«CORA WEISS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT The Reminiscences of Cora Weiss Columbia Center for Oral History Columbia University PREFACE The following oral ...»
We had a team of educators, and it was terrific. We published a book as a result. We worked with the Department for Disarmament Affairs. We held conferences in New York and other
of peace educators, which now functions online. Then, every summer there's the International Institute for Peace Education [IIPE], which goes from country to country, depending on who wants to host it, and peace education is becoming a recognized discipline, as it should be, because of all the things I've ever done in the world in my lifetime; signing petitions, marching, phone calling, mobilizing, the most sustainable thing I think we can do is educate. We have to educate for peace, teach people about non-violence, about gender equality and about disarmament and sustainable development and human rights.
Q: Now, that conference was played out against the Kosovo war.
Weiss: That's why we got ten thousand people and not three. We planned for three thousand.
Anyway, I called up Anita Roddick, the woman who used to run the Body Shop, one day—I mean, you do things that you never would normally do in life, but you've got a big organization, you've got to do something. So I called her up one day and asked her if she would contribute three thousand book bags, so that we could have something to give to everybody. The three thousand book bags were gone in seconds, because there were ten thousand people, and it was the Kosovo war.
Weiss: It was the bombing. One of the consequences of that was that the conference split in half.
I came as close as I think somebody can come to a nervous breakdown, frightened that the
conference center in The Hague with microphones. The sign on the door said, "Come and talk."
We didn't provide facilitators, and people were able to talk for and against the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo. That saved the conference. It was a close call. I guess it saved me, because I'm still here to tell the story! [laughter] Q: I have two different summations of the conference. One says, "In other words, the peace movement seemed to be suffering from a lack of consensus as to what constituted the most important issue." And this one says, "The conference launched an action plan, The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the Twenty-First Century, containing fifty programs." It also points out the significance of an organization by civil society. Two very distinct— Weiss: You find totally—where you do your research, you could teach me a lot. I have no idea where you found these things. But in any event, The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the Twenty-First Century was voted unanimously by the one hundred organizing committee members who sat in a room at The Hague—I'll never forget that day—and raised their hands. It's a fifty-point program for getting from a culture of violence to a culture of peace. It was so impressive in 1999 to the ambassador from Bangladesh to the U.N., who was a very good adviser to us and friend, Anwarul K. [Karim] Chowdhury, that he found a way to make it become a U.N. official document, A/54/98. It is as good and valid today as it was in 1999. It talks about gender. It talks about peace education. It talks about disarmament. It talks about
The representative to the U.N. of the World Council of Churches asked me today if he could meet with me to help him in their planning, the World Council's planning, of a meeting at the end of 2015 in Sweden on peace. He said, "I need your advice, your experience." A woman came and sat in the chair you're sitting in who is working on the climate change walk, to take place September 22 in New York, and said to me, "How do we get a million people to the climate change walk," because she knew that I worked on the committee that got a million people to say no to nuclear weapons on June 12th, 1982. So, if you live long enough and get old enough, you become a kind of adviser, armchair adviser! [laughter] Q: What is the relationship between The Hague Appeal for Peace and the Peace Boat?
Weiss: Peace Boat U.S. occupies The Hague Appeal office.
Weiss: During The Hague Appeal— Q: The office is here in New York?
Weiss: Yes. During The Hague Appeal, I found, or they found me, Peace Boat, which is an organization run out of Tokyo by a young couple. They weren't a couple yet, because I had to go and speak at their wedding some years later. A young Japanese guy started an organization
Japan did to the Philippines, to China, to other countries, that doesn't look good on a score card.
So, he was determined to bring young people together, or just Japanese people together on a boat, and travel from port to port of countries in conflict, and invite both sides of the conflicts onto the ship to speak, and to talk about war and peace. That was thirty plus years ago, and I became a member of the board of the Global University of Peace Boat, and we brought Peace Boat to New York, and I organized—they have a thousand people on board—I organized a small— Q: It's a big ship!
Weiss: It's fantastic! It's so gorgeous.
Q: I saw a picture of it, it's enormous!
Weiss: Yes. Peter and I went to Alaska on Peace Boat. It's not a country in conflict, but it showed the calving of the glaciers falling into the sea, and you could cry when you see it happening. If all of those climate deniers were able to just make a one-day outing to see that happening, they would never deny climate change again. Anyway, so Peace Boat came to New York. We broke up the Peace Boat passengers into groups of ten, and I got New Yorkers to come and show them New York through the eyes of civil society organizations, community-based organizations. So, they went—well, you can imagine what they went—they went to see everything that people do to organize in New York, and it was terrific! A terrific experience.
because there are none in Japan. So, they went to Harlem. They were interested in seeing that there's a Japanese section in New York, and a Chinese section and an Italian section.
So, they had quite an experience. Yoshioka Tatsuya and Rachel [Armstrong Yoshioka] and I became very good friends. I was invited to speak at their wedding, and to speak in Japan. We sat, we bought sandwiches on 120th Street, 121st Street at a little deli on Broadway, and sat on one of those benches in the middle of Broadway. I said, "Let's open an office in New York." That was a long time ago, that was eight years ago, ten years ago. Now, we have not just an office, but we have a fabulous woman running it, and The Hague Appeal for Peace turned its office over to Peace Boat.
