ELLEN AND FASIA’S WORK WITH THE FOUNDATION. We are two ordinary women, who like to sit in their gardens, who like music (Fasia is a singer), who like to be with their children. Fasia is black. She grew up in Nazi Germany, her father was a diplomat from Liberia, her mother, a white German. The Nazis put her in a concentration camp as a child because of her black skin. In 1945 she was liberated and started to sing and to struggle for peace, justice, liberation and dreamed that Auschwitz should never happen again.
I (Ellen) was born in the last year of World War II, My family is a working class family. I grew up and learned about German history. My father, who joined the resistance movement, taught everything to me. I decided at the age of eleven, when I read the first book about the concentration camps, that I would work my whole life so that it should never happen again. Fasia and I met during the Easter Marches against the nuclear threat; we started to work, to struggle and to live together.
THE NUCLEAR THREAT. My work with the Foundation started in 1984, Fasia’s in 1985. Like millions of people, we also were concerned about what is called the nuclear age. More than 50,000 nuclear warheads had been stockpiled. The battlefields seemed to be everywhere.
The central front was in Germany, both sides. East and West, had the highest concentration of nuclear armaments ever. We, as women for peace, marched thousands of kilometers on our long peace marches throughout Europe. We marched from Copenhagen to Paris, from Berlin to Vienna, from Dortmund to Brussells. All along these routes, we talked to every mayor and town government of the cities we passed through, demanding that they declare their cities or counties nuclear-free zones. We talked to NATO generals and ordinary military people. Every market square was used for “die-ins” – simulations of what would happen if a nuclear bomb should hit the place. A text of Helen Caldicott was read hundreds of times to inform people about the danger in which we all were (and still are!). We crossed the borders of our so-called enemies dozens of times, joined peace meetings, conferences, actions in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria and former East Germany. We tried to communicate with women of these countries, argued with women and men about different opinions, on nuclear energy, etc. We participated in actions to block gates of nuclear deployment arsenals such as Greenham Common, Mutlangen, Heilbronn and many more. An endless struggle…
At a rally in Bonn on Mother’s Day, Fasia sang, “Not only flowers, we want women’s rights.” A friend and peace activist. Professor Doris Elbers, who had marched part of the way with us at the peace march, asked Ellen, “Would you like to come with me to Texas next week? There will be a meeting of women, the topics of discussion will be: peace, violence, and womens’ role in peace and wartimes.” My reply was, “Why not?” Above all, we wanted to contact women in the United States of America, the country with the highest nuclear capacity in the world. So, everything started. Some twenty five of us from Europe, the U.S. and Chile came together at Stonehaven Ranch near Austin, Texas, invited by Genevieve Vaughan, and gave birth to the “Feminist International for Peace and Food”(FIPF) It wasn’t easy to follow the discussions, especially to understand the Texan slang! First I thought, “Which language do they speak?”. Now, ten years later, I have gotten used to it. The discussions were very interesting. We developed and signed papers such as, “Let Women Lead”, and “What is peace – What is Violence?
HEY, MR. REAGAN, GO BACK TO HOLLYWOOD!. In that same year, some of us here in Europe felt deeply depressed, expecting that Ronald Reagan would be elected a second time. We had it in our minds that we needed to do something about it. The arms expenditures had exploded during his first term and the obscenity of Star Wars brought the biggest profit in history to the arms’ business. At the same time, in direct response to this, poverty grew in the U.S., in the U.S.S .R., and above all in the second and third worlds, because the resources of the world were, and are being spent on armaments. And people cannot be fed or clothed with weapons. We knew that even if the rockets were not used, if they sat in their silos or warehouses, they would kill daily. We knew that we, NATO and Warsaw Pact countries dropped a Hiroshima bomb every three days. Every three days as many children die of starvation and lack of medicine as people died after the dropping of the first atom bomb on Hiroshima. We had the idea to act on the day the election took place. 15 Europeans, among them seven students and Professor Angela Neuke from the University of Essen and some peace activists went to Washington, D.C..We had 18 big boxes with us, which carried the “longest photo of the world”, which was originally Angela’s idea. This photo is one and a half miles long. It was taken by 50 photographers at a day in Germany when 200,000 people built a human chain across the Swabian Alb, from Stuttgart, as U.S. European Command to Neu-Ulm, the Pershing missile storage center. When the human chain was connected, these 50 photographers took a picture from nearly every part of the chain. Then they enlarged the photos, covered them with plastic and stuck them together.
