Women for Genuine Security
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A WGS Quarterly Publication

insight interview march 2008

Gwyn Kirk
Interview by Maikiko James

Gwyn Kirk is a teacher-writer-activist-scholar concerned with gender, racial and environmental justice in the service of genuine security and creating a sustainable world. She is a co-founder of Women for Genuine Security.

Set 1.
1. Briefly, what is militarism?
I think of militarism as a collection of institutions, investments, culture and values. It’s much bigger than war; war is the apex, the climax, the point of all the preparation. Militarism is the underlying system that generates wars. Its components are economic, systemic, people’s investments, patriotism, and also political investments or beliefs.

2. Where, who, what, how do you come from? (interpret as you wish)
Being from North of England, I think that does give me a critical perspective on the U.S., coming from outside. In the early eighties, women started a Women's Peace Camp at Greenham Common. A group of women saw an announcement in the paper that nuclear weapons were to be based on this formerly common land, then a USAF base. So they organized this walk, from Cardiff to Greenham. It took them 2 weeks. When they got to the gates of the base, they had a letter for the commander, but he would not come out and talk to them. At some point somebody said to them, "You can stay there as long as you like, but it's not going to make any difference." So they decided to stay. It lasted for about 15 years. I first went there in 1982.
My father was a conscientious objector in WWII. My parents had no direct connection to the military, but virtually every British family lost someone in that war, so that was a connection.
In 1981, for a brief time, I was a roadie for a punk band. They were called Poison Girls. The lead singer called herself Vi Subversa, She was in her late 40s at that point. They played in grungy venues;,they made zines and flyers about disarmament, animal rights, reproductive rights, sexism. It was a kind of popular education. I first went with them to Greenham.

3. Which cause, issue, group of people or organization is currently closest to your heart?
WGS. What I love about WGS are the stories of women's daily lives and how they're affected by US bases. Also, thinking about ways to organize that empower us,, and making our opinions matter. There are two things we talked a lot about at Greenham. One was the structure of domination. The same dynamic is involved in domestic violence or rape, so you can make this very clear connection from personal violence to international-scale violence. The other issue was the fence. The base was about 9 miles around the perimeter, and there was a fence all around it. We're supposed to stay on our side of the fence, and not to ask what goes on on the other side, even though our tax money pays for it. The fence was a powerful symbol of this separation.
Women did a lot of direct action at Greenham, including cutting down the fence. Often in those actions, people don't talk about their vulnerabilities, but we decided that we needed to talk about that, so we could take better care of each other.

4. Do you think women have a different responsibility in global politics or relationships?
At grassroots level, there are many more women in peace and environmental organizations than men. In mixed groups, women don't always get into the leadership positions. I don't think it's because women are closer to nature than men. I do think it's the way women have been raised to think of themselves as people in relationship, whether it's with children or family or the wider community. One of the woman at Greenham said to me, "You know, I'm supposed to be responsible for my kids and get them inoculated against the measles or the mumps but what's the point of that if the wider world is so hell bent on military options. I’m supposed to keep them safe. But I can’t do it in this really major way."

What is the key to creating a strong relationship with a colleague from another country?
Being able to listen, going out of your way to meet people, going to places they want to take you to. Trying to understand what they're telling you and why it's important to them. Keeping up your end of any agreement, doing what you said you'd do. Consistency, continuation, not forgetting. When Margo (Okazawa-Rey) was in Korea on a Fulbright Fellowship, one of the women she met said to her, “People come from the US to do projects, and then we never hear from them again.” There's recognizing the time and effort women devote to teaching us about their situations, and what one owes as an outsider, about reciprocity.

5. What are you most hopeful about?
The world could be organized in a very different way, many people know this and are working on it small ways. It's really just a matter of using the resources we have and using our talents, creativity, imagination etc. to organize things differently. I'm very inspired by people who are doing pieces of this work. What we're up against is huge, I guess it doesn't do underestimate that, but it's not where I want to focus my attention. I'm much more interested in things people are doing that are working.

