Friday, May 23, 2008
PeHP Oral Herstory 011: Claire Beach
Date: October 22, 2006
Location: Seattle, WA
Present: Estelle Coleman, Hershe Michele Kramer
Claire was a member of the Women’s Video Collective
C: My name is Claire Beach and we are in Seattle, Washington and it is October 22, 2006.
H: Tell us some reflections when you found out we were doing this project?
C: Well, I had a couple of emails from you, Hershe, and it was real exciting. It’s a long time ago but it’s one of my proudest moments in my life. It was really important personally, in many ways. It’s great that people are still thinking about it and doing it. I was pleased it’s still out there in the world.
H: And your mom’s reaction?
C: Well, my mom, is pretty conservative and I tell her things even when she doesn’t want to hear ‘em. When I told her I was real excited about going to this interview to talk about what happened at the peace encampment, she said, “Oh, I was trying to forget that part of your life!” I said, “Mom! You know, I’m really proud of it! What are you talking about?!?” And she goes, “Well but didn’t you get arrested?” [laughter] And I said, “Well, yes, but we were very gentle. We climbed over the fence, we sat down, we were friendly. We didn’t cause any trouble.” Then I said, “ Mom, Dr. Benjamin Spock also went over the fence." [ laughter] She goes, “Oh, he did?!?” It was very interesting. She’s a pretty loving Mom, so even though it bothered her, I think she was still proud in her own little way. The interesting thing too, that she liked and didn’t like at the same time, was when I was arrested I gave my name as my grandmother’s first name and her best friend’s last name. ‘Cause even though they’d been gone for a while, they would’ve been right there with me. So I, Antippi Givens, can never go to the federal army depot again(1). [shared laughter].
H: Okay, so let’s back up a little bit. Where were you and how did you come to know about the camp?
C: Well, I was living in Somerville, Massachussetts and I was in a group called the Somerville Producers group. We put out a live show every other week called Dead Air Live on Somerville Public Access, one of the oldest public access facilities /organizations in the country, which started in ’72. This Somerville Producers group had men and women in it and one of the women I really connected with was Martha Molleson [Molleson, see Herstory 045], and she said, “You know what? There is this really cool thing I just heard about. Women have bought land and it’s near the army depot and they’re protesting the Cruise and Pershing missiles. Let’s make a documentary! We can start a group, get women all together and do that.” And so it just came in this spontaneous way and we invited women that we knew in the Producers group and put out a call in the community. At the first meeting, 15 or 20 women really wanted to make it happen, too. The Women's Video Collective (2) was basically just a group of women that joined together to accomplish doing this documentary,
We didn’t know how. We had no money. Public access let us take equipment to New York [laughter] and you’re not supposed to take it out of the state. There's a lot of logistics. I don't remember all the details-who could lend us stuff, and how would we make it happen? I remember though, this incredible passion about why it was so important to document something like this. Then the history of the area started unfolding and it became even more important. It was where Harriet Tubman had worked with the underground railroad, where the women of the Iroquois nation had refused to have sex with the men until they stopped fighting, and where Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton came together. There’s something not just special, but very powerful there. So ultimately, I quit my job, took whatever savings I had, and borrowed a tent from a friend of mine. She actually had to help me set it up because I’d never camped before. I went down there and lived for six weeks doing the primary field camera work. It’s hard to put into words. It was just an amazing experience, to own this land and have all women there. I was thinking on the way down here, one of the first images that came to mind was sleeping in this tent at night and having the helicopters hovering over to keep us agitated and feeling amazing, palatable, energy fields. Positive versus negative. Women there all talked about it in different ways. You really could feel it. Especially at one point toward the end of August - I stayed there through Labor Day – there was a lot of tension happening. It was really palatable, It really felt like evil versus good, our being next to this place that had albino deer and rabbits and nuclear waste dumped in it-- and people around with leukemia and cancer. We wanted to make a story about that but it was just too much. Our focus was on the peace encampment and the efforts there by the women. That other story really needs to be told about how dangerous that area has become for people. I’m not sure what's happened in the last 20 years, but it was a pretty nasty place to grow up around.
H: Did you have skills in what you set out to do at Seneca before you did it?
C: Yes and no. I came to Boston and got my master’s degree in feminist therapy at Goddard's program in Cambridge , I wanted to do work in the community rather than just in the women’s community where I was involved. I wanted to work especially with kids, to help them open up their minds and shed some of their their stuff. So I got a job directing the Somerville Youth Program. I had to be responsible for what everyone was doing and these kids wanted to do a video show. I took a class in it to learn and I got completely hooked. Reagan was cutting all the programs at that point. With shrinking programs and layoffs I made a decision to go and do something that allowed me to do social change but also be creative. In '81 I left the the youth program and in ’82 I started doing music documentaries. I had just started doing video-- I was a real newbie. I’d worked on live studio settings and had that down pretty well, had edited a little bit and started doing some producing, so it was like jumping in the fire and just doing it. For most of us women it was on-the-job training.
