Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace & Justice

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The Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice (WEFPJ) opened on July 4, 1983, as a place for women to gather to protest the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe, specifically the Cruise and Pershing II missles. It was organized primarily through the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Upstate Feminist Peace Alliance in New York, on the model of, and in support of, the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in England, which had opened two years earlier. The choice of location was quite deliberate. In addition to believing that the nearby Seneca Army Depot was a key point for the shipment of nuclear weapons abroad, the proximity to Seneca Falls, N.Y., the site of the 1848 women's rights convention, helped to firmly establish the place of the encampment in the minds of the organizers as one in a series of important events in American women's history. That first summer an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 women went to Seneca to participate in encampment life and protest actions, some staying only a day or two, some many weeks or the entire summer.

The focus of the WEFPJ quickly grew from just militarism to embrace a whole range of issues, particularly social prejudices and injustices. The women worked against paternalism, right-wing oppression, anti-Semitism, U.S. intervention in third world nations, and racism. They developed a membership that was largely lesbian and bi-sexual, embraced a number of "women's" causes, and took on a number of other issues, including environmentalism, speciesism and vegetarianism. Regular protests were staged at the gates of the Depot, as were other actions such as the July 1983 march to Waterloo, N.Y., which ended in the arrest of 54 participants. By 1984, a greater emphasis was placed on education, and a number of workshops were held on feminism, non-violence and peace issues, consensus and facilitation, and civil disobedience training. In 1985, approximately 800 women attended the WEFPJ, with demonstrations held on May 12 (Mothers' Day) and July 7. Smaller actions continued in 1986-1989. In the summer of 1990, the organizers organized a series of discussions about the future of the WEFPJ, with the theme "transform or die," during which a number of options emerged. The goal was to establish a not-for-profit land trust (called Women of Peace Land) and an intentional community for women.

From the description of Records, 1980-1995 (inclusive). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 122557624

The Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice (WEFPJ) opened on July 4, 1983, as a place for women to gather to protest the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe, specifically the Cruise and Pershing II missiles. It was organized primarily through the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Upstate Feminist Peace Alliance in New York, on the model of, and in support of, the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in England, which had opened two years earlier.

The tract of land, approximately 52 acres abutting the Seneca Army Depot (SeAD) in Romulus, N.Y., in Seneca County, was purchased in May 1983 by the Seneca Encampment Inc., a not-for-profit corporation, for $37,500. Funds were donated by several national peace groups (including the WILPF and War Resisters League), individuals, and a number of smaller peace and social justice groups from around the country. The choice of location was quite deliberate. In addition to believing the SeAD to be a key point for the shipment of nuclear weapons abroad, its proximity to Seneca Falls, N.Y., the site of the 1848 women's rights convention, helped to firmly establish the place of the encampment in the minds of the organizers as one in a series of important events in American women's history. This continuum is made explicit in the vision statement (#192), and provided the theme for the cover illustration of the "Resource Handbook" (#184).

The original goals of the encampment, as stated in the WILPF letter announcing the creation of the encampment, were to "1) create a broad based awareness about and opposition to the U.S. plans to deploy new missiles to Europe and 2) to forge new links in the women's movement of those working for peace and those working for social justice and 3) to create part of the vision of what the world could be like if militarism was not a predominate force in our lives." Patriarchy was seen as intimately associated with militarism and violence, the domination of women and nature. Thus the camp was restricted to women, as an experiment in communal, peaceful living. That first summer an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 women went to Seneca to participate in encampment life and protest actions, some staying only a day or two, some many weeks or the entire summer. Policies were set and decisions made according to a "feminist process"--non-competitive, communal, peaceful and consensus driven--and the women there were expected to take part in this process. They used the theme of a web to illustrate the connectedness and unity they hoped would predominate. They established a network of women and organizations across the world and maintained close contact with their "affinity groups."

Women came to the WEFPJ from all over the country and the world, from all walks of life, although it was predominantly white and middle-class. The organizers of the WEFPJ were very desirous of a diverse community, but a few "types" dominated. Although they tried to accommodate varying points of view and backgrounds, factions developed, particularly between more radical feminists and lesbians and more conservative women. The numbers who visited the encampment and participated in encampment events dropped dramatically in subsequent years, and the population was made up of a smaller number of more radical women.

