«CORA WEISS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT The Reminiscences of Cora Weiss Columbia Center for Oral History Columbia University PREFACE The following oral ...»
Q: Twelve years?
Weiss: I think it was twelve. It was Adele's tenure. Then she was called to MacArthur [Foundation]. So, it was either ten or twelve years.
Weiss: As board members? As trustees?
Weiss: Oh, we had very lively board meetings. We were very concerned about buildings and renovation, and faculty, promotions or not. The agenda was always packed. We had terrific board meetings. It was very participatory.
Weiss: We cared about the campus and about the students and about the faculty. We had a student representative on the board, and a faculty representative on the board. That was very inclusive.
Q: Good. Going back now to speeches, and you said you overcame— Weiss: My intimidation?
Weiss: Yes, almost entirely. Not entirely. If you're not scared before you make a speech, you're
Q: Does it become pro forma after a while?
Weiss: I am preparing now for a talk I have to give in a week for the memorial program for Jonathan Schell, who wrote Fate of The Earth, and Ben Suc, and for The New Yorker –he was going to be groomed to take over The New Yorker, and that got scuttled. He was a very good friend. He was a very thoughtful, prescient writer. He was for the abolition of nuclear weapons before it was a phrase. He was against the war in Vietnam. He was revealing information that people didn't have other places to go to get, and Fate of The Earth became the textbook of the anti-nuclear movement, just as Ben Suc became the textbook for the antiwar movement.
So, Peace Action is going to have a memorial service for him on June 12th, which happens also to be the anniversary of the June 12th, 1982, one million people in Central Park, which never had a name. So, people call it the Freeze Demonstration. Well, it wasn't the Freeze Demonstration.
They call it a Mobe demonstration, it wasn't a Mobe. It was an anti-nuclear demonstration without a formal name, and it was the biggest we ever had in this country; a million people in Central Park saying, "Goodbye nuclear weapons," which [William S.] Bill Coffin bellowed from the microphone, as dozens of helium balloons went up into the sky. I'll never forget his voice
Q: Off tape I'll tell you a story about my participation in— Weiss: Really?
Q: Yes. Funny story.
Weiss: There's a great little story, which is both funny and remarkable. I was on the stage, because I was helping to manage it. All of a sudden, in the middle of the afternoon, or whenever the time was, somebody leaned up from the ground below to the stage, and handed somebody on the stage a note, and it had, "Cora Weiss" written on it. They gave it to me. I read it, and it said, "We made it. We're in 110th Street," or wherever, way the hell in the back of the crowd. That note had been handed from hand to hand, person to person, and it got to the stage, it got to me, and it was from two young women who were the daughters of a very good friend of mine in Wisconsin.
Q: [laughs] Weiss: They came from Madison to the demonstration, and they sent the note, and I'll never forget it! I think I've kept it! It was such a statement of the whole world that was in my hands, almost, I mean, you know—people came from everywhere, all over the world.
Weiss: But it ended badly.
Q: In what way?
Weiss: Well, the stage was taken over, and we had to leave.
Q: By whom? I don't remember— Weiss: Well, it was very, very unfortunate, and it saddens me forever. It was taken over by a group of people organized by, I think his name was [Rev. Herbert D.] Daughtry.
Weiss: Daughtry. He was an African American minister.
Q: Oh, yes!
Weiss: They were very upset that whatever they wanted didn't happen. They just came and took over the mics, at about 4:00 in the afternoon. So, we had done most of the program. But what didn't happen that was a very serious problem was that a Latin band didn't get to play, and had been promised, because we wanted them. Whoever it was who got the band, I can't remember who it was, was furious. I have a photograph of Coretta Scott King and me walking away from
Weiss: I was very, very sad by it.
Q: I had left by that time.
Weiss: You had left by then?
Q: I forget—yes. But I— Weiss: Well, a lot of people did.
Q: But I remember the issues about black participation, you know— Weiss: We had lots of black participation.
Weiss: But not enough to suit this fellow.
Q: As I say, I've been reading a number of your speeches, and actually there are one or two, you
Weiss: [laughs] Q: Yes! There's a video of a speech you gave for the Nobel Prize. The theme of it was that so few women had gotten Nobel Prizes.
Weiss: And the tape is there?
Q: Yes, it's eleven minutes long, it's your speech before a group of people who were gathered in Oslo, for— Weiss: You know, my children might want to use that. They're giving me an eightieth birthday party.
Q: I'm having one, too.
Weiss: Why don't we—we could merge them. October 4th.
Q: Mine is June 30th.
Weiss: Oh! Tell me how it goes! I'm not looking forward to it, but it's a video at Swarth—?
Weiss: Oh, you can get it on Bing? You don't have to go to Swarthmore?
Q: No, no no!
Weiss: Oh, my God!
Q: It's on the Internet!
Weiss: [laughs] And what is it saying?
Q: You will be surprised, there are at least twenty different things that you can click on!
Weiss: How the hell do they get it?
Q: One is from The Hague—what is the group in The Hague? The Hague— Weiss: Hague Appeal for Peace?
Q: Yes. They list twenty or thirty of your speeches. And about four or five of them, you can call up. Others are just referenced.
Q: There are a number of particular speeches that you have given that, either you can get the text, or in one or two cases, they're videotaped. But this is a video, and it shows you in front of a group of people, mostly men, at some kind of a conference, about the Nobel Prize. I have other notes that I was going to bring next week, they're in my notes for next week.
Weiss: I spoke about the poverty of women getting a Nobel before Jody [Williams] started the Nobel Women's Initiative, which now, the women who are alive who got a Nobel, belong to.