H: Did the other people of the collective decide when you came for six weeks?
C: Well, We tried to take turns. We set up a schedule – who could go down what weekend-- for longer than that? Who’s got vacation coming? So we worked up a grid to try to see who could cover. At some point we felt like we needed more coverage and I really wanted to do it. The group really supported me and helped with some money, food and the tent. For six weeks I was the anchor. People came and stayed in the tent or they brought their own tents and sort of rotated. Most of the women came for a weekend, a long weekend, a couple days or a week. I think I was there the most in terms of one, long period of time.
Really cool things happened. Women from the New York group gave us some equipment to use. We filmed on, 3/4” Sonya Portapacks. But our footage, when we finally took it to the editor, had all different colors because we had equipment from New York and Somerville and stuff people lent us. Basically, it was pretty amazing.
H: In the edited version of Stronger Than Before(3), are we looking at one camera or did you have several cameras out for opening day or different actions?
C: That’s a good question. For the most part we were filming on a single camera. When I was there I just had the one. When people came in then they would bring cameras. So when there was more than one of us, there were probably a couple cameras. We also had people doing photography. Nancy's Clover's [Clover, see Herstory 035] photography is awesome. She just gave it life, There’s a picture that Nancy took of us in my Volkswagen convertible with cameras and photography stuff at a big protest march when a lot of women got arrested. The pictures she took were just amazing. We also had some people doing audio and radio-- so audio, video, and film. The video was great of course.
H: Did you have a goal in terms of product or length of video?
C: No, I don’t think we had. Again, it’s sort of reaching back into the cobwebs, I need more hard drive space in my mind. We wanted to make a documentary, tell the story and we wanted a finished product, so, that’s what we tried to do. And one of the things I remember, that was really important, because I’m a process person and I come from social work rather than just film and video, was for me to show the women that wanted to see, what we’d filmed. So I set up the camera, not in the main house, but in the barn building, and would play back for women who wanted to come what the action was that day, what happened when people went over the fence. It was really empowering to have women be able to sit there and see what was going on. I do remember wanting people to see the process so they would give feedback on what we did and then maybe we could do something different the next day, or more, or whatever. To watch the footage was something that was really important, but I couldn’t always get people to come ‘cause there was so much to do at the peace encampment,
And I remember we had a great interview with Barbara Deming(4). I know she’s in the video and I hope we have the raw footage of that ‘cause it was so powerful. I remember her sitting on the couch in the barn watching it and she had never seen herself on video, but I remember her saying, “I look like my brother". We also felt like we were "legal observers" with the camera, ‘cause the camera is objective. You can choose where you’re pointing it, but the truth is, in raw footage, that is your legal observer, and it was really important. I don’t know what an impact it had but I think when you've got cameras out people are a little more hesitant to be total jerks. I hope that’s the case, that we contributed a little bit on that. So no, we didn’t have an exact idea for the product but we knew we wanted to tell the story.
H: Was being at protests or demonstrations something that you were familiar with already?
C: Yeah, I had been a part of a lot of demonstrations and protests. I’m trying to think had I ever filmed before that,? Yes, I had filmed before that, during apartheid. There were several huge protests in Boston and we filmed those. Then, after the peace encampment, I went on to do more things, especially with children, toys, and violence. We did a show called ‘Why G.I. Joe’s Got to Go'. Vietnam vets came and were doing this wonderful protest downtown, handing out little tiny stretchers and body bags the size of G.I. Joes as people were coming in and out of toy stores with G.I. Joe boxes-– it was so powerful. Part of the legacy from the peace encampment, was doing media work that we felt was a political statement. People that carried that inspired me in 1988 to do that kind of work as well, to continue doing that kind of work on some level.
H: Talk a little bit about the distance or the objectivity that happens if you’re behind a camera versus being as one with it.
C: That’s a great question, a really good question. And you do have a distance and sometimes it’s a safe distance emotionally. There was so much going on. And since you were there longer, it was emotionally hard because you got more connected to the women that you got to know and to what was happening. Seeing them either get bruised or just treated so badly was sometimes really hard, It was the shyness in me. Sometimes I liked being behind the camera, but it became a tug-of-war and, at the end, I had to put the camera away. On Labor Day weekend I felt I had to contribute what I wanted to do which was to be able to do civil disobedience at the gates. I put the camera away and I don’t think anyone filmed it.
H: Tell us a little bit about the action and your climbing over.
C: I remember that it was getting really cold, I remember that as we went to the gate I don’t know if I knew exactly that I was going to do it. I wasn’t positive at the time, but just, it was the right thing to do. It was what I had to do. We climbed over and sat down. And they, of course, were more than happy to put those really tight little plastic things around our our hands and took us to the jail. We had to say who we were and I said, Antippi Givens. By that time I think we had given them a great history lesson ‘cause women were using all these wonderful women in history. I remember this one story where someone said, ”I’m Susan B. Anthony.” And they said, “No you’re not. We know who that is.” So, if nothing else the guards got a great lesson in famous women. It was just a really very special strength and I was really, really proud of it. It was empowering. I don’t know how else to say it. I felt like I had at least contributed a part that was personal. I knew the camera work and the documentary was important, but to feel I had stepped over the line, finally, made that personal. I'd detached myself from the camera to actually attach myself to the action, and the protest.