The focus of the WEFPJ quickly grew from just militarism to embrace a whole range of issues, particularly social prejudices and injustices. The women worked against paternalism, right-wing oppression, anti-Semitism, U.S. intervention in third world nations, and racism. They developed a membership that was largely lesbian and bi-sexual, embraced a number of "women's" causes, and took on a number of other issues, including environmentalism, speciesism and vegetarianism.

Regular protests were staged at the gates of the SeAD, as were marches like the one in July 1983 through Waterloo, N.Y., which ended in the arrest of 54 participants. Women were encouraged and trained to participate in acts of non-violent civil disobedience, but not required to do so. The WEFPJ network included provisions for legal as well as emotional support.

By 1984, during the second summer, a greater emphasis was placed on education, and a number of workshops were held on feminism, non-violence and peace issues, consensus and facilitation, and civil disobedience training. Without losing sight of their original goals, especially regarding protesting the use of nuclear weapons, the WEFPJ developed a new agenda focused on the encampment as a resource and educational center for women committed to non-violence and feminism.

To promote the ideals embraced by the WEFPJ, and to reach a wide audience, the WEFPJ produced a newsletter (Jane Doe), wrote and distributed leaflets, made presentations on local radio stations and on college campuses, and sold t-shirts and posters, in addition to continuing to stage protests and civil disobedience actions. Participants were committed to creating a safe, legal encampment. Early in 1984, the planning committee decided to make the encampment a legal, permanent campground where women could gather. This involved making the physical campground comply with local and state health and zoning regulations. New septic systems were put in place, a well dug, and the water tested.

The encampment was not popular locally. There were a number of counter-protests and women were harassed by local residents, especially men. The encampment was sited in a very conservative area. Law enforcement agencies in surrounding towns resented the fact that the presence of the encampment caused them a great deal of extra work, both because of the regular protests and the extra traffic in these predominantly summer communities. The cost of additional personnel was also an issue. The WEFPJ was interested being accepted by the community, and looked for opportunities to involve and educate their neighbors. They enacted policies, such as banning public nudity, to show their respect for other members of the community and women were called to task for ignoring or flouting these "respected policies."

In November 1984 a series of newspaper articles entitled "Witches of Seneca" appeared in the Syracuse Post-Standard written by a reporter who, with the knowledge of WEFPJ members, had spent several days at the camp. The articles described the women as vegetarians and lesbians, and detailed the practice of witchcraft and feminist spirituality. These articles seemed to confirm the impressions formed by local communities about WEFPJ women and reignited the debate about their activities. WEFPJ women disagreed among themselves about this issue, some approving of the publicity about their lifestyles and others disliking the attention taken away from their mission as a focal point for anti-nuclear protests. Over the next few years only a few women were living "on the land" at any given time, but the debate continued, often focused upon the question of lifestyle and antisocial behavior and those WEFPJ women who refused to abide by "respected policies," especially nudity, vandalism, and consumption of meat, alcohol, and drugs. In 1985, approximately 800 women attended the WEFPJ, with demonstrations held on May 12 (Mothers' Day) and July 7. Smaller actions continued in 1986-1989.

In the summer of 1990, the organizers organized a series of discussions about the future of the WEFPJ, with the theme "transform or die," during which a number of options emerged. The result was to establish a not-for-profit land trust (called Women of Peace Land) and an intentional community for women.

From the guide to the Records, 1980-1995, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Papers, 1968-1985 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn McGrath, Anne. Papers, 1983-1989 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace & Justice. Records, 1980-1995 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Records, 1980-1995 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Kady, 1927-. Papers of Kady, 1979-2003 (inclusive), 1979-1984 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Average Dyke Band (Musical group) corporateBody
associatedWith Biren, Joan E. person
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Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Subject
Social action
Disarmament
Peace movements
Women's rights--United States
Communal living--United States
Nonviolence
Nuclear disarmament
Civil disobedience
Anti-nuclear movement
Pacifism
Peace--Societies, etc
Women and peace
Lesbians
Land use
Feminists
Women's rights
Communal living
Peace movements--United States
Occupation
Function

Corporate Body

Active 1980

Active 1995

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