Sunday, February 17, 2008
PeHP Oral Herstory 033: Cristina Biaggi
Date: October 21, 2007
Location: Palisades, NY
Present: Estelle Coleman, hershe Michele Kramer, Alice O’Malley, Kim Blacklock
Photographs by Cristina Biaggi
E: Cristina, can you tell us when you first heard about the peace encampment?
C: Somewhere in the beginning of the 80s, that’s when I first heard about it and then I was very excited because a whole bunch of women doing something political is always extremely exciting.
E: And did you end up spending time at the peace camp?
C: The first time I came up was with my friend Gail Dunlap and we joined the women there to climb over the fence and that’s what we did and then we got arrested, right off the bat [shared laughter].
E: Were you part of an affinity group?
C: We were part of an affinity group, yes.
E: And how many people were in your affinity group?
C: Oh, I don’t remember.
E: That’s okay, can you tell us about your impressions when you first got to the camp.
C: Well, I was overwhelmed by the fact that there were these women that were doing these very exciting things, resisting. I’ve always liked to resist and here were these women resisting something that is untowards the powers that be.
E: Can you tell us what kinds of things went on at the encampment while you were there?
C: Well, I don’t remember. I remember very much about the action - I remember going over the fence, I remember the policeman arresting me. I remember how they trembled when they would put on the handcuffs. I remember things like that. I remember in the camp, there was a great camaraderie between the women - this living together, this sharing which was very, very important and that’s how I met Catherine Allport (1) who I was madly in love with. She was cooking and that was lovely, she was cooking for everyone. There were these womanly things that were going on such as cooking and doing so-called traditionally women’s things and then there was this other force of resistance and climbing over the fence and being active, being proactive - the more, you might say, masculine sensibility aspect of the whole thing - or the more Athena (2) aspect, Athena defending the city.
E: Did you participate in events that were happening on the land?
C: Yes, I don’t remember too much of that, but I remember the action was the very first time that we went over the fence and then got arrested. Six hundred of us were there. I remember it was quite a large number. That’s when I met Kim (Kim Blacklock, see Herstory 027), and I remember very well that it took four men because she was passively resisting, it took four guards, and she was screaming and so on so forth, it took four guards to drag her off to jail. I remember that, it was wonderful, wonderful. It was very life-affirming.
E: Did you spend time inside the depot in their…
C: In their holding cell? Yes, for, I don’t know, five hours or something like that we were there, chanting and doing various things like that.
E: Do you remember any of those chants?
C: Well, I remember [singing] We are the flow and we are the web, we are the weavers, we are the web. [others singing along] We are the tide and we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we are the web.” That and many others, you know.
E: Were there skills or activities that you participated in that you hadn’t participated in?
C: Well, certainly, climbing over the fence, I had never done that before. I’d never been arrested before. This was the first of a series of arrests. I ended up getting arrested at Comiso (3), too, that’s a whole different story.
E: Had you been politically active before you went to the encampment?
C: Yes, but not as much, that really raised my consciousness and I became much more politically active after that.
E: Did you spend a number of different times at the encampment?
C: I didn’t spend as much time, certainly as you or Kim, probably, because I had commitments, I had children, I had dogs and all of that, but I spent a few weekends there. I didn’t live on the land like many of the women did, unfortunately I was not able to do that, I didn’t feel I could do that, but I would have had I not had children or dogs. But I did come for some weekends or for five days here and participated in that way.
E: You made long term relationships with some women from the encampment?
C: Yes, Catherine Allport and I became lovers and she’s still my very, very good friend. And Gail Dunlap was my friend and continues to be my friend and we shared that first action at Seneca that we went to together. We were just bowled over by it. I remember it was very much in some ways, like being at Vassar (4), because when I went to Vassar the first time I said to myself, ah, all of these gorgeous, intelligent women! Studying together, discussing things that matter together, well, this is kind of like that, in a sense, the being with women and being totally yourself with women. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember so much the details, but I remember the feeling about that.
