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Jewesses with Attitude

Women Strike for Peace, and more

Given the contemporary scene, I've been thinking about war and peace, about protest and politics, about what motivates people to get involved and what makes them feel they can make a difference.

So I was struck by our This Week in History entry on the inaugural action of Women Strike for Peace (WSP) on November 1, 1961. During this day-long strike, an estimated 50,000 women in 60 cities demanded nuclear disarmament. Most of the protesters were mothers, who argued from a traditional maternal position that the US should "End the Arms Race - Not the Human Race." Originally pushed to act by the frightening levels of irradiation in milk, this group played a key role in the 1963 adoption of the Limited Test Ban Treaty; from this success, WSP went on to be among the first to protest the Vietnam War. So much for the stereotype of timid, apolitical housewives.

WSP was also an important step in the political life of Bella Abzug. She was among the early leaders, and her experience doing legislative work for WSP led her to run for Congress in 1970.

This week, I received an email from artist Sanda Aronson, recalling her participation in the WSP strike of 1961 and in other activism of the time.

I was there on Nov. 1, 196l.  I was a young teacher.  We refused to work, took the day off to go to the big peace march in Manhattan.  I was a teacher, Joan of Arc Junior High School in Manhattan. We refused to take the day as a sick day, on principle.  We said, "We're going.  Fire us if you want, but we're going."  It was wonderful.  So much was going on.  We teachers struck to get the right to have collective bargaining...  The following year, we struck to get the first union contract. I do have a photo on page 1, NY Daily News, April 11, 1962, with me, as union delegate holding up the sign I made, "Joan of Arc JHS 118M  Don't Burn Us Again."  My mother sent it to me in 2000.  I never knew she'd saved it. 

I'm struck by the connection in Sanda's memory between WSP and her other activism as a teacher - so often, one kind of action empowers us to get involved in another. I also love that almost 40 years later, Sanda learned that her activism meant something to her mother, too.

There's been so much talk about the generational divides in this election. But I think that the commitment and passion of young people during this season can help mobilize people of all generations to take responsibility for our world and to work to make a difference. I know that I'm eager to see where this new wellspring will burst forth next.

How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Women Strike for Peace, and more." 2 November 2008. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 26, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/WSP>.

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RT @FigTreeBks: Mazal tov to the latest group of Rising Voices Fellows. Looking forward to reading your work. http://t.co/ItBXWYXumt