Women Against Military Madness
Sophie and Sophia are two students at Central High School in Saint Paul. As a child, Sophia would take bike rides with her father to their local bakery. Often upon biking back home, Sophia observed a group of activists holding big flags and signs demanding peace to all people. This was Sophia’s was first encounter with Women Against Military Madness (WAMM), at the weekly Vigil for Palestine located on the corner of Snelling and Summit Avenue. Upon brainstorming ethnography ideas, Sophia wanted to chose a topic that she was genuinely interested in, but did not have much previous knowledge about. She remembered the group intrigued her as a child and decided to study this subculture for her ethnography project. Sophie had seen WAMM newsletters and was curious as to what else WAMM did, and so decided to join with Sophia on her ethnography adventure.
Originally, we thought WAMM members would consist of aged hippies who talked about peace and love as well as stereotypical white feminists who sport dreadlocks and tie-dyed headbands. We thought WAMM members would be liberal in thought and blindly support the Democratic party. Despite our preconceptions, we decided to keep an open mind and head to our first meeting with one of the directors of the organization.
Women Against Military Madness was founded in 1982 by Marianne Hamilton and Polly Mann in response to the shift in government spending priorities, from human services to the military, as well as the impending nuclear threat. Upon finding that most women were anti-war, they decided to form WAMM to give women a platform “for women to become leaders who would demand a peaceful and just society.” At the beginning of the organization, it garnered national attention for a march along University Avenue in Minneapolis. WAMM once again rose to prominence in August of 1990, when WAMM, along with coalition partners, held “the first protest in the U.S. in opposition to troop deployment that ultimately led to the first Persian Gulf War.” Lucia Wilkes, the co-director at the time, appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live!” show to discuss WAMM’s position on the war. Through the years, WAMM has worked against US intervention in several countries, supported Native American spear-fishing rights, picketed with multiple striking workers, confronted patterns of police brutality, acted against war toys for children, and spoken up against islamophobia.
Within minutes of sending an inquiring email, WAMM director Suzanne Al-Kayali promptly responded to arrange an initial meeting at the local coffee shop, Golden Thyme Coffee & Cafe. Upon her arrival, she handed us each a plethora of pamphlets and flyers while giving us a brief history of WAMM and their current objectives. She prompted us to explore the different events WAMM has to offer and encouraged us to email her with any questions we may have in the future.
During our observation of the Friday evening Peace for Palestine Vigil, we met up a few WAMM members. Among them were a couple members of different organizations who occasionally attended the vigil all the same. A few held battered yellow signs saying: “No aid to Israel. Let Palestine Live” and “End Israeli Settlement.” A man named Barry from a sister organization held a Palestinian flag that towered over the group. Everyone was bundled up due to the unusually cold weather. The members were huddled into several groups quietly chatting about current politics. We were positioned on the west end of the Summit-Snelling intersection, in the grassy median dividing Summit. Every so often cars driving by would honk to show their support. One of the WAMM members would usually wave their sign and smile in response. Often Barry would respond with a loud whistle. Occasionally some students walking to or from Macalester would pass us and some of the members would offer them flyers to various marches and committee meetings. Once, a man wearing a large backpack walked past and, while staring resolutely ahead, loudly proclaimed that “Arabs will still kill each other when white people leave.” WAMM member Sarah calmly informed us that “He must be one of those white nationalists.” A while later, a man in a car driving past us yelled “Losers!” This one didn’t garner a response from the group.
One of the bigger events WAMM hosted this month, along with the Vets for Peace and Blue Republican, was a whistle blowing lecture. There, former senior NSA executive and Air Force navy veteran, Thomas Drake recounted his experience as a whistle blower and the aftermath that followed. The members that attended were very attentive and respectful. Throughout the entire lecture the audience was completely silent. It was clear they were all intrigued. At this lecture, that audience was approximately half men and half women. Most of them were above the age of 50, with only one young man in his early twenties and a couple with a child in their 40’s. That night, clogs and hiking boots seemed to be the footwear of choice. After the lecture was over, Drake opened up the room to questions from the audience. Immediately hands eagerly shot up. Many of the questions seemed well-rehearsed and some of the members even read off note cards they held in their laps. It was obvious that the audience had previously done some research and was well informed on the topic.