E: So you had lived in women’s community to some extent at Vassar?
C: Oh yes, exactly.
E: And had you experienced other women’s communities?
C: No, only at Vassar and then at Seneca and Greenham (5) and unfortunately at Comiso there was nobody there, so I did the action all by myself.
E: How did you end up going to Greenham?
C: Once I knew about Seneca, of course Greenham was the next step. And being a person who doesn’t like to be confined to the United States, I thought, well, England. I had a feeling about how wonderful and how strong the British women were and the Irish women and all the women that were resisting in Greenham Common so I decided that my next step was to go there. I heard about this 40,000 women action that was going to take place, I think, on December 11th, in ’84 or ’83, I think, I have it written down in my interview that I wrote.
So I went to Greenham and the night before I went to Greenham, I remember I went to see Les Dialogues de Carmelites which is an opera about nuns in the French Revolution who are resisting the French Revolution in a sense, who are resisting being told that they can’t be nuns, that they can’t be in this women’s community and that was extremely inspiring to me and they end up all dying – guillotined. I remember seeing the opera and then thinking to myself, ah, I’m going to Greenham Common and I’m going to experience this community of women who are resisting against things that are wrong. So, I went to Greenham and sure enough, it was not at all a disappointment, it was absolutely wonderful and the commitment of the women was beyond compare - living in tents along the periphery of the fence, and the wonderful camaraderie that was between the women. And the buses started coming, huge bus loads of people - something like 40,000 women resisting. I set myself up as the photographer, I wasn’t going to climb over the fence, I was going to just record everything that I saw to give the photographs to people and for publication and also for my own art because basically in life I’m an artist and I get inspired by things that are around me.
So the action started and the women started to chant and they started to pull the fence. The bobbies (6) were actually quite respectful, they were told to be respectful and they were on the whole, very, very nice, actually, they didn’t engage in slurs or anything like that. The women started to pull down the fence and they succeeded in some areas and they went over to the other side and of course they got arrested, but everything was done in a respectful way. There were a couple of incidents where people got hurt but it wasn’t really, really bad, no one, that we know of was beaten up or injured like that and some people ended up in jail for a while and then we went to some of the trials, not trials, you know when…
C: Hearings, yes, and, and supported them that way for about a week or 10 days, something like that. But that was, that was an incredible, incredible action, that Greenham action. It snowed at one point, I remember the second day the snow was falling and all these tents right outside the fence and we were walking around the periphery and seeing the guards on the other side - it was incredible, it was an incredible scene.
H: Did you know any women from Seneca that were at Greenham at that time?
C: Yes, I met some women from Seneca - I don’t remember who they were and I also met some women from Minnesota - there were women from all over, from New Zealand, from Australia, I think there were some from Germany, there were women from all over the world. It was a very powerful action, very powerful, very inspiring.
H: And do you recall when you were at Seneca, were there women there from Greenham or other parts of the world?
C: Yes, there was. There was Gwyn Kirk (7), you remember her? She was from Greenham, I think. Because eventually, she and somebody else, and I forget who it was, came to Palisades and we presented some of the things we had done at Seneca, Greenham and Comiso in a church and an article was written in the Journal News about it. It was a whole series of events that took place after that as a result of the Seneca things and as a result of the Greenham things. It’s a pebble that falls in the water and spreads and here you are doing it again [shared laughter], here we are doing it again.
E: A continuation.
C: The continuation of that. Maybe it will be a revitalization of something that we need right now in this world because certainly our government has gone to the dark side and we need to resist that. We haven’t resisted it enough, we’ve all been too involved in our own things and I’m basically talking about myself because I can’t talk about you certainly, but I, but I can see that we need to revitalize and reenergize.
