLY TOOK PLACE IN THE ADMINISTRATIVE AREA, SHOWN AT RIGHT ABOVE. THE ROUND, BLACK STICKERS, BEARING A PINK TRIANGLE AND THE LETTERING ARE SLIGHTLY LARGER THAN THE ONE REPRODUCED AT LEFT. “
E: Were there still actions going on?
B: Yeah, there was the ‘Silence=Death’ action and there was other ones that were going on that I wasn’t involved with but I knew about. For the ‘Silence=Death’ action I walked them out to the back fence and that was the night a lot of people got poison ivy and I didn’t get poison ivy [shared laughter].
H: Once you were at the camp, did you interact at the base or in any way that they would’ve known that you were now at the camp?
B: I didn’t hide that fact, if I was asked. I was also taught, ‘If you’re not asked directly, you don’t answer directly.’ I didn’t go back to the post and say, “Oh, I just came back from the camp.” Nobody asked me. They didn’t say, “What did you do this weekend? Where were you?”
“I was hanging out with some friends.”
“Well, what type of friends?” They never asked because in the military it’s cut and dry.You’re there and you do your job.
H: So you didn’t have the occasion to be in a group of peace camp women where soldiers might have recognized you?
B: Oh, I got picked up at the front gate at an action I was at. There was a whole mess of women at the main gate and I was on the other side of the road and down a little and this car pulled up along side and wanted to arrest me. And I was like, “What did I do?” I wasn’t at the gate, I was down probably like 50 yards from the front gate and they said, “You’re a 36-year-old wanted for transportation of explosives.” And I’m like, “This is a bunch of malarkey! I want to see a picture of this woman you’re identifying.” And it didn’t even look nothing like me yet they said it did. But they didn’t arrest me, I think they were just saying, we gotcha, we know that you belong to us already - it was their way of messing with me. They had all these protesters at the front gate and I wasn’t there. I was with a group of other females that were just there for support and I was part of that back-up.
H: What were the women at the gate doing?
B: They were weaving and they were doing something else. I don’t remember because like I said, I wasn’t there to participate in the action, I was there for support. I was given the name of a person I had to know everything about in case they got arrested - that was my part - my job wasn’t to get arrested and it was really weird that the car came down past the gate and picked me out of the group of women, like, Oh, Joe Q Army girl, come here. And I said, “I want to see the picture of this person you’re looking for because I’m not 36, I’m 22.” When you’re 22, 36 is a billion years old! [Estelle laughter] 36 is old as dirt. You’re farting dust at that age. [Estelle laughter]. And the other women said, “This doesn’t look nothing like her.” And I’m thinking, God, I wonder if I can call my First Sergeant and have him bail me out if they arrest me. But I think it was just the military saying, we got you and we know that you’re doing this. It was unspoken, it was just their game and I was playing their game.
E: Did you ever see any unusual animals while you were on the base? I vaguely remember something about white frogs.
B: I don’t know anything about white frogs, I saw translucent frogs there, but that’s a common thing, I guess, because they’re found elsewhere, but there were white deer. And everybody goes, “Oh, yeah, they’re albino.” No, albino animals have red eyes or pink eyes, these deer had blue eyes and brown eyes. The fawns when they were born, would be white with brown upper crust that would be that real light brown where the white was tarnished mixed spots. And they just looked so wrong and people said, “Oh it’s because they’ve been trapped behind the 13 square mile fence since dirt was new and that’s why they lost their ability to color.” And that’s bull-malarkey if you ask me, it would take a lot longer than 50, 100 years for deer to lose their ability to color. The Army has a sticker they give you when you admit there and I have that sticker at my house, and it says, ‘Seneca Army Depot’ and there’s a picture of a white deer on it because it was something they were proud of or ashamed of or proud of or I don’t know what but it says, ‘Seneca Army Depot’ and it has the white deer on it. But they would have hunters come out and hunt them out. And they said the white deer started appearing back in the 50s when it used to be an Air Force post and if I look at what we did with our military back then it would explain to me why we have white deer and it wasn’t because they were living behind a fence.
H: Why was it?
B: I think it’s because the munitions and the technological advances that were going on. They were growing faster than their own safety. Sometimes we can’t keep up with our own advances. And I think that’s what happened. I think it was blatant mutation and it was like, “Oops, yeah, we’re going to blame it on something that people understand - interbreeding does bad things.” Because it was a rural community and there was a lot of farmers there and they kept active livestock records. So I think that’s the story they gave to explain it but I think it was just that they were doing these advances that caused this mess up and they couldn’t ‘fess up to it. And I don’t think that’s right or I don’t think it’s wrong but it was what they could do to say, to explain it. ‘Cause I’d hate to have to go, [modified voice] “The reason why these deer are white…” It’d be easier for me to tell people that I thought that that they’ve interbred. And farmers would go, [modified voice] “Oh, that makes sense” versus, [second modified voice] “Oh, I’ve had this bad chemical thing going on…” They’d go [first modified voice] “What the…” So I think they did what they, and then that, if we tell our lies long enough we believe our own lies and I think that’s what happened and I don’t think they did it on purpose. I’m not trying to say they’re good guys but I’m just trying to assign some logic to it.
