Thursday, May 24, 2007
Photographs by Alice O'Malley
Cop on the Road, 1983
Press Corps, 1983
Front Yard, 1983
Walk for Peace, 1983
Picture Board, 1990
Picture Board, 1990
Upstairs in the Barn, 1990
Upstairs in the Barn, 1990
Upstairs in the Barn, 1990
Upstairs in the Barn, 1990
Woman Tent, 1990
Farmhouse Bedroom, 1990
Farmhouse Bedroom, 1990
Leeann, Cindy, Twilight, Estelle, 1990
Laura, PeHP gathering July 2006
Jane, PeHP gathering July 2006
Estelle, Laura, Jane, Twilight, Woody and Hershe - PeHP gathering July 2006
Aurora, PeHP gathering July 2006
Woody, Jane and Twilight - PeHP gathering July 2006
Estelle, Alice, Hershe and Twilight - May 2007
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Monday, May 21, 2007
PeHP Oral Herstory 018: Elliott batTzedek
Date: December 9, 2006
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Present: Estelle Coleman (EC), hershe Michele Kramer (H)
Transcribed by hershe Michele.
Elliott arrived at Seneca (the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice) in the summer of 1989. The following summer she helped midwife the camp’s transition from open women’s land to intentional community (Women’s PeaceLand). She left the collective in 2003.
E: My name is Elliott Femina batTzedek. It is December 9th 2006. We are recording in my house in Philadelphia, PA.
H: Why don’t we start with your poetry – what have you brought to share?
E: I brought two up to read. This first is a poem of mine called Havdalah at Women’s PeaceLand. Havdalah is a Jewish ritual you do at sunset on Saturday, so it’s the end of Shabbat and going back into the week, so it marks distinction. We really wanted to do a Havdalah, but you’re supposed to have a candle, and you’re supposed to have a little thing of spices, and you’re supposed to have some wine, and we had, of course, it being the peace camp, a cracked cup that was leaking something and we didn’t have the little box of the spices so somebody ran into the kitchen and got a jar and poked holes in it and tossed some stuff in it. And traditionally you have a braided candle so all the different flames become one, but we didn’t have that, so we all held clusters of candles and lit them off the camp fire because it was Havdalah at women’s peace camp. And the Hebrew that’s in here is, there’s a blessing that’s sung and so these are just little snatches from those blessing lines. And then traditionally at the end of that, you sing a little song, ‘sha doit tobe, sha doit tobe’ which is ‘a good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase.’ It is the song that you sing in Jewish communities and so that’s rewritten here. So this is Havdalah at Women’s PeaceLand.
The women gather
leaning into the light of the fire circle
quieting into notes strummed by the hands I love
the spark that is each woman
woven gently in
boreyt peri hagafen
wine in a tumbler
chipped edges refracting the flames
boreyt miney vesamin
cloves and cinnamon
in a tin jar marked “pepper”
boreyt m’orey ha esh
two candles lit from the fire itself
held tightly in single hand
after single hand
each made by the light distinct
and made by the shadow
part of the braid of decades and dreams
the women sing
a good week
a week of peace
stars raining gladness upon us
fireflies, more numerous than the stars
rising to dance in joy
with this newest
and oldest torah:
E: This next one is actually another piece I wrote after I’d been at the land for a couple of years and I was really dealing with my own incest stuff coming up and coping with it. This was an actual dream I had one night – even my dreams are political some times – so this was a dream I had one night about the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the time, about the U.S. and Russia having a nuclear war because, of course, we talked about that a lot there and it seemed very imminent when you were camped next to the damn bombs. And so this is a piece called, Incest Dream #1, In Which No Perpetrator = No Crime.
The bomb that fell wasn’t intentionally malicious, but an accident, the result of a simple informational malfunction.
The Russians called while the missile was still over the Atlantic. They explained and apologized and offered to pay for any damage. The Pentagon understood their situation and didn’t retaliate.
My house was far enough out not to get hit by the bomb or the heat blast or the fires. In the next day’s thick cloud I was on the streets, grabbing people and yelling about radioactivity and poison. Each person stared blankly past me and commented about what a typically foggy day it was, content with the government’s explanation that, because it wasn’t a real war, it wasn’t a real bomb, and so nothing, really, to worry about.
After negotiations, D.C. dropped a bomb on a Russian city – all very polite and civil, of course, jut to keep the numbers and types of bomb tests even. The missile that delivered it had fireworks attached that exploded into a huge Russian flag over the northeast, a symbol of our countries’ friendship.
The debris from that display was so pretty, cascading through the night sky, that it, too, could never have been really dangerous.
The ash fell onto my hair and face in white, sticky gobs that burned. I screamed and screamed for help, but no one around me could see any problem, any problem at all.
E: And that’s part of what it meant to be there was to really to choose to live in a knowledgeable way. The entire world, especially the entire U.S. population, was living as if Hiroshima had barely happened and as if these horrible, horrible weapons meant nothing and we could all just go on with our happy little lives. And to choose - and this is one of the things that drew me to there, because I need to live in truth - to choose to live at the peace camp and to engage at the peace camp was to choose to live being acutely aware it was two minutes ‘til midnight all the time and it was getting closer and we sang songs about that, about the countdown to the midnight on the atomic clock. And even if we were just playing and growing vegetables and doing daily life at the camp, it still meant you were right next to it and you had to be awake to what was happening and that had a huge impact and I think it could be really traumatizing in ways that I think we didn’t really understand until you’d go live somewhere else and try to forget about it. But it meant to choose to live the truth in a time and place where people were living in complete Reagan fantasy, right, that we were the good cowboys - that it didn’t matter what we did. And the women gathered there to say, no, this is the real truth, this is what’s going to happen, this is why we read aloud from the book about the bombing of Hiroshima every summer, right, because this is the truth. And that really mattered, I think it really mattered and it really mattered for me, I know it really mattered for all of us who were there.