H: Did you have to discuss that as a group?
C: That’s a really good question. I know we talked about it. I think it was always if people wanted to do that, fine. We were very politically driven, We knew from the beginning, we were not coming there to be totally objective. Documentary now is like the new narrative and it’s so exciting that it has finally found its place in our society in this great way. If you’re documentary maker, you are objective and you have to show both sides ... we weren’t. At the time, we did get some interviews with people from the town. It’s been a long time since I saw it, I'm really frustrated. I gotta find my copy or call Judi Keleman [Kelemen, see Herstory 012] to say “I need a DVD.” I’m so glad she kept the tapes She was our archivist. Anyway, I’m getting off track. But I just think it was a personal decision if we could or not. I ‘member that it was just the question of when you’re behind the camera, you become detached automatically. I remember wanting to sing the songs and the chants and knowing that I really couldn’t because then all you would hear was my bad voice. But anyway, there was time when we had to set the camera aside and be a part of it, so, we worked in both those worlds.
H: Did the townspeople respond to cameras or you being there?
C: They didn’t like cameras. It was really hard. I ‘member everyone shared some level of wanting to be kind to people, really trying to help educate them or at least explain why we were there in a way that they could hear. I ‘member being really impressed by that. I know I don’t remember any specific conversations. I just remember a lot of hostility and sometimes there was a lot of fear. I felt a lot of fear especially around the gate when people came in the trucks. Men were really angry at us, not only because we were protesting but ‘cause we were all women. There was a lot of anger at our owning that land. They had homophobia and fears about something they couldn’t understand, the unknown or whatever, That was when I was the most scared, when the townspeople were near us and we were doing protests or I was filming it.
H: Were you one of the people to film the march that happened when the women ended up being surrounded and they sat down.
E: In Waterloo, just before the August 1st Action(5).
C: No. I wish I had had kept a diary now it would be great. I had left for a weekend .I don’t know how we knew, but I remember we heard about it when we got close to the peace encampment. No one had cell phones back then, wow! [laughter] But wouldn’t it have been great if we would’ve had cell phones and internet, I remember arriving right after it happened. It was late, like 10 o’clock at night and there was the real media all over the place and I ‘member grabbing the camera really fast as we got out of the car. NBC, I don’t know who it was, had their lights and they were interviewing Bella Abzug(6) and I remember I just bumped my way right in there and used their lights and we got some of that interview. It was intense and really scary. Women were in jail. We started hearing the stories, it was so frightening. I remember the energy was so intense. Going to the jail house and singing to the women really moved me. It was scary and also incredibly emotional. Emotional, in a way that there was so much love. Hearing people singing to the women in the jail was powerful and also frightening.
E: Was that evening when you went?
C: When we got there it was. Most everything had happened, they were arrested.
E: We went to the school in Interlaken where they’d been been taken and we were singing to them. And a large crowd had gathered and Janis Milton [Milton, see Herstory 012] was there that night.
C: Oh yes! God, you have a good memory [laughter].
E: Well, actually she recorded some stuff and things happened that night when I thought I was going to lose my eye to the American flag. Janice was holding up a tape recorder- this guy was pushing me and she was saying, “I’m getting it all on tape.” And the cop was saying, “I can’t help.” I mean that was a big night.
C: That had happened before I even arrived, I think, and we heard these stories and the stories were so powerful even secondhand. But I’m glad there was film, have you seen the footage of that?
E: No, as far as I know there was no footage-she was just doing audio.
C: We were really really upset that we missed that. Upset that it happened, period, but as filmmakers, we were like, oh man, we needed to get that!
H: You were there before and then you left?
C: Yeah, I left and came back. I don’t know where we went.
H: So you were getting back in time for the big action.
C: Right, exactly.
H: When you watch Stronger Than Before it is an interesting thing ‘cause it mentions Waterloo but then there’s no footage and I thought did they miss that?
C: We weren’t there and we missed that. We didn’t know, obviously, it was going to happen. We weren’t there and that was one of the things, when we were trying to schedule, we wanted to see if we had someone there all the time but it just was impossible, that summer to have everyone there. We were very regretful that we came in so late that night. God, how long were women kept there?
E: Six days or something, five days in that particular school gym in Interlaken.
C: The energy there was so? I think we drove there. Didn’t we go there and film? There wasn’t anything there to film, huh? Didn’t we didn’t we have pictures of it?
H: I think you have stuff later. But it’s quite clear that you missed the preceding because it’s not on the film, but you have shots. You have them talking right when they got out. I think it was four or five days later and you have them at the fairgrounds.
E: Stuff up at the trial, right?
C: Oh, right! Yeah, right, exactly. I remember, I remember being there. I need to see that film again!