E: When you continued your Seneca journey, you went to Greenham and then you went…
C: And then I decided that I had to go to the Italian peace camp, because I’m half Italian myself, so I decided that I wanted to check out Comiso, La Ragnatela, the Spider web in Comiso, which is now totally dismantled, the base has been dismantled. It was an American base in Sicily. I had made contact with some Comiso women and I was going to meet them at the base, this was in January of ’84. So I went to Sicily and I did some touring around by myself, visited some megalithic monuments, some art touring and then I planned to meet these women at a certain time in Comiso. Well, when I got there, there were no women. There were no women. And the reason was that some of them had become sick because of the hygienic conditions there or something like that and they become sick and they had to go to the hospital. So nobody was there to meet me and that was very frustrating.
It was about 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock in the morning and so I decided I would go around the base, I would tool around the base with my car - I had rented a car and then I thought, well, why don’t I take a few photographs, at least that. I saw very clearly, I have to admit, I saw really clearly, ‘E vietato fotografare’- no, you can’t photograph, there was a sign. I said, bah, I don’t like that” and I start taking pictures, in fact, I got on top of my car and started taking pictures. I was feeling in a combative mood, and there was a little cabin there, a little hut where the women had done the kitchen, that was the center of the Ragnatela and it said there, ‘Ragnatela.’ So I climbed up to the roof and started taking really panoramic shots of the base and suddenly I hear, wheeeeeeeeee, and two police cars from two directions come charging in.
Six policeman leap out or there were eight, I don’t remember, with submachine guns trained on me. And they say, “Che fa lei?” [What are you doing?] and I said, “Faccio foto,” - I’m taking pictures. He said, “Don’t you know that it’s forbidden to take pictures?!? And I said, “I didn’t see any sign.” So, he said, “Scendete subito!” Come down immediately! So I did, I was trembling but I was trying to act as if, who are you, that kind of thing. So they arrested me right then and there, they said, “Signora, you have, you have to come with us, you did something very illegal, we’re arresting you.”
So they take me to the station and they tell me that I have one telephone call that I can make and I think I tried to call one of the women and there was an answering machine, so I said, I couldn’t reach anyone, can I make another call? So I called a friend of mine in Italy, in Genoa, and I told her that I was being arrested and very briefly, why. She of course alerted my mother and my family and the next thing I know is that I made the papers in Lausanne, I made the papers in Italy, I made all these papers because everybody was kind of claiming me for their own. I didn’t make the American papers, but I made the Lausanne papers, I made the Geneva papers, I made the Genoa papers and so on and so forth, they said, the first pacifist of the year has been arrested in Comiso. In the meantime I am in police station and this very kind of handsome policeman who was very debonair and all that, he says, “Signora, we have to take you to jail.” I said, “Okay, fine.” And then on the way, he tries to pick me up in a sense, he says, “You’re a pacifist, I really respect that. When your jail sentence is over would you like to, I’m really a great admirer of art, would you like to come and see my art collection.” [laughter]. Oh my, I said, “Sure.” [laughter]. Then on the way from the police station, he takes me to the jail and it’s this 16th century dungeon, it’s this huge castle. The walls are 12 feet thick, you enter and then there’s this clanging gate that clanged shut after we entered. You thought you were entombed and as we entered, he started to quote Dante, he was a very kind of passionate person, so he started to quote the first four lines of the Divine Comedy, “Nel mezzo del cammin” and he practically had me in tears because he had this beautiful voice and he said, “I leave you here and I’ll see you again!” [laughter].
A: The opera, huh?
C: Very operatic. So here I am, fingerprinted and booked and put in solitary confinement– a small cell with a bed and a basin and all that. Solitary confinement in Sicily is not the solitary confinement in the United States because people started coming and talking to me and then every once in a while the guards would say, “No, she’s in solitary confinement, leave her alone!” So they would stop talking to me. There were seven other women in this jail and two of them had killed their husbands and you can really understand why if you travel around in Sicily because the men are very, very patriarchal. And one of them, she was about 72 years old had become this model prisoner and she took care of everybody else, she’d become the mama of the prison. She also kept the prison clean, it was spotless, it was wonderful. She’d bring me my food for the day, which was bread, cheese, a little bit of wine - they have wine in jail! And then meat, we were quite well fed. And there was toilet paper, the necessities of life.