EC: So you were quite a political activist before you got to the camp?
E: I was. Before I got there I’d mainly been doing feminist issues and stuff around violence against women and Take Back the Night (1) and stuff about stopping rape, and I was anti-war, but it was really in reading abut the camp even before I got there and starting to read Barbara Deming (2) and reading the anthologies, that I really got what the peace camp was doing, which was putting together the gender analysis of feminists about violence with the anti-war – sure war is bad, but at the peace camp we said, war is a set of masculine behaviors and you either have to believe they can’t be changed and therefore it’s over or we have to believe they can be changed and how are we going to learn to make a world where it’s changed. And I sort of went back and forth politically for a while because I was really strongly separatist - men are broken and they can’t be changed so what’s the point, they’re going to just blow us up. And then at the camp which was really, we have to believe that both men and women can be changed – we’re watching women be changed and we’re dropping the way that femininity has shackled us and kept us from being active people, so therefore we have to believe that men… I used to joke that at the peace camp where there were no men was the place that I most actually believed that men could be better and then you’d go out in the world and they’d be horribly violent. So at the peace camp, you could actually believe that everyone could change, people could change because we were there and we were changing.
EC: Where did you first hear about the peace camp?
E: I heard about the camp when I lived in Madison (WI) and my lover at the time, Mari, and I were riding our bikes down the road and there was a car with really interesting bumper stickers so we left a note on the windshield saying you must be new in town, call us. And it was Amy Batsapora and her girlfriend, Alice, who had just moved there and were really happy to meet other lesbians - not just to meet lesbians, but to meet other lesbian feminists. And so they had come to Madison from the camp.
EC: What year was that?
E: It was ‘87 or ’88. I can’t remember exactly when they moved there. But we got to be really good friends with Amy and Valerie who told us nonstop stories about the peace camp.
H: Had you heard about the camp in 1983 when it opened?
E: I heard a little bit about it – I knew there were some people going up to it, but I was in college in southern Wisconsin and was politically completely clueless. So I knew there were some women making some quilt for the Pentagon and I was like, whatever, and had no clue. And then I had been in graduate school and stuff, so no, I hadn’t heard about it because I’d been on the west coast or in the Midwest and I just hadn’t heard about it.
So then Amy talked about it all the time and I was enchanted because I loved the stories and, the stories were women doing this and women going over the fence and women rescuing each other and women singing songs that turned off the power at Greenham (3) and, I was completely enchanted.
So then, I think that summer, it must have been summer of ’88, Mari and I were at a separatist gathering in southern Wisconsin and Hershe showed up and said she was a peace camp woman and I actually think I’d heard your [to Hershe] name from Valerie, anyway. So we really connected at the sep thing which was kind of hostile to the women in their 20’s that no one knew so we all completely bonded and plus we wanted to sit around the campfire and use water containers to play drums and sing all night and the older, political women thought that we were not political enough so we totally bonded and again, learned peace camp songs and just learned stories from there and, so we were completely enchanted.
And then Hershe, I think it might have been right after that, sometime that summer, Hershe ended up at our house in Madison to do, because she was taking a drive-away car somewhere for some reason, so she stayed overnight or for a couple of days, I don’t remember, and again, we sang songs all night and told stories and then I was at Michigan (4) that summer and the peace camp women were all around the triangle camp fire at night because one particular peace camp women was playing her guitar all night long which was Otter [see Herstory 014] – that’s where I first met her – around that campfire at two in the morning playing ‘Built for Comfort,’ which left a lasting impression.
And so then the next year, Mari and I were in separate graduate programs in Minnesota and we took our summer vacation and drove to the peace camp. So that was the summer of ’89, some time in mid-July we showed up there after driving through Canada.
EC: What was it like when you first got there?
E: Empty. Mari and I drove up. We’d been car-camping in this tiny little orange Mercury Bobcat hatchback with my 6-month old puppy, and we drove up to the camp and I was expecting thousands of women and a well-run office that was getting the mail and organizing donations and we get there and it’s this decaying farm and there’s no one there. There’s completely no one there. So we parked the car and 10 minutes later someone drives by and takes a picture of our car – we’re like, this must be the right place. The shitters [outhouses] were right there and the wall of the shitters had the thing about ‘Welcome to… pick up your orientation materials…’ So we went to the house that was unlocked and we found the folder on the woodstove that said, ‘Peace Camp Orientation.’ And so we read it and we followed the directions in there to get to Ithaca to the Coop and bought some food and came back and there was still no one at the peace camp so we did what it said on the Orientation stuff and it was empty so we chose a room upstairs and we assumed the dog was welcomed because nobody said she wasn’t and we made some dinner and we went to sleep. We got up the next day and we, there was somebody in town to call – I don’t remember what, but it said call somebody in Ithaca – so we called and said, hey, we’re at the peace camp. They’re like, oh, some women will be up this weekend. It was a Tuesday or Wednesday – I don’t remember – we’re like, okay. So then we went out and walked all around the land and went and looked at all the pictures painted on the barn and ran another errand somewhere and came back and there was this young woman from New Zealand there who said, “Oh good! Peace Camp women. I wondered where everyone was!” And she had hitchhiked with a skateboard and had been dropped off at the peace camp. So we were like, we don’t know what’s going on but here, we’ll make some dinner and so for three days, we were the peace camp until women showed up – finally that weekend women - because everybody had been there for July 4th but this was right after July 4th – we didn’t know about July 4th or we would have come earlier. So we were the peace camp for three or four days and we went and got mail from the post office and wrote down some messages off the telephone and put them in the little folder for messages and kind of just hung out there until women started showing up that weekend. By that weekend there were, I don’t know, maybe eight or nine women showed up for the weekend but we were there and we were the peace camp which was really weird, but also really – when it was really functioning, that worked really well, because in fact, any woman could show up and answer the phone and send mailings out – anyone could show up and actually make it work which was a very cool model and I still tell people about that – if you write really good directions, then you just follow the directions. It was very easy.
