I remember when I first met Camille Russell. A group of us peaceniks was picketing against the bombing of Kosovo on what we now call “Peace Corner” at Shaw and Blackstone, and there was a newcomer among us. She was small of stature, but sturdy-looking in her jeans and work boots, with eyes and complexion that spoke of health and vitality. Despite it being her first time with us, she seemed sure of her belonging, and I thought, “Good addition!”
But she really caught my attention when I was attending a KFCF banquet and, lo and behold, there was Camille alone, passing out fliers she had taken upon herself to print, speaking out against whatever the outrage of the moment was, completely on her own initiative. I saw then the determined set of her jaw, and this time I thought, “Here is someone to be reckoned with.”
So I was very glad but not at all surprised when, following 9/11, Camille emerged from the still-formative meetings of our antiwar group to become a leading organizer of what became Peace Fresno. As someone able and willing to take on responsibility because leadership was required—not by election, not to seek out the spotlight—Camille saw what needed to be done and did it. Along with such Peace Fresno pioneers as Dan Yaseen, Vince Lavery and Ken Hudson, Camille forged a viable organization that has shown creativity, flexibility and durability. What an addition to our Fresno “peace-scape”!
Beyond the planning and organizational work she has taken on, twice, as president of Peace Fresno, Camille sees her ongoing work as “bringing as many people as possible to openly oppose war,” mobilizing the wisdom and peace-seeking capacities of people in a functioning democracy. “People are taught to believe they don’t make a difference. Our job is to show them that they do.”
Camille is a believer in the adage “Change starts with me,” and she refers often to Margaret Mead’s comment that most significant changes come from the work of small groups. She is not deterred by being a minority—even of one. But, of course, she looks for success, and she is gratified to see that Peace Fresno has survived nine years, has formed strong alliances with a broad spectrum of related organizations, and has about a thousand people in its database. She is visibly excited that more than a hundred people attended the Peace Fresno September 11 convocation on how to reignite the antiwar movement.
Camille is a constant strategist, thinking about ways to use limited resources in the most effective manner, looking to attain that critical mass when a majority will stand against not only our current wars but also the national reliance on war as a tool of diplomacy and economic growth. She has been persuaded by the arguments of, among others, David Swanson and Kathy Kelly that the lever for changing U.S. war policy is the election of Congresspeople who will stand for peace, replacing the Costas and Radanovichs we’re accustomed to tolerate with Barbara Lees. Taking this bull by the horns, she has become a member of the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee and has joined the state Democratic Party Progressive Caucus. She is hopeful that supporting better candidates and lobbying for more socially responsible policies can make the Democratic Party more representative again.
Another of Camille’s long-range interests is our education system. As a parent living in Oakland in the early 1970s, she was active in school affairs. Later, as a teacher, she worked with her union to protect student interests. A facet of education that particularly concerns her is that students are not taught focus and priority-setting. “I see young people as easily distracted, not trained to set personal goals and pursue them.” Lack of practice in overcoming obstacles to goals allows people to be easily frustrated and—again—led to feel powerless. “It’s so important to demonstrate that each of us can do something worthwhile, and together we can have real impact.”
From that vision, Camille expresses gratitude for the many groups and individuals who have provided her that sense of mutual accomplishment. “It was KFCF that gave me access to the progressive community when I first moved to the Valley. I still see the station, along with the Community Alliance and the Center for Nonviolence, as the nucleus of our community, enabling the information to flow and the physical linkages to be made.” Among those whom she recognizes as instrumental to her political empowerment are the women of WILPF (and especially Ellie Bluestein and Joan Poss), who welcomed her and let her feel she had a contribution to make; George Ballis, for his unfailing support of Peace Fresno through his videography; and Dan Yaseen, her partner-in-crime who has given balance and encouragement to every aspect of her work.
Asked what our readers can do, Camille says, “Imagine one thing you can do to end these wars…and do it.” If you want help, feel free to call her at 559-276-2592, or reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. “And never forget,” she adds, “there are more of us than of them. We just have to work together.”
Name: Camille Russell
Birthplace: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Ethnic identity: White (“really pink”)
Political affiliation: Democrat
Habitual hang-outs: FCNV, Central Fresno “and with my 93-year-old mother”
Inspirations: “My parents, people in our progressive community who paved the way, Dan Y.”
Motto: “Youth is a gift of nature; age is a work of art” (attributed, maybe, to Walt Whitman)
Nonpolitical interests: Nutrition (“messing around with food”) and exercise
Unexpected pleasures: Listening to children’s novels on tape (a habit acquired while teaching)