Caption top: A group of 18 women walked from Seneca Falls to the Washington Street bridge in Waterloo Saturday in honor of the 25th anniversary of a march by Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice to protest the alleged storage of nuclear weapons at the Seneca Army Depot.
Caption right: Christine Cummings, 10, of Portland, Ore., represents the sixth generation of her family to march in Seneca Falls.
Marching with 'Herstory'
Women celebrate anniversary of 1983 protest
by Amanda Folts
SENECA FALLS — On July 30, 1983, about 130 women set out to march from Seneca Falls to the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in Varick to protest the rumored storage of nuclear weapons at the Seneca Army Depot.
At the Washington Street bridge in Waterloo, the group met about 100 angry, flag-waving counter-protesters who were blocking their path. A two-hour stand-off ensued, with the crowd of counter-protesters doubling.
Law enforcement officers tried to get the crowd under control so the march could continue, but to no avail. In the end, police arrested 53 of the marching women for disorderly conduct.
On Saturday, a group of 18 women — some of whom were there — walked from Seneca Falls to the Washington Street bridge without opposition. They carried a purple cloth banner with white, yellow, orange and red lettering reading: “25th Anniversary of the Seneca Women’s Peace Encampment, No War For Oil.” Many of the women also wore T-shirts noting the anniversary.
They stopped at the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, to discuss some of the history behind them, and then left in song. “We are the old women, we are the new women, we are the same women, stronger than before,” they sang.
Estelle Coleman, Cambridge, Mass., was one of the last two women to leave the peace encampment when it closed in 2002. She said she originally went for her grandchildren. “I didn’t want ... a blinding flash of light to be happening and have them say, ‘why didn’t you stop this?” she said. Coleman said she lived at the camp off and on for more than 23 years, living in tents, a house, a bus and a barn. She is working on the Peace Encampment Herstory Project, which is a volunteer effort to collect pictures, videos, newspaper clippings and oral histories from people who participated at the camp.
Christine Cummings, 10, of Portland, Ore., marched Saturday carrying a sign that read, “I am proud to be the 6th generation of strong women who have walked here. No more wars.”
“Lots of my relatives are in the Army, and my uncle is in the war right now ... and I want him to get out,” she said.
Christine’s grandmother, Louise Cummings, of Alpine, Schuyler County, did not participate in the march 25 years ago. However, she was charged with trespassing when she climbed over the depot fence on her son’s 10th birthday — something she said she did “for all children of the world.”
Regarding her granddaughter’s sign, Louise Cummings explained that six generations of women in her family have marched through Seneca Falls for reasons ranging from women’s suffrage to equal rights.
“This is a history that’s been passed down to me, so I guess you could say it’s in our blood, right baby girl?” she said, high-fiving her granddaughter.
Renee-Noelle Felice of Syracuse said she visited the encampment when it first opened and came back Saturday to honor all the women who have marched through the village.
“... we’re walking in the footsteps of the women who started the process of getting us the right to vote,” she said, noting that Monday is the 88th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which granted suffrage to women.
Lucille Povero, of Seneca Falls, founder of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Foundation, went to the bridge 25 years ago because she knew some of her board members were marching and was afraid they had been arrested. She said she went to the encampment each weekend for about three months when it opened, and her only regret is not climbing the fence with the others. Povero said her initial reason for going to the camp, however, had nothing to do with missiles. She just felt something spiritual and feminine about the land.
“It really was women’s land,” she said.
Pat Lockwood, of Seneca Falls, said she had been working in her bath and body store when she heard that women were being arrested. She quickly closed its doors and went to the Waterloo bridge, and when she arrived the women had already been taken into custody and were sitting on buses. Lockwood said she visited the camp often and decided to march Saturday because she had so much fun being a part of the original movement.
“It just brings out a lot of good memories and a lot of good things came out of this,” she said.
The march was organized by Jessica Max Stein of Brooklyn, who said she not only wanted to honor the history of the women’s encampment but encourage alternate modes of transportation. Stein said she wants to see the car become outdated and thinks people should learn more about walking, biking, canals and other ways to get around. She has walked 45 miles of the Erie Canal, from Lockport to Brockport and was searching for another route to walk when she found the 25th anniversary of the women’s peace camp was approaching. She decided to do a re-enactment, and with the encouragement of a friend, invited others to join her.
“It seemed relevant today. It’s not nukes but we’re still in a war, and we’re still siphoning off people’s money to go elsewhere and we’re not paying attention to these local places,” she said.