EC: Had you done civil disobedience, had you had nonviolence training?
E: I hadn’t, we actually did have nonviolence training that summer – I’d done a lot of political activism and organizing but I had never done that kind of formal, right-up-against-the-military, right-up-against-the-police, nonviolence – we’d done more of the middle-of-the-night, or the protest marchers, but I hadn’t done that kind of training. So we actually did that over that summer – I don’t even remember because that was the summer of ’89, and there were actually a lot of women around over the summer. I think Mari and I were there until we went to Michigan, so we were there until some time in August. It seemed longer, I mean it was like a month, but it seemed like a long time because so much happened and so many women kept coming and going and we learned about zapping (5) that summer and we met Woody, actually I think Woody showed up that first weekend - and we found out about all this stuff that was going on in the world and women came through from Greenham and women just kept wandering through and so we learned this tremendous amount in what was really a really short period of time AND got zapped pretty bad a few times so really came to know about that - pretty much, in fact, as soon as Woody showed up.
H: Tell us what you found about zapping – what did women know at that time?
E: It’s hard because I don’t exactly know what I learned that summer versus other times but we found out about the different kinds of microwave radiation and just the basic stuff, knowing that our bodies have an energy level and then radio waves are a different level and TV waves are another level, microwaves are another level and that this was, in fact, simple another kind of weapon that used the electricity of our own bodies. And we certainly heard the stories of about women having the violent dreams, women having suicidal dreams, we would get hit with tremendous headaches that would cease as soon as you walked off of the land. It really bothered my puppy, Beau - we would all just be sitting around and she would be frantically scratching at her ears. Also at some point that summer the vacuum kept turning itself on in the middle of the night – it was plugged in but turned off and at night it would happen – the vacuum would turn itself on and it was weird. That was very weird. The woman from New Zealand stayed the whole summer so she was there the whole time.
H: Was the idea that the military could be directing this weapon at you hard to believe? Did you have doubt that that was happening?
E: I had no doubt at all that it was happening and I don’t even know why – well, you know, because I knew that we had, even though I was, okay, an infant at the time or a young child, I knew that we had dropped these horrible chemical weapons all over Vietnam. I knew our own military had shot students on their campuses in the seventies – I knew that because I had this radicalizing history once I came out as a dyke and started reading everything. So I absolutely knew that they were capable of it so it didn’t surprise me at all. And it was coming out of the Reagan years so I believed anything at that point because the man made jokes about the bombing’s going to commence, right? So I believed anything at that point – anything within reason, but that was certainly within reason for me that the government was developing kinds of crowd-control weapons that would be anonymous because they had gotten in so much trouble in the Vietnam era for actually shooting American citizens, that I completely believed that they were doing something that would let them not get into so much trouble but still absolutely control people. And there was a lot of documentation, the women from Greenham came through and talked about how they had done all of the record keeping there for years – this clearly wasn’t one person saying, “I’m having a bad day,” there were groups of women who had carefully and, we met Laura Boswell that summer. Otter had already been at the peace camp for a while and I met Sarra [see Herstory 021] there that summer and Cindy Sangree– these eminently rational, calm women – they weren’t even the big rah, rah, fuck the patriarchy activists – they were, especially Cindy, was very calm and very academic and just had the facts. And I experienced it. I experienced the walking off the land and having it stop and watching my dog react to things that we did not know were happening, so it made perfect sense to me.
EC: Did you participate in any actions that first summer?
E: I didn’t ever go into the base, in part because I realized during the nonviolence training that it was not ever going to be okay with me for some man to grab me and put handcuffs on me, that I would not respond to that in a nonviolent way, ever, because of my own personal history – somebody grabs me, I’m going to fight for my life, which is not going to work in and intentional civil disobedience setting. But that was good to know – we did that training and I’m, like, okay, I know this about me now. I did a lot of support for other women who were doing things.
EC: Do you remember any of the actions?
E: We did, some women came and there was a parade down to the depot gates and we got balloons and people went in, people meaning ‘women’ of course, [laughter] ‘women-people’ went in over the fences and put balloons with messages on them around the soldier’s housing and we did some spray painting of army recruitment billboards in the local area and either that summer or the next summer, I confuse them, there were a lot of the carpet actions which I loved – I learned a lot from the carpet actions where you’d simply throw carpet over the fence and then go back home and then call the military an hour or so later and say, “Hey, have you picked up the women yet?” And just sit and watch them drive around the base all night looking for women that weren’t there because they were sitting around the campfire back home – which is a brilliant model for activism – I’ve used that in other ways to say, you know, we don’t actually have to do it, we only have to make them think that we’ve done it. And that’s really useful, especially if you’re a small group up against a big powerful group - that was brilliant. And they’d, like all night, they’d be out looking for these women and we’d just be hanging out. I was actually living there two summers, and I remember there were women going into the base all the time and we were going over and getting them out/ That was the year a lot of Barbara Bush’s got arrested for going over to the base [laughter] – there were nine women – “What’s your name?”
