From: Ithaca Journal, May 30, 1983
Women-only Anti-Nuclear Encampment Set for July 4
ROCHESTER (AP) – Women by the leaderless thousands hope to give a new complexion to America’s anti-nuclear movement when they camp this summer on a farm hard by the barbed-wire fence of Seneca Army Depot. The summerlong watch at the suspected nuclear weapons storehouse, starting July 4, will be the first women-only anti-nuclear encampment in the United States the women say. Their inspiration is the 21-month vigil, often muddy and bedraggled, of British women camped outside the Greenham Common U.S. Air Force base, 50 miles west of London, England.
Women from Greenham Common, Continental Europe and across the United States have pledged support and inquired about joining the 52-acre camp on a scrubby rural flatland between Cayuga and Seneca lakes in upstate New York. The Seneca women hope to use what the call a female style of communal, consensus decision-making by operating without a president, a board of directors, an executive committee or even a designated spokeswoman.“This way of doing it is every bit as important as the event itself,” said Marcia Craig of Rochester, a clinical instructor in psychiatry.
After a year of communicating by what their British counter parts call “bush telegraph,” the women held a news conference Monday to announce the purchase of an abandoned farm in the Seneca County of Varick, 45 miles southwest of Rochester.
The farm, which sold for $37,500, backs onto a 6-foot-high fence topped by there strands of barbed wire – the outer perimeter of the depot.
The lack of a distinct voice of authority has led to conflicting reports about what exactly is planned for the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice.
Seneca Army Depot spokesman Robert Zemanek said he had seen newspaper reports that 30,000 women were expected and had heard of a Florida radio report that the women intended to link hands and circle the 11,000-acre base, which has an 18-mile perimeter.
A Women’s Encampment flyer says in capital letters that “August 1st has been chose for a large action, including a non-violent civil disobedience action.”
But a camp delegation that met with Zemanek last week told him they expected no more than a few hundred women at any one time. “There are some obvious discrepancies,” Zemanek said. The base has hired an extra 45 civilian guards and erected a new fence by the east gate so a parking lot and grassy mall can be blocked of it necessary, he said.
According to the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based organization of retired military officers, the Seneca Army Depot is probable the Army’s East Coast storehouse for neutron warheads and nuclear landmines. The depot might also be a storage site for the Army’s Pershing II missile warheads, which are scheduled for deployment in Europe in December, according to Robert Norris, a senior analyst for the research group. The most likely storage site for the Pershing II warheads is Fort Still, Okla., where the Army is training a Pershing battalion, Norris said.
The Department of Defense refuses to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons at any site.
Marcia Craig of Rochester, a member of the Women’s Encampment, said the camp will be a haven “so that women who did not want to take part in the civil disobedience could have a safe place to stay.” She and others say that they cannot predict what form the civil disobedience might take, only saying that women will be trained in non-violent techniques.
At Greenham Common, 50 miles west of London, 300,000 women surrounded the air base in December in what they called a “celebration of life.” Since then they have danced on top of a missile silo, sat on the roof of a prison where some their members were detained, obstructed construction on the base and blockaded a highway to it. Greenham Common is a major base for the U.S. Air Force and is expected to house the cruise missile beginning in December.
Greenham Common and the Seneca encampment have already spawned a second U.S. women’s peace camp. The newly formed Puget Sound Women’s Peace Camp plans to pitch tents by the fence of a Boeing Aerospace Crop. plant in the Seattle suburb of Kent where, it says, cruise missiles are manufactured. Carl Kiiskila, a member of that group, said the Puget Sound camp was inspired in part by the Seneca women. She said the camp will begin with a major demonstration June 18 and continue indefinitely – “until they stop the cruise missile.”
This weekend the Seneca women began building 200 camp sites, each of which is designed for five or six people. Craig said member hope to keep the number of women staying overnight at not much more than 1,000 people. Women will be expected to take turns staying on the encampment, and those who can’t find room will be informed of nearby state parks and motels where they can stay, she said. Men will be invited to provide child care, medical care, transportation, vegetables and possible fundraising help.
By keeping number down on the encampment, the women say they hope to prevent the soil from being trampled. They plant to grow vegetables this summer and possible turn the farm back to its original purpose when the summer is over, member Patricia Dorland of Rochester said. The camp might also be turned over to the townspeople or made into a permanent center for study of the effects of militarism, members said.
The Women’s Encampment has offices in Geneva, 15 miles to the north, and New York City. About five women are working full-time on the encampment and being supported through donations, according to member Karen Kirchoff.
Established women’s groups, like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, have helped with publicity. Jobs are handled by ad hoc committees that dissolve when their work is done, the members say. About 40 women have been most actively involved in the organization. Planning meetings with an ever-changing group of participants have been held in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Syracuse, Rochester and Albany, members say.
According to their operating style, one person can block consensus and thwart a decision. “It generates a lot of trust among people,” Dorland said. “The person who blocks consensus is taking a very heavy responsibility on themselves,” Craig said. “That’s why it doesn’t happen very often.”