We went to Washington, struggled to get the permission to put 600 poles into the ground, got permission, and attached the photos to the poles. We sent out press releases, which said, “200,000 Europeans linking hands behind the White House against the re-election of Ronald Reagan on October 5th”. Many press and T.V. people came.
THE MOTHERS OF THOSE DISAPPEARED FROM EL SALVADOR & A WOMEN’S INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY ACTION. During the period of our stay in Washington, we had our headquarters at the peace center on Florida Avenue. We also cooperated with the Institute for Policy studies (IPS) in D.C. with Sissy Farenthold and Isabel Letellier. We got to know of the denial of visas on three women, members of the Committee of the Mothers of the Disappeared from El Salvador, Comadres. The committee was chosen to receive the first human rights award of the Robert Kennedy Foundation. Even if it was the Kennedy Foundation, the mothers were denied the visas. It was the crucial time of the U.S. involvement in the civil war in El Salvador. The U.S government supported the right-wing fascist regime of Napoleon Duarte with approximately 1.5 million U.S. dollars per day for military purposes. We sat together at IPS. Gen was involved, and together we decided to bring the mothers to Europe. I was asked whether I could organize the tour. We agreed. I had eight weeks to prepare everything.
We traveled in 10 European countries, were received by the wives of heads of states such as Mme. Mitterand and Ms. Papandreou. Willi Brandt and uncountable numbers of parliamentarians received us as well. The women spoke in front of the Human Rights commission of the United Nations in Geneva.
We met with bishops, trade union leaders and presidents of parliaments. The mothers gave their testimonies dozens of times. We visited women’s’ groups, human rights groups and international AIDS groups. We met with famous activists like Melina Mercouri and Dolores Ibarruri (Pasionaria). We met with the Greenham women and the miners’ wives, who were on strike in that year. The mothers gave many TV and radio interviews such as to Radio Vaticano in Rome.
It was a tremendous undertaking, sponsored by Gen. We all learned a lot. We, as Europeans, learned of the ongoing fascism, that fascism had not ended after World War II. I learned that my 50 square meter apartment would be room for 4 families in El Salvador. The Salvadorians learned about the nuclear threat. Then they met with Pasionaria, who was one of the symbols of resistance against fascism in Spain. I learned what it means to be illiterate. The Salvadorians could barely read or write. Through their illiteracy, they were cut off from a knowledge of history. They had no idea of Europe’s fascist history, and that it was possible to overcome fascism with its unbelievable number of victims. The young interpreters from the U.S. could not believe that we were received by so many heads of states or that Mme. Mitterand as the wife of the French president, was acting at the same time as the head of the solidarity committees towards El Salvador in France. (Can you imagine Mrs. Reagan, Bush, or even Ms. Clinton doing the same in the U.S.!)The tour was also successful in financial aspects. The women got a lot of aid and support for the committee. It was what I would call a real international act of women’s solidarity.
EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE -THE UN DECADE FOR WOMEN. We begun to prepare for the Nairobi conference, which marked the end of the United Nations Decade for Women. We had previously discussed whether we, as women of the rich countries, should go, or should we give our places to women of the third world? When we heard that several western governments tried to tell women we should stick to women’s issues (whatever we understand what women’s issues are!), and, for instance, not talk about peace which was one of the three topics of the decade for women because “peace is something that shouldn’t be a women’s issue”, we became so angry that we decided we would then create a spot where women could especially talk about peace, a place where women from so-called enemy countries could negotiate with one another, and this is what we did. The peace tent in Nairobi became for all of us who prepared it, who worked on it, one of the most, if not the most exciting experience of all our lives. Almost every one of the 15,000 participants of the NGO Forum in Nairobi came to visit the peace tent. Dialogues between women of Iran and Iraq, the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., Palestine and Israel, South Africa and other African countries took place, the survivors of Hiroshima came, and victims from Polynesia talked with women from France about the effects of the nuclear testing, which France does on them. Angela Davis and Nawaal El Sadawi, Bella Abzug and Zoya Narubina, and countless number of women spoke in this tent. We did not need a presidium or spokeswomen. Thanks to Gen who, through her financial and spiritual support made this possible. Not only did she help from the very beginning with financial and spiritual support, she helped finance the preparatory office in New York as well as trips for 80 women. She made the peace tent possible and helped a great number of third world journalists to be there as well as such diverse groups as DAWNE and Sweet Honey in the Rock. We talked, discussed, struggled, cried, sang, downed and laughed together. None of us will forget Nairobi. I helped with the organization of the project and Fasia was called the “rich voice of peace.” With her spirit and voice she helped create an atmosphere where women could feel accepted, whatever they had to say and to share.
