«CORA WEISS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT The Reminiscences of Cora Weiss Columbia Center for Oral History Columbia University PREFACE The following oral ...»
Q: I was on the West Coast, what I'm trying to—I have an idea that, again, removing from a situation of more or less informal contacts, and increasing formalization. And all over the country, there are these regional groupings that are beginning to work out coalitions in Los Angeles and San Francisco and in New York, and in Cleveland, and in Chicago. And in New York, where you were, the focus was the 5th Avenue Parade Committee.
Weiss: But not as— Q: Not as the Parade Committee.
Weiss: Not as the Parade Committee.
Q: No, but— Weiss: It was the leaders from the Parade Committee who became the leaders of the national movement.
Q: Right. It's like you're getting your spurs on a local level for the national stage.
Weiss: Yes, that's a good way of putting it.
Q: That's why I'm interested in the Parade Committee and you.
Weiss: That's possible. What year was the Parade Committee?
Q: Spring, oh, no no no no no no no no no no. Sixty-seven.
Weiss: Yes. Must have been.
Q: Yes. Yes, yes. No, the Parade Committee was earlier. Sixty-seven. The April '67 is the big one in New York and in San Francisco.
Weiss: The U.N., yes.
Q: Yes. But the Parade Committee— Weiss: Was before that.
Q: —was '66 sometime. And it was a surprise to most people how many people turned out.
Weiss: Sure. But maybe that was because Women Strike for Peace made sure that it would be safe for families! [laughter] I mean, that was really a very important contribution. I like to think that I had a pretty good role to play in that. I really felt strongly about that.
Q: Who were your allies in the coalition? Who would your allies have been to make it safer for
Weiss: The trade unions, the retail workers and the— Q: 1199?
Weiss: Eleven ninety-nine. Hospital workers.
Weiss: So, what was the retail workers', David Livingston's union? Sixty-something?
Weiss: 65. Very much my allies. We did a lot of organizing in David's office, in his building.
And Clergy and Laity Concerned. I mean, that sticks out in my obviously not-terrific memory.
They were my allies, our allies, of Women Strike.
Q: One last question. One last topic. A.J. Muste [Reverend Abraham Johannes Muste].
Weiss: He was a sweet old man. He went to get— Q: Seems to be a very key character.
Q: Older, of course. Yes.
Weiss: At that time. So, Dave Dellinger replaced him and his role. Muste and Dellinger cochaired some meeting, I vaguely recall. I recall Muste going to Vietnam early. But I didn't know him personally.
Weiss: Dave and I knew each other very well, because we worked together. But I think Muste was, Muste and his role were replaced by Dave Dellinger.
Q: How did you get along with Dellinger?
Weiss: I spoke at his last birthday party in Vermont fondly of him. It was tense, because he was not used to having women play a leadership role, and I wasn't used to being bossed! [laughs] So, I guess that's a recipe for tension. But, you know, we were called by the Vietnamese one summer, 1972, come to Paris. He and I got on a plane together, flew immediately, and we were told we could come to Vietnam and bring home three prisoners of war. We did it. We had our moments, but we worked together. We had to. We did a lot of work. We were co-chairs of the
Q: Yes. But within the coalition, he would have been much more sympathetic to civil disobedience.
Weiss: And to his sort of—his friends.
Weiss: So, we weren't married! You know? We were partners in a campaign to end a war that nobody wanted. We had our different ways. But we managed.
Q: Next time, we'll talk about the coalitions and moratoriums. And— Weiss: It was the moratorium I can't talk about, because that was the different organization. The mobilization.
Q: Yes, yes, no no, I don't mean moratoriums. Mobilization. I meant the Mobe. Yes.
Q: Would you tell me your name, please?
Weiss: I'm still Cora Weiss.
Q: Still Cora Weiss, still West End Avenue in New York City?
Weiss: West End Avenue.
Q: Terrific. OK.
Weiss: I once said I would never move—I would never live on West End Avenue, it's interesting, the stereotypes.
Q: Now, last time, I said, why don't we start with what you're doing now, and go backward. So what is it that you're Skyping?
Weiss: First I had to be trained in Skyping, because I'd never Skyped before. So a young man
Q: Now, where did you find him?
Weiss: We have, Peter and I share a computer guru whose name is Matt-something. He has a team of himself and two other fellows. This man was kind of interesting; he's new to the team.
He's an Iranian Jew and has recently moved to this country. Anyway, he came, and we opened the computer. And I learned how to Skype. It wasn't so difficult after all, and now I realize that I haven't Skyped before out of fear.
So, this gentleman came and taught me how to Skype, and I realized it was fear of learning a new technology, which is keeping me from learning—from advancing. So, Monday afternoon, I was a Skyper, and Tuesday morning at 8:00, I got a Skype call, is that what you call it? I don't even know the lingo—from The Hague. A group of women were sitting around the table from a dozen countries, organized by Cordaid, which is a Catholic funding agency for developing countries. But you don't have to be Catholic to work with them or to be helped by them. They have a group of remarkable young women who are smart and very, very helpful. They do leadership training for women.
So, there was a woman from Colombia, an African woman who said she was from The Hague, but when she said her name, I said, "Aren't you Kenyan?" She was amazed. "How do you know I'm Kenyan?" "Well, Auma Obama, who is the president's step-sister, but we say sister, has a daughter named Akinyi [phonetic]. Auma's a friend of mine, and she tells me about her daughter." "Oh," she said, "Akinyi?" My name is—" I said, "I know your name is Akinyi." Then
So that got things off to a great start. The woman from Colombia is working with women's organizations on the peace process, which I care a great deal about, because it was a peace process begun two years ago in Cuba with Norway, Colombia, Cuba, I think there might be one more country, as the mentors, the facilitators for the process. There were no women. We were absolutely aghast, and we said to our Colombian friends, "You've got to have women at the table."