I had my little exercise for one hour a day but I had basically nothing to do. Thank heavens they let me keep some books, so I read. I read about three books the first day. I was there about four days. But I had a great time, in some ways, I had a very unforgettable time in this jail. One of the women was about 24 and she was an expert at stealing from the post office. She was person of great conviction but she had carried it a little bit too far. She really admired the fact that I was a peace activist and she said that she would become a peace activist herself. She had this collection of books about how people were treated in jail in different parts of the world, so when I ran out of books to read, I said, “Patricia, do you have, do you have any books that I could borrow?” She gave me a book about torture in Chinese prisons. I said, “Well, do, do you have anything lighter than that? Because here we are.” And then she offered, How I Spent 10 years in Jail in Vietnam or something like that.
And then there was another woman who also had killed her husband but instead of reacting like the first one, who had become this model prisoner and who was going to actually be released in a year’s time, she had turned to Jesus. I asked her, “Why did you kill you husband?” and she started quoting the bible to me so I didn’t pursue that. And then there was the priest who came and spoke with me and said, “ I really admire the fact that you’re a pacifist, come to our services on Sunday and tell your story,” and so I did.
There were all these wonderful moments in the jail, the guards were very nice to me and then finally what happened is, on the outside, my friends and family had finally gotten me a lawyer, and the lawyer helped to spring me out, if not, I would have stayed there for 10 days. I was told that I had to leave Italy within a three day period. I didn’t know how long I was going to be in there for and it was quite, scary because some people had been there for years, so I had no idea when, when I was going to be sprung. But finally the fourth day these guards come in and the guard comes into the prison and he has a staff and he beats on the staff and says, “La prigionera Biaggi e liberata!” Just like straight out of opera, “The prisoner Biaggi is liberated!” And everybody cheered. [shared laughter] And so I hugged and kissed everybody - the guards, the inmates - and then I left and I was free and they were not and I felt very badly. I went immediately and took my car and went to the volcano Aetna and went as far as I could to see the lava and that was purifying and then I went to sleep [laughter]. In my privileged condition I brought some Swiss chocolate and I sent the Swiss chocolate to all the inmates and to all the guards and to the priest and I don’t know if they ever got them, but anyhow, that was my story of Comiso.
A: What happened to the film?
C: It was taken by the police. I had taken a lot of pictures of things that I was interested in like megalithic monuments in Sicily. I was writing my first book about the great goddess all that was taken and I never saw, what’s his name, Davio the policeman [shared laughter].
H: Did this experience ever make its way into your art or literary work?
C: I wrote one of my articles about that and it’s as vivid now as it was then, every detail. The guards would come in every single day and announce what they were doing, they said, “Dobbiamo vedere se le sbarre della prigione sono intatte!" “We have to see if the bars are all intact, if nobody’s been sawing them at night.” All this was done in such an operatic way, they would take their batons and run them over the bars and if they made a strange sound then they knew something was wrong and everybody had to clear out and look on, it was in some ways, wonderful. [laughter] This patriarchy was operatic.
E: Did that take the edge off the terror of it all?
C: It did because it was very, very ludicrous. The human aspect was so wonderful, though, talking to the guards, talking to the priest. The guards were supposed to be the patriarchal purveyors on the other side but they were admiring of the peace movement. They were doing their job but they also admired what we were doing in a larger sense and that was very heartening.
H: So you made a conscious chose not to get arrested at Greenham?
C: Yes, because I was taking photographs. I didn’t want to be there too long, some people stayed in jail for 10 days and I had kids in college and I didn’t know whether I should do that or not. When you have children you have to think of them.
H: But when you were standing on the car in Italy, you were willing to take the risk of a prison sentence?