EC: Do you remember what your average day there was like?
E: They just never seemed very average. [laughter] There was a lot of talking, that’s what I loved - hearing peace camp stories but also life stories and the singing and the story-telling at night. A lot of the days were kind of ordinary in that we were coping with making meals – especially if there were a lot of women there and the kitchen was tiny and when there were meetings which Mari and I were completely welcomed at although we had just shown up. Any woman who came could come to the meetings and learn about the financial situation and help send out mailings and write thank-you letters to donors and do the business of the peace camp. We spent a lot of time in the hammock because that was a really good place, or going over to take showers at the state park and, I don’t know if it was that summer or the next one, where there was the big topless demonstrations in Rochester so we were helping do that and trying not to get arrested swimming nude in Seneca Lake and that – it was always about the women and about talking about the world and about what are we going to do about what’s happening in the world and that conversation was just nonstop in many different kinds of ways and then meeting all of these women who were coming through.
EC: And then of course, there was process [laughter].
E: Well, there was always process but that was part of the community, it just was.
EC: Had you used consensus process in other organizations?
E: We had, but we’d used it for either short-term things, like for a Take Back the Night march, or we’d use it within very well-defined groups – I had never seen anyone [laughter] and I still don’t think we should, try to do consensus with anyone who wandered off the highway [laughter]. “I’ve shown up for today only, but we’re going to consense!” And somebody who’s wandered in can block consensus and then wander out and never be heard from again.. So that was, it was an education and partly in not how to do it. But it seemed to function nonetheless It was an experiment and it was an amazing experiment but if this is women’s land, open to any woman and every woman has an equal right to have a say and an understanding in what is happening – that was an amazing experiment. We ran into the limits of that as an experiment, but it’s not wrong to have tried, because it certainly pushed the boundaries and, I think, on good days, it taught us about how to educate women around these issues really quickly, like, you’re new here, come to the campfire tonight and hear women’s stories – and you’d learn so much from that but not in an official, now-you-have-to-go-take-a-class-on-the-histroy-of-nuclear-politics way. But just really come and hear what women have to say about it and what they’re thinking about it and that’s really important even if it made the consensus process – I mean, there were days when we’d, especially because that next summer was Transform or Die (6) there were literally days where I would just borrow somebody’s car and just get the hell off the land because if I had to go through one more hour of meeting, I was going to do physical harm to women I cared about [laughter]. I cannot anymore hear how any one FEELS about the issue – like, stop feeling! Just think, make a decision for god’s sakes! [laughter].
EC: In that first month that you and Mari were there, how many women would you say came through?
E: I just have no idea – maybe, there might have been maybe 30-50 – but women came and told stories about other women who I met later, so I felt like I kind of met them then. Or there were women who were friends of women I knew – so the network felt huge even if there were at any one time, not that many women on the land - there was this clear sense of walking into this web that still exists and every where you go you meet peace camp women. So there was this vast web that we were already a part of before we got there because we had been meeting peace camp women and then we got there and became part of that web and it just, it was just everywhere because then we were at Michigan and, of course, there were peace camp women at Michigan who hadn’t been to the camp but now I’d been at the camp so I was a peace camp woman so, it became just this vast web so I don’t remember that summer – the next summer for Transform or Die, a lot more women were there because we’d spent time putting out publicity saying, come to the camp, we’re going to have this big meeting. So there were a lot more there the second summer.
H: Tell us how you decided to come back again after that first summer.
E: Well, how did I decide to come back again? First there was Otter whom I’d met that summer and had gotten involved with and she was in Ithaca at the time so I wanted to come back out and spend the summer at the camp and at Ithaca with Otter. But I also, I was in a Women’s Studies program and we had to do an activist internship somewhere so I got Cindy, who has a PhD, to be my professor and actually coming out and helping do ‘Transform or Die’ was my summer internship and I got graduate credit for it – somewhere I have the paper I wrote about it – I’ll find it, I don’t have it right now, but I’ll find it for you – that was about the process. But also I wanted to be at the peace camp and I came out for the summer and we did a lot of meetings but I also had a lot of sex with my girlfriend and met a lot of really cool women and, so the meetings were intense but it was also I wanted to be there because it was a really good place to be. It’s where I wanted to be that summer – back on the land with the women with my dog.
EC: In what ways were woman at the camp different from one another?
E: There were women from other countries, like Canada, [laughter] but no, there were some British women there who had been at Greenham that were coming through. In its way it was really, it was diverse in terms of life experiences – there were women there who had been in the military themselves and there were women who had gotten married young and had a lot of kids and then came to the political work much later in their lives and there were women. And there were women there who had grown up with tremendous privilege and there were women there who had grown up with nothing, really nothing, and they all came to the camp. That was really important to me. And there were, you know there were a range of political identities - there were women who were very hardass separatist and there were women who resisted that and there were straight women and there were asexual women and bisexual women and it’s-none-of-your-business women but I actually think our identities about it were farther apart than our actually politics – like, we were all at the peace camp and we all knew we wanted not just nuclear power, we wanted military and national governments to be over [laughter]. Although there were some women, I know historically, there were some women there who sort of really loved their country but just wanted no nuclear weapons but by the time I came in the late ‘80s it was women who really believed that we shouldn’t have national governments and militaries at all because that hadn’t gotten us anywhere it was a bad idea for women and it kept women and children from connecting and it caused children to starve and, so I think that had changed by then. There were differences but I think they seemed bigger than they were.
