«CORA WEISS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT The Reminiscences of Cora Weiss Columbia Center for Oral History Columbia University PREFACE The following oral ...»
Weiss: I used to say, "Women, women everywhere, and not enough in power." Or, "Look at this picture, where are the women?" Or, "Women count, if you count the women." I don't say that anymore, because there are lots of women in power. I did a paper for a conference in Barcelona in January of this year on corporate abuse of human rights, and the question that I raised in my own paper was, would having women on the board of directors of the corporation make a difference to the factory floor? And the answer, unfortunately, is no; that on balance—you can't say everyone—but on balance, women who are brought into corporate power, corporate boards, onto corporate boards, are as interested, or if not more so, to prove that they can do it. They have cojones like the guys at the table, are interested in profit, and efficiency. Have they ever been to Bangladesh and into a factory? Or to China? Or to Indonesia, or wherever these horrific events are taking place? When I wrote the paper, I started, fortunately, in the United States with the fire in the '20s. The Shirtwaist fire.
Q: Oh, oh, the Triangle Fire.
Weiss: That was, you know, locked doors, and a fire, and teenage girls, and it was horrific. We have the same locked doors and teenage workers in Bangladesh and in China, and it's horrific.
Now, there are more conferences taking place on corporate abuse of human rights. I think the one that we spoke at may have been among the first, and it's published.
Weiss: So that's one idea about women. We have to have decent women, peace-loving women, justice-loving women, human rights women, women for sustainable development, ethical women. We are now evolved enough. We're sophisticated enough, so that we have as much dichotomy among women as there is among men. We want to pick the good part. So, we have to define the women. You know, there's not just Sarah Palin, there are tons of others, whose names I'm blocking on [laugh], and I can't stand it!
Weiss: It's terrible. I have evolved, and I now define ‘women’ when I talk about women.
Everybody says to me, "Of course, we agree," but I don't hear everybody saying it when they speak. That bothers me, and that's, I hope, going to be one of my legacies. I just found this women's peace platform for the twenty-first century. I was a delegate sent by the World Council of Churches [WCC], what they were doing with a nice Jewish housewife from the Bronx, I don't know. But they chose two Jews, Blu Greenberg, who was very religious. Her husband's a rabbi,
them on the windowsill of our room—they put the two Jews together in the same room—and ate green peppers and cucumbers and tomatoes for a week. But the 1985 Nairobi meeting was terrific, and at one point—we brought a peace tent with us from Women Strike for Peace [WSP], and we were assigned a lovely piece of land on the grass.
Q: Yes, you told me that story.
Weiss: Did I tell you that story?
Q: Yes, but what you didn't mention was that the peace tent was an alternative venue to the conference itself.
Q: And was organized by women who feared that their issues would not get onto the— Weiss: And that subject— Q: Tell me that story.
Weiss: That's happened just today at a planning meeting that I'm working on, that took place with the United Methodist women who are sponsoring a conference in New York on
meetings on climate change, the Climate Summit, Indigenous Women's Summit, leading to the post-2015 Development Agenda for the U.N., which is the huge issue at the U.N. Peace is not a part of that development agenda, and we are holding the same kind of alternative meeting. But this time, we have U.N. people coming to speak at it on September 19th, across the street from the U.N., to put peace and gender—women—and human security into the post-2015 Development Agenda. It's called the Sustainable Development Agenda this time. Sustainable development goals. So, has anything changed?
Q: In Nairobi, what were the issues that you were fearful would not get discussed by the regular meeting?
Weiss: Well, it was the height of the Cold War, and we were all scared to death about meeting with Soviet women. But that was our purpose, was to break through and follow our own edict, that all women are sisters. I don't think we would say that today, anymore. But it was OK then.
Actually, I should make one comment about that. I think that women in developing countries who have all experienced similar horrors of oppression, discrimination, marginalization and so forth, probably have more in common than in conflict, and probably there, you could say we want more women in power, without going through a litany of good women, peace women, sustainable women.
Weiss: In developed countries, where there is a lot of achievement—when I went to law school, there were three women in the law school. Today, sixty percent of law schools are women, or more. I didn't finish law school. So, I do distinguish between developed countries and developing countries, in that respect. Nairobi was terrific, but you know, the documents and the agreements that come out of these meetings get a little dusty after a few years on the shelf. The Beijing conference— Q: What happened?
Weiss: Well, people move on and write new documents. There are more words on paper in this world than there are actions, and what we need is the action. We've got the music, we need the action. All member states want to do is write more words, so that they can say they called for whatever.
Q: Does that discourage you sometimes? Because you, more or less, devoted your life to getting resolutions passed and getting this statement out, and getting this organization to agree to this policy, so— Weiss: You can't get up in the morning if you're discouraged. You can get angry, and your anger motivates you to keep going. Or, your disappointment. I'm not usually physically angry, but frequently disappointed. We had a very huge success when a small group of us met with UNIFEM [United Nations Development Fund for Women] around their table—UNIFEM was
us with civil society and the women from UNIFEM, and we wrote a draft which became Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and it was unanimously adopted by the Security Council on October 31, 2000. It is the only resolution that I'm aware of at the U.N. that we have a commemoration every year on October 30th, we celebrate it, we have an organization that monitors its implementation, and now, to their credit, the member states have agreed to have National Action Plans in every state—it's only about forty or fifty at this point out of a hundred and ninety plus—but there are National Action Plans that speak to the implementation of 1325.
