Prospects for a Contemporary Peace Movement: An Ecofeminist Perspective

Author(s): Ynestra King
Date Published: July 22, 2006
Source: Political Environments #2, Summer 1995

AMONG THE OLD IDEAS THAT NO LONGER WORK in the new world context is the traditional opposition of being "at war" or "at peace". Although officially "at peace", the U.S. contributes to an ongoing world political and economic climate in which no one can be at peace. The U.S. no longer has its long-time enemy, the U.S.S.R., as the communist threat incarnate and a justification for the escalation of weapons technology, and spending of astronomical sums on the military to achieve "national security". But a terrible sense of national and personal insecurity exists along with a compulsion to locate new "enemies" who need to be contained and controlled by closed borders and invasive technologies.

This politics of hate, closed mindedness, and control is reflected in the vilification of welfare mothers, opposition to immigration, and coercive efforts to control the fertility of the women of the south. "Peace" depends on open minds, open hearts and open borders, and this new world context requires us to be ever more sophisticated in our theorizing and inventive in our politics. And we need an understanding of "peace" that is morally and intellectually rigorous, visionary, and uncompromising. I believe that this is an area in which ecofeminist political activism and theory-making have a significant contribution to make to larger efforts to redefine and renew a peace movement which addresses all manifestations of the politics of hate, and presents an alternative powerful vision and politics of peace.

For ecofeminists, "peace" is understood as connected to a new definition of national and planetary security-societies free of violence, with nature-friendly technologies, and place and culture-respectful sustainable economies. In both ecofeminist theory and political activism, "ecology" and "peace" have been inextricably linked since the first ecofeminist political gathering held in 1980: The "Conference on Women and Life on Earth: Ecofeminism in the 80s", where over 1000 women met for three days to explore connections between feminism, ecology and peace. The culmination of this meeting was a call for the Women's Pentagon Action, which initiated a new form of peace thinking and activism, which is still developing and evolving.

The capacity of human beings to create and maintain viable societies that are ecologically sustainable depends on security, democracy and political stability. These are also basic requirements for a world at peace. Making these connections, life and imagination affirming ecofeminist political activism in the north has focused on military installations and technologies, and the culture of militarism. Ecofeminist political analysis continues to inform the feminist direct-action anti-militarist movement, including the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp (yes, it's still there) which recently celebrated the news that most of Greenham Common (with the exception of missile silos which must be maintained for inspection as specified in international disarmament treaties) will once again become open, common land as it was before it was appropriated for a U.S. military base.

There is currently also a women's peace camp at the Menwith military installation, operated by the U.S. National Security Agency for the purposes of electronic surveillance worldwide. This camp, appropriately called Womenwith Peace Camp, calls attention to the evolving tools of coercion and power in the age of electronic communication we have entered. It calls attention to the concentration of technologies required for secret monitoring of the many lanes of the information super highway. Here, the presumed separation between being at peace and being at war, and old definitions of the "peace movement" are challenged. This "peace camp" permanent demonstration has come into existence to oppose state monitoring of communications between citizens.

This emphasis on the political importance of free, uninhibited communication between people worldwide is a traditional privacy issue, but I believe for ecofeminists, it is also based on the recognition that oppositional political movements and grassroots activists increasingly communicate electronically. This new peace camp calls attention to the continuing existence of international systems of state power, and organized counter-insurgency. This identification of the new public arenas of electronic communication as contested, observed and politicized involves the recognition of the democratic possibilities for a new "common". It also calls attention to efforts to subvert this space. This is also a new development for peace movements-it is an arena of possibility, but as such it is already a contested space. The establishment of this new peace camp parallels the development of e-mail networks directed toward a possibility of cooperative, worldwide, locally based political movements where individuals can be in instant communication with one another.

The possibilities for north/south dialogue and action are actively sought by ecofeminists, who have been urged by women in the south to defend their intellectual property rights, and to resist, in Indian ecofeminist Vandana Shiva's words, "the turning of sources into resources", or the commoditization and privatization of all of nature. Here the direct action of the peace camps in the north which resist the appropriation of common areas for military installations and the direct resistance of the now famous Chipko women who protect their forest by wrapping their arms around trees in the path of bulldozers are evident. Ecofeminists in the north have also been at the forefront of the campaign against bovine growth hormone, arguing effectively that BGH is dangerous for cows and for human beings.

We also recognize the manifestation of the "north in the south" and work with the environmental justice movement which has emphasized race and class dimensions of the ecological crisis, and demonstrated that communities of color in the north are disproportionately effected by environmental degradation. Also, for us, links between ecology and peace require an analysis of the environmental impact of the military in its production of weapons and waste, military spending and in the ecological devastation of war. Here in the U.S., ecofeminists were active in our opposition to the Gulf War, and in lending public visibility to the ever more devastating environmental impact of the abstract war technologies which kill, poison and destroy indiscriminately, and with long term effects on both people and nature which cannot be anticipated. Here, a commitment to face-to-face direct action politics means that "thinking like an ecofeminist" involves making abstract connections concrete, as when I discovered that during the duration of my pregnancy with my son, the time it took me to grow and birth one human being, that 80,000 children in the Gulf had starved to death, or died of causes directly attributable to the weapons used by the U.S. forces during the war. The need for thinking that is inventive, and both personal and historical, in which our sense of time and of relationships becomes appropriate to understanding our own world is part of the work of ecofeminist artists and visionaries, where diverse narratives and apparently unrelated phenomenon are related to one another in varying modes of expression and communication.

Ecofeminist political practice internationally has been animated by a close relationship to non- violence as a theory and practice of social change, and a connecting of peace and ecology, advocating and attempting to embody a life-affirming direct democratic political process connecting means and ends. Here we have attempted to differentiate ourselves from various modes of deadening authoritarian political organization, including those of the left. These prefigurative efforts, which also engage the complex issues confronting other advocates of democracy and diversity, involve the creation of a peaceful political culture, and a beloved community which can sustain a social movement that is both oppositional and reconstructive. Pacifist feminist Barbara Deming spoke of a militant "two-handed movement", with one hand restraining and opposing, and the other hand outreached, always holding out for the possibility of dialogue, and even reconciliation.