I was drawn to the work of the Foundation for a Compassionate Society by its unique program and talented staff. As a longtime feminist, activist, and women’s historian, I thought I could make a contribution to this exciting, ethnically diverse organization, in particular, I was attracted by its sponsorship of the Austin Women’s Peace House and the Grassroots Peace Building, as well as its generous donations to numerous social change projects.
In April 1993, I began working for the Foundation. In the beginning, my responsibilities focused on being the personal and administrative assistant to founder Genevieve Vaughan. As my experience and knowledge grew, I have expanded my work. I helped arrange speaking opportunities for Foundation staff upon their return in the summer of 1993 from the United Nations Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and a visit to refugee women in Zagreb, former Yugoslavia. I was a member of the Task Force which organized a Foundation-sponsored national conference on Breast Cancer and Low Level Radiation in February 1994 at the University of Texas at Austin.
I represented the Foundation at a People’s Summit for Peace in December 1993, co-sponsored by the Gray Panthers and the World Peace University in Costa Rica. Featured speakers included former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo and Dr. Robert Muller, assistant to the UN Attorney General for almost 40 years. Delegates passed resolutions urging the adoption of a comprehensive nuclear test ban; support of the U.S.’s rejoining UNESCO and paying its back dues; global disarmament an immediate cessation of all arms sales; retraining of armies worldwide to work instead in the areas of conflict resolution and peace; support for the Earth Council as a follow-up to the Rio Agenda; and a summit in 1995 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
I also helped bring together representatives of Austin’s Jewish and Palestinian communities to discuss ways to further the Middle EAST peace process. I have participated in staff discussions of the foundation’s role in the forthcoming UN Decade of Women conference scheduled for Beijing in September 1995. Other activities have included administrative responsibilities with the FCS’s Donation fund, as well as assisting the accounting staff. I am also committed to the preservation of the Foundation’s files and materials so they can be preserved as a permanent archives for future historians.
SAN JUANITA ALCALÁ
I am San Juanita Alcalá, born to Abel and Catalina Alcalá and raised in Laredo, Texas. I am the only daughter and oldest of two children.
Where I come from life pretty much consists of working getting married and having babies. That was not how I viewed life, so in 1987 I decided to move to Austin. It was in Austin where I first heard the phrase “politically correct”. My first thought upon hearing that phrase was “What is that?” I was tired of the conservative and classist attitudes that exist in Laredo. I felt I would have a better chance of being myself and leading a life that was more in sync with what I needed to live healthier. My move here opened my eyes to a different world. Because of my partner, I started to socialize with people who are very involved and committed to political and social issues, issues that I was not aware of.
During my first three years in Austin, I worked in a pharmacy department of a grocery chain store. I soon grew tired of seeing how people of low economic status are treated by the health system in this country. I saw how they live in a vicious cycle of bad health because they cannot afford the high prices the drug companies and retailers charge them. I was tired of contributing to a trade that strips people of their hard earned money.
It was then that I had the opportunity to join the Foundation for a Compassionate Society. I was offered to co-facilitate the management of the Grassroots Peace Building, a project of the Foundation. The Grassroots Peace Building at that time housed fifteen different non-profit organization that focus on social change. I started learning about the different organizations that operated in the building by reading and educating myself about the work they do. My job as co-facilitator consisted of management of the building. I also served as resource person and counselor to homeless people who came to the building seeking financial assistance, clothing, or housing.
While working at the Grassroots Peace Building, I came in contact with people who worked in the building, such as Rebecca Flores-Harrington of the United Farm Workers. I soon began to do volunteer work for the UFW. I also began volunteering with Informe-Sida, a bilingual AIDS information project, that primarily targets the East side community of Austin. My volunteer work began expanding to include La Pena, a non-profit arts organization that promotes Latina/o arts in all forms.