C: I know that I’d come down for different long weekends and then, it might have even been August 1st that I actually went there to stay the next six weeks, that might have been when I came back to stay longer, so.
E: Because you’re saying something about it being very cold.
C: Labor Day. Labor Day weekend it was cold I remember it feeling cold.
E: Well, at the August 1st action it was really hot and and we got held up because there were so many people at the truck gate where the main actions were gonna happen… and I remember the tar in the road started to melt...
E: It had started out raining and then there was a rainbow just before we left the camp. There was a double rainbow through the sky when we came back. It’s so long ago!
C: But it was Labor Day weekend I remember it being cold. It rained a lot. I remember it being wet. We used lots of garbage bags for our equipment and we were putting them over the cameras. Wow. Cool.
H: So tell us then about the process, you had the footage. What did you guys do as a group after that?
C: Well, you can imagine editing by collective, by consensus. Now that I edit all the time, I sort of laugh. It was a struggle. We had at some point, 10 women in the edit room at one time trying to help make decisions together and it was really an interesting process. I laugh about it, now, but it was really hard. We had so much footage. We had hours and hours of stuff and I remember we signed out different tapes to people who would log and make notes of where in the time frame it was on the tapes. We finally realized we needed to have a professional editor come in, This great woman, Linda Rubin, from the Somerville Producers group knew a lot of us women, did the final editing. She now edits for Fox News in L.A. I remember her saying, “I can not [laughter] do this with 10 of you back there, trying to decide what to pick. So at one point we had to finally turnover and just let go, but it was hard We struggled, like a lot of groups struggle, and I remember there was a lot of pain at the end around credits. That was one of the biggest issues and I’ll never forget that. How do we as a collective... some women could go a lot, some of them couldn’t, some of us could actually stay there longer, some of us couldn’t, but everyone participated, everyone supported in different ways and we really wanted to acknowledge that, but then do you not acknowledge any specific work done? So we ended up doing it alphabetized, literally, and that was really hard and we struggled with that. It was hard I admit, to let go of, ‘cause some of us really found our lives, our careers doing that. So I remember it just was a lot of tears and a lot of anger and a lot of joy, too, but it went into a lot of pain at the end to pull it all together. I think a lot of women you interview will probably remember those meetings that went on and on. But things turned out well in the end. In fact one of the women I struggled with the most about how you acknowledge people’s contributions specifically and not lose the group thing, came at odds with each other. Later on, actually, I was running a distance learning TV studio in Cambridge and hired her and we just made a great connection and sort of reinvented our friendship. So everything turned out wonderful. But it was hard, working in a collective, working with consensus. Really, you have to do a lot of work to make that happen and we were new at it, but we were really happy with how it came out and I don’t want to paint it as all being bad because it wasn’t. But I remember those painful meetings that we left crying. We all put so much into it, there’s so much that you pour into this thing, this project, this statement and some of it was a let-down, too.
I’m trying to remember when we knew that the Pershing and Cruise missiles were going over - was it October, November, that they ended up going over? That was really hard. I know it was hard for all of us there, anyone who was there, and people that lived there a lot or stayed there a longer time, but for me personally, what I remember is just feeling really devastated because we felt like this was a chance to make it different and really, and I know we did make a difference, but we weren’t able to stop that action and I remember thinking, feeling like I could work globally and change things around the world, and then had this cathartic moment and said, I may not be able to do that but I can do it locally. I remember it sort of really changed my political perspective at the time and felt like I had to start doing things in my hometown and that’s when I started working more with teens and doing video and working with them to help them have voices. So, for me, I remember the outcome was really disappointing and yet it turned into something that was really powerful.
C: Well, I’ll tell my flag story. I remember a lot of us were there Memorial Day weekend, to film. One of those towns nearby actually invented Memorial Day. [laughter] Women who had been at the peace camp longer said, "it’s pretty intense here, there’s flags everywhere". I remember going though town and seeing all those flags and they put more up because we were there. For every one of us I think they wanted to put up three flags or something. It felt like that and it felt so oppressive. The symbol of the flag was just so negative at that point because they were using it to sort of bludgeon us symbolically. like we had no right to protest anything. I remember feeling so oppressed by the flag, the image. We’re still doing that aren’t we, in this country? Isn’t it sad? Unbelievable. But I remember the flags, I remember there was a march Memorial Day and the women walked through the town that day and I’m pretty sure we walked with them and used the car. It was one of the days that we had the video mobile. Anyway, the flags were everywhere! That whole summer it seemed to be they were waving, and folks waving them at us and trying to use them to hurt, yes!
E: Yes, jabbing us.
C: Boy, what a metaphor! Oh my god, what a metaphor!
C: Anyway, it was hard.
E: It caused us to become stronger than we had been and that title is so apt.
E: How did you arrive at the title?