C: I was not thinking about the fact that maybe I would be arrested. I really wasn’t. I was taking my chances. I was carrying on, that’s what I was doing. And at Greenham it was a little bit, to be honest, it was very overwhelming to see 40,000 women, it was very, very exciting but overwhelming, and I thought, god. I just decided, I said no, I’m going to take pictures, I’m not going to actually go over the fence.
E: You’ve done a lot of writing and artwork about these experiences?
C: I’ve done some writing and a lot of artwork. Most of my artwork is a continuation of that, for instance, when I went to Nairobi for the women’s conference, that’s a continuation of that, the Beijing women’s conference, there was one in Copenhagen and one in Mexico, I think, four of them and I went to two and that was marvelous, that was wonderful.
E: Tell us about that.
C: At Nairobi there were women from all over Africa. We looked at the faces, the sea of faces were mostly black and they were a lot of women from South Africa who came and discussed their plight in the land of apartheid. I eventually went to South Africa with Catherine Allport, I met her there and we went to some of the hotspots, the so-called hotspots, in South Africa where the blacks were allowed to live. We also went to Soweto which is a suburb of Johannesburg where the blacks lived and you see these long lines of black people at the end of the day who would come and work in Johannesburg, going back, on buses to Soweto. Huge long lines, masses of people getting on the buses to go back to the places where they live. Most of the women from South Africa were activists who had spent a considerable amount of time in jail and were constantly being threatened by the government. And in fact, when I went to South Africa, we had dinner with some whites and blacks who had spent a lot of time in jail and Catherine and I were very, very inspired by the whole thing. We did some writing on that.
H: Why do you describe the time as a continuation of the peace encampment?
C: Because it comes from the same place in your heart in soul, it’s saying this is not right, we want to do something about it but it’s also this community of women who decide to try to do something about the status quo, and also enjoy each other’s company in the meantime.
E: Can you tell us about Beijing? How that was different from…
C: From Nairobi? It was much vaster and it was not in Beijing, it was in Whyrow, so we felt as if we were sequestered from the main action because of the powers that be. One of the wonderful things about Beijing was this wonderful lesbian march which the powers that be wanted to stop but they couldn’t because there were too many of us so they kind of looked on from the sides. It was wonderful to see women from Sri Lanka or India or Pakistan and places like that who had never been able to really express their feelings and suddenly they were expressing their feelings, they were weeping and they were walking, they were marching and they were singing - they were being themselves, finally for the first time, they were able to be themselves and it was great.
K: I want to remind you, too, that here was a move to bring women from Seneca over to Greenham and I remember you as being instrumental in arranging that. We had a diner party or something in New York City and women pitched in money to send some of the organizers from Seneca over to Greenham and I remember you being at that dinner party.
C: Yes, maybe I was. I think I was.
K: It was very moving to me and I wasn’t going to go to Greenham because I thought, no, I need to stay at the camp because I’d just gotten out of jail and I remember you saying to me, “Why on earth wouldn’t you go?”
C: Well, that 40,000 women thing was just so inspiring though, and I wished you’d come. Anyhow.
K: Well, I was there later, thanks to your efforts and some of the other women in New York City, they sent at least seven, seven of us over to Greenham.
C: Really? Right, I remember that.
K: And I stayed gone for two years.
C: I remember that, yeah. And Gwyn Kirk was instrumental in the whole thing, too.
K: But I really appreciated that the women from New York and that you helped get some of us over there who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to be over there.
C: Right. Well, women who have means should, period. I also think I helped a couple of women go to Beijing or Nairobi, I forget which, but so that they could be there.
E: Can you tell us more about Bejing?
C: I was there with Catherine Allport and we had a great time. We bought two bicycles and so we went around with our bicycles and we went to all these events. We went to one event, the Palestinian women which was very, very moving what happened to them as a result of the Israeli coming into their camp and killing some of them and we were heard all of the testimony of that, that was oh, that was incredible. There were something like 1500 events that were all taking place within two weeks and of course there were women from all over the world.
