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Women's Group Fasts in Antiwar Message
Published on Monday, December 16, 2002 by the Boston Globe
Women's Group Fasts in Antiwar Message
by Darryl McGrath

ALBANY, N.Y. - Nadya Lawson was born when the war in Vietnam was raging, and growing up in Brooklyn left her keenly aware of the toll that conflict took on her community. As the nation moves closer to war with Iraq, she joined a growing number of women in New York participating in a public fast to send a message to elected leaders.

''I didn't want our congressional delegation to say, `I'm representing the views of our constituency,''' Lawson said. ''They need to know that their constituency is at best divided.''

This women's antiwar effort started two months ago with 20 women in New York's Capital Region and has grown to more than 60 women who have pledged to fast for 24 hours each to protest the US position against Iraq.

Women Against War began their fast on Dec. 5, to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and they hope to have volunteers fasting every day until at least March 8, which marks International Women's Day. So far, they have enough to reach February, and new women are joining daily, members say.

The participants are a diverse collection of longtime activists and first-time protesters; mothers and grandmothers; state employees, clergy, and academics.

''It just mushroomed,'' said Judith Fetterley, a professor of English and women's studies at the State University of New York in Albany and a founder of Women Against War. ''We went from 20 women to about 250 women on an e-mail list.''

Fetterley, a tenured ''distinguished teaching professor,'' has a history of activism dating to civil-rights voter-registration drives. Even so, she said that protesting against the government is not without risk at a university that critics say is increasingly under the conservative influence of its trustees.

''I've always put myself in positions of risk, even when I was untenured,'' Fetterley said. ''I think people either have the kind of courage and attachment to principle to speak up, or they don't.''

Like Lawson, several fasting women said they were disappointed that many members of the New York congressional delegation voted in October for a resolution initiated by President Bush that authorizes military force against Iraq.

New York's senators - Democrats Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton - supported the resolution, as did 20 of New York's 31 representatives. Ten New York Democrats and a lone Republican - Amo Houghton of Corning, in western New York - opposed it.

''I certainly respect their expression of concern,'' said Representative Michael McNulty, a Democrat whose district includes Albany and who supported the resolution. ''I probably know the pain of war more than they realize.'' He referred to the 1970 death of his 24-year-old brother, William, a Marine Corps medic killed by a land mine in Vietnam.

The bottom line, McNulty said, was that Saddam Hussein ''can never be allowed to possess a nuclear capability.''

Representative Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from Saugerties, just south of Albany, who opposed the resolution, said the women's protest, and others in the area, evoked memories of the first protests against the Vietnam War.

''They started out slowly, in terms of the attention they were getting. I think that may be what's happening here,'' said Hinchey, 64.

A number of antiwar efforts have sprung up around Albany or the Hudson Valley. National and regional demonstrations took place on the weekend of Oct. 25, including a rally in Washington, D.C., that drew thousands, and an Albany march that drew several hundred. Vigils have taken place in Washington, and additional protests are planned by groups around the country.

Women Against War members expect their fasting to remain exclusively a women's protest. Several said it was important for a group of exclusively female protesters to make a statement about how a war would injure, kill, or displace thousands of woman civilians in Iraq.

''To be perfectly honest, I feel in this past year the experiences and voices of women have not been heard, and I wanted to do this as part of a women's group,'' said the Rev. Beth Illingworth, a Presbyterian minister who joined the fast.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company


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