My Life as a Peace Activist

Photo by Sarah Whiting

Years ago, in high school, I had a crush on a Quaker. All I knew of the Quaker philosophy was that it was about non-violence. It intrigued me to have a community built around that concept.

I went on to get my Masters Degree in English Literature, become the first coordinator of The Loft, and founded a literary journal.

As a young woman in my 20s, I became focused on pro-peace activities. When missiles were being deployed to Europe in 1983, two busloads of us went to a military base in Seneca, New York, with Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) to protest. I participated in a peace camp at the St. Paul-based weapons manufacturer, Sperry Univac, for more than a year.

As a member of WAMM’s Steering Committee in the 1980s, I attended pro- peace rallies, especially at Honeywell, which was then manufacturing weapons such as landmines, nuclear weapon components, and cluster bombs.

Honeywell sold its arms-making division to Alliant Techsystems (ATK), headquartered in Hopkins, then Edina, then Eden Prairie. We followed ATK, with weekly vigils, until the company moved closer to Washington D.C.

I became active with the Stop the Reroute of Highway 55 encampment, working with the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community and others to try to prevent the highway from destroying sacred land.

In 2002, I organized “Revisioning: Building Community for a Sustainable Future,” with the help of many. This event at Macalester College featured more than 100 speakers who presented 50 workshops and panels around issues of militarism, racism, and ecology.

Over the years I have not wavered in my passion for peace through nonviolent means.

How complicated it is, this peace work. It is feminist, too, addressing related issues. We advocate for refugees, immigrants, and to prevent children in cages. We work against poverty, institutional racism, and police brutality. We work on behalf of gun control, a sustainable economy, and to stop climate chaos. We act to end violence against women in all its forms, and oppose militarism in all its guises.

In 2018, I attended a conference in Dublin, the Global Campaign Against U.S./NATO Military Bases. I learned about the negative effects of the more than 1,000 bases and installations the U.S. supports in 170 countries, including the heavy use of fossil fuels and severe water and air pollution.

My life-long attention to peace building means that today I am aware that nine countries possess 14,475 nuclear weapons; 92 percent are owned by the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. plans to modernize and upgrade current nuclear weapons stockpiles at an estimated cost of $494 billion over the next decade.

I also see the connections between the dominant culture that continues to be a destructive force worldwide and violence against women. Women in the military are often sexually harassed and abused. Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are three times more likely to be violent at home, according to a 2016 NPR report that quoted a researcher with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The #MeToo movement, and the recent passing of Violence Against Women Act in the House of Representatives — in spite of NRA opposition — is all part of the non-violent movement.

Many women, however, do not understand the full impact of militarism, and of supporting candidates who vote again and again for military spending.

Many involved in the environmental movement believe that working with corporations to divest from fossil fuels will defeat climate change. Divestment will help, but we also need systemic changes. Free-market capitalism leads to poverty, racism, and inequality.

Women might see the spiritual death engendered in the hate and fear spewed by the current U.S. administration. Yet we don’t always understand that the trillions of dollars spent on the military and corporate expansion are connected to how people in the U.S. and worldwide suffer.

Resources: Groups and Books

Powerful Groups Working Against Militarism

Women Against Military Madness — a Minnesota-based nonviolent, feminist organization that works to create a system of social equality, self-determination, and justice through education, action, and the empowerment of women.

The Anti-War Committee — a Twin Cities-based, women- and queer-led group that works to end racist police violence, walks with workers on picket lines, and supports struggles for economic justice.

CODEPINK — a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, and to support peace and human rights initiatives.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) — an international organization that has been “connecting economic justice and human rights to the roots of war” since 1915.

Nobel Women’s Initiative — led by six Nobel Peace Prize winners, with a vision of “a world transformed through a rejection of war, violence, and militarism, where global security is built around human rights, justice, and equality for people and communities.”

Idle No More — a protest movement founded by four women in Canada. They support a peaceful revolution, to honor indigenous sovereignty and to protect land and water.

Black Lives Matter — founded by three women, with a global network that supports member-led chapters to build local power.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons — a coalition of non- governmental organizations in more than 100 countries that promote the United Nations’s nuclear weapons ban treaty, and received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. — a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities, with a sign-up list to learn about local legislation efforts.

War & Peace Book List

Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict,” by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan

Globalization and Militarism, Feminists Make the Link,”
by Cynthia Enloe

The Militarization of Indian Country,” by Winona LaDuke

It Runs in the Family, On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood,” by Frida Berrigan

Women of Resistance, Poems for a New Feminism,” edited by Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan

Homefront 911: How Families of Veterans Are Wounded by Our Wars,” by Stacy Bannerman

— compiled by Sue Ann Martinson