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Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights

Peace Work/Piece Work -- Women's History of Peace

Tribute to Women who went before us.

Presentation Given as Part of Women's History Celebration, Dominican University, San Rafael California, March 24, 2003
Author - Mary Ann Maggiore
I do peace work. I organize groups against war. My grandmother did a different kind of "piece work". She sewed buttons on dresses in a factory. A penny a button, 1200 buttons a week for $12.00. She supported a family of four. She was a proud card carrying member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Because she did what she did, I have the privilege to do what I do.

I see clearly that I stand upon the shoulders of the women, including my grandmother, who went before me. Tonight I want to give a salute to some of them.

I want to first give a shout out to Eve - the mother of so many. They say she messed things up but I say she made things much more clear. And I am all for that. I'd rather have the pain of childbirth and my own free will than
no pain and a drugged out Paradise governed by two over-controlling men.

I'm sending a Valentine to Judith who slew Holofernes and Mary Magdalen who didn't give a damn whether the apostles thought a woman could do ministry or not. She went and did it. I want to sing praises to Julian of Norwich and
Hildegarde of Bingen who kept alive the thinking life, the prayerful life of women and the issues dear to women in the middle ages.

I'd like to thank Ann Hutchinson for being such a kick-ass in the colony of Massachusetts that they threw her out and she had to found Rhode Island to get her way in the world.

I'd like to thank Mary Fell and Lucretia Mott and all the other Quaker women who said war was wrong and racism was wrong and conscience was sacred.

Sojourner Truth goes before me and Mary McLeod Bethune&emdash;their light brighter than any lantern tells me people outside the law, the marginalized, the criminalized, the trampled, the desperate, the poor, have more to tell me than all the proponents of riches and greed.

I'd like to thank Jane Addams for her indomitable energy for peace and for the downtrodden. I'd like to thank Jeanette Rankin who before the first World War was the only woman in Congress and who, like Barbara Lee, of Oakland, was the only Congress person to oppose the slaughter of millions in war. I would like to thank Barbara Lee.

I'd like to thank Emma Goldman, shot in the head as punishment for all she said about the way war makes the rich richer and the poor more enslaved. I wish to thank Alice Paul, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Doris Stevens, jailed and tortured so that I could one day vote.

I'd like to thank Artemesia Gentilleschi, Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Helen Frankenthaler, Judy Chicago, Barbara Cosentino and Shareen Nishat who made art speak for women and about women.

I'd like to thank Victoria Woodhull, Eleanor Roosevelt and the lesbian collective of Philadelphia who taught me that sexuality comes in many variations and that my sexuality is mine. It belongs to me and to no one else. I'd like to thank Betty Friedan for helping me realize that as a woman
I had a problem and the problem has a name. And that name is sexism.

I'd like to thank Gloria Steinem and Ruth Rosen and Eleanor Smeal and all the white woman who made such a fuss I had to come to the realization that rape was wrong and not my fault, that power was mine and I deserved it and that people can make fun of you all they want. Ignore them. Get your posse together and keep going. You will triumph.

I'd like to thank all the brown and black women of the world and my sisters in Asia and the islands and the forests so dear, so very dear to us now. I'd like to thank them including Angela Davis, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Richardson and the brave women of the Revolutionary Women's Association of Afghanistan for never, ever, not once, not ever giving up. I offer my gratitude to Arundati Roy of India and Rigoberta Menchiu of Guatemala who castigate the mighty so faithfully and fearlessly. I'd like to thank the women of Nigeria for keeping the destruction of oil companies at bay in their native country. Thank you, Delores Huerta of the United Farm Workers and Wilma Mankiller of the Native American movement. My heart saves a
special place for Coretta Scott King and Merlie Evars. All these women - beaten, jailed, jeered at, maligned, often at the risk of being murdered, their houses firebombed, their men murdered and ruined,- these women march on and on and on.

I'd like to offer a special thanks to all the Jewish women who have fought for the freedom and justice of their sisters in Palestine. And I would like to say a special thanks to Rachel Corrie, 23, of the International
Solidarity Movement, who died last week, crushed while trying to keep a Palestinian family from being run over by an Israeli Army bulldozer. The eight-foot tall blade of that machine pulled her under and the driver drove back and forth over her body. Crushing and crushing her.

I call my gratitude to all the women who stand daily against aggression including Women in Black, all the fabulous Women of Not in Our Name and International Answer who have rallied the recent powerfully successful marches for Peace. I thank those others so dear to me, Donna Sheehan and the Unreasonable Women Baring Witness of West Marin. They laid down their bodies to form messages of peace and have sparked a movement that even now
reverberates around the world as women and men form these symbols of solidarity in Hiroshima, Australia, London, Milan, and the Antarctic.

I thank every woman who has committed to the issues so dear to women - the causes of children, education, welfare, workers rights, civil rights and reproductive rights. There is no wall tall enough or a day long enough to record their magnificence, their sacrifice, their sense of unflagging duty and honor. They make of history something more than a compendium of tales of wars and weapons technology. They give voice to every infant, every tree, every river, and every heart in danger of being ravaged. They include the
tireless almost saint-like commitment of Amy Goodman and Stephanie Henricks and Vernon Avery Brown of KPFA Radio and Ann Fagin Ginger of the Civil Liberties Library, the anarchists of crime think, the scholars Angana Chatterjee, Arlie Hochschild, and Hannah Arendt who have told us of the many faces of injustice and continue to show us paths to defeat it.

I thank the 14-year-old girls who made the clothes I wear tonight. The sweat shops workers I will never see who have toiled to create my clothing so that they could receive $1.15 and live in a cage like an animal and will never
see even a portion of the millions of dollars women's clothing stores receive -building profit out of their labor and their agony. I see these children and I hear them. I give voice now to their history and I work for their victory.

I seek also a new victory for the young. Not a victory of guns and smart bombs but a victory of compassion, of healthy food and clean water, of games, and laughter and delight. I call for the end of the disparagement of
the lives of children that war insists upon. 50% of all the people in Iraq are under the age of 15. When our forces of violence seek to destroy this nation, they seek to destroy these young. I cry for their suffering because as a woman, as well as a mother, every child, in every city and village is historically mine.

Women's History is my mother and your mother. My sister, your sister. Women's history is distant women in books and rumors of courage heard on the wind. Women's history is in every tale of magic, and regeneration and creativity. Women's history is my grandmother and her piece work. Your
grandmother's labor in some one else's field or someone else's restaurant. Women's history is the story of chambermaids and cashiers, scientists and sex workers. All these women are in you. All these women are in me. Just as
Rosa Parks is in me. And you are in me. I am now in your history and you are now in mine. We carry this within, all this movement, this struggle, this churning, this triumph, this celebration. Women's history is within all of us. We are all testaments to the past. We are all potential advocates of the future. Don't wait. Climb up and look ahead. Don't hesitate to give voice as others have. Don't think only of yourself and of your life; think of all the
lives within you, both of the dead and of those yet to be born. The women of the past gave you the gift of freedom. Take it and enlarge upon it for all people. It is yours and you have a right to claim the past and to use it.

So the next time someone asks you "What is women's history?" Say, "I am Women's History." And believe it.

A former writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mary Ann Maggiore is a peace organizer and history professor in Marin County, California. Her e-mail address is maggiore (at) infoasis.com

Copyright Mary Ann Maggiore, 2003

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