K: And what did you do with all this information?
C: I did a lot of talks, I did some artwork, but basically I talked, articles, artwork and things like that.
H: Can you describe the art piece you did with the web that you showed us the picture of?
C: Okay. There are three layers here, there’s the center portion which is basically the great goddess and it’s got Catherine Allport. And then there’s seven panels around here, these are all the movements - the anti-slavery movement, the suffragette movement – in the first circle beyond the middle and then on the outside are all the recent movements, including Seneca, Greenham, and various movements in Europe and all over the world at that point in the 80s and in the 70s. And the other side, it’s double-sided collage, is basically the same thing, here’s a black woman. I used a woman that somebody knew and I paid her to model for me and I made the collage on wood out of photographs and images from newspapers, magazines and images that I had taken and transferred it to cloth so the wind can shift it, like a flag. The cloth is attached by means of red rope, it’s very hard to see the red rope here, because this picture’s a little faded, but they’re all attached with red rope and the red symbolizes our menstrual blood that connects us all. It’s actually quite an effective piece, I think.
K: When did you begin your work in, for lack of a better term, goddess studies?
C: The end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s.
K: And how did you experiences at Seneca and the other peace camps and other women’s, gatherings, affect you, your spirituality and your work?
C: Well, the political became sort of merged with the spiritual because also what was happening at that point in the middle 70s was that Monica Soo came out with her book about gods and goddesses of all Europe which later became goddesses and gods of all Europe. That book was a huge affirmation for women, as being in the center of life, way back in the neolithic as opposed to peripherily, the way it is under patriarchy. That was very important and she became very important to the goddess spirit, to the women’s spirituality movement and the women’s political movement because I don’t think you should really separate them. Each person has these two aspects to them whether one is more developed than the other, we all have that. I see it as being intertwined and I think that Seneca and Greenham helped me to intertwine all of the parts - the women’s spirituality, the goddess and so on because there’s very, very strong evidence that our first numinous power, or sacred power was a female, we worshipped a female before we worshipped this bearded person up there and the goddess spirituality is much more egalitarian, much more inclusive and less, dualistic in the way the patriarchal god is and so it’s much more harmonious.
K: I would like you to also talk about your book the Habitations of the Great Goddess because, it seems, just from hearing your chronology, that these experiences at Seneca and Greenham and then with the women’s conferences that it, really kind of exploded you out into the goddess scene.
C: Habitations of the Great Goddess came as a result of my PhD dissertation which was 650 pages long. I got my PhD in 1983 in megalithic monuments that symbolized the great goddess. Habitations of the Goddess was basically about temples, tombs and habitations in Malta. Malta is a goddess center, they have 33 temples and they’re all very organic - there are no straight lines there. You enter into these incredible places, like caves, huge blocks of stone, coupolas - they’re shaped like the human body, they’re shaped like the women’s body. So I wrote about that and then I went to Scotland because I read an article about an interesting connection between some of the Neolithic Scottish temples and the ones in Malta. And in fact I discovered that there was a connection so I wrote about the ones in Malta and the ones in Scotland, basing all of my research on the goddess because I believed that that’s the motivating force for these structures. So that was my first book, but it was based on part of my dissertation, the first part being a compilation of all the work that people have done on the goddess and evidence of why the goddess was the goddess and why was she the motivating force of early people.
The second book I wrote is called In the Footsteps of the Goddess and that’s a small, little book, it’s very accessible and it’s basically how women - and I also included men because I believe that they should be included because, if not, change will not really take place the way it should - have come upon the goddess and how they’ve experienced the goddess. I have 63 contributors, only five of which are men. But all the men that I interviewed just went on and on and on and on and on because once they get it, they just go on and on. So these were just reflections on getting the spiritual thing.