BACK ON THE ROADS IN EUROPE. After Nairobi, Fasia and I took the initiative to go on with the peace tent idea. We organized peace tents in Stuttgart as the center of the highest concentration of war industry, Mercedes Benz for example, is one of the biggest arms producers in the world. Their base in Heilbronn. and Mutlangen are locations where cruise missiles and Pershing II were deployed. We went to Belfast, there we had to change the places we camped every day. We could not set up a tent, it would have been too dangerous. In 1986 the Series of Summit meetings started in Geneva. For the first time a President of the United States and a secretary general of the U.S.S.R. started to negotiate disarmament. Of course no woman was included or any people of color. Two old white men met and insisted that they are the ones who decide, that was the limit! So we joined the summit meetings. Women from the U.S. took the initiative, then women from various countries joined, “Women for a meaningful summit.” We went to Brussels, to Reykjavik, to Malta, to let women’s voices be heard. If one will read what women had to say at these meetings, future generations can benefit. At least Shevarnadse and Gorbachev received the women: Reagan and Bush sent permanent secretaries. The participation of several women was possible because of Gen Vaughan’s help. Let women’s voices be heard!!
THE PEACE CARAVAN – 12,000 MILES -EAST AND WEST. In Nairobi, we learned that so many of our problems and misunderstandings come because we don’t know very much about our daily lives, or about our struggles in the societies in which we live.
In 1987, three years before the fall of the Berlin wall, we decided to take a peace caravan throughout Europe. On this caravan tour, we wanted to achieve various aims: to collect information about what women do for peace in the various countries, what their actions were, what their struggle was like. This meant we had to share information about our peace work, to show films, videos, slides, posters. We also wanted to find out about women’s daily life situations such as education, work, family situations such as abortion, health systems, etc. Secondly, we wanted to know how deeply rooted is the history of war in women’s minds in Europe.
We started our trip with our beautifully painted peace caravan, dozens of films, videos, exhibitions, etc. In Greenham Common, England, we joined the women’s peace camp. Fasia lost her eyesight in one eye in a police action in Greenham at the beginning of the tour. But this did not stop us! In London, we joined the huge demonstration on the first anniversary of Chernobyl.
We went on to the Netherlands. It was here that we started the second effort of our trip: to see how war and fascism present themselves in women’s minds. We first visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. We took part in actions to blockade missile depots in the Netherlands in Woendsrecht and Germany. The tour was interrupted for ten days. Ellen took a trip to Nevada to join the Mother’s Day action against nuclear testing at the test site in Nevada. She informed people in the United States about Eastern Europe, and upon returning she informed Eastern Europeans about the U.S. Network building has been one of her goals for years. Our trip continued. In preparation, we contacted women’s organizations in various Eastern European countries which we wanted to visit We had stated clearly what we wanted: to meet with women in factories, farms, schools and kindergartens. We wished to meet with families and see as much as possible of daily life situations. We also wanted to meet with former partisans and survivors of the holocaust. We wanted to see the former concentration camps. For five months we traveled through Eastern and Southern Europe. We went to Auschwitz and Ravensbriick, to Lidice and to war memorials, met with women whose faces showed us the history of Europe in this century. We heard stories which were almost too much to bear. In Auschwitz we felt we could no longer go on. The closer we got to the East, the more terrible it was to travel as a German. For Fasia, who was forced during fascism in Germany to work in the kitchen of a concentration camp because she is black, this portion of the trip was especially hard.
Every day, we had between one and five different meetings. I did most of the driving: 18,000 kilometers. One hundred and twenty four women joined us. Some came with us for one day, a week or a month; Fasia and I were present for the entire trip. We had women such as Helen Caldicott, Petra Kelly, and Angela Davis who all met with us in the bus. Most of the participants were peace activists from different countries. In Moscow we participated in the World Women’s Forum, which took place just at that time. (For the first time in history there were more than 4,000 women in the Kremlin!) At the beginning of the Forum Freda Brown from Australia (the President of the Women’s Democratic Federation) gave the opening speech. She mentioned our trip as an example of what women are able to do. We were proud of that! We went on to Ukraine, crossed the area of Chernobyl, Moldavia, Romania, Bulgaria, and saw the different lifestyles and standards in the former socialist countries. Bulgaria was by far the frontrunner. We went on to Greece, seeing the indescribable working conditions of women there. We visited dozens of peace groups, marched on Hiroshima day with several thousands to the Acropolis announcing that we were aware of the history of humankind and do not want our planet destroyed.