These encounters say a lot about WAMM members: they are patient, informed, informative, and experienced. They have been doing this for years. The Vigil for Palestine has been going on for over 10 years, every Friday evening. They know what’s worth reacting to, and how. They know that changing minds and raising consciousness is a process. They know that most of the time they won’t be able to witness the effects of all their time and effort. Even so, they keep marching and keeping vigil and going to committee meetings, informing people as much as they can.
We also went to a couple marches. WAMM tends to march in a coalition with other organizations. Some of these include Democratic Socialists of America, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition. Both of the marches we went to started at Mayday Plaza, outside Mayday Books, a “volunteer collective dedicated to selling left-wing literature — activist, labor, progressive, populist, labor, union, anarchist, green, socialist, Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist, radical, feminist, African-American, Latino, Indigenous People, GLBT, community-oriented, survivalist, Do-It-Yourself (DIY), conspiracy analyst; rock and roll music,” (May Day Bookstore).
The first march was pretty small. It began with a rally in Mayday Plaza, in which various people spoke about US intervention in the Middle East and North Korea, as well as Trump’s Muslim Ban and growing islamophobia. Then the march began. We marched about four blocks in total, in a sort-of square. There were people with all different signs and banners, and people who carried nothing at all. Several wore neon jackets and formed a barrier between marchers and traffic. A few held megaphones and small black devices that performed a similar function. They led the chants, which included “Hey hey! Ho ho! Islamophobia’s got to go!” and “From Palestine to Mexico, all walls have got to go!” As we marched we could see community members watching and in many cases, waving at us or videotaping us with their cell phones. It was kind of weird to be marching in such a small group around a block. It wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t hear people nearby in the march chatting, and I often found myself mouthing the chants or saying them softly because of my self-consciousness.
The second march was a bit less awkward, as the route was much longer and we quickly fed into the much larger International Worker’s Day march. That was pretty wild. Near us there was a guy pretty close wearing a leather jacket with a rainbow flag pinned to it, some college students in leggings and rain boots, one of them wearing a fancy athletic backpack with a turquoise yoga mat sticking out, and several people from an anarchist marching band with scarves around the lower half of their faces carrying red and black flags. It was rainy and freezing, but here were hundreds of people yelling chants and carrying signs supporting causes from minimum wage increases to black lives matter to fighting anti-immigrant views. Afterward there was this feeling of pride and community and rebellion.
Since we do not have our own picture of this event, we decided to use somebody else’s. This is the Wendy’s the march stopped at. The people in the truck gave a speech, talked about corporations, exploitation, the need for the $15 minimum wage and encouraged (with the help of the crowd) the Wendy’s workers to strike, which they did. There were a few people putting stickers related to the cause on the Wendy’s sign.
What we did not expect, were leftist women, some of them in their 80s, working alongside with democratic socialists and picketing with striking nurses. These women are incredibly politically informed about situations within the US and internationally and support a wide variety of causes. They swear and aren’t afraid to criticize democrats as well as republicans when they are in the wrong.
As a generally older group, WAMM keeps their political views from stagnating. WAMM keeps members young politically, but it also helps them as they age by giving providing social interaction and a sense of community, involves standing and walking for long periods of time, and gives them a sense of purpose. For members who have been a part of WAMM for many years, it can give them something to look back on with a sense of pride and accomplishment. As Sarah Martin, WAMM member since the 80’s put it, “Certainly personally what the most gratifying thing is working with people who are committed to fighting US intervention. And you know, all the great friendships. It keeps you young, believe it or not.”
History. (n.d.). Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://www.womenagainstmilitarymadness.org/history/
Women Against Military Madness. (n.d.). Retrieved May 02, 2017, from http://keywiki.org/Women_Against_Military_Madness
Aby-Keirstead, M. (2016, September 25). Women Against Military Madness continues to stand with striking nurses. http://www.fightbacknews.org/2016/9/25/women-against-military-madness-continues-stand-striking-nurses
Atkinson, C. (2014, October 17). Minneapolis protest tells Clinton, Franken, Dayton “No more U.S. wars!”.