C: I don’t know if I remember exactly. It may have come from a quote that someone had said in one of the interviews, I have a sort of, that’s my memory jog. I think someone talked and said somethig very similar to what you just said around this has made us stronger, that we’ve changed. It changed everybody. I know how deeply it changed those of us who got a chance to go there, but I think it must have come from a quote from someone saying something similar to what you just said. So. Yeah, we loved the title - we thought of it as a good title and we were happy with it. You've interviewed Judi [Kelemen, see Herstory 012], right?
H: No, we haven’t.
C: Oh, you gotta interview Judi if you get a chance.
H: Yeah, we’re planning to get over there.
C: ‘Cause Judi-- we submitted it to this big contest. A JVC video and equipment company did a national contest and we entered and we won first place nationally in documentary and that’s one reason it got aired nationally on PBS. We were just so proud ‘cause we didn’t know where we were going to distribute it. We knew we could play it on local access and places and people would get tapes and copies, but that was really huge. I remember going in to make the 1 inch copy back then-it was talking Big-Time! It was really big fat tape and we had to do the $300 an hour studio and it was the couches and you got brought coffee. It was very bizarre because it was totally different than what we had been working with and were really proud to have done. We won equipment, that was really cool! And we did some other things in the women’s video collective afterwards like filming the first all women composers conference in Cambridge, I think it was held in Cambridge, or Newton, but it was women composers from across the country and that was so cool. I didn’t know how many women composers we had. So we did different things with the equipment. We wish we had that equipment when we went to Seneca, it would have been helpful, but we won it afterwards for that documentary.
H: Right before we got on the plane to come here, when we stopped in and saw Nancy [Clover, see Herstory: 035] she gave us this big thing and we were quick, let’s look before we have to get on the plane, [Claire laughter] but I saw that there was some-
C: The award.
H: She had flyers and everything, you had won the equipment and I wondered if you’d had it beforehand. I was curious because there was a sheet that was something that you all had put out that said Stronger Than Before. Then there seemed like a list of other things. Did anything ever come out or get produced from that whole footage besides Stronger Than Before?
C: I don’t think so.
H: I didn’t either, so I wonder if maybe it was a vision that you all had that didn’t materialize.
C: I wish I could remember, I’m getting really old, yeah, I don’t remember. I remember it was so big coming back with the footage and going through that. There was so many things to do with it. We wanted to archive it. In fact I know Judi [Kelemen, see Herstory 012] may have a lot of the archives. I don’t know if you asked her but she may have kept a lot of them, I know that we really wanted to and we felt that it was really important. I don’t even know if we may have given some of the video somewhere. We went and talked at one of the New York State colleges, SUNY, I think it is. And there was a conference there about women in video and things and I don’t know where, but I remember something about wanting to make sure this footage got archived and it really should be and if it’s not, digital copies should be made. Otherwise it’s gonna be lost. Videotape just does not last anywhere near as long as what film lasts and of course, digitally, would last for a longer time. I’ll look again ‘cause I think hopefully, I have some of the field tapes.
H: Did you all have agreements about what would happen with the footage? How to make decisions if you wanted to use it in a film?
H: You don’t have individual rights?
C: Well, there was no money exchanged. There was never any money. We got the equipment, that’s what we won. And I think we may have won some money but it went into our checking account. And for a while people paid dues so we could make copies of things or, send some of us to go to talk about the experience. We basically felt that, once Women Make Movies(7) picked it up and distributed it for quite a while, if money came in it went into that fund, but it wasn’t much. None of us had any claim on it personally, which was good.
One of the stories I actually wanted to share is that a couple of us had kids before but most of us hadn’t had children and we started getting pregnant different times because we’re all in our early 30s or whatever and we all had boys. We laughed and we said, you know god said, she just said, we got to give these boys to feminists to raise [laughter] ‘cause maybe that will help change and we just loved that, that we ended up sort of like, no girls?!?! This is so weird, but anyway. But I’ve got a great son who’s got a great heart, he’s definitely a feminist, so, it’s a good thing. We thought that was interesting.
H: When Nancy mentions your name she just lights up and you have the same thing, so is there a particular quality about sharing and working passionately in that way that creates something lasting for you?
C: Oh, yeah, the bonding was beyond when we left. You all were there. There’s no way you don’t make these amazing connections being, sleeping outside, and bathing together in the big sink area, or trying to figure out where we could take a shower again. I can’t remember, there was one place we would go to take showers.
C: Yeah! Anyway, even if we were just living there and not protesting, there’s something that you always have in common, it’s something that you just, the bond, a bond comes, for sure. Doing that and going through all that together, our friendships got very much more deepened. Linda Rubin and I had been friends a little before this, too, but really good friends since then, and Martha Molleson, [Molleson, see Herstory 045] an unbelievable woman. I wish you could interview her. She became a major professor at the Australian School of Film and Video. She wrote two major textbooks that have been used in the schools, was teaching Aboriginee women video and she came back and interviewed myself and some other women and men who had worked with Public Access TV. Judi stayed in Public Access and she’s been working as a Public Access director for a long time. I know Glynnis Lomon [Lomon, see Herstory 013] who’s still probably in Watertown, went on to continue to do a lot of video stuff. We’ve all sort of gone off into our own places, but I know that we were ever changed by that time in our lives.
