«CORA WEISS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT The Reminiscences of Cora Weiss Columbia Center for Oral History Columbia University PREFACE The following oral ...»
You know, for everybody, there was a first. We used to marvel at demonstrations, three or four down the line, for which there were still people who had never gone to a demonstration before.
Q: Actually, that's a later question I wanted to ask, but it is quite true that each demonstration was larger and larger and larger.
Q: Yet, at the same time, some people must have been weary of demonstrations. "Oh, another demonstration, and another demonstration."
Weiss: Not yet. I think we held the tension and the dynamic, and the importance of demonstrating until the war ended. Because then, we had a party. "The war is over" party in Central Park with Phil Ochs [whispers] and me.
Weiss: And me.
Weiss: We had a group, a big group, of organizers. And that was on Mother's Day. May 11th, I remember, 1975.
Q: Let me make a note of that, and we'll get back to it.
Weiss: It's called "The War is Over Rally," it was wonderful!
Q: One of the— Weiss: We also insisted on having music. You know, we brought a kind of creative atmosphere to everything we did. We would sing, we would have singers in our group, musicians. We cared about our dress. I remember one demonstration on 5th Avenue where I arrived in a cherry red suit, and one of my fellow members of Women Strike for Peace said, "Your lipstick clashes!" [laughter] I mean, that was the worst put-down I'd had in years! [laughter] But that was what happened! Those were some of the crazy things that happened.
Q: Well, Amy Swerdlow says that you were feminine, but not feminists.
Weiss: Well, I wonder what feminist would mean, then? We were emerging feminists, for sure.
Q: Well, she was talking about the later ideology of feminism.
Weiss: She didn't have an opportunity, ten years later. [laughs] Q: After studying feminist history, et cetera, becoming—in a sense, it becomes an I-ism.
Weiss: Right. Of course.
Q: There are two things that I have to cover today. And one would be the 5th Avenue Parade Committee, and the other would be your beginning—your trips abroad.
Weiss: There were many.
Q: Which way do you want to go?
Q: OK. What was the first trip abroad you took for Women Strike for Peace?
Weiss: No. But I helped to organize Geneva, and I brought—oh, what was her name? Who wrote for a Red Book, wonderful writer. Vivian Cadden. I made sure that she went, and I got Coretta to go, Scott King. That was a very important delegation. I still had three little kids at home, and a husband who worked hard. So— Q: Did you go to the Hague conference at all?
Weiss: I went to Belgium, Brussels, but when was that? It was a NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]—that was a NATO activity.
Q: Yes, that was for the multi-national— Weiss: Multilateral Force [MLF].
Q: Multilateral Force, right.
Weiss: We did that in New York. I remember wearing a sailor hat. All of us wore little white sailor hats, and demonstrated in front of a ship in the Hudson pier, in the Hudson River, at a pier.
That was about the Multilateral Force, MLF. But I don't remember the year.
Weiss: But I remember the politics.
Q: Yes. But you went to Brussels, you said?
Weiss: I went to Brussels, and to The Hague.
Q: Yes, right, because the measure of focus was a Hague conference where there were representatives from many, many other nations.
Weiss: You know, I have three or four passports that are full! [laughs] Q: Well, it would be interesting just to go through, look at— Weiss: I think I probably have most of them.
Q: There's a story behind every one of those images.
Weiss: It's amazing, the travel that we did. I was in London, I spoke in the House of Commons. I
Peggy Duff. D-U-F-F. She became a very good colleague in the prisoner of war issue. We can come back to that later. There was a wonderful woman Member of Parliament, Ann Kerr. She was a Member of Parliament, and there was a photograph of us—oh, maybe we can look at the Memo—walking together, leading a demonstration. That would have been about Vietnam or the MLF, or—probably Vietnam. Then when she came to America, she stayed with us, and she went on a speaking tour here. I brought a lot of women members of parliament to Riverside when I was there. That would be sometime between '78 and '88. I travelled for WSP before 1969 to London and Brussels.
Q: 1969. We'll say that when we talked about the pri—because that's a prelude to the prisoners.
Weiss: Yes, it's a very important trip.
Q: But then it was— Weiss: It was under bombs, don't forget. Something I don't think I would let my children do today, or my grandchildren. But my husband didn't keep me from going because of the safety issue, and I am forever grateful for that.
Q: Actually, this is kind of personal, but let's talk about that for a moment. You know, what was your husband’s reaction to all of this?
Q: Now, he was very much a movement person, himself.
Weiss: Well, not then.
Q: Not then? When was the lawyer's— Weiss: Well, he did start—he worked with [Joseph Harold] (Joe) Crown and Bob Boehm on the Lawyer's Committee on Vietnam, whatever that was called.
Q: Right. That was '65, wasn't it?
Weiss: No, not yet.
Q: Not yet?
Weiss: Or, Peter wasn't, yet.
Weiss: But anyway, he moved in to the movement, obviously. But in the beginning, it was me, solo. He let me go. It was wonderful, and I'm grateful to this very day, and that's why it's 58
Q: Who took care of the kids?
Weiss: Sometimes we had young people, a couple, college couple, who was the daughter of a former teacher of mine at Fieldston. Sometimes we had a sleep-in housekeeper. That was more frequent in those days than it is today. I think those two options.
Q: Have you ever sat down— Weiss: My mother took them sometimes, but she didn't live with them.
Q: Have you ever sat down and speculated about what their lives would have been like if they had had a kind of stay-at-home mother? Or, what was the effect on them? How did they grow up in that?