And the idea for the third book, which is called the Rule of Mars, was started at an archeomythology conference I went to which was inspired by the work of Marija Gimbutas. The conference was about when did the Black Sea flood take place and how did it affect the goddess-centered communities in and around the Black Sea and around the Caspian region in Europe, way back in the neolithic. The conference took place in Italy and I wrote a paper called, Why Did the Kurgans Become War-like? The Kurgans had become patriarchal and so they clashed with the mother-centered people of so-called old Europe and then everything changed over the course of a millennium or two. So basically Rule of Mars is the whys and wherefore of patriarchy and how it’s affected us on this earth and what to do about it. In the last part I included Riane Eisler who wrote The Chalice and the Blade and she wrote a very wonderful article about it and Mary Clark who is a social scientist and Imogene Drummond who is an artist and a very deep thinker in terms of what can you do about the status quo - it’s not only a very negative book, it’s also positive. So this is the result of the peace camp and that feeling between women and that feeling of not allowing the status quo to continue un-remarked and to look at it. I think it is all part of it.
E: Do you remember the chant, We All Come from the Goddess?
C: [singing] We all come from the Goddess [shared singing] and to her we shall return like of drop of water coming from the ocean. We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean. [shared laughter]
A: Did you participate in any rituals at the peace camp?
C: Oh, yeah.
A: Do you remember any of those?
K: I’m assuming that you’ve participated in rituals since?
C: Oh, yes. [shared laughter]
K: Is there any kind of sense that rituals are growing? Was it like we were experimenting at the camp and got better over time? Was there any kind of progression?
C: I think there’s new wave of feminism that started with the camps and I’m digressing, but I went to Poland last November. Poland was under Soviet regime until 10 years ago and now they’re doing the same thing that we were doing at the camps. We sang We All Come from the Goddess in Polish and in English. I went there as a guest, they wanted me to come and they wanted me to tell my story and basically to speak about the goddess and I wanted to speak about patriarchy, but they said, no, we’ve had enough of that, we want you to speak about the goddess, we want to go back to the roots, we also want you to speak about you, about the camps, Seneca and so on and so forth. So I spoke about the goddess and I spoke about the camps and how that inspired the whole thing and then we had a lot of rituals and we had the same kind of rituals as we had in Seneca except in Polish. Which was great! So, I think this whole spirit is slowly, well, from our perspective it’s slowly filtering out to the rest of the world.
E: Unifying women internationally.
C: Yeah. Because there’s a movement in Turkey and now there’s this very strong group in Poland. There’s certainly a group in Switzerland, there’s a group in Germany – I’m in touch with some of these people.
H: You deal with really lengthy history in some of your works, can you speak a little bit why it’s important to record and preserve women’s stories of resistance?
C: Because we’re still living in patriarchy, we have to, we have to try to change that, we have to try to find an alternative way to do this. We have to do that. We can’t just stop. One of the conclusions I came to in my book is that in some ways patriarchy is worse than it’s ever been before, but in some ways the resistance, the underlying, the substratum of resistance is there and it’s got to be tapped, it has to rise more to the surface. We’re making more connections with women in the rest of the world - the Internet is helping with that. It’s very important to do this, it’s extremely important to have these kinds of recordings. I really applaud you for doing that
K: Do you remember when we were in jail together at Seneca? There was something that happened with our bonding and with all the other women in there. There was energy that was raised there that I thought kind of was freaking the guards out and I wondered if you could go back into that time when we were all together inside and what was happening with the chanting and the women versus the guards.
C: I think the guards didn’t know what to do with us. Many of them were kids from Oklahoma or Nebraska or something. The one that arrested me I remember very well, he was trembling so violently he could hardly put my shackles on, he was obviously a greenhorn. I think a lot of them were, they didn’t know what to do.
E: They were very young and they had been told that they might have to shoot us and to them that was like, “I’m going to shoot my mother, my sister, my girlfriend?” We represented every woman so I think a lot of them were terrified. I remember walking along and seeing guys with tears just running down - they’re standing there with those guns but the tears were running down their faces.
