By Janet Capella
(Editor’s note: The following text is from the author’s presentation at a gathering at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Fresno on June 22, 2019. The author is an antiwar activist and a longtime Fresno area resident. She was involved in movements described herein that shaped the lives of so many people in our society—and helped to change it. The Community Alliance welcomes contributions such as this article that bring light on our past social fights for justice and equality.)
I’m honored to be in this room full of activists, each with a story and poignant journey of lives lived more than 50, 60, 70 years ago. Our shared zephyr of history was not a gentle breeze, yet we meet today in air that buzzes with passion and memories.
We live today as activists—as we did yesteryear, interconnected by multiple networks and resources. We are flexible, creative, our minds and hearts strong.
Looking forward to multilayered projects and motivated by giving and receiving, our lives intersect, studied in thought, research. Our lives and world are more connected with issues, miles more complex and overwhelming.
Stand up, speak out, be present comrades! We have come here to stand up again, called here today, always looking out for the fires of our present and future struggles. We march forward to more difficult times and perilous work for years to come.
Seeing so many gather here today, I remember so many of you and mourn and miss many of our friends who have passed or those unable to be here today. In preparation, I listened to my muses. I had not played those movies in my head for years. I was flooded with recall, waking and sleeping dreams intertwined with who we were then and who we have become on the road to our weary reality.
I thank the organizers of this event, my dear friends Sandy Iyall and Camille Russell, who speak for women and children in the sea of men who bring