Weiss: At my fiftieth birthday, my son, who was then thirty years younger, so he was in his twenties, got up at a big fiftieth birthday party and said, "We used to have to wait for mom to come home from Vietnam to get picked up at school." [laughter] I like that story very much! But he also said, "If we had known why she was there, or what she was doing, we might not have protested." [laughs] They were part of everything I did. They licked stamps, they stuffed envelopes. They came with me as infants on my hip, two at a time. Two hips, I had. Maybe that's why mine hurt now. To meetings. They were forever eating Rusks, is that what it was called?
Q: Right, yes.
Weiss: How did I remember that?
Weiss: And bagels. Bagels were very common. So, they were involved with me. They were never kept out. They may have learned how to use a mimeograph machine, also. I'd have to ask them. They marched with us. I have a photograph of a march, I have no idea which one it was.
Tamara [Weiss] looks like she's a teenager, my middle daughter, and my husband and me with umbrellas, carrying signs. I think the picture was published, somewhere. My problem. All the things to try to find! But they were engaged. That was very important.
I used to leave casseroles. We used to make casseroles then, and it was before the age of microwaves. Everything was before! [laughs] I would make casserole dishes. I left ten, I think, for one trip, with directions on top. Preheat the oven, 350 degrees, and we froze them. Then they would take them out and cook them for dinner. But I think the one trip that I made only ten for, I got stuck in Vietnam because of the floods. My trip lasted two weeks, instead of one plus. So, I don't know what they did for food, after that. I guess they became self-sufficient.
Q: Did they grow up politically?
Weiss: Well, our son is chief of staff for one of the best members of Congress, and has been for the last twenty-two years.
Q: Who is that?
Weiss: George Miller, from California.
Q: Oh, right. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Who is retiring.
Weiss: Well, so is Danny [Daniel Weiss].
Q: A real loss.
Weiss: Danny's leaving. It's a huge loss. Danny started with him on the committee for the interior, or labor, or education, maybe.
Weiss: And now, Danny's daughter, who is entering her second year at Scripps College in California, is going to be an intern for George Miller this summer!
Q: [laughs] And the other two?
Weiss: Judy [Weiss] got her DSc which is a doctor of science— Q: That's OK.
Weiss: —from Johns Hopkins in public health policy, but she also worked for George Miller, in her college years— Q: Oh!
Weiss: —on one of his sub-committees. She may not be political in a kind of traditional sense, but her DNA shows. I mean, she's got wonderful values! They all three have wonderful values.
They've translated it into their own thing, into doing their own work. So, she worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for a number of years. She taught at Boston University for some time, in public health policy. Now she takes care of her adopted son from Guatemala, who's wonderful.
Q: Given all of that, how did you respond to this, the current ideology that children need the
Weiss: Well, they had me at home when I was at home.
Weiss: I was very much at home. They were engaged with whatever I did. We traveled together, and we took them with us in the car on a car trip through Europe when they were studying castles of Europe, of the Netherlands or France. We rented a car and drove through Netherlands and Belgium and France. Then when I got my FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] papers—you don't like me doing this, but I think it's wonderful—and read about our being followed on that trip by one of the IAs, meaning Intelligence Agencies, and they said, and, "She," and, "Subject," which was me, "Is in a car crossing the Netherlands-Belgium border with two children.” Danny was furious, because he was in the car, too! But he was so small that he couldn't be seen through the rearview mirror, or however they saw us. [laughter] Q: Well, hmm. I'd like to get to the 5th Avenue Parade Committee, if we could.
Weiss: OK. [laughs]
Weiss: But I will say, for your record, that I went to many meetings in Europe during those years with Edward [P.] Thompson and meetings in Spain, meetings in Italy. I walked from Perugia to Assisi. I spoke in London. I mean, I have a big passport full of stamps— Q: This is outside of Women Strike for Peace?
Weiss: No, I was always a Women Strike representative.
Q: Oh, but this was after '69? You said the first time you were abroad— Weiss: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Q: —was '69.
Q: So, this is all after '69?
Weiss: Yes. Then it was International Peace Bureau, IPB. But the two sort of smushed into each other.
Weiss: I can go for another half hour.
Q: OK, terrific. Tell me about the demonstration in New York that led to the 5th Avenue Parade Committee, [laughs] and you were involved in that?
Weiss: I guess so. But it wasn't a friendly situation, as I recall.
Q: That's why I want to talk about it.
Weiss: [laughs] Oh, you do?
Q: Yes. Because you talked about friendly— Weiss: There was a lot of tension among the leaders.
Q: —this is not a friendly one. Right.
Weiss: I don't know why. I don't know what it was, but there was a lot of tension. I remember that the mayor was [Edward] Koch. And he used to have a— Q: What—
Q: No, it would have been [John] Lindsay.
Q: Oh, it's way back.
Q: You know, the first— Weiss: Well, then Koch wrote a piece about the 5th Avenue Parade Committee later. He accused the whole committee and the whole parade and the whole demonstration of being communistinspired. He was very nasty, Mr. Koch.
Q: I'll have to look that up.
Weiss: It was in a glossy magazine [Playboy], as I recall.
Q: I'll find it. But there are a couple of interesting aspects to that. First of all, the attempt to reach out and form a coalition among all the New York groups. Do you recall what the tensions were about? Who didn't you like? Who did you like, who didn't you like? Let's make it intensely
Weiss: Ooh! Well, let's put it this way, if I didn't like them then, it didn't last.
Q: Oh, that's a life of activism.
Weiss: But that's important, because what people didn't like—I mean, "like" may not be the right word to use. It might be that we really had deep disagreements about method, about speakers.
There was no sense of gender balance then, and we insisted on women speaking. And they would—I guess Bella was always acceptable as a speaker, she was quite rowdy. I am literally, honestly blocking—I'm not necessarily blocking—I'm just really not remembering those details.
I don't think that parade committee was hugely important in the whole evolution of demonstrations. The important committees were the spring mobilization, the national mobilization that brought people together nationally in Washington, mostly.