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Women hold conference in Washington

Mary Vrantsidis — October 1984

WASHINGTON DC – The day-long First National Women’s Conference to Prevent Nuclear War, held September 12 in the heart of the US Congress, featured a star-studded cast of American women. Three hundred movers and shakers from the arts, political, sports, business, science and academic worlds represented over 50 women’s groups with a combined constituency of 91 million women. Lily Tomlin, Sally Field and Billie Jean King rubbed shoulders with prominent peace women such as Dr. Helen Caldicott and Coretta Scott King.

The aim of the conference was to launch a united non-partisan women’s movement to prevent nuclear war, and to capture as much media attention and public opinion as possible. The theme of the conference was based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s call “It’s up to the women.” Admiral Gene R. LaRocque, director of the Centre for Defense Information – the sponsor of the conference, admitted that men have failed to stop the arms race. Now it is up to the women, and he believes that they can do it.

Actress and long-time antinuclear activist Joanne Woodward was the chairwoman and primary force behind the gathering of America’s most prominent women. She says the next war will be the end of us, and the only hope is for women to get involved in preventing it by becoming part of the decision-making process. Woodward feels it’s her moral duty to use her public visibility to make a statement against the arms race.

“The mood of the meeting was one of urgency,” says Montreal activist Dorothy Rosenberg, one of the few non-Americans to attend the by-invitation-only conference. Rosenberg’s role was two-fold: to gather information for the upcoming Studio “0” film Women, Peace and Power; and to network for next year’s international women’s conference on negotiating for peace, which is being organized by a coalition of Canadian women.

“We’ve seen the mess the men have made of it, and we don’t have much time to turn the situation around,” says Rosenberg. “The women were optimistic but not nai’ve. They are a very ambitious and determined group of women. Entertainers such as Sally Field and Joanne Woodward came across as very normal, approachable and concerned women. There was a terrific energy and vitality in the room. “

Canadian women have long been active in the peace movement, but, says Rosenberg, the American women at the conference “have a sense of being closer to the power. They are all successful in their own fields and they came with action in mind.”

During the course of the conference, the women signed a proclamation denouncing US foreign and military policy and the need for the arms race. They also raised $50,000 from the women in the room to start a women’s peace lobby in Washington. They also reached consensus on a three-part plan of action, with target dates:

The first goal is to defeat Reagan in the November 6 election, by conducting a mass registration drive of women voters. Second, to achieve a world-wide test ban by August 6, 1985—the 40th anniversary of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The third goal is to hold an international women’s conference in Europe on November 6, 1985 to deliberate upon global action to reverse the arms race.

In addition to the familiar antinuclear concerns, there was “more talk of women getting involved in the negotiating process, especially via politics,” says Rosenberg. “They want to see 200 women in Congress. Bella Abzug stressed that women must become part of the negotiation process. It’s something the Canadian women have been talking about for the past year. Plans are well underway for our own international conference next spring on women’s place at peace negotiating tables.”

Rosenberg was very impressed with Mary Dent Crisp, former co-chair of ‘the Republican. National Committee. “She is a committed Republican and she is daring to criticize President Reagan publicly. She told us that 54% of the delegates of this year’s Republican convention supported the freeze, but Reagan’s radical fringe squashed it.”

During the morning session, the weekly civil defense air raid siren went off. “As a Canadian, I wondered how the Americans could tolerate such a thing. It’s getting the people ready to accept war. 1 was outraged.”

Nevertheless, Rosenberg feels the conference was a success. “It was a very stimulating group of women to be around, and they are very determined to carry out their goals.”