Weiss: And they're all going to be at The Hague meeting in London this week. Everything relates!
Q: But obviously we can't go through each speech, but there are things that come up again and again and again and again.
Weiss: Well, not everything. Not enough has changed.
Q: But one of the major themes is peace education.
Q: And I wonder if we can talk about that.
Q: A little, about peace education. You've been involved in this for any number of years.
Weiss: Since '99.
Q: Where do you begin the approach? Where would one begin that approach? Do you work with, say, the unions? Or state agencies? Or, how do you work about peace—where is the locus of your activities of peace education?
Weiss: I've always said you work with whoever will listen!
Weiss: That's for openers. The Global Campaign for Peace Education was born at The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in May of '99, in The Hague. It came to New York to The Hague Appeal for Peace office, and it was the one program out of the whole conference, 10,000 people, twelve programs, that we decided to adopt and continue with. The other programs that were adopted were spun off to other organizations to continue with, Small Arms, for instance. First, we worked with the United Nations, the Department for Disarmament Affairs, and asked them to
Q: Now, they did have a peace education office.
Q: Oh, they closed it up by that time?
Weiss: There was a peace education office in the U.N. run by one woman, which was closed in a budget crunch. I once asked Kofi Annan if—I wouldn't cost a penny, the U.N. wouldn't have to pay me a cent—but could I have a peace education office, could I reopen one, at the U.N., just to have the imprimatur of the U.N.? And he, without blinking, without wasting a second, he said, "Cora, you wouldn't want to work with this bureaucracy." He was very smart, and right. I wouldn't have had the freedom that we have now. So, we had the peace education office at the women's-owned United Methodist Church Building, called the Church Center. We worked with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs [ODA]. We got a grant from the U.N.
Foundation, and we got grants from the governments of Sweden and Japan, and one more country, I think.
Q: To do what?
Weiss: To bring a training session to schools of education, which had public schools associated with them. So, we went to Cambodia, and there was a compound of a teacher education college,
slipped my tongue! I'll get it. Kampong Chong. We took a team of people, Betty Burkes, from Cambridge, who was a Montessori school expert and a peace educator, somebody from the U.N.
Department of Disarmament Affairs and myself. We did role playing, we did introduction to peace education, and left lots of ideas.
First, Cambodia was one of the four countries. The other countries were Peru, Niger and Albania. So, the U.N. liked to do one thing in each continent. Something came from each one of these, but it was not sustained. You can't hit and run. I mean, we sustained it for a year or two because we were in touch. We exchanged information, we sent resources, we wrote a book about it, a booklet, it's a soft book. To his credit, Jayantha Dhanapala from Sri Lanka, who was the head of the Office for Disarmament Affairs, the ODA in those days, welcomed it, embraced it, promoted it. As a consequence, they now have a disarmament education program in the ODA.
We went to Peru, we did a program there. We found Latin American peace educators, and we maintained and grew a list of peace educators globally. We had a conference in New York, we had a conference at Teacher's College. We gave awards for three years, a beautiful, beautiful dove that somebody made and contributed to us. During the active life of The Hague Appeal for Peace—which is no longer active, it's now online—we had activities. We made fabulous friends all over the world, and we still keep in touch with them. But now, we're online as a monthly newsletter, called the Global Campaign for Peace Education.
Q: Now, what would it actually consist of? Negotiations? Disarmament proposals? Discussing
Weiss: OK, I love that question, because then I can say what it is. Peace education is content and methodology, pedagogy and methodology. The methodology is very, very important, because it should be adopted for use across the board. It's participation, critical inquiry and reflection. If you adopt those three ways of teaching, you won't give lectures anymore to second graders or to tenth graders. You'll engage the students in participation. You won't insist on the truth, your truth, you'll invite questions and doubts. You'll question facts, and then you'll be told to go look it up and find out whether your doubts are justified or not. Then, on reflection, you'll think about what you learned and maybe apply it. Then the content, Peace Education, is for democracy.
That's our primary interest.
It's teaching for and about, so it's advocacy. Teaching for and about disarmament, gender equality, human rights, sustainable development, non-violence, traditional peace practices. How did your grandmother, or great grandmother, solve her problems with your great grandfather?
Did she shoot him? My grandmother said, "Eat first, and talk later." I don't think that is probably taught in conflict resolution classes, but it's not a bad idea. Whenever I have a meeting, I always have food and drink available. So, that definition guides us. I maintain that you don't have to have a separate course called, "Peace Education," although in graduate school, it's essential.
Q: Right. Yes.
Weiss: But in primary school, you can integrate these ideas into whatever else you're talking
about gender equality. There was a program in New York City called Resolving Conflict Creatively Program [RCCP], run by a wonderful woman, Linda Lantieri. She went into the schools, and she worked with schoolteachers. She started in pre-kindergarten. The children were given a yellow t-shirt with the word, "Mediator" on it. It was the longest word in their vocabulary. Every day, a different child was a mediator when they went out to the playground. If a little boy came and tried to take my truck from me, the mediator would run out onto the field and separate the children and say, "Why did you do that?' And they would sit down and talk, both the victim and the victimizer, the mediator and the teacher. Now, go fast forward in school, this evolves and gets more sophisticated, and now you're in eighth grade and the teacher is including RCCP in her teaching method. You go home from school, and you find your father has a knife at your mother's throat, and it's a bad scene. You have been exposed to this conflict resolution program in school. You say to them, "Talk, don't fight!" Instead of attacking each other, they're now attacking the son.
Q: Does it really work?