Women Take Direct Action Against War
by Judy Rohrer

"We insist we enlist" echoes through the recruiting center. It's certainly not your typical anti-war chant, and this is part of its power.
Central New York’s own Raging Grannies greet visitors to the NYS Republican Convention at the
OnCenter in Syracuse, March 25, 2006. Photo: Raging Grannies of CNY

The slogan is taken up by gray and purple-haired grannies at military recruiting offices around the country. "Take us not our young people," they plead with perplexed recruiters while police gingerly handcuff them and lead them away through gauntlets of press cameras. This is merely the latest in a slew of clever feminist anti-war direct actions.

Our country has become synonymous with war - the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the global "war on terror." Women around the nation and throughout the world are confronted, often accosted, by war and militarism on a daily basis. Many, like the Raging Grannies, are taking action in varied ways. Many are thinking seriously about the relationships between feminism and war. And many are doing both, leading Syracuse University's Women's Studies Program to hold a conference entitled "Feminism and War" October 19-21.

"We wanted a space where feminists could 'talk back' to the administration and confer among ourselves," said Linda Martín Alcoff, one of the conference organizers. "We also wanted to enlarge the discussion to consider the changing relations of feminism to war globally. It can no longer be assumed that all feminists are pacifists: feminists are involved in supporting women in combat, and are active as combatants in many kinds of struggles around the world. We wanted to make an open space for some intense discussion led by both theorists and activists with knowledge and experience from around the country and the world."

A Global Gathering
Excitement for the conference builds daily. Plenary speakers include such notables as Angela Davis, Zillah Eiesenstein, Cynthia Enloe, Jaspir Kaur Puar, and Cindy Sheehan. There will be 23 panels with 80 participants from as far away as the West Bank Germany, and Hawai'i. Real efforts are being made to break down the activist-academic divide including activist-led panels, an exhibition space for literature and resources, a rally, and many different forms of art for change. Oakland California's Women of Color Resource Center is coming with their "Runway Peace Project" which takes a critical look at the influence of militarism on popular culture, particularly the fashion industry.

And the Raging Grannies are definitely coming, dressed in floppy hats and dresses and armed with their songbooks of peacefully revised classics. Also coming are members of CodePink, a feisty women's peace organization launched in 2003 and now boasting over 200 local groups. Women in Black, an international women's peace network started in 1988 protesting the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, will be there. These groups represent some of the diversity of current feminist direct action campaigns.
October 19-21 in Syracuse

An international conference on the contested and complex relationship between war and feminism, featuring presentations, cultural events and an anti-war demonstration

Opening night: Cindy Sheehan and Cynthia Enloe
Thursday, October 19, 7 pm @ Hendricks Chapel, free
Conference: October 20-21 @ Marx Hotel, 701 E. Genesee St., Syracuse
Registration Fee: faculty, $30; students: $15; community members free

Plenary speakers include:
Leslie Cagan, Angela Davis, Zillah Eisenstein, Cynthia Enloe, Shanaz Khan, Jasbir Kaur Puar, Cindy Sheehan, Julia Sudbury

Information: 443-3707 or womens-studies.syr.edu/conferences.htm

In my presentation, I will look at how these activists incorporate feminist principles and analysis into their work. They do not simply protest injustice, but also model the world they want to inhabit. Use of irony, humanization, humility, and vulnerability characterize their actions and differentiate them from more self-righteous, aggressive, masculinist anti-war organizing.

The "enlistee" grannies garner attention by making a novel, gendered, generational statement about war. They use their age and their gender effectively.

At the other end of the generational spectrum, women in pink boas and lingerie holding tea parties for Barbara Bush capture their share of news spots. CodePink calls on "mothers, grandmothers, artists, writers, singers, poets, and every ordinary outraged woman willing to be outrageous for peace" to join them in flamboyant protest. They often interrupt official PR events issuing pro-war leaders pink slips (of fashionable variety) thereby firing them.

Some criticize these actions as not hard-hitting enough, not serious enough, too "soft" to actually strike back with any consequence against the war machine. Embedded in this criticism is often some degree of discomfort with, or disapproval of, the use of humor in political action - a mainstay for CodePink and the Raging Grannies.

Within the feminist anti-war or peace community there is a long-standing discussion about whether to exploit or avoid maternalist discourse - the idea of the mother as naturally peace-loving. Some argue that women's specific experiences with war and violence as mothers, sisters, partners, daughters, grandmothers - and simply as women in patriarchal societies - need to be incorporated into our anti-war arguments. Others fear that this reinforces the idea that women are against war because we are inherently more nurturing than men, reducing us to our biology once again.

The conference promises a much-needed opportunity to engage in such discussions. If you are an activist, an academic, a concerned citizen, an immigrant, a raging granny, or a little bit of everything, I hope to see you there!

Judy is currently a Faculty Fellow in the Humanities at Syracuse University and working with the Women's Studies Program. She continually seeks ways to bridge her activist and academic worlds.