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    Women working for peace and justice since 1915

    The Portland Alliance, May 2005

    In response to the global threat of WWI, Jane Addams and other suffragists formed the Women’s Peace Party in 1915 (Addams won the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize for her work). In two year’s time they had thousands of members and 200 local groups working for an end to the “reckless destruction” caused by men in powerful positions. Ninety years later, and eighty-six years after a name change, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) continues to work for disarmament and promoting human rights in 37 countries.

    To celebrate the 90th anniversary of WILPF, the Portland branch of WILPF and the Women’s Studies Department of Portland State University are co-sponsoring day-long events on Tuesday, May 3. They have chosen to convene a parade, period costumes encouraged, starting from O’Bryant Square and finishing with an educational event at PSU’s Multicultural Center to commemorate the achievements WILPF has made over nine decades of activism.

    The Oregon chapter of WILPF formed in the early 1920s and the first meeting was held at the First Unitarian Church. Despite the usual scorn promoters of peace faced, Portland WILPF kept up its work for the cause through the ‘40s when they aided a group of displaced Japanese Americans and one member, Alice Plympton, went on a peace pilgrimage to Washington in 1948. The ‘60s brought coordinated efforts opposing the Vietnam War and a creative campaign against violence-promoting children’s activities and toys. Concerned about the messages being sent to children, WILPF made anti-war toys and exhibited them at the 1965 State Fair’s “Peace Booth” while sending letters to toy manufacturers and the press about the issue.

    When the war ended, Portland WILPF turned its efforts to women’s reproductive rights, South African apartheid, and shutting down the Trojan Nuclear Plant. Several WILPF members were arrested and fined, but the nuclear facility was successfully shut down. Anti-nuclear activities kept on through the ‘80s as billions of dollars were wasted on Star Wars and other military boondoggles. The ‘90s began and ended with protests against the Persian Gulf War and with lots of gay and lesbian, police accountability, and anti-racism activism in between.

    Reading WILPF’s archives in preparation for this article, I was taken with how much these mostly white women participated in actions promoting racial equality. White women leaders are constantly plagued by accusations of racism despite the long record of organized women taking both anti-sexism and anti-racism actions. Many of the founding members of WILPF, Jane Addams included, were also founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Racial equality has been a major focus throughout WILPF’s history and that tradition continues today through campaigns criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, seeking to abolish the prejudicial death penalty and releasing prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. “One of the great experiences within the organization has been the opportunity to attend International Congresses,” said Barbara Drageaux, WILPF member since 1992. “There, a sisterhood among women of many nations is truly grasped as we live and eat together and organize on behalf of one another. Living in international community for even a week expands your horizons beyond your greatest imagination and intensifies your commitment to peace and justice on this planet.”

    Pat Hollingsworth, member since 1968, agrees that the women of WILPF have played a larger role in fostering international peace than is recognized by history: “Their resolutions called for an end to discrimination against women and a method of resolving conflict by establishing a Society of Nations and an International Court of Law. In effect they were the prototype of the United Nations. Since that beginning, WILPF has maintained a strong influence at the United Nations as a non-government organization.”

    To learn more about the herstory behind the history of the international peace movement, join current WILPF members on May 3 for a day of education and celebration.

    S.M. Berg is an activist, bicyclist and writist who can be reached at smberg@hevanet.com.

    Copyright © by genderberg.com All Right Reserved.

    Published on: 2005-07-24 (1534 reads)

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