So she and I engaged in an interesting discussion about whether the women in Colombia who represent anti-racism, pro-peace, pro-reconciliation, want to be at that table, because they don't support either the government or the FARC [Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia], the rebels. The ELN [Ejército de Liberación Nacional] is not at the table yet, the third party. So I said, "Well, what are you doing about that?" "Well," she said, "We're meeting and creating mechanisms so that our demands for the peace process get communicated to the two women in the government who represent the government, and the one woman from the FARC who represents the FARC, so that they receive our message." I said, "That's absolutely brilliant, and it's a new, unique initiative which is very welcome. And we should make sure that we communicate that idea when the next peace process comes." I've been following peace processes since Ireland.
Q: These are the negotiations that are going around issues of peace in Colombia, internally?
Weiss: The violent conflict. But it has to do with more things. It has to do with agrarian reform.
It has to do with, what do you do with the victims? What do you do with the prisoners? What do you do with reconciliation? How do you reconcile? So, she and I got talking, there are 20 women at the table, about introducing peace education, because who is going to implement the peace agreement? It'll be the teachers and the mothers, the people who do the educating of the next generation. So, that was wonderful. Then, all of a sudden, the Internet went down and I got—not panicked, but concerned, because it was my first Skype. The Skype sends you a message, and it says, "We're terribly sorry, the internet has gone down, and just hold still until we get it solved," which is wonderful! So, I figured the whole world is listening!
Q: [laughter] A couple of follow-ups now.
Q: I think it's the U.N. Resolution 1325?
Weiss: That's my—
Q: In what way? Pull that out for me.
Weiss: Well, 1325, which I had a great deal to do with drafting, is a civil society vetted, drafted and lobbied-for resolution, and it got a unanimous agreement by the Security Council. It's celebrated every year on its anniversary, October 31. No other U.N. resolution is celebrated every year like that. We are working very hard to implement it around the world. There are fortyfive countries that now have national action plans. When I was introduced at this telephone Skype meeting, she said to me, Lisa [phonetic], the facilitator, said, "Well, Cora, we just introduced you as the godmother of women, peace and security." So I told them they were giving me a little too much responsibility, but I do care about it very, very much. What it says, in a word, is, "Women must participate." Participation, participation, especially at peace-making tables. So, it also calls for prevention of violent conflict and protection of women and girls during violent conflict, the three P's.
Q: This would happen for every U.N. agency or program?
Weiss: It's addressed to the world.
Weiss: And the first paragraph says that women must be at every—not must—women should be at every level of decision-making, and at every level of governance, which means it applies to the mayor of New York bringing women into his government. It's very misused and confused, deliberately, by member states, who insist— Q: In what ways?
Weiss: —that it should only apply to violent conflict, to situations of war. But the first paragraph doesn't even mention violent conflict. So, we go around trying to help the interpretation and the definition of it, and the application of it. It's an extraordinary resolution. It has now four or five daughters of—which don't include the participation angle as much, and which I think are not necessary, because it's just words, words, words, and what we need is action, action, action. And the resolution itself is very comprehensive. It's very historic, because until then, 2000, the Security Council virtually never uttered the word, "woman." In the famous Brahimi report [Report of the Panel on United Nation Peacekeeping Operations], which is like the Bible of the U.N. for development, and so forth, in the— Q: How do you spell that?
-M-I. He's the guy who just retired from being the U.N. Representative on Syria.
Q: Yes, that's right.
Weiss: Which we all welcomed.
Q: I knew I recognized the name.
Weiss: We welcomed.
Weiss: I have nothing against aging, but if you can't keep up after a certain age, you should let the next generation take over. I'm very willing to do that. Anyway, 1325 is terrific. It's historic, and it's international law, because in the Charter of the U.N., Article 25 says that Security Council resolutions should be carried out by member states. Hans Corell, who was the lawyer for the U.N., I brought in to a breakfast meeting of civil society women, and the question on the table was, "Mr. Lawyer for the U.N., Hans, is this international law?" He pulled out the Charter from his pocket and he read Article 25. Because a lot of the women doubted that it had any oomph.
Weiss: In 1999, at The Hague Appeal for Peace, a couple of hundred women got together, on their own, it wasn't a scheduled meeting, and talked about the fact that the Security Council had never mentioned women, and that the idea of women, peace and security had to become institutionalized. We considered a draft that a woman named Sanam Anderlini brought from International Alert in London. Fast forward, that— Q: No, no, no, no, no.
Weiss: Don't go fast forward?
Q: No, no fast forward.
Weiss: Well, because [laughs], well, we had the— Q: A leisurely pace.
Weiss: A leisurely pace. We had the meeting, a number of us got very excited about this idea.
None of us had ever brought something to the U.N. We'd always take from the U.N., didn't bring to the U.N. None of us was representing a government. We were not member states. We were member constituents.
Weiss: So, that was May of ‘99. In June of 2000, we gathered around the table at UNIFEM [United Nations Development Fund for Women], which was then the women's agency of the U.N. Now it's called "U.N. Women," and it represents a coalition of women's agencies. But UNIFEM, the United Nations femme, in French, women's organization, so they had a big, almost-round, an oval table. It's very important, the shape of the table. We learned that from the Vietnam peace talks in 1969, I guess, 1970. No, later than that. Seventy-three. So we sat around the table. UNIFEM was the only U.N. agency at the table. There were probably twelve or fifteen of us from civil society, and I was one of them. We first had to iron out and make compromises about our own positions and demands, or what we call, "Our asks," which we did. We formulated an agreement not formally, but we created an agreement through compromise.
Q: Do you recall what kinds of compromises?