H: Did you come up against feelings that the peace camp shouldn’t even still be there anymore?
E: I didn’t get that until the Transform or Die summer, yeah, because who I’d met of course the first summer were women who still came, like the two of you, right, and women who were still coming and who were still living there so it wasn’t until that Transform or Die thing where some of the women from the earlier years of the peace camp came on the land and that was – the weeks of Transform or Die were really intense because those conversations were like, “What are you people still doing here? We did the real political work, now there’s just these freeloaders who expect women to support them.” And I also came up that summer against some women who came there who were there because they had no where else to be in the world and no resources and felt like if they came there they’d be taken care of and often were living with a lot of diagnosed or not diagnosed mental health issues that made them vulnerable and fragile and yet aggressive and really difficult to deal with so I didn’t see that the first summer as much – I certainly heard stories about it from Otter and from Sarra about the bad winter with the woman who showed up with a gun and wouldn’t leave because some other woman’s land had kicked her off. So I had heard those stories but I actually met them that summer and really that summer learned about that conflict between – we came here for one summer vs. we came here for one summer to do a political protest kind of as opposed to this is an ongoing cultural revolution where we’re going to try to invent a new way of living and that conflict was really intense over Transform or Die – really intense.
EC: One of the things I’d like you talk about is disability on the land.
E: I haven’t even thought about that in so long but at the time I was doing work at women’s music festivals as an accessibility coordinator. We came to the camp from the East Coast Lesbian Festival one year with the women who had been my crew to make that accessible.
There was a commitment to that at the camp. A lot of energy went into keeping that ramp to the front and the boardwalk there when, in fact, there hadn’t been a woman there in a chair in the entire time I was there. There were women with all other kinds of physical mobility issues for whom the ramp was useful. And we did spend a lot of time really trying to get women to understand you can’t just throw your stuff in the middle of the room even though it wasn’t a problem for anyone on the land at that point, we need to be open to women who come. It needs to be accessible. And then once it became Peaceland and you [to Estelle] and Anne were living there – the accessibility became a real day-to-day issue. You wanted to put the washing machines in the house because going out on the icy roads was dangerous. And I know there were some women who had been at peace camp before who were horrified that this was going to happen at which point we said, yeah, but you don’t get a vote anymore. But it’s also that idea that the peace camp would be this kind of complete eco-living and women would wash their clothes on a rock – but it made no sense in terms of real women living there with real accessibility concerns.
EC: And numbers had changed enormously, it wasn’t like there was going to be laundry being done for 30 or 50 women at a time living on the land.
E: And 20 years had passed and we were all older. It’s one thing to decide you don’t need warm running water for a shower when you’re 21 – it’s a whole other thing to not need a warm running shower when you’re in your mid-40s and it’s January in New York state. [laughter] But there were often women there with different kinds of physical disabilities and we always did what ever we could to make it possible – whether that was, we ramped the one little shower area and built a privacy screen because there was a woman there with MS and she couldn’t go to the back area, it was too far, and we did the driving cars to the back fire circle because after a while we couldn’t really keep the boardwalk up anymore, it was just too rotten, and we didn’t have the money to rebuild it. But also we were doing intentional community at that point and the women who were living here got to decide.
H: How did the intentional community idea come about? Take us back to the summer of Transform or Die.
E: Transform or Die happened because we, being the women who were still actively involved, after the land was paid off, well, the land had been paid off but people had loaned money to get it paid off and we had been paying them back slowly through donations for years and we hit a point where we had paid back everything. But there weren’t that many women there anymore and so we realized we needed to have a big gathering to make a decision about what are we going to do? Are we going to sell the land? Are we going to give it to the Cayuga? (7) Are we going to make a nature reserve? Are we going to keep living here as a peace presence? There were all these conflicting opinions and the land needed a lot of work and upkeep that had not been happening. So we decided the only way to do that was to call the women home and to put out a big thing all over the country – we put things in Lesbian Connection and all these newsletters saying we’re going to have this process called Transform or Die, although Mari advocated hard for calling it, Transform or Transform – because you know, we all transform when we die. But it was going to be this big gathering and we would make decisions communally about what the future of the land and the peace camp were going to be. Xi Redwolf did these wonderful drawings that was a snake wearing a tool belt – I don’t even know how she did it but they were really great. We probably have those somewhere – they were really funny because she was a woman who was there at the time. So we put out this notice that there was going to be this meeting and I think I got to the land in late-May that year and it was going to be sometime in July so we kept putting out word but we had no idea what was going to happen, who was going to be there.
H: What year this was?
E: Transform or Die was the summer of ’90 because ’89 was my first summer, so we knew we had to make these decisions and the only way to make them was to get as many women as possible there talking and thinking about it – including the different sets of opinions about it. So we did everything we could – we got silk-screening materials and we had a little design – the Transform or Die summer design and we silk-screened everything. We silk-screened everything flat at the peace camp – towels, pants, everything got silk-screened with this. And we gathered tools and waited and those days of waiting were total magic because we’d go to sleep and they’re maybe eight women on the land and you’d get up in the morning and there’d be four more who would’ve arrived in the middle of the night and then you’d be having lunch and the dogs would start barking and there would be a truck driving up with three more women in it – many of whom I’d heard stories about – other women knew them but I’d never met them. It was just astounding! Estelle just kept saying, if you call the women home, they’ll come – the women always find a way back home. And sure enough, more women would just appear!
EC: Weren’t those lines from a song (8)?
