Cascading Movements for Peace: From Women Strike for Peace to UNSCR 1325.

AuthorWeiss, Cora

I GREW UP AT THE BEGINNING OF THE CASCADE OF SOCIAL MOVEMENTS following the Second World War. At the University of Wisconsin, I worked on the Joe Must Go campaign to recall Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was falsely accusing teachers, actors, and writers--almost anyone he could think of--of being a Communist. My fellow campaigners and I were asking people to sign petitions, and I drove around the state with my New York license plates wondering why I was being pelted with corn husks and rotten tomatoes. My political teeth were cut and a first lesson learned: do not take a car with out-of-state plates to meet with local voters.

Upon graduation, the anticolonial campaign for the liberation of Africa was in full swing. Tom Mboya, liberation and labor leader of Kenya, was anxious to secure education for young African people for whom there was no local university. The British would leave, taking all the civil servants away, leaving no one to run the soon-to-be-independent country. Mboya found scholarships for African students to attend universities in the United States, but there was no way to get them there to use them. We started an airlift, which I ran between 1959 and 1963 with Mary Hamanaka, a Japanese American woman who had been incarcerated in an internment camp during World War II. Over three years, 800 students came on planes, three of which were funded by John F. Kennedy's family foundation. Kennedy was a candidate for president at the time and may have figured that his generous move would enhance his foreign policy credentials as well as help him secure the African American vote. The vast majority of students completed their degrees and returned to become the nation builders of independent East Africa. Of the 81 students on the first airlift plane in 1959, 13 were women. Wangari Maathai was on the 1960 plane. She became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Only years later did I realize how significant, even radical, Mboya's undertaking was. The cascade continued: the civil rights movement, the human rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the women's movement. Soon we identified as feminists and brought gender equality into our work in peace education.

Calling for women to be decision makers worked for some years, but limitations became apparent when the Tea Party emerged and accrued a large female membership, and Sarah Palin ran for vice president. I feared the Palinization of the United States. My call evolved, speaking for progressive women, peace- and justice-loving women to assume decision-making and leadership roles, not just women as women. I always worked in teams, always spoke of we, not me. Working together with others, I reached across borders that divide. I remember looking at orchestra members, lists of contributors to book chapters, newspaper photos of newsmakers, and wondering where the women were, where the people of color were.

I still do.

From the Partial Test Ban Treaty to Mobilizations against the Vietnam War

I began my work with and advocacy for women in Women Strike for Peace (WSP). The organization formed in 1961 when artist and mother of three girls Dagmar Wilson called her women friends to the kitchen table in her Georgetown home and talked about the atmospheric testing of atomic bombs and their release ofstrontium-90, their lethal ingredient. The group of women grew. Our initial purpose was to stop atmospheric testing of atomic bombs. We studied strontium and what it could do to life and land. We discovered that strontium radiated from the bombs when they were dropped on the grass; cows ate the grass; and we gave our babies cows' milk. Barry Commoner, a scientist who later ran for president, called for us to send him our children's baby teeth; he found strontium-90 in the teeth samples we provided. That was all we had to know. We became passionate petitioners. Soon women from 60 cities became informed WSP members. We appealed to President Kennedy to sign what we then called the half ban treaty (officially known as the Partial Test Ban Treaty) with the Soviets. The ban would prohibit atmospheric testing of atomic bombs--we did not then have the scientific knowledge that they could be tested underground or in labs.

Amy Swerdlow, women's history scholar and director emerita of the Women's Studies Program at Sarah Lawrence College, wrote the only history of WSP. In her book, she refers to me as a grassroots member from Riverdale, NY (Swerdlow 1993, 223). I was proud of that designation. She describes the women who stood at the White House fence in October 1963 while the president signed the half ban treaty. President Kennedy asked his wife Jackie to take coffee and donuts to the WSP women to...

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