I am now working in Kyle, Texas, where the Foundation for a Compassionate Society houses its administrative office, as the Assistant Administrator for the Foundation, a great responsibility in and of itself. I handle the financial aspects of the organization by ensuring that every project of the Foundation submits its monthly budget in order that I may allocate their monthly funds. I reconcile and maintain the Foundation’s monthly bank statements, accounts receivable and payable and promote its public relations. Since I am a board member of the Foundation’s donation fund, I handle the distribution of monies to grants submitted from different non-profit organizations at the national and international level. Whenever the Foundation embarks on special projects, such as the Breast Cancer Conference which was held in early 1994, I assist with different tasks that facilitate the success of the project.
My work for the Foundation has helped me to educate myself about social injustice in the world. It has allowed me to improve my self esteem and the belief that as a woman I can make a difference and have the power to change the world. I know I have come a long way!
YANA MINTOFF BLAND. PH .D
It is a constant challenge! Many brilliant, diverse and dedicated women have been drawn to work with Genevieve at the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, the Donation Fund, Change of Heart, and on her own personal visions.
My background is as an activist in the socialist, women’s, anti-imperialist movements in Malta and the Mediterranean as a whole, and also for ten years In England. I wrote my doctorate on the economics of health and development in Malta, while I was nurturing two children. My epidemiological work on breast cancer spawned a new awareness in government, academic and women’s circles in the region.
The Gorbachev-Bush summit meeting in Malta, December 2nd, 1989, was a very special occasion. We, in Malta’s Women for Peace & Equality, hosted the delegation from Women for a Meaningful Summit including Genevieve Vaughan. I was impressed by her unflagging commitment to raise human rights issues, in particular regarding El Salvador. In her company, I was able to really express my dream of forming a Mediterranean Women’s movement for justice and peace.
By 1992, the preparations had been made to establish a regional women’s group – but I also found myself in the U.S., having finally ended single-parenthood and married a US. citizen. After a few months in Texas, Genevieve not only encouraged and enabled me to continue my work for justice, equality, self-determination and peace in the Mediterranean, but she also gave me tremendous responsibility.
The work of two offices was centralized in my hesitant hands, and the budgeting, cash-now planning, accounting, payroll, and international gift-giving all converged under our administration. After six months of learning the ropes with Gen, San Juanita Alcalá joined me at the Kyle office.
It has been a privilege to serve the work of research, education and activism on such vital issues as radiation and health, toxic dumps and environmental racism; the arms trade and violence against women and children, within the unique, international, feminist perspective that Genevieve brings to play. Her deep analysis of values, her vision of a paradigm shift, and her all-embracing gift-giving are a constant inspiration.
ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN OF THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION
In the Spring of 1966, as a young mother I was alarmed to hear the sound of fighter planes screaming over the Mediterranean. I became increasingly aware of the foreign military strategies in this vital region and the socio-economic crises in the surrounding countries, massive unemployment, rising national debts, obscene armaments expenditures, and decreasing social expenditures combined with ecological devastation.
Within this context, fifty women gathered in Malta in 1992 to organize the Association of Women of the Mediterranean Region (AWMR) women of different backgrounds, economics, psychology, science, law, politics, education, etc. The aims of AWMR arc to unite women for justice, equality, self-determination and peace in a denuclearized and demilitarized Mediterranean.
Similar meetings held in 1993 and 1994 were attended by women from many different Mediterranean countries and backgrounds. Women were able to overcome national, ethnic, and racial differences by involvement in a wider Mediterranean perspective emphasizing our common natural and historical ties. Women attending were more determined to raise their voices nationally and internationally to focus attention on the needs of women and children in one of the most militarily menaced areas.
In 1994, AWMR voted to adopt as its priority the reduction of national arms expenditures by 10% for the coming period in preparation for the Fourth International Conference on Women scheduled for Beijing in 1995. In addition, we adopted a cooperative workplan on completing health surveys in as many areas of the Mediterranean as possible.
Although the 120 million women of this region have been at the forefront of many struggles for freedom, their voices have seldom been heard. The Association, a grassroots, non-profit, nongovernmental organization is alive and growing, and working to raise the voice of the oppressed.
We are most grateful for the funding AWMR has received to date predominantly from the Foundation for a Compassionate Society Donation Fund, but also the Global Fund for Women, the Dougherty Foundation, the United Nations Environmental Program – Mediterranean Action Plan and membership and conference fees.