Q: What does that do?
Weiss: Well, it means that women have to participate at every level of governance. It means women have to be at peace-making tables. It means they have to try to prevent violence, and it means that during violence, violent conflict, they have to protect women and girls. It's only nineteen paragraphs. It's very clear. And it's very comprehensive. But, countries like to try to one-up, and so they have introduced resolutions that we call Daughters of 1325, and they all have different numbers, depending on what year they were introduced, and many of them now only talk about violence against women and girls, and especially sexual violence, abuse. My line is, "You can't pluck rape out of war, and let the war go on."
I'm very disturbed when the member states only talk about sexual abuse and violence against women and girls, because it's also against boys, when they leave out the need to prevent violent conflict. We're seeing that again and again, and right now, especially as the member states are
development without worrying about peace. I claim you can't! [laughter] So we're doing what we can to try to get the voice of civil society heard at the government table. Not easy.
Q: Two things to talk about. The Hague Appeal, and the IPB. Which one do you want to talk about first— Weiss: Well, they're linked.
Q: —or, do you want to talk about them together?
Weiss: In 1996, representatives from four organizations sat around an oval glass-topped table. I maintain that every single negotiation should happen at a glass round table, because you can't pound on a glass table.
Q: [laughs] Weiss: That was an important—it was a totally coincidental experience. It was the table that was available in the room that was available at the Church Center where I work. The meeting was called by the World Federalist Movement, [William] Bill Pace, and they called the three organizations, two of which had a Nobel Peace Prize, International Peace Bureau and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War [IPPNW]. And the third organization, the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy. Why? Because those three organizations were
also known as the International Court of Justice, when the case on the question of the illegality of the possession and use of nuclear weapons came before the court in July of 1995, and the decision was in '96, I'm pretty sure that's right.
So, they said in 1899, there was a first world conference on peace. As a consequence, mustard gas was outlawed, for example, or dropping bombs from helium balloons. The second one was— there was supposed to be three—the second one was in 1907, and at that one, The International Court of Arbitration was created. The precursor to the World Court. The third was to be in 1915, and it didn't happen because there was a war. So, the proposal on the table was, we should have a centennial of the first conference. We agreed May '99 in The Hague, and the doctor who represented the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War went around the table, and he said, "Cora, you be president, and you be treasurer, and you be secretary," and now we have an organization. That's how it worked. I had not a clue—I mean, I had done many conferences; at The Riverside Church, we had always almost a thousand people at most of our conferences. But an international conference? Ten thousand people?
So, we completely got into it, and set up an office in the basement of the Church Center, where it frequently leaked from the sewage water out in the street. We went out and raised a couple of million dollars with great difficulty, but we did it. But the most important thing was the democratic process. We got a thousand organizations to sign on, and an organizing committee of a hundred organizations, and everybody worked. A couple of most interesting things. First, we ran under the banner, Peace is a Human Right and Time to Abolish War. In 1999, the question of
make fun of the idea of abolishing war. If you could abolish colonialism, slavery, apartheid, the prohibition of women voting, why not the institution of war? It had the same supporters.
So, those were our two banners. Thirdly, we held prep-com meetings around the world. One of the most interesting was in Nepal, when the revolutionary guys, what were they called? They weren't the Maoists, but they were equivalent to that. Oh, well, they sort of were Maoists.
Q: Yes, the Maoists, right.
Weiss: But there were eleven Mao parties.
Q: Right. Yes.
Weiss: We used to hear the guns going off— Q: It's a very strange configuration.
Weiss: It is.
Weiss: We heard them shooting in the woods at night. It was pretty close, but we met. The idea
that we should create a level playing field, Secretary-General of the U.N., heads of state, ministers, heads of organizations, members of organizations, civil society. Nobody would be given a higher rank in order. We gathered all of the moral authorities of the world. I think [Nelson] Mandela, and his wife Graca Machel, whom I love very much, were the only two people who didn't come. The Dalai Lama? I can't remember. He was on our advisory committee.
We developed a gorgeous advisory committee.
It was the first peace conference that had mediators at it; it would never occur to me that a peace conference might have problems, when I worked in the past. Kevin Clements from New Zealand, who does peace education, peace studies and peace education, both, we called him, he put together eight or ten people, we bought them walkie talkies, they worked twenty-four/seven.
They put out fires before they started, they were terrific. But it was the first peace conference that had mediators. That was interesting. We expected—we planned for three thousand people.
Q: I'm a little confused. The Hague Appeal for Peace came into existence at that point— Weiss: At the meeting at the glass table.
Q: Oh, in '96.
Weiss: And the four organizations were the executive committee.
Weiss: We were the responsables. And then we had larger committees.
Weiss: Then we created the four pillars, and it's all in a little pamphlet called, "Time to Abolish War, the Story of The Hague Appeal for Peace," which you can get online. Oh! It became a U.N.
document! Oh, look at that. You've got it all here. The one thing that survived—well, the IANSA [International Action Network on Small Arms] was just incredible. The conference on small arms, it keeps going, and is a very effective and important international organization. But the Global Campaign for Peace Education we took back with us to the headquarters in New York, and made that our baby to run with. We no longer had to organize a conference for ten thousand people. We created a partnership with the United Nations. We went to four countries, one on
each continent, to work with teacher education schools and primary and secondary schools:
Cambodia, Albania, Peru and Niger.