2012 U.S. Congress: Opening Remarks

[n.b.  Because of its shape, the peninsula of Cape Cod is easily mapped by raising an arm, a lá Rosie the Riveter in the "We Can Do It!" poster.]

“We’re from Cape Cod and no one could be prouder.
We love, we laugh, we eat a lot of chowdah, chowdah, chowdah.”

A dear friend and WILPF supporter wrote that ditty for the Gay Pride marches of the early 90’s.

Yes, we Cape Codders are proud of the beautiful peninsula we call home.  We greatly enjoy the ocean breezes that kiss our cheeks year-round.  Living there, on the edge of the world in the country of the People of the First Light, brings home to us very clearly just how fragile our cape and the world are.  And we really love carrying a map of our home around with us at all times!

Two days ago, our branch held what has sadly become an annual event: a Memorial Day vigil along Route 6, the main highway that bisects the Cape.  If you’ve ever visited Cape Cod, especially at Memorial or Labor Day, you know that all the visitor traffic must depart via Route 6.  

Along the mid-Cape section, a number of overpasses sport flags of the Marine Corps, the Army, the United States, and other banners welcoming home this or that private or sergeant or lance corporal, expressing love and pride in their service.  Once put up, these flags and banners remain in place until they are faded and worn.  

But on Monday, out here in Orleans, on a bike path bridge that crosses Route 6, WILPFers and other allies from Cape Codders for Peace and Justice and Veterans for Peace and the Fellowship of Reconciliation stood holding signs and big banners that said instead, “Honor all the dead, heal the wounds, end the wars.”

And here, just before exit 2, where the traffic creeps along at 5 or 10 miles an hour, another group of WILPFers stood with similar banners.  This is the eighth year we have done this vigil.  Every year, the number of honks and waves of support grows larger, but every year, the wars continue and we are there again.

Eight years is a comparatively short time, however.  Out here at the windmill in Eastham, there is a vigil every week, started by WILPFers Barbara and Mort Steinau in 1991 when the U.S. invaded Iraq the first time.  Mort has died, Barb is close to death, and yet their vigil -- and the appalling need for it -- continue.

Sometimes I wonder what it took for the women in 1915 to get angry enough, frustrated enough, to say “That’s it.  We can do it better and we’d better start now.”  What was the final straw that caused them to pack up and head over seas and borders to gather in The Hague?  Having no legitimized voice in the electoral process was part of it, certainly, but why would ordinary women decide to do something so radical?

At our branch meeting a few months ago, people arrived to find a vintage hat at each place at the table.  Inside each hat was a paragraph or two about one of the women who attended that first WILPF congress in 1915.  We put on our hats, ate our dinner, and when check-in rolled around, we checked in not only for ourselves but also for the founding WILPFer whose biography we had.  And we channeled the energy of those women into our meeting.

How interesting it was to learn about these ordinary women, about their careers and their paths to activism.  Do you know them?  We didn’t, so let me tell you a little about only ten of the 1200 women, since their resolutions form the basis of this Congress of 2011.  

  • There was Fannie Fern Phillips Andrews, USA, an educator, founder of the American Peace League, and an advocate for an international department of education.  
  • Dr. Aletta Jacobs came from the Netherlands, the first Dutch female doctor.
  • Emily Hobhouse came from England, a welfare campaigner who revealed abuses to Boer women and children at 34 South African concentration camps.
  • Hungarian Rosika Schwimmer was a trade union activist and advocate for a Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation.
  • Kathleen Courtney was from England and worked with the Friends’ War Victims Relief in Serbia, France, Austria, Poland and other countries.
  • Dr. Anita Augspurg of Germany and her life partner, Lida Gustava Heymann were both abolitionists against prostitution.
  • Dr. Emily Arnesen of Norway was an invertebrate zoologist and later museum curator.
  • Chrystal MacMillan was the first female science graduate in Scotland, became a barrister and was the first woman to plead a case before the House of Lords.
  • Dr. Alice Hamilton of the US was a pathologist and bacteriologist and occupational safety researcher.

Of course, they were all suffragists, too.

If you compare their resolutions with the Treaty of Versailles which actually did end World War I, you will be struck by what these women considered important and what the men considered important. The men's treaty included discussions of boundaries, political clauses, military clauses, penalties, reparations, financial clauses... The women spoke of the madness of war, the absurd assumption that women can be protected under the conditions of modern warfare, actions toward peace, principles of a permanent peace, international cooperation, education, and they demanded a place at the peace table... and that they be given the vote.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the first Congress of Women in The Hague, we have to wonder if we have made any progress at all.  The wars go on and on, as the US slips silently from one to another with never a break.  And in our homes and hometowns, we see the evidence of perpetual war.

Right here, on the Cape’s bicep, sits the 22,000-acre Otis Air National Guard Base.  Decades of military target practice and air fuel dumps have resulted in plumes of contamination that spread into the water supply all over the Upper Cape and into the single aquifer that supplies us all.  Over the past decade, the Department of Defense has spent a fortune trying to clean up the plumes and providing bottled water to residents.  Now they have decided that the contamination has been cleaned up enough, technology has progressed enough, so that the National Guard can return to live ammunition practice.

The Upper Cape has for years seen elevated breast and pancreatic cancer rates and elevated incidences of Ewing's sarcoma in children.  In one corner of this base sits the PAVE PAWS radar array, designed to detect incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles.  It has been cited as a possible cause for this high incidence of cancer.

Our high schools on the Cape admit, welcome and celebrate military recruiters.  Two local teachers, WILPF members, were censured, fined, and suspended temporarily from working when they stood up at a senior enlistment ceremony holding signs reading “End War.”  The vice-principal of their high school appeared at the same ceremony dressed in the uniform of his Army reserve unit, without sanction.  

On the streets of happy, vacationland Cape Cod, 21 homeless people died last year.  In the past eleven years, over 1,000 homeless people have died on Cape Cod.

The Vietnam Memorial in Washington lists 58,000 names of dead servicemen and women.  You may know that during those same years, 51,000 American women were murdered, most often at the hands of men who purported to love them.  The rate of rape in the U.S. has changed from one woman every six minutes in 1991 to one woman every minute.  

All this is about one thing -- WAR.  It is about the causes of war, the effects of war, the decimation of a social structure when money streams out to support wars, the impact of war on our educational and health care systems, the increase of violence at home when our society is based on war.  And these are examples from our own country.  What about life in Iraq these days, or in Afghanistan, or in Pakistan?  What about Colombia and Mexico?  What is being done with our dollars and in our name to make a mockery of so-called “civil” society?

End War doesn’t mean simply Stop the Bombs, or Get Rid of the Guns.  It means ending EVERYTHING that causes or results from war.  The women in The Hague in 1915 knew that.  We know it, too.   

We wealthy American women -- wealthy by world standards -- who can take the leisure time to assemble in Chapel Hill, who sit in air-conditioned comfort with clean water and healthy food at hand -- we need to examine with an honest heart the reasons that brought us to WILPF in the first place.  We need to open our hearts to the cries of women the world over, and step forward to work together in close alliance and with all our passion to put an end to war.  Jane Addams and her cohorts are expecting nothing less.

--Elenita Muñiz ,Congress  Program Co-Chair

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