The 2017 Women’s March was a worldwide phenomena of women coming together to express our collective outrage over the surge in misogynist, xenophobic and hate-filled patriarchal political movements around the globe. “Enough is enough!” was the sentiment, and it felt new and invigorating and empowering to come together as women and allies to women and raise our collective voices in support of each other and the values we hold dear.
But this type of action by women is not new: 57 years ago today, the Women Strike for Peace march planted the seeds that have blossomed into today’s women’s movement.
Founded by feminist icons Bella Abzug and Dagmar Wilson, Women Strike for Peace (WSP) was originally created to pressure the United States and Soviet Union to cease all nuclear weapons testing. Driven by the discovery that Strontium-90, a radioactive isotope produced as a result of nuclear fission, had begun showing up in human breast milk and cow milk, WSP was able to frame its opposition to nuclear weapons testing as a motherhood issue and largely diffuse accusations of being unpatriotic.
On November 1, 1961, over 50,000 women marched in 60 cities around the United States as part of Women Strike for Peace. “End the arms race,” they chanted, “not the human race!”
Women Strike for Peace activists. (Wikimedia)
The act itself, along with the magnitude of it, truly stunned people. WSP participants were were predominantly married-with-children middle class white women, and the nation was unaccustomed to seeing such genteel ladies express themselves so forcefully and publicly; marches and protests were also uncommon tactics at the time. The unprecedented action pushed the world’s two great superpowers to sign a nuclear test ban treaty just two years later.
Today’s women’s movement is much more diverse, and its agenda is broader than ever. Yet, as inclusive and far-reaching as the latest iteration of the feminist movement is, it has yet to address the one thing that threatens to, literally, blow us all to pieces: nuclear weapons.
We are facing escalating nuclear threats, the likes of which many thought we would never see again. Just this week, the President announced that he is pulling out of yet another nuclear arms treaty—the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF. Over the last few months, incendiary tweets and off-the-cuff statements from the president incited dangerous reactions from North Korea, and the violation of the Iran Deal signals a path towards a new Middle East war and a new nuclear power.
The modern women’s movement must take on the threat of nuclear war with the urgency it warrants. Nuclear war might feel like the plot of a new Netflix show, but it’s all too real. The link between women and the patriarchal nature of war may not be as apparent as the misogynist roots of our dwindling reproductive rights and growing attacks on civil rights, but women have been bastions of peace since the beginning of time—and it is imperative that we take up the torch that was lit by WSP marchers almost six decades ago and lead a new nuclear disarmament movement.
The fate of the whole world depends on it.
(This piece was originally published in Ms. Magazine.)