The Peace Caravan was in town last weekend.
The Coachman-model Chevy van, decorated with peace slogans and outfitted with pamphlets, posters, petitions and paraphernalia relating to international feminism and world peace, has been on the road since May, 1984, making its way around the towns, villages, shopping centers and cities of the United States.
Alice Wiser, from Canada, and Simone Wilkinson, from the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom, picked it up in Grand Rapids, Mich., two weeks ago and have been driving it on its most recent leg, its first time in the West.
They stopped in Los Angeles for the weekend at the home of Jo Giese Brown and Barry Brown in Pacific Palisades, having talked about peace on the way from Michigan, they reported, with such divergent groups as Ranchers for Peace in Wyoming and Radical Lesbian Separatists in Southern California.
At the Browns, they spoke to a disparate group of about 50 women and a dozen men, many of whom are active in local peace or disarmament groups.
Wiser and Wilkinson, and Los Angeles poet Deena Metzger, who introduced them, are associated with Feminists International for Peace and Food, a 35-member group of women from 17 countries. They call their organization a "feminist peace think tank" and said it is financed by an anonymous group of wealthy women, among them a Texan, who have created the Fund for the Remembrance of Martyred Women (such as 9 million witches persecuted during the Middle Ages, they said).
The members, Wiser said, "are radical feminists working hard to make sure things happen."
They lived up to that description at the gathering Friday night, as they described who they are, how they came about, and what they are trying to do.
For example, they were circulating two petitions for peacekeeping projects. One, designed "to get women into the negotiating process," calls for the United Nations to recognize that the women of the world represent "a global nation in exile" because they are "systematically excluded from all of the political and economic power structures of the existing nations."
They are calling for full status as a nation within the United Nations with representation in all its organizations.
The second, recognizing the United Nations' "40 years of failure to bring about world peace," asks the U.N. to fund a women's peacekeeping team without weapons or uniforms that would go into the world's troubled areas and maintain peace.
Once they obtain 150,000 signatures, they will present the petitions to the U.N. General Assembly, hopefully in time for its 40th anniversary celebration in Geneva on Oct. 24. If not, then perhaps March 4, on International Women's Day, Wiser said.
How seriously do they take these petitions that seem, regardless of their merits, almost fanciful?
"Of course, they're useful for consciousness raising around the world," Wiser said. "But you only go into something believing you're going to do it. You don't go into it for a symbol."
The Feminists International for Peace and Food make considerable use of symbols. This is the same group that erected the peace tent at the University of Nairobi at the recently concluded forum for non-governmental organizations on the end of the U.N. Decade for Women.
Deena Metzger, Sissy Farenthold, the Texas attorney and former Democratic Party activist, and Sonia Johnson, the Mormon dissident, were among those from the group who operated the activities in the tent at Nairobi. Their symbolic gestures and very real exchanges among women over volatile issues were combined. Such topics as the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and U.S. policies in Central America, were debated.
Metzger described the activities that went on in the tent to the group in Pacific Palisades. The Feminists International, she said, were thinking of pitching other tents in such trouble spots in the world as Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Gave Up Practice
Alice Wiser, a Quaker active in a group called Friendly Nuisances that advocates more equality for women within the Society of Friends, said she gave up her practice as a psychotherapist in Ontario, Canada, to work for peace.
Married to a physics professor, and a mother and grandmother of an adopted, multiracial family, she is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of London, where her research concerns "How Women Make Peace." About giving up her practice and separating herself from her family for long periods, she said, "We love each other so desperately, we love the world so desperately, that we have to take desperate measures."