Next “Wave” Peace Activists Pour Feminism into the Mix

By Jean Stevens, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

Rachel Gehringer-Wiar liked the sound of Nebraskans for Peace.

Before arriving on campus of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln nearly two years ago, she’d seen its bumper stickers, she’d heard about its rallies. Peace work made sense to her, she said, as she believed in fighting for equality and human rights. The United States’ wars abroad had upset her as a high school student, although, she admits, she didn’t know much context of the wars then.

So as a freshman, Gehringer-Wiar joined the campus chapter, compelled not only by the anti-war demonstrations and campus educational efforts around peace, but the group’s concurrent focus on national and state-centered social justice projects.

Gehringer-Wiar and other of today’s younger peace activists seem more likely to perceive feminism as a lens, a political analysis in which to view and critique the world and their own activist work.

“I began to see how all of these issues were intertwined, from health care access to our two wars right now, civilians deaths and our foreign policy,” said Gehringer-Wiar, who served as president of the chapter and considers herself feminist.

But her feminist understanding forms a foundation to her peace work, rather than a focal point, Gehringer-Wiar said. Some of today’s young self-identified feminists, she said, might beeline to more explicitly feminist groups, such as those working on reproductive justice. “It’s easier to say, ‘I identify as feminist,’ and ‘oh, Planned Parenthood, sure, that’s feminist,’” Gehringer-Wiar said. “That’s awesome, they need people to work for them. But people need to step back and say, these issues are interrelated.”

Feminism seems the most appropriate lens to view war, said C.J. Minster, coordinator of the “Bring Our War Dollars Home” campaign of the women peace group’s Code Pink. Code Pink began in 2002 as a women-led protest to the Iraq war and has since expanded its mission to work for the end to all U.S. war and militarism abroad. The group has developed a reputation for its boisterous, pink-laden disruptions of Congressional hearings and political speeches by “war criminals,” such as former vice-president Dick Cheney. The “Bring Our War Dollars” home campaign advocates for Congress to redirect resources domestically to health care, infrastructure, education and social services. This emphasis on redirection to funding human needs is inherently feminist, says Code Pink, as it emphasizes equality, justice and access.

“Pundits and politicians tell you, we’re too broke and we have to sacrifice social security to balance the budget, but the reality is, trillions are wasted in war,” Minster said. “(I ask people), what are your priorities? As a citizen of this country, and the world? Do you prefer life-affirming activities or endless war?”

Although many of her feminist friends work on more explicitly identified feminist issues, such as domestic violence, rape prevention and reproductive justice, she feels that all of these issues relate to peace actions. “I see them all on a spectrum of violence,” she said. “It’s all part of the same thing.”

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