Traveling on to Crete, we had to learn about the high concentration of weapons of all kinds in the Mediterranean Sea. We tried to support the peace movement there in their efforts to get rid of the nuclear battle ships before causing the loss of this beautiful island. Going back to the west we voyaged through Italy, Austria, Germany and France. At the European Parliament in Strassbourg, we were received by Parliamentarians. After this trip, we definitely determined that Europe does not end at the Berlin WalL And we had many stories to tell as well! We found women in the so-called enemy countries believe in the same things we believe in. We found very deep and meaningful friendships. We made records, audio and video tapes at almost every meeting, as well as collecting information. Many women wrote to us after the trip telling us how empowered they felt after meeting with us. The peace caravan was full; the trip partially funded by Gen, who had set up the Foundation for a Compassionate Society by this time and partially funded by donations in Europe.
THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S PEACE ARCHIVE. After we came back to the U.S., we decided to start the International Women’s Peace Archive. We had collected thousands of photographs and slides from our travels, as well as songs, leaflets, brochures, pamphlets, books, tapes, films and so on. We saw how important it is to keep records of women’s peace activities. Women are doing more than 60% of the peace work in the world. But if it comes to the level of documentation, we disappear from the picture. Who has carried the slogan of nuclear-free zones throughout the world? We women! Who broke through the barriers into the Soviet Union? Women were the ones who organized the first peace marches from Stockholm to Moscow. And we followed up with our trips and meetings. It wasn’t Reagan and Gorbachev who started the action. History books don’t necessarily reflect what is factual and historical. The lack of financial backing is alarming. We call for women who want to work with us in this field!
LIKE A MOUNTAIN, OLD AND STRONG SHE GOES ON AND ON. Three years followed with various actions and meetings taking place. In 1989, we were invited to join a fact-finding trip throughout all the Scandinavian countries up to Murmansk, the most northern port of EX-USSR. We finally discovered that the deployment of the land-launched cruise missiles was taken back. We got rid of them. But at the same time, NATO deployed more than 3,000 sea-launched missiles of the same type, on the submarines near the coast of Norway. We saw the disaster of the Soviet marine arsenals in Murmansk, saw terrible devastation of the big forests in the north because of pollution and because forests are cut down for the paper industry.
In 1990, we went on a Foundation fact-finding trip to El Salvador, shortly after the killing of Maria Christina G6mez, a Salvadorian woman, who started the house for battered and tortured women in San Salvador. We investigated in the women’s’ prison, spoke with Christiani, with the heads of the treasury, police and many others. Dozens of testimonies of victims of torture were recorded.
In 1991, shortly after the Berlin wall came down, we organized a conference in Oberhausen at the peace village, a place where, since the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel heavily injured children of all war zones of the world get treatment until they can live alone again. (It helps children of Vietnam and Afghanistan, of Somalia, Nicaragua, Ex-Yugoslavia and many other places). We had women from all the eastern countries invited to share experiences of autonomous women’s work, such as homes for battered women, working projects, computer schools and so on. Gen and Sissy Farenthold came to join the conference.
In 1991, Gen helped in starting several stores, called Four Directions, in Austin, Oberhausen and Rome. These stores specialize in women’s products, handicrafts, clothes, jewelry and furniture. The focus is on indigenous products from all over the world. The History and culture of different peoples are reflected in these items.
Today school classes and women’s groups visit our store. Children paint the Hopi kachinas. International fashion shows are presented for school children and adults. The models are mostly refugee women from different countries. Work conditions of women who make clothing in different parts of the world are discussed. Slide shows and films are shown about different cultures and it is shown how materials such as cotton, wool, and coffee are produced.
Many efforts were made towards the “500 years.” Seminars were held, native peoples from the Americas were invited, including a muralist from Chile who painted our buildings with pre-Columbian symbols A part of the profit from the stores goes political women’s projects in different parts of the world. The customers decided which project they wish to support. Over the past three years, we invited women from all these projects, such as Northern Ireland and South Africa, Native Americans and Salvadorians, so the life conditions of these women could be known to a greater audience. The rest of the money is used to support our peace activities. A refugee children’s group was begun which was also named “The Four Directions.” Children from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, various African countries and from all over Europe are here together.
