Pageant & protest

Baer, Barbara L.

August's Ribbon PAGEANT & PROTEST THE SEARCH FOR STRATEGY ON AUGUST4 a Ribbon, composed of 25,000 individually created segments, wrapped fifteen miles of Washington's monuments. Like a...

...So subdued and serene it defied description," wrote the Washington Post, forty years following the first use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki...
...Ribbon sections came from across the country and around the world...
...Generally women, they were asking for peace for the first time in a public demonstration...
...Second, the decentralization of the movement, and its greater effectiveness locally than nationally...
...The message of the Ribbon is that we can still create and resist...
...The great difficulty in opposing the arms race is that people who are not part of the military apparatus know little about it it is shrouded as was Kafka's Castle...
...Justine Merritt is nothing if not comforting...
...A grandmother, retired English teacher, and Catholic convert, Justine Merritt's dream led her to Washington "to tie a ribbon around the Pentagon, like a ribbon around your finger, a gentle reminder that we love the earth and its people...
...at the same time, a majority of those polled believes the Strategic Defense Initiative may facilitate an arms control treaty but recognizes such a development will lead only to new Soviet weapons to circumvent it...
...The fact that it took her 700 hours to embroider a single Ribbon panel with the names of everyone she knew impressed even Pentagon generals...
...footprints...
...Like a medieval procession, thousands upon thousands of hand-made lengths of cloth joined into a Christo-like tapestry sculpture, wove down the green Mall and around the White House, crossed Memorial Bridge, and encircled the Pentagon...
...Across America other, mostly symbolic, actions paralleled the Ribbon this August...
...Their messengers are as varied as the Cassandra-like Helen Caldicott, the Macbethian chorus of women from Greenham Commons, and the gentle prodding of Justine Merritt, the Ribbon's founder...
...many panels came from Japan...
...There would eventually be Ribbon ceremonies in Hiroshima itself...
...The almost exclusively symbolic nature of the Ribbon, as well as most other anti-nuclear demonstrations this August, points to the present difficulties of the American peace movement in face of a popular administration which daily expands the nuclear arsenal...
...Unlike highly successful protests in our century, from Gandhi's Salt March to the boycotts against segregation and present divestment sit-ins against apartheid, the anti-nuclear movement has not yet clarified the economic pressure points needed to effect meaningful protest...
...What was the Ribbon...
...We need never be in thrall to the Mentality of Destruction...
...It was accompanied neither by 6 September 1985: 453 speeches, nor accusations...
...The Ribbon was God's idea," she says...
...The final creation was fashioned in towns, gathered piece by piece, and finally joined state by state...
...Resistance to the nuclear arms race seems to work best when that shroud is separated into its parts a tower here, a transport there or, in its symbolic form, when men, women, and children wrap a beautiful, segmented banner around the Pentagon to bear witness against nuclear nightmare...
...One embroidery-stitched panel, entitled "History of the World in One Yard," depicted our earth's history from the separation of celestial matter through dinosaurs and pyramids and skyscrapers to a child asking, " Will the Bomb go off tomorrow, Mommy...
...Examining it closely, they said it must have taken a great deal of time and was beautiful...
...Her voice quavers when she speaks...
...Towers may seem a long way from the Ribbon, but they are not...
...football plays...
...Like Gandhi, she began by reforming her own life, radically simplifying it, and deriving strength and joy from the details of handwork...
...whole neighborhoods and mountain ranges...
...lines of music and pages of books...
...Polls indicate that the American public itself is caught in a double-bind of uncertainty: still wanting a nuclear weapons freeze, it has elected a president who opposes one...
...Dissent is necessary and possible...
...The city of Khor in Russia sent ribbons made by children for a Ground Zero project with a sister city in Oregon...
...Held aloft by young and old, made in prisons and at sewing bees by people who became artists for the first time, it released the deep yearning of countless hearts...
...Citizens refused to permit a tower within city limits and have so far halted its construction...
...at the head of marches, we now add women's impassioned eyes, hands, and voices...
...One is the growing prominence of women as leaders in the peace movements...
...When it was learned that GWEN towers, seen as being developed exclusively for protracted "nuclear war fighting," were projected for Amherst, Massachusetts, opposition arose there...
...As a result of her friendly visit, they granted her permission to encircle the Pentagon's own walls...
...My part was not to argue...
...The real issue for me is not the outcome of my work, but rather the process and the belief that it is morally necessary to have at least tried...
...Yet it was conceived in protest...
...BARBARA L. BAER (Barbara L. Baer, a writer from Northern California, has a family and is active in the peace movement...
...They arrived the only way they knew how, bearing gifts...
...even a stem of poison ivy with the reflection: "I shall miss even the least of Thy creations...
...More than half of those who participated in creating the Ribbon had never before been involved in a social protest...
...Those who do remain active, like Tula Jaffe, an organizer of Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament in California who came to Washington for the Ribbon, do so out of strong conviction and even inner necessity...
...Protests against invasion of home space or against weapon-carrying transports through one's town (like the refusal by physicians and nurses to prepare hospitals for nuclear war victims) are effective because the objectives are more clearly linked to daily life...
...Little by little, it became apparent that Justine Merrit, by then a pilgrim living on donations and suffering from heart problems, was unstoppable...
...She is not your opponent but your friend...
...there were fifty segments from Holland...
...Within two years the Ribbon was dedicated in the National Cathedral this August 3 the Ribbon consisted of 25,000 pieces of folk art...
...They included Ground Zero projects, Nuclear Free Zones, the adoption of sister cities in the USSR, citizen diplomacy, and protests against GWEN the Ground Wave Emergency Network, a special communications system the military is developing to withstand the electromagnetic pulse from a high altitude nuclear explosion which have catalyzed more than symbolic resistance...
...The Ribbon pointed up two phenomena worth noting...
...It seems indisputable that women have become charismatic leaders for peace...
...Each of its fragments had been embroidered, appliqued, or painted with what its creator most cherished in this world and could not bear to lose in a nuclear war: babies, trees, beaches...
...To images of Gandhi at the spinning wheel or Martin Luther King, Jr...
...Thus, it is largely relegated to entirely symbolic acts which limit not only its effectiveness but its size and ability to galvanize support...
...Commonweal: 454...

Vol. 112 • September 1985 • No. 15


 
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