The Barn Photo by Alice O'Malley, ca. 1990
H:. When you were stationed on the base, how did townspeople in general reacted toward you?
B: I didn’t think I was treated any differently because it was a small town. I’ve been at posts when you’re in a big city or a bigger area and you’re using, when you’re out dealing with the public you’re using your civilian clothes. They would see you as almost an elitist, of course the military tells you you’re an elitist too ‘cause they call the civilians, ‘Jodies.’ “The Jodies what trashed this post, they throw their garbage out, that’s why we have to go pick up the garbage along the road. Civilians.” So it was more the military pitting you against the civilians than the civilians saying that you were bad.
H: What’s a ‘Jody?’
B: A civilian.
H: But why?
B: It’s just a name, ‘Jody this and Jody that, Jody got a brand new Cadillac.’ I don’t know, that’s, [laughter], see? I still got that military head, it tells me those cadences, yet. But no, that’s what they called civilians, just ‘Jodies.’ It’s just like you’re known as a G.I. Joe. You’re a G.I. Jody right now [laughter]. So, no you’re a G.I. Joe, for Government Issued, G.I. and then Joe’s any name, ‘Joe Blow’ or ‘Joe Coffee’ or whatever.
H: When you came to the camp, did you know what had happened five years before when there were all those people?
B: No, I didn’t know about it. When I was at the post they said, “We have problems with protesters from the camp,” but they didn’t give a time frame. They didn’t say, “For the past 4000 years…” They didn’t say, “Last week.” I knew the weapons we had at the Depot, or what we supposedly had there. And I learned at the camp that women started it because they thought nuclear wars are wrong, that Ronald Reagan was wrong. And I’m thinking, Ronald Reagan is my Commander and Chief, yeah, he’s a whack job, but he’s my Commander and Chief, I have to respect him. And Gorbachev? I’m 22, I’m worldly, I know everything, but you could’ve been talking to me about Hitler as the same guy – the only thing I knew about Gorbachev is that everybody called him, ‘Garbage Truck’ and that he that little thingy on his head. I was so unattached with my world around me yet I’m supporting the troops, defending ourselves, but I didn’t know crap. So everything I learned about what the government was doing, I’d go check, I’d ask because I, I love information. I don’t like misinformation. And sometimes you’d hear these crazy stories at the camp – like, you got to get aluminum foil beanies because the microwaves would bounce off but only if the aluminum foil was shiny side out or shiny side in, I don’t remember, but that was their firm belief. And I couldn’t say, they’re fucking nuts! I couldn’t say that. I might have felt that, but they might be right. What if they are? I can’t say they’re wrong because I can’t prove it one way or the other. So I supported them in that. But see, I don’t know it as ‘microwave,’ I might know it as a different term but I can’t concur because that would be dishonoring, and right or wrong, I’ve made that commitment and I respect that.
H: Prior to going to the camp, did you know about nonviolence and civil disobedience as a form of protest and stating one’s disagreement with its government?
B: No, but I believe it was in my tour of the camp with Andrea Doremus that they were getting ready to do an action, I wish I could tell you what weekend I showed up there because they were doing an action and she said, “Do you know anything about nonviolence?” And I said, “No.” And she goes, “What about being a pacifist?” I said, “You mean…” and I made a joke about ‘passing the fist.’ I said, “I don’t know.” And she said, “Well, this is what goes on.” And I was like, I didn’t know there was an alternative to what I was shown my whole life – ‘you gotta go out there, fist the cuffs.’ Everybody’s view on nonviolence is so different, and I’m sorry, were a bunch of females, we love to split hairs on everything. My form of nonviolence is different than somebody else’s but it’s that ‘many paths to one.’ As long as I’m not actively out there injuring, that’s where my line is – as long as I’m not injuring another human being - that’s nonviolence. I might be writing graffiti on something, and that’s a form of violence to other people. So they have their understanding of nonviolence, and I have mine. And I can’t tell them that theirs is bull-malarkey. It’s not. I’m there for the singleness of one and, like I said, the many paths to the one.
H: Can you speak about expressions of your spirituality at the camp?
B: I was able to re-find my spiritual center. My spiritual beliefs are so private yet there’s so much I want share and it’s like that double-edged sword because I was coming from that fear of, oh, you’re going to be shamed about that, to where I could make connections with other women at the camp. Me and Estelle can not see each other for years and we still have that connection. You can lose everything in your life but as long as you have your spiritual center in here [gesturing to heart], you’ll make it through.
1. Seneca Army Depot – 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.
2. Zapping - a slang term for the low-level radiation weaponry used by the U.S. military against protestors at the Seneca Women's Encampment and Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp.
Posted by hershe Michele at Monday, May 21, 2007