E: They were from a song, [laughter] And women just kept appearing and we started these meetings and I don’t know how long, it seemed like it went on for months, it probably went on for about a week of intense, all-day and then around the campfire all night – stories women were telling, and how passionately. After a few days, we had this horrible impasse about the kind of one-summer-only crowd – this is stereotyping them, but the one-summer-only, it’s-time, you’re-not-doing-political-work-here-anymore, this-isn’t-real-political-work crowd and the cultural-revolution crowd. It was this horrible impasse and no decision could be made – consensus was not only blocked, but impossible and we finally, I don’t remember how this happened, but at one point somebody said stop, stop, stop, let’s all just talk about our feelings about this land. And women started talking and crying – it was just intense. Women felt the land as a woman they loved – this wasn’t just land, this was ‘she’ and ‘her,’ actually later that summer at Michigan, there’s a woman’s dance troupe, whose name I just totally blanked, did a performance – no, I’d seen this in Madison – women did this dance performance about the break-up of a collective, their dance collective had broken up and they had a dressmaker’s female model – so it’s just the torso with no head or arms because it’s the dressmaker’s model and they had her on stage and as they danced, they physically lunged it at each other and they’re heavy and they’d catch them and go backwards –
“I loved her!”
“No, I loved her!”
“You never loved her enough!”
“You never knew who she was!”
- all the things that we scream at each other and they did this as a dance. And at the end everyone hugged the danceform and left and she was alone on stage. And I felt that about women talking about the land that summer - everyone loved, and we said, ‘the land,’ but what we meant was, the capital ‘L’ land, which was not separable from the women and the women’s life stories. We said ‘land’ but what we meant was, the experience we had together there and what it meant for each of us and how we carried it – we carried it here [gesturing to gut] and here [gesturing to chest], some women carried it up here [gesturing to head] – but when you really got started talking it was here, so that you couldn’t quite breath when you felt like you might lose it and it was womb energy – it was the heartland, it was the womb, it was the giving birth to the new world – it was, it was this physical, it was physical for all of us. So women started talking about it and the one woman who’s name I don’t know who had been in this years-long, horrid custody battle with this violent ex-husband and all these peace camp women had been supporting her and if she moved away from him he’d steal her child – it was this whole… and the land was caught up in that for her and her kid who had been a child but was at that point a teenager. And women’s ashes – that’s when I found out that there were women’s ashes on the land that had been brought there after they had died – I hadn’t known that. And that conversation, it just changed every…and women were just sobbing and that seem to go on for days, it probably went on for a few hours, but it went on past dinner and well into the night. That conversation changed everything because women, once we all knew that this was this capital ‘L’ platonic [inaudible] ideal land that we carried in our physical bodies, there were women there who basically said at that point, you know what, it’s with me, it’s not here for me anymore, it’s in me, I am going to step aside from this decision because clearly I hear some – I think it was Cindy Sangree who finally said this outloud, she can be a woman of such tremendous principle, I’ve learned so much from her – she finally said, “You all want to be here, you should make the decision. I don’t, therefore I’m going to step aside and not even be a part of that conversation, because I just can’t be. I’ll keep paying for the garbage to be picked up. Here’s what I can do and now I’m going to step out of the conversation.” And the women who really felt like to continue would be to somehow harm this thing in them could really say, “You love it as much as I do but in a new way – there’s a new wave of energy coming, therefore, I’m going to step out of the meeting, stay – nobody left – but I’m going to step out of the meeting.” Which was a model for me of a kind of integrity about letting go – I had crazy adults in my life, I never saw anybody let go of anything – so that was a model of a kind of integrity about how to let go. learned from that, that at some point it’s okay instead of staying and fighting bitterly, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go and it’s, not only is it okay to go, it can be a good thing to know when it’s time to go – to know when it’s time to stay is important, but women are always taught that – stay connected, hang on no matter what – women are never taught it’s okay to, in a principled way, say, I’m walking away now. And so I learned that there that I had never learned in my life. I’d never seen – I’d seen women get angry and storm away – I’ll burn it, take it down before I let you” – but I’d never seen women simple say, my time here is done. I love all of you but I’m leaving. And that was, that’s been a really important life lesson. So once that happened – it was such a blur, and there were literally meetings where I would just walk out because I couldn’t take it anymore - but once that happened, the energy shifted and for the rest of the week we could really talk about, those of us who knew we were committed to staying, we were committed to this idea of a perpetual presence on the land, of being there as long as there was war, we could therefore make decisions about how we were going to make that real because we didn’t have to fight about it anymore. And some time on Saturday we came, we started finally agreeing after this entire week, we started reaching consensus. We were going to form a separate collective, we were going to become a women’s land trust. I don’t think we settled on a name right away but we knew it would be women’s peace something but we didn’t want to be the peace camp anymore. We knew we would be something different and we knew we were going, we knew the land had been paid for, we knew we were going to become an intentional community although we didn’t know what that meant yet. We knew women were going to go back and start researching different models and then we had dinner and then we kept meeting and at that time we all lost our collective minds. I don’t know if you [to Estelle] remember that part of the meeting – totally lost our minds – we consensed on everything. We consensed that beginning the next morning, since the back part of the house, the dorm and the attic were starting to be very decrepit, we agreed that we would wake up in the morning and tear them down [laughter]. We agreed that we would – I don’t even remember anymore – that was the crazy agreement – because we were so happy to finally be consensing on things and we all felt so connected and sisterly lovely and we were all cuddling in the hammock and we agreed to crazy, crazy stuff and we get up in the morning – a lot of women had gone home – and we got up in the morning, okay, the fact that we’ve reached consensus, we were giddy, we are not going to tear down a third of the house today because none of us here have the tools or the skill to do it. We agreed to crazy things.