H: Can you take us back a little bit when you said that you guys finally had to give up on editing yourself and take it to someone?
C: [laughter] Well, we finally realized it’s really hard to edit by consensus and it’s hard to edit by committee because if every person that edited had the same footage and we sat down separately at the same computer and the same program, we might make three different choices and that’s what it’s all about. When you get to edit this if you have to, you will find this out. In the editing process you really tell the story. You have to have the footage to tell the story with, but that’s when manipulation comes in, that’s where the magic happens, the good stuff and the bad stuff can happen in terms of taking and putting it somewhere. You see that in advertisements all the time. but I think we finally got it that we can’t do it that way, We knew what we wanted, we had a script, I know we worked on what we wanted to have first and second and third and all that, and talked about it a lot but finally we just got to the point, if this is going to be made, if this is going to happen, we’re going to have to trust someone else to take what we want and make it. And a couple of us were always with Linda, but it got to where we just couldn’t do the 10 to 12 people in the group. But it would be like, no, I think you should cut it there, no, I think you should have the audio there. Those were tiny decisions that you just have to at some point make singularly.
H: And Linda had been at the camp?
C: She had not been there. She had always supported us and wanted to work with us, but she wasn’t at a place where she exactly joined, but she was always there to help support us and we paid her. I remember that was an issue that came up, too. We had some money. We were paying dues. I think we were trying to put money into an account that supported us and we paid her, not a lot, but she needed that because that was what she did, that was her livelihood. We did that and so, to stop and go, okay, we’re going to have to pay a woman to do this, that was a big issue because none of us got paid. But it was what had to happen. It just finally wasn’t going to get made if we didn’t say, okay, we need to let go a little bit, here’s what we want this story to look like, and of course, we were in there approving or not, I mean, at the end, you know.
C: We’d see the rough cuts and say can we have more of maybe, Barbara Deming and less of this or whatever but you get to a place that the baby’s just got to get born. And there’s a terrible- there’s a director that came to my dance video class not long ago and he said something that I think we felt at the time but didn’t have a way to say it but that in editing you have to be able to kill our favorite child and it’s a really harsh thing to say but it’s so true, because you become so a part of it and some of us that were there said, you have to have that footage! And that was the most important thing. Someone else said, no, no, no, the week I was there, that was the most important thing so at some point someone else has to step in and go, okay, you’re too involved in it, you’re to subjective, you gotta. So Linda was perfect because she supported us, she knew what we wanted and yet she hadn’t been there and had more of the objectivity to say, this is how you need to tell the story if you want your audience to be able to get it and want it to be shown and all that. So, we had to make some concessions to stuff that we wanted to be longer or different things, but, you have to do that, you have to be able to kill your favorite kid. It just happens.
H: Do you remember looking at the final version? Did you guys come together as a group? Do you remember what that felt like?
C: Yeah, it was really cool. We had a big screening of it, I’m trying to remember where, seemed like an old church and, was maybe the old Baptist Church in Cambridge or maybe somewhere else?
E: Before the, the group itself got to see it?
C: No, I know the group got to see it at some point probably in a home or somewhere and it’s like having a child, it really is. We were doing it for over nine months at least, [laughter] maybe even longer. You have this idea. it’s an overdue child, and all of a sudden it, it comes together. This idea, this emotion, this love, all this stuff comes together and it’s there. We were really proud of it, It was really important and I remember the first time we screened it we all felt obviously, really excited.
H: Can you remember the audiences’ reaction?
C: Oh, people really liked it. They applauded. I wish I could remember. It's terrible I don’t remember all the details! If you interview more of us, you’ll get more of the story but I just remember being really proud of it and people really liked it and we got good feedback, I’m pretty sure.
Anyway, there were other people videotaping, have you come across any other people that made videos about it or films?
H: I think it’s going to be a really fun process of discovering, uncovering and recovering . At first we thought there wasn’t a lot out there but just in the last couple of months someone writes us and says, " I was doing a film about my mother and I shot some at the camp" and Kate Donnelly said, " I was shooting a lot of Super 8 I have a bunch of stuff from the camp, I hope that it will be useful in telling the story…
C: Oh wow! , it would be so nice to have some of that other footage ‘Cause I know there were other people with cameras there, and again, people were coming in and out and there just was a lot of movement and coverage.
E: The possibility of a lot being out there… uncovering it, it’s kind of an anthropological probe, you know.
C: Yeah, a psychological dig: different levels of…
E: This may be a very long process trying to develop this online archive, meanwhile, I hope that there’ll be a bunch of stuff to share by 2008. We are planning to get together after 25 years. I think there needs to be some kind of coming together and sharing of what does exist. What women did, and how we grew because of that work has got to be valued and seen as absolutely worthwhile. Our lives mattered. What we weren’t able to stop, can not stop of us from continuing to raise those male children in ways that make the world better. There are some ways in which what we were able to do then can not be done now because of the repression that’s happening out there. What we were able to do made way for women today to live their lives not having to worry about being lesbian in some of the same ways we maybe did.