In the past two years we have been deeply involved in the actions to bring different kinds of aid to women in Ex-Yugoslavia. We began with an international conference of women of different war zones, such as Kurdistan, Ethiopia, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, as well as women from many European countries, Canada and the U.S.. We informed the public about the rapes in the death camps and other facts our friends from Ex-Yugoslavia had discovered. This conference was financed mostly through the Foundation of the Greens in Germany. The Foundation for a Compassionate Society sponsored several women from the United States to come. After this meeting began we started a huge aid campaign. We sent several trucks with different kinds of food, clothing, office equipment, fax machines, photocopy machines, furniture and many other things to the different refugee camps and to women’s projects. We helped them to find doctors and psychologists, informed the public, and many more activities. I assisted a group of video and radio women from the Foundation to come to Croatia and visit different refugee camps. A video of this trip was produced by Trella Laughlin and received an award. Women from Costa Rica who work with radio FIRE came as well, and produced radio programs about the trip.
Many deep changes came out of this work in Ex-Yugoslavia. At one point, the women’s peace movement here had gotten approximately seven million German marks together to send down to Ex-Yugoslavia. I was thinking, “We can’t go on like this.” In the same period of time, armaments in the amount of 1.3 billion U.S. dollars had been transferred into the different parts of Ex-Yugoslavia. (In spite of the embargo). I felt like I was trying to reconstruct broken legs with band aids. My decision became this: I will struggle the rest of my life against the arms industry and arms export. In our countries, I believe, we have to start where it starts. This is the present stage of our work. We will do research and in 1995 we will have the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, also of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the women’s conference in Beijing. This should be used as a year of discovery: who is producing what and who is sending which kind of government where, and identifying who the people are who profit from this. The time has come to begin a new wave of the peace movement, and women have an important role to play.
GEN’S ROLE IN THE GAME. To see facts is one thing, to know about injustice is another. To do something about it is the other part of the picture. In order to do something, money is needed – to fulfill ideas, dreams and make breakthroughs. With Gen’s concept of the “gift-giving economy,” she tries hard to change the patterns, to work towards women’s values.
ONCE UPON A TIME. I come from Germany. The brothers Grimm collected the fairy tales which, as you might know, always begin with “Once upon a time.” If they were written today, the story would probably read “Once upon a time there was a woman who lived 200 miles south of Dallas, She lived just opposite to what was shown to the public in those days through a series in television shown around the world, a soap opera called “Dallas,” about a huge city in the state of Texas. Men, who had inherited money from the oil business, showed how awfully they lived, how jealous they were, of someone who had some more of what they termed “Money” in that time. They thought, if they had money, it means they owned factories, businesses, oilfields, and the war industry. They did not care how the people who worked there lived. Their lives were stupid and boring; they were alcoholics or drug addicts. The ugly face of loneliness was seen clearly.
This woman named Genevieve Vaughan had inherited a lot of money. But she wished to use it differently. She saw how unjust the world was and started to help create a better future through social change. She empowered women and some men throughout the world, if who had something to contribute to the change. She felt a deep compassion with the suffering people of the planet; people of color, indigenous people, people in wartimes and people involved in natural disasters. She saw the destruction of the planet, the environmental devastation. She supported women who took initiatives in their part of the world to change things, She helped to build networks through international gatherings. Together, women began to move the mountains.
Genevieve’s ranches were used as peace and justice centers, where women could meet, talk about their lives and have sacred places. They were used for refugees to give them hope, to show them that there are people in the world who know that no human being can be illegal. This undertaking was very hard and often times painful. Women tried lo change the minds of warmongers, took care of the injured and hurt and tortured people, and of children. Of course, Gen could not do everything on her own because on the other side the beast was strong, powerful and rich. But she got more and more people to listen to her and learn her theories of the gift-giving economy, which should bring other values back for the health of the planet, humankind and all creatures of the earth. The seed was spread and started to grow in many parts of the world.
She reached out to others through what was called “funders” in that time (people who also had a lot of money) to show to them what a difference it makes in one’s life if money is not used for little stones or gold or other boring attitudes, but for the betterment of theworld. Step by step, others followed. She met with “real people”, with whom she could share her life experiences of a different kind.
THE FACE BEHIND THE “YES”. Besides sharing all our activities, we have found a deep friendship with Genevieve throughout these years. We found her acting between two different cultures in Italy and the U.S.as a bridge to explain and to share. We are very sure that we never could have worked with her so many years if she would not have shared with us the floor, where sometimes it was necessary to sleep in a hotel room, brave the cold in Reyjkavik, the wind in Malta, the heat in El Salvador, dangerous situations; Joyful meetings were also a part of this experience. She is a part of our common struggle towards women’s emancipation and for a planet where life can be (and often is already) Joyful, where no one need die of hunger, where the obscenityof war has disappeared.
It would have made a total difference if she would had “only given her money” and not been a part of the movement. But as it is, she has strengthened so many women (and men) throughout the world.
Thank you Gen!!