Weiss: U.S. It's called Peace Boat U.S. It is a registered not-for-profit organization. They have raised enough money to bring a student from Global Kids, a student from Downtown—DCTV [Downtown Community Television Center]—and another student from some media school, onto a ship this summer to make a film about indigenous people in Central America, which they will then show at the Indigenous Summit in September at the U.N. It's fabulous! They're working with universities around the country to have programs for credit on board with students coming.
It's going to happen very soon. We'll have students from a number of schools who can come on the ship either by the week or the month, and get credit for whatever program they take.
Weiss: It's marvelous!
Q: Yes. The Hague Appeal for Peace has more or less gone out of business?
Weiss: It has—somebody called it, "Moth-balled."
Weiss: But it's still online as GCPE, the Global Campaign for Peace Education, and it's a monthly eNewsletter on peace education. If we need it, it's still got its 501 (c) (3), and it still has its officers, I'm still president.
Q: [laughs] Weiss: But it ran its course, and it became impossible to raise money. It's no way to spend your life, raising money.
Q: Yes, but you must have done an awful lot of it.
Q: Yes. Let's talk about the International Peace Bureau. When was your initial involvement?
Now, that's an organization that's been around for a long time.
Weiss: It got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910.
Weiss: Thirteen of its officers, in the early part of the twentieth century, are all Nobel Peace laureates, including my—if I had one person to really, really admire a lot, it's Bertha von Suttner.
She was a vice president of IPB, as I was. I don't remember when I got involved, but I represented SANE, or SANE/FREEZE, I can't remember which iteration of SANE. So, it's been a long time. I started as a representative, IPB is organized in about close to a hundred countries, seventy or eighty countries, around the world. It maintains—it has an office across the street from the U.N. with other NGO’s—and I then became a vice president, and nominated Maj Britt Theorin from Sweden, who was— Q: Let's back up now. Your initial involvement, what did you actually do when you were a representative of FREEZE/SANE?
Weiss: SANE/FREEZE. It was a disarmament agenda. IPB was a disarmament organization. We were into—I can't remember what the weapons at the time were, the—
Weiss: The Pershing—yes. There were a lot.
Weiss: But in any event, we worked collaboratively with peace organizations around the world to try to eliminate, or at least reduce considerably, weapons systems— Q: That would lobbying in the United States whilst another group was, say, lobbying in France, and another group— Weiss: Well, not just lobbying, but talking. I did a huge amount of public speaking.
Weiss: And demonstrations. We had big demonstrations against the war, and against weapons.
Then my role in IPB increased; I became a vice president, and then I was elected president in
2000. I was president for the six-year time limit, 2000 to 2006. Then I created an international office at the U.N. for SANE/FREEZE, which morphed into Peace Action. Why do organizations change their names when you get so well-known by your original name? Anyway—beside the point.
Weiss: So, my role basically, as always, is to internationalize people's thinking and doing, and to work with the U.N. For all of its warts, there's no place else in the world where everybody can gather without a gun in their pocket.
Q: Now, IPB is— Weiss: It's the only room.
Q: —is official observer at the U.N.?
Weiss: Not observer, it's an official—“observers” is a word that's used for Palestinians and the Vatican.
Q: Right. Yes.
Weiss: Their member states have observers. IPB has an official status as—we're associated with the U.N. under the U.N.'s civil society arrangement. We're called NGO—I hate that word!
Q: [laughs] Weiss: But, it's Non-Governmental Organization.
Weiss: There are two divisions; there's a Department of Public Information [DPI] group, and then there's a ECOSOC group, Economic and Social Council. Allegedly, they have more rights than the DPI group. So, it's the democratic group and the less democratic group [laughs], and IPB is an ECOSOC affiliate. You get a blue badge, and you can go in. But every year, they cut back on access for civil society. It's becoming very unfortunate.
Q: Why would they do that?
Weiss: Because we get in the way. The member states don't want us around.
Weiss: We have issues to bring up.
Weiss: Well, they're discussing the post-development agenda for post-2015, a development agenda now. The BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are opposing putting peace as a necessary ingredient for development. And we want that in.
Weiss: So, they don't want us around.
Q: Yes. That gives a little more— Weiss: That's an example.
Q: Yes, that gives a little more specificity to the earlier discussion. Yes. Its outline subsides, and you know— Weiss: We have a right under the Charter, and we have [laughs] very little access. The big people—guys, the huge NGO organizations, manage to take advantage of as many loopholes or space as possible. But for the smaller organizations, it's very difficult. We can't pay a staff to be there. So, Amnesty International has not one, but two offices in our building across the street from the U.N., and a permanent full-time staff, as do many organizations. Big organizations.
Weiss: That can afford rent and salaries.
Q: But you have you.
Weiss: Yes, but I can't go to the U.N. every day.
Weiss: In order to be effective, you have to get to know who the ambassadors are, or at least their top staff. The turnover is enormous, you know it's usually a four-year job. If it takes you a year to find out who the guy normally is, and then two or three years later he's gone, you've got to start over again.
Q: Now, aside from the U.N., what is it that you do with the IPB?
Weiss: Well, I'm the international representative of the IPB at the U.N. now. So, today, as an example, I learned all about what the process is, and what some of the reasons are as to why peace is not going to be in the final document for this post-2015 development goal. I will communicate that to IPB tonight. They have been trying to get governments to adopt their agenda, which is on disarmament and peace, and unfortunately, it's not going to be adopted. So I
Q: Yes. When you look back on your presidency, what was that like to be the president of an international organization? To me, as an outsider, it's pretty heavy stuff.