I was born and lived in El Paso along the border with Mexico for over twenty years; the constant flow and movement of people and culture I experienced as a child taught me to appreciate new people, connections, and change to this day. I claim that all of these connections and new people have saved my life on various occasions.
I moved to Austin in 1980 to attend school at the University of Texas. My vague notion of what success meant for a young Chicana back then looked like an accounting degree, dress-for-success pumps, and money. It didn’t seem to matter that accounting didn’t interest me, that I couldn’t walk in pumps, or that money was not the answer.
I learned more about racism my first semester at the University of Texas (U.T.) than anything else. It’s not that racism didn’t affect me growing up, I was just used to El Paso’s brand of racism. U.T.’s brand felt much more overt, Professors ignored me, students staged racist parades, and my grades dropped tremendously. I first blamed myself for not being able to fit in. It took me one more semester and a few Chicano studies courses to realize that there was in fact nothing “wrong” with me, that there was something wrong with the big picture. Then I got angry. I claim Chicano nationalism saved my life. A group of students, with whom I am still friends formed an organization to try and deal with the problems Chicano students on campus faced. After leaving U.T., we worked with a number of projects within the Chicano nationalist community, and I took a job with the East Austin Chicano Economic Development Corporation.
Those were confusing times for me. As much as I appreciated Chicano nationalism, I saw how my life as a woman and as a lesbian were limited in a nationalist framework. Things came to a head for me in 1983 while protesting a Ku Klux Klan march in Austin.
That march was one of the ugliest experiences of my life. I’d never seen hatred take on such a face, nor had I seen hatred transform people so quickly. Things got out of hand, and I was severely beaten by the police along with two others.
The men in the group I’d been working with had never thanked me for my efforts, which were substantial. I knew something was wrong when those same men finally took notice only after I had been bruised and stitched up. I know now how men are trained to view violence; it was not their fault that they couldn’t recognize my efforts. But I had to leave.
By that time, I had met Marsha Gómez, an artist and Native American activist. She invited me to a gathering of the Indigenous Women’s Network. I didn’t know the meaning humility til I met two 60 and 70 year old Dine elders from Big Mountain at the gathering. One spoke no English; the other had learned to speak English only so that she could let people know what her family and her people were facing with forced relocation. They knew the gathering was very important; so they had hitchhiked from Flagstaff to Seattle. That display of hope and spirit again saved my life.
I traveled to Mexico after the devastating earthquake of 1985 and to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade. I once again met people whose resolve and absolute faith in the human’s power to transform the worst of situations saved my life yet again.
Establishing the Austin Latino Lesbian Gay Organization’s bilingual multi-cultural HIV education project, Informe-SIDA, was one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced. Before I became the director of Informe-SIDA, the death and devastation I’d experienced in my life were brief instances in far-away places. AIDS brought death home to live with me for a stretch. I can’t say I was completely well-prepared, but I gave Informe-SIDA my best shot. The organization now has a staff of nine and is an institution in Austin.
Through the years I have experienced the damage oppression does to people. Fortunately, I attended a new Bridges seminar on unlearning oppressions and have since become a facilitator. Working in teams, we help groups pick oppressions like racism, sexism, and homophobia apart. It is a slow process, but the benefits are invaluable.
The elements of transformation, flexibility and linkages are what I most appreciate about my job with the Foundation. When I came to work with the Foundation I’d seen a lot and done a lot. In my work for the Foundation, I’m able to combine all of my experiences and my future aspirations. I like to think of myself as a “Jane of all Trades.”
I help coordinate special projects for the Foundation including the week-long International Women’s History Month celebration in 1993, the Breast Cancer Conference in 1994, and a series of educational activities around nuclear issues people from Mexico and Texas are facing.
As editor of the newsletter, I write about an array of local, national, and regional issues the Foundation supports. I compile reports on many projects the Foundation heads, and I maintain our international mailing list.
I’ve also had the opportunity to represent the Foundation at international forums including the 6th Gathering of Feminists from Latin American and the Caribbean in El Salvador.
Lastly, I support other staff members in the work that we do. The job can be difficult and challenging, and the assistance we draw from each other is crucial.