EC: I remember saying to Leeann, wait a minute, this is an agreement we came to because of this pressure.
E: Because we were happy to be agreeing, but it was crazy.
H: Which is why you had to have consensus at three meetings before you could change the respected policies.
E: And that was the thing about that summer - we decided pretty early on in Transform or Die that the peace camp with its set of rules, were over. It was a contentious decision but we decided that. And now we had a free open space to make up new rules and that’s part of what took so long that week was trying to agree what the new rules might be and there were women who didn’t want to let go of the old rules and there were women who had rules that they remembered being rules that none of us had every heard of and there were, so it was, it was, those first few days were really rough. Women stayed and stayed with the process but it was not easy in any way.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
1. Take Back the Night - (also known as Reclaim the Night) is an internationally held march and rally originated by the radical feminist movement to protest rape and other forms of violence against women. The term "Take Back the Night" came from the title of a 1977 memorial read by Anne Pride at an anti-violence rally in Pittsburgh.The first known "Take Back the Night" march in the United States was organized in San Francisco, California on November 4, 1978, by Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media and marched through the red-light district of San Francisco in protest of rape and pornography.
2. Barbara Deming (July, 23 1917 – August 2, 1984) - writer and activist who was one of 54 Seneca peace camp women arrested at the Waterloo Bridge, August 1, 1983. Her essay about this protest—which was her last—is included with the reprinted Prison Notes under the title Prisons That Could Not Hold (1985). Deming’s passionate and practical articulation of nonviolent struggle presented in the articles, essays, letters and books she wrote, most notably, Prison Notes (1966) Revolution and Equilibrium (1971), We Cannot Live Without Our Lives(1974) and Remembering Who We Are (1981), affirm her as one of the most significant nonviolent theorists in U.S. history. She stands alone among nonviolence theorists not only because her ideology was secular, but because she was a woman, a lesbian, a feminist.
3. Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp –an ongoing nonviolent protest outside the U.S. Air Force base at Greenham Common in England, 1981-2000. On August 28, 1981, 40 women marched 110 miles to the U.S. Air Force base at Greenham Common, the proposed site of 96 U.S. cruise missiles. Eight days later, four women chained themselves to the air base fence. From this direct action a women’s peace camp was born. On March 21, 1982, 10,000 people demonstrated at the base. 250 women engaged in a 24-hour blockade – 34 were arrested. On December 12, 1982, 300,000 women linked hands to embrace the 9-mile fence encircling the base. Although the last of U.S.’s 96 cruise missile were removed in 1991, women stayed on at Greenham until 2000 to ensure that the base was closed down. In March of 1997, the land was purchased by the Greenham Common Trust and returned to a variety of civilian uses.
4. 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.
5. Zapping – low frequency, electromagnetic wave weaponry used by the U.S. government. The use of zapping against nonviolent protestors at Seneca Women’s Peace Camp and Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was first confirmed by women at Greenham who brought microwave testing equipment to the camp in 1985 after a pattern of illnesses began to be established. Subsequent testing at Seneca in 1986, where women had been suffering from similar illnesses, confirmed zapping was in use there as well. Documented symptoms of exposure to such weapons include: severe headaches, memory and concentration problems, irregular menstrual cycles, post-menopausal bleeding, nausea, ear pain, dizziness, fatigue and sleep disturbances.
6. Transform or Die – a nine-day gathering at the Seneca Women’s Peace Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in the summer of 1989 to discuss the future of the camp.
7. Cayuga Nation - aka the Gayogoho:no, 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 and includes the land of the Seneca 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.
8. Peace camp song lyric “… the women always find their way back home…” from Ain’t Life a Bitch, Average Dyke Band (ADB), 1985. [see Song 034]
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by Ann Pettitt
Posted October 19, 2006 at www.opendemocracy.net
Ann Pettitt helped set up the peace-camp at Greenham Common. She is the author of Walking to Greenham: How the Peace Camp Began and the Cold War Ended (Honno, 2006).
The Greenham Common peace-camp was set up in September 1981 outside the United States military base there in Berkshire, western England. The camp started with a march to the base - which I and three other women kick-started from southwest Wales - to oppose the installation of ninety-six nuclear-armed cruise missiles. It was the height of the "second cold war". Ronald Reagan was in power in Washington, Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow, and Margaret Thatcher in London. It was a time of fear.
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The twenty-fifth anniversary of the beginning of the camp has given the event a brief twirl around the world of the media soundbite. Reaction to the very words "Greenham Common" seems to be a mixture of distaste and awe, a wary impulse that prompts a brief knee-bending towards "one of the largest movements of the late 20th century" before moving swiftly on, mentioning that it had little discernible effect since, in the eyes of most analysts, the arms race would anyway have ended without catastrophe, in just the way it did.
The implication: it never mattered very much, and all that's left is nostalgia.
Predictable questions are designed to elicit predictable answers:
"Why did you organise a march to Greenham Common?" "Because we thought there was going to be a nuclear war."
"Did you ever imagine, when there were just the four of you sitting round your kitchen table, that two years later there would be 50,000 women demonstrating?" (This is the invariable "jam-jar" moment, when we are stuffed into the "just ordinary housewives and mums, with our little protest" container, and the lid sealed).
"We knew we had to succeed - we didn't know how exactly that would happen, no". (Would they ever believe that we actually knew what we were doing, and where we had to reach, politically?)
"How long did you stay (at the peace-camp)?"
"Oh, a few weeks, maybe a couple of months if you added it all up, over a few years..."