C: Oh, god, I know, right.
E: I think we need to come together because there will be discoveries in these things that we need to say to each other or work through… to see how much that sharing of our lives mattered. Well, [laughter] this is an interview and I’m not supposed to talk.
C: Oh, no, this is great! You’re putting words to a lot of what we felt in different ways and it was disappointing for it not to stop the deployment. You’re right, it was a life changing experience and everyone experienced it maybe in a different way, but a lot of it was the common sharing of what we were trying to do, and standing up.
I work with kids and I try to show them things. I talk a lot about the power of the camera and usually, in a first class pass around a camera and have them hold it as I show them some footage of some kids in Somerville, MA., who were 12 and made a documentary that actually changed the town. I’ve been wanting Stronger Than Before. and I tell my students about it. I’ve never shown it because I didn’t have a copy of it. Anyway, I see young women who sometimes don't understand where those roots are from as if they’ve sort of popped up from nowhere. Life, and the backlash of feminism has been so painful in the past few years, unbelievable and just really frustrating. I know as a teacher, there’s just been this big thing going because all of the sudden boys are not succeeding. But the truth is girls are succeeding more and that has been something that has been so troubling to me as a teacher, as a parent, as a woman, because nowhere did I ever hear, wow! the girls are, doing good in science! They’re doing good in math! But as soon as you start getting statistics about the boys doing badly, they're freaking out. And I have a boy. I love boys and I work with them all the time, but that to me was a perfect example of this societal amnesia and also, oh my god, the truth is, it’s not white boys that are failing, it’s children of color that are failing and they’re not talking about it, anyway, a huge huge deal I digress, but, it is connected.
E: It's all connected was one of the big things I think that we learned at the peace camp. It is all connected and we have to keep making those connections and putting those connections out there until they’re heard by the widest number of people ’til it becomes belief.
C: Right, becomes fact and becomes part of the history.
E: Right because we're dreaming it into reality. I have not given up on what women came together to do. It was huge. One of the things we're hearing as we do some of the interviews is the strangeness of a leader not coming out it, and so now, the more we do, the more questions we have. And, I was thinking earlier today, what happened was that a lot of us became, at least leaders of ourselves and we began to lead ourselves in specific directions. I think we began to see direction for ourselves, directions that are not just kind of willy-nilly or namby-pamby [laughter] or whatever following somebody else. I want the information not to be lost. I want the stories to be told.
C: You guys doing this is so important. This is amazing.
E: And, guess who we have to thank? The women. The Boston Women’s Video Collective was truly impressive. Newspaper and media people weren’t sending women so you opened up some doors for a lot of women. I remember being so impressed to see all those red shirts . [laughter].
C: [laughter] Oh, that’s right! I wish I would’ve worn mine. Oh my god! We made these shirts. I forget what they said, but they had a woman and a camera on them and they were bright red and we wore them as our Women’s Video Collective shirts and they were very cool [laugher].
H: So that’s how you signified-
C: Yeah, that’s right, yeah, my god.
E: I wonder if any of them still exist anywhere?
C: I will look, I betcha- I don’t throw away anything! [laughter]
E: Well, yeah, the museum. And then, if there’s one that somebody doesn’t have a use for, we’re going to need to raise money and I’m starting to think now, we need to be collecting things, so I’m just passing on we’re going to have to do some kind of an auction [Claire laughter] or something.
C: That would be fun. Sure, I’ll go look and see. I bet we have some around.
E: It’s going to take all of us to do something in the future and the peace encampment is those of us walking around remembering and living what we learned and it’s just gonna be what happens in the future.
C: Yeah, well, you’re sparking some, some memories, but also all the ripples that come from it. Were all so different and I think sometimes I haven’t connected the dots. I know the dots when we sit and start talking, I’m thinking that a group of us in the city of Somerville started a whole thing on group voices of women and children. We started to look at people running for office and to really stand up on the issues that affect women and children. That was something that came from several of us that had been part of the peace encampment and I remember things like, 13 hugs a day, remember those signs? I tell my students that all the time, make sure you get those hugs. These things become a part of your own mind and culture and you sort of forget where you got them from. Another thing is webs and spirals, those are things that I know I’ve carried on. Women weaving webs and all that stuff.
E: And I think that something about the diversity of the women who came together caused some kind of evolution, some cultural ingraining that 13 hugs are healing. Those bits and pieces, the spirals and the webs, how do they become mainstream? I remember feeling that way about some of the clothing. There was a way of dressing - we just heard the term 'Lesbian dress'.
C: [laughter] I like, ‘dress like lesbians,’ I like that. What does that mean? Who ever thought of ripped shirts, remember when people ripped theirs, because it was so hot.
E: Right, it was kind of an evolution thing people did; created their own kind of style and then one day I open a magazine and suddenly there were pictures with women in long underwear [laughter]. In the morning you’d get up and it’d be cold so you needed long underwear and skirts, and boots but it had spread-
C: Oh, the boot look, we started that I’m sure [laughter].