6. Does being from the UK shape your perception of the US military in any way? How?
I don't have any respect for it, not having absorbed that, growing up. Nowadays, I do say “we” —I’ve been in the US for 20 years--but I never had to pledge allegiance to the flag as a child, for example. But I'm still learning what the British military and British colonialism have done to others. Women from the Pacific came to Greenham and really yelled at us, “Where were you when…” And there was a whole list of atrocities. Those women challenged us, rightly, “We know more about your history than you do.”

7. How did the WGS network get started?
Well, a longer version of this story is on the website. In a nutshell: after meeting women in Korea in 1994, Margo and others organized a speaking tour for two of them in the US. I was somewhat involved in that too. Then, in ‘96, a group of women from Okinawa came to the US on a Peace Caravan. I saw a brief article in the SF Chronicle about it. Martha (Matsuoka) and Debbie were involved in organizing a meeting in Berkeley where the women talked about military violence against women and environmental destruction caused by the US military presence in Okinawa. Margo and I went, and signed up to get more involved. After hearing all these stories, we wondered whether women from Korea and Okinawa were talking to each other, and women from the Philippines too. We applied for a little grant to cover fares and women from Okinawa agreed to host a meeting in 1997.
The next year we met in DC, because that’s where they wanted to go. In the States we know how difficult it is to get attention there, even though it’s so important symbolically. I’d say we didn’t get a whole lot of attention, but we made some good connections. We held a Congressional briefing sponsored by Barbara Lee and John Conyers. Congressman Conyers came, not just his aides. He told us, “Until you can organize yourselves so that some members of this House lose their seats over this issue, you won't get anywhere.”

8. What do you think is the network’s ultimate objective?
A genuinely secure world. (Laughs a little). You know, one tends to think in terms of end points, another way of looking at it is, what is the process? The network's objective may be more of a process: to grow in depth and knowledge of each other, not necessarily in size, though that may happen. To model a group of women coming together across very significant boundaries, inequalities, lines of difference. Chandra Mohanty speaks of a “common context of struggle”; it’s more than solidarity, it’s about US women working out our own opposition to US militarism. If we can work together in a way that doesn't reproduce inequalities that would be a big step. The Network should be a vehicle for women's voices, creativity, expression.

9. What do you think it would take to get the general public to be aware of the effects the US military has on countries where it continues to maintain bases? What do you think it would take to get it to care?
Information, a massive public education campaign. By itself, though, information doesn’t change people. Meeting people and coming to care about them does; being challenged by people who matter to us. It’s important to think about yourself as a person who has every right to know what’s happening on the other side of the fence. Individualism is terrible in that we think we're only responsible for our own survival. And then there are all the distractions. There's something people are hungry for, and right now, in the US, it's “satisfied” by shopping or getting thin, or whatever. Relationships, creativity, those matter.

10. What are key components of United States military or foreign policy that need to change in order to achieve genuine security? What do you think would be most effective in creating this change?
The US is only one nation, so, first, US dominance and ideas about power hierarchy have to go. Then, redistribution of wealth - this planet still has an incredible ability to provide what people need, and the potential to heal given the right treatment. There is enough for everyone to eat, not enough for people's greed. Revolution is what’s needed, revolutionary thinking that is, not the kind with barricades.

11. What are the most important aspects of a genuinely secure society or world?
Everyone having access to the necessities of life; being able to develop our full human potential, using our creativity, imagination. We’re hindered so much in the current system that I don’t think we know what full human potential is. More than basic human security it's really about thriving. The UN Development Project model defines four elements of security - economic, environmental, respect for culture, protection from avoidable harm, and everything beyond natural disasters is avoidable.

12. What is personal about this work for you?
I do this because it makes me feel alive, and it brings me into contact with other people who are really alive, and that's a fantastic gift.
It’s also led to great opportunities. Once I was with a group in Vieques. We jumped into the sea in a place with marvelous phosphorescence that glowed when you moved, so it looked like little stars. And I thought, “Here I am from the North of England with people from so far away, it's amazing.” Another time, I went to the top of Mauna Kea with Hawaiian activists. Just before the sunrise they started chanting, and at the same moment the sun started coming up over the horizon. It was like they chanted the sun up. What comes out of these experiences is a sense of deep connection to the earth. This world is a miracle – it really is worth saving.






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