C: They were trying to hold it all in and this is what patriarchy does to men.
K: I want you to come back and talk about the Rule of Mars because I think one of the things that were talking about is herstory and how we’ve been written out of the pages of history. Can you talk a little bit about how herstory can feed us now?
C: I think I’ve kind of said it or we’ve said it, I think we need to continue with the spark, we need to be re-sparked and I think something like this project and I think what they’re doing at the Brooklyn Museum is terrific. I think anything like that is really making quite a new spark to regenerate and continue this feeling that we need to have in order to sustain us, in order to broaden our work in trying to dismantle or neutralize the patriarchy - maybe we should talk about neutralizing the patriarchy because dismantling just seems like it’s a futile act almost at this point, but neutralizing, it’s almost doable if we have these counter groups.
K: I want you to describe what you would think would be this matriarchy that we had. I’d like you to try to recreate, what was a day in this goddess-centered world that we had before the Kurgans, raped, pillaged, plundered and killed it?
C: There are some human beings right now that are still living in these communities, one of them is the Minangkabau in Sumatra - there are about four million of them and they’re Muslims which almost seems like a contradiction in terms because they are basically women-centered. There are these women groups that kind of guide the whole society, of course this is changing because everything is changing in the world, but I met two of these people, I met a man and a woman and they were very, I don’t know, there’s something very special about the men because they’re extremely respectful and if somebody asks this man, “How does it feel to be ruled by women?” He said, “I don’t feel ruled by women, the women are advisors, they advise my life and I can’t imagine anything else than my mother, not telling me what to do, but guiding me, I can’t imagine anything else.” I think because of women, who they are, there would be much more respect toward human beings at large on a day to day basis then what we have now.
K: And other models? What did it look like before patriarchy? How did it work? How did it operate? What were our systems? What was our economy? How were the villages set up?
A: I’m wondering if we could actually bring it up to the peace encampment, how does the structure of the feminist politic or government or whatever it was that we were doing reflect itself in history of matriarchy or was it a completely post-modern construct of government that we took?
K: Cristina, were you familiar enough with the peace camp structure - the webs and the coordinators and the committee meetings - to comment whether you thought that it was a throwback to matri-focal?
C: I think so, in retrospect, I think that it was a throwback in many ways, the feeling was certainly authentic, everyone was seen as worthwhile for themselves, I think that’s what happened with the world, you know animals and every being has a right to be here for its own self, for its own sake.
1. Catherine Allport - author of We are the Web: The Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, 1983, Artemis Press, NY, 1984.
2. Athena - Greek goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industry, justice and skill. She was the patron goddess of Athens. Her symbol was the owl. She was originally the Great Goddess in the form of a bird. By the late Classic, she had come to be regarded as a goddess of wisdom.
3. Comiso Air Base – located in the Italian municipality in the Province of Ragusa in Sicily. The United States Air Force deployed ground launched cruise missiles (GLCM) to Comiso Air Base in June 1983. The missiles were eventually dismantled after the Intermediate-Range and Short-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed by the former Soviet Union and the United States on 8 December 1987. The last 16 GLCMs left Comiso Air Base in 1991.
4. Vassar - a private, highly selective, coeducational, liberal arts college situated in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Founded as a women's college in 1861, it was the first member of the Seven Sisters to become coeducational (1969).
5. 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.
6. Bobbies – popular name for British police. The London police force was created in 1829 by an act introduced in Parliament by the home secretary, Sir Robert Peel (hence the nicknames “bobbies” and “peelers” for policemen). Bobbies wear a uniform that is nonmilitary in appearance. Their only regular weapon is a short, wooden truncheon, which they keep out of sight and may not employ except in self-defense or to restore order.
7. Gwyn Kirk – co-author with Alice Cook of Greenham Women Everywhere: Dreams, Ideas and Actions from the Women’s Peace Movement, South End Press, London, 1984.
Posted by hershe Michele at Sunday, February 17, 2008