Friday, February 22, 2008

ViDeo 1983 - Waterloo arrests

"Peace camp marchers arrested at the bridge"
July 31, 1983, Waterloo, NY
Copyright 1983. Women's Video Collective. All Rights Reserved.


We are a diverse group of 54 women from throughout America who on July 30th, 1983, began a peace walk along with 75 of our sisters. We set out from Seneca Falls, New York, to the Women's Peace Encampment in Romulus. Our purpose was to honor the great, defiant women in our past who have resisted oppression and to bring their courageous spirit to the encampment.

In the small town of Waterloo, 4 miles into our walk, our way was blocked by several hundred townspeople brandishing American flags and chanting, "Commies, go home!" To diffuse the potential violence, many of us sat down in the classic tradition
of nonviolence to discuss what to do. Others of us faced the mob, speaking calmly to individuals. One man said to one of us, "If more people here understood what you're saying to me, this wouldn't be happening. There is a lot of misinformation.” Gradually, the tension began to subside.

We had earlier taken great care to notify the authorities of the towns through which we had planned our walk; we had been assured of its legality. For the past week, however, Vietnam vets and local VFW members had been devolving a plan to prevent us from passing by blockading the bridge. On July 28, the Seneca County Sheriff assured the
women at the encampment that he had successfully dissuaded them from hindering us; that he had gotten them to agree to stand on the side and let us pass.

Although this trouble had been anticipated, when we were actually confronted, police protection proved grossly inadequate. The police did take care to protect us from the more violent members of the community, but certain of the sheriff's orders in fact served to excite tensions. For example, while we were sitting, the Sheriff announced that if we did not disperse, we would be charged with inciting a riot. At these words, the crowd became truly menacing. The chanting swelled into a roar, and the crowd surged forward, thrusting their pointed 2-foot flag poles at us. People on the sidelines kept insisting that our actions would lead to conquest by the Russians and the denial of our freedoms as Americans. Ironically, they now were threatening our freedom with the flag that was to them the very symbol of freedom. It was also ironic that they were incensed by our response to their blockade, since the blockade itself was a classic - albeit far from non-violent protest tactic.

Aware of the danger of our situation, most of us sat down to help diffuse the violence and to discuss what to do. It was hard to do this, as we also had to cope with fear for our lives. This was not hysteria on our part. The general police appraisal of the crowd was that women could try to pass through the crowd but they would surely "be massacred.” Flowers were thrown into our midst and when we sniffed them we found they had been sprayed with mace. We prepared then for the possibility of teargas by holding moistened cloths over our noses. The announcement of our imminent arrest came more frequently over the bullhorn, and the sheriff pressured us to take an alternative route. We discussed this possibility, but realized that turning our backs to the crowd would put us in greater danger. Moreover, we wanted to stand firm in our constitutional right to pass through the town and complete our walk.

At one point, the police succeeded in making the crowd retreat about 20 feet and some of them suggested we might be able to get through on the sidewalk. The instant we stood and tried to do so, the crowd moved back in and the police began arresting us, even hand-cuffing a few of us. During the arrest, as some police tried to carry women without hurting them, they were egged on to hurt the women by the crowd’s shouts of "Drag her, drag her." In all, four truck loads of us were deposited at the Seneca County Jail by 3:30 that afternoon, including Millie, a respected local resident who had joined us when she saw the obvious injustice of our arrest. Other townspeople expressed support for us by sending fruit and beverages to us that evening.

In resistance to this injustice, we refused to give our names during processing, and refused to post bail. Though we had been taken in on a violation, "disorderly conduct," we were fingerprinted and photographed. Our court hearing was not set until August 3, four days later.

Our intent was to walk, not to do civil disobedience. We sat to diffuse the violence, to decide our course, and to make the denial of our constitutional rights clear. One of the
things we love most about our country is the Bill of Rights. These rights were denied when the police tried to disperse us and when they arrested us instead of the people threatening us. If we had retreated, we would have neglected to honor our country’s
most democratic mandate. That Saturday, everything was pushed to its most rapid, confusing and expensive conclusion.

The taunts from the crowd were "Nuke the Lezzies," "Go Home Commies," "Kill the Jews," "Throw them off the bridge, let’s see some blood." Among us are many lesbians. There are Jewish women. Almost all of us would call ourselves feminists. Most of us have various beliefs in economic or social change that people label communist, socialist, anarchist.

All of us, whatever we are, deeply feel that our civil rights to be any of these - lesbian, Jewish, feminist, critical of our country - were violated. And further, our civil rights as citizens, to walk free of terror through any town in our own land and express our views and feelings, were trampled.

We know that many of our perhaps unwitting persecutors feel strongly about the flag of our country as expressed in "My country, may she always be right, but right or wrong - my country." Yet trapped by their fear, their hatred, their unfamiliarity of lesbians, Jewish people, radicals, feminists, they missed our efforts as Americans, just as they are, to right our country's wrongs.

And it is exactly two of those major wrongs that we had come to protest - the nuclear weapons in their backyard and our position as women. As women we know all too well the connection between militarism and the violence in our lives. The masculine ideal which the military perpetuates encourages force, dominance, power and violence. It is a concept of masculinity that victimizes women, children and nature.

At this writing we are still being held at Interlaken J.H.S. Group solidarity grows stronger by the hour, and we remain undaunted in our determination to stop the nuclear weapons and save life on our planet.

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