Film Review #162: Every Woman Here: Remnants of Seneca 1982-2006
2007 - Documentary
Directors: Hershe Michele Kramer, Estelle Coleman for the Peace Encampment Herstory Project
“It’s so peace camp!” laughed Hershe Michele Kramer. “When we say something is ‘so peace camp,’ what we mean is, if you don’t know how to do something, that’s not a reason not to do it. You learn how. That’s what we learned there too. When we started recording these interviews in 2005, we used audio cassette tapes for the first three. Then we met Sarah Shulman from ACT-Up’s Video Project, who said, ‘You have to shoot this on video!’ We didn’t know how to shoot video. Actually, we’re still using the same borrowed video camera. It’s my brother’s.”
Estelle Coleman added, “That means we have to return it for birthdays and Christmas.”
Kramer and Coleman had stopped their day’s work for lunch early Sunday afternoon at the Women’s Information Center in Syracuse. Kramer lives on the Hudson River in Kingston and Coleman in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Travelling for the Peace Encampment Herstory Project, they’ve recorded over 80 interviews – 20 just last weekend in Syracuse– and plan to make a third DVD documentary about the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, a 53-acre farm on Route 96 near Romulus, New York, first purchased in 1983 by women’s peace activists because it shared a boundary line with the Seneca Army Depot.
Saturday evening about 25 people gathered at Women’s Info to watch the previous two documentaries, Stronger Than Before – which aired on PBS – and Every Woman Here: Remnants of Seneca 1982-2006, completed last year. The latter is an absorbing 32-plus minutes comprising voice-overs from nine oral “herstories,” clips of 15 songs from Sorrel Hays and Marilyn Ries’ Peace Camp Sings (1980), three songs from Average Dyke Band, video and newspaper clips, and over 300 images from “dozens” of photographers.
Immediately inspired by the women’s anti-nuclear peace encampment and huge demonstrations the previous winter outside the US Air Force base at England’s Greenham Common, the Seneca women hoped a summer’s protest would halt the deployment of US first-strike nuclear weapons to Europe that fall. About 12,000 women massed that first summer at Seneca – where they believed the military secretly stored those nuclear weapons – and 950 of them got arrested during non-violent marches, political theater and planned breaches of the Depot’s perimeter fence. Men participated too – pediatrician/peace activist Benjamin Spock addressed one crowd fondly as “all my children” – but only women and kids could camp at the farm itself. Instead of folding after Labor Day, the camp lasted until 1992 and its descendant, Women’s Peaceland, until 2006.
Every Woman Here is eminently watchable. As a film, it’s a good-looking short documentary with a strong visual narrative line and crisp, disciplined editing. It also refreshes several crucial points. First, this was a vast, global movement, involving larger numbers than may fit current hazy recollections. Those who gathered at Seneca came from across the US and every continent. The Seneca women were also acutely aware of women’s history in upstate New York – the nearby Seneca Fall’s Women’s Rights Convention of 1848 and Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad, for example - even the long-ago gathering in 1580 of Iroquois women demanding that tribal warfare end (Onondaga Nation clan mother Audrey Shenandoah came in person to bless the peace camp’s opening). Just as an inspection of the list of alums from the Civil Rights’ era Highlander School reveals a who’s who of movement leaders, the current round of interviews – in Syracuse and around the country at other interview sites – reveals that ex-peace camp women have often continued their activist ways, well known in their own communities long after they left Seneca.
Every Woman Here also documents vividly how peace camp worked in practice, women figuring out by consensus decision how to feed and shelter large numbers, build boardwalks across bumpy fields for wheelchairs, learn non-violence, manage childcare, paint murals on barns, nurture a growing spiritual dimension. Kramer says the interview project itself reflects those practices.
“Just as no one was supposed to speak for anyone else at the camp,” she went on, “this project isn’t done until every woman tells her story. So the internet archive is perfect – it can expand too. And we feel some urgency now because peace camp women are getting older.”
What’s next? The first week-end in August the two women visit Ithaca, home of Cornell University. Then, said Kramer, “Seattle. A trip south to Georgia and Florida. Vermont and Maine. We’ve got our eyes on some women in those spots who’d like to tell their stories.”
On June 7th, Syracuse's daily paper, The Post-Standard, reported that the US Army will again use the Seneca Army Depot to train troops sttaioned at near-by Fort Drum and National Guard from across the country. This review appeared in the 6/5/2008 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that did not enjoy a theatrical release in Central New York and older films of enduring worth. Visit the Peace Encampment Herstory Project’s website at peacecampherstory.blogspot.com.