"Oh..." (Puzzlement is registered, for this is the "wrong" answer. What I was meant to say was: "I stayed there the next ten years, forsaking my family, my job, for this cause. It empowered me. My life changed utterly." To do so would of course also feed the iconic, "dedicated-but-dotty fanatic" media stereotype meant to fit us all.)
What made the movement tick? Why did we want this to be an action defined by women, when in truth, we had little sympathy for the direction taken by feminism in the 1970s?
Genuine movements begin with genuine feelings which give people the courage to take risks and to disrupt their lives. In the early 1980s, feelings of profound apprehension ran very deep, and very powerfully, through women and especially through mothers. A friend of mine, a perfectly sane, sensible person, can recall working out, in detail, how she would kill her own children, if war seemed imminent. Men too were worried, but often seemed to think the situation was hopeless. Were we experiencing a collective psychosis, or were our feelings telling us that we really were in mortal danger?
This, essentially, was our message: one of urgency, of a wake-up call, a demand for new thinking on the part of our political leaders. What distinguished the thinking of the "cold warriors" from that of the "peaceniks" was that the former didn't think the situation was alarming, and the latter did. History makes it pretty clear that the peaceniks were right in their analysis. The hardliners of both east and west were, ultimately, prepared to bluff each other out even if that meant actually starting a nuclear war. They didn't think through the consequences, beyond providing for their own safety, as they thought, by constructing hardened shelters for themselves.
Our beginnings were characterised by a spirit of cooperation, trust and tolerance towards each other. We trod a delicate, precarious path of solidarity with women who shared our conviction that, impossible though it may seem, the arms race was going to have to end. We were poised between the sentimentality of earth-mother, peace-dove squidginess, identifying women with peace and all things nice, and the hardline attitudes of those feminists who had no vision for change, short of the downfall of something called "patriarchy."
We struggled with the constraints of partners, children, jobs. This - the varied nature of our lives - was not a weakness but a strength, for it meant that we had much in common with the public we sought to influence. In the early days of the peace-camp, communication (whether with the Newbury public, the police, or the construction workers on the base) was a priority, and often successful. The culmination of this passionately communicative phase was the demonstration in December 1982 by 35,000 women which took the world by surprise: under the slogan "embrace the base."
As the peace-camp developed into a society with long-term residents and a distinct culture, activism came to eclipse communication in importance. The public continued to be inspired by amazing images of defiance, such as the women dancing at dawn upon the silos built to house the missiles, and the peace-camp became a focus for the hopes and fears of the entire peace movement. The authorities finally took the protest seriously, and conditions became tougher as evictions began. Attitudes were hardening on both sides.
Women began to choose to live at Greenham because there they could be at the cutting edge of protest, and lead a life apart from men. As they did so, a culture of lesbian "separatism" became dominant.
Greenham's single great strength was its unpredictable, anarchic, quality. It was the "Monty Python" of protest. The crazy, zany lesbianism was all part of this roller-coaster. Once the camp succumbed to stereotype, it lost this quality. It seems clear it should have ended in 1987, when the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty was signed. But by then it had become a home.
That most of the women were lesbian didn't matter to those of us who weren't. It was the intolerant attitudes of some towards men that made those of us who lived with them feel uneasy. Such attitudes helped create a forbidding stereotype that persists to this day.
This was the paradox: the more bold and "militant" the women, the more they became either idolised as heroines, or reviled as filthy irresponsible hags. The wider public became distanced - either admiring or disapproving, but less and less inspired to become involved.
It was easy to blame this process upon the rightwing press, who were indeed eager to trivialise and vilify. But when women began to be turned away if accompanied by male children, when male supporters were shouted at, who needs media manipulation to create an image of bigoted hostility to men, per se?
It seems clear to me now that it was the imagination, bravery and generous spirit of the many thousands who took part in protests at Greenham, whether militant lesbian or Women's Institute stalwart, that made a uniquely female movement which could not be ignored. But as soon as the peace-camp became a permanent way of life for some, a process of progressive alienation from the public began.
The peace-camp, as a constant vigil, was the unique and vital focus for millions demanding an end to the arms race. Its very strength would in the end become a weakness. By then, however, the spirit of belief in change was causing the "iron curtain" to succumb to rust. Because people, including Greenham women, supported independent peace and democracy groups behind the iron curtain, it made far more difference to the end of the cold war than most people realise.
Women gained confidence from Greenham simply by being a part, however small, of that movement. With that energy, they went on in the world to make "peace" more than just pretty pictures: to work in conflict resolution, to study international relations, to monitor human rights, to follow the tortuous decisions leading us into a new era of nuclear proliferation.
The feminist theories of the 1970s had looked inwards, at our problems as women, narrowly defined. Greenham seemed to unlock our female energy: we were looking out at the world, and realising how much it needed us - the "gentle, angry women" of our song, the thinking women who helped each other to avert catastrophe when we thought we might have to kill our own kids, who judged politicians not each other, asking only, as we still do, that they show a bit of common sense about nuclear weapons.
Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, 1984
From left, ?, Helen, Cassie, ? and Hannah
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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.
Back yard from the barn, Alice O'Malley, WEFPJ 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.
Seneca's FeMAIL boxes, Alice O'Malley, WEFPJ circa 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, Alice O'Malley, WEFPJ circa 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.
Cindy, Alice O'Malley, WEFPJ circa 1990
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 cleaning out the fridge, Jack O'Hazeldon, WEFPJ circa 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 on the front porch, Jack O'Hazeldon, WEFPJ circa 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, Alice O'Malley, WEFPJ circa 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.
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