E: Right, and then there it was in a magazine. But I was having a proprietary sense of that was started here! and I’m curious about that culturally. Who creates culture? Because we’re carrying and living something that has been not only close to our hearts but big in our heads.
C: Yeah. Well, talking about the historical. The history of that whole area from the Iroquois Nation to Harriet Tubman and the early feminists, and then what the peace encampment was, all in this one place. Those are huge, historical connections that go way back. So we’re a part of that and we created another step in the ladder of that whole cultural experience that can’t be forgotton.
E: Did Sojourner Truth's " Ain't I a woman" speech happen right there, too, Well, that’s the thing. Ain’t I a woman and we have not been recognized for the work that women do for peace and in the demand to not have children who have to go and kill other children.
C: Well, you know the other thing you just reminded me of too, is that it’s just like when the mother, Cindy Sheehan went down and sat across from Bush’s house. That to me, reminded me that that was natural, and coming from this really strong place of being a woman and a mother and a nurturer. To me it was just grassroot, from her heart. Just sitting there and how that grew and was the closest thing.
E: Did you want to go?
C: Oh, god yes! [Estelle laughter] You get caught up in your life. I didn’t become a teacher until I was 49, then I found out what I wanted to do when I grew up. You have a kid, it’s just hard to do those things. So I’m so grateful I was able to do that back in the 80s. My son went with me to several of the protests of the war in 2003 and that was really powerful. Recently, he,wanted to go with me to see Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Neil Young’s Living with War tour album is unbelievable. It was all very political. I remember sitting next to him and realizing that he’s 19 and they were playing Ohio and I was 19 when Kent State happened and politicized me. It just made me cry that we’re still dealing with the the same stuff. Anyway, it was the connection. But the other connection was the women in Britain who had the peace encampment there?
E: At Greenham Common(9)
C: Right, ‘cause the peace encampment here was inspired by them, am I right?
C: ‘cause they were first.
H: Yeah, and that’s where the Cruise and the Pershing were gonna-
C: Were going there. They stayed together a lot longer, didn’t they? Didn’t they stay with the peace encampment, I mean?
H: Well. Greenham stopped in about 2000. The base closed and the women finally left but they actually have a memorial.
C: I don’t know the camp history much after.
H: Well, the peace camp, Seneca has been around past ’83, ’84, ’85. It transformed into Women’s PeaceLand in 1994. So it’s been going in some incarnation of itself, the land being taken this year.
C: What happened?
E: We just lost the land this last year.: For taxes.
H: You know, no monies. Estelle was a part of it, Seneca got set up for base realignment and closure in ’95 and it closed down officially in 2000.
C: Wow! I’d forgot, oh, my god!
C: Do we, can we say that we had a part of that?
H: We do, we do. I mean there’s so much. The military has changed. We didn’t stop the Cruise but I really like what some of the women have spoken about the amount of attention and education that happened. Bringing awareness of what was going on there brought an incredible focus because a lot of folks in the area weren’t aware and the military never confirmed or denied it. So, it makes a difference
C: You know it did and I think that whole thing about the guards learning more about women’s history. I just love those stories when women would come back and say, yeah, they don’t believe me anymore that I’m Susan B. Anthony.
E: And women were so cagey how they did it [Claire laughter].
1. Seneca Army Depot (SEAD) – a former U.S. military base, pre-1941–2000. Located on 11,000 acres in Romulus, New York, the depot was one of several facilities used to store nuclear weapons for the Department of Defense. The earliest known use of SEAD for nuclear weapons related work was in the 1940’s when uranium was stored at the depot for the Manhattan Project (the project that developed the atomic bomb). SEAD was approved for Base Realignment and Closure in 1995 and closed in 2000.
2. Women's Video Collective - (WVC) was formed by a small group of women from the Boston area in May 1983. Their purpose was to document the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in upstate New York. From this experience, the collective developed their mission: to produce media works promoting feminism and peace.
3. Stronger Than Before - WVC documentary about the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice.
4. Barbara Deming - 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.
5. August 1, 1983 – a mass civil disobedience action organized by the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. Up to 4000 protestors marched from Sampson State Park to the main gate of the Seneca Army Depot where 250 women arrested after climbing over or under the military fence.
6. Bella Abzug - Served the state of New York in the United States House of Representatives, representing her district in Manhattan from 1971 to 1977. For part of her term, she also represented part of The Bronx as well. She was one of the first members of Congress to support gay rights introducing the first federal gay rights bill, known as the Equality Act of 1974.8. Sonia Johnson - is an American feminist activist and writer. She was an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and in the late 1970s. She ran for President in 1984, as the presidential candidate of the U.S. Citizen's Party.
7. Women Make Movies - is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women.
8. Sonia Johnson - is an American feminist activist and writer. She was an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). she ran for president in 1984 as a candidate of the U.S. Citizen's Party.
9. 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.
Posted by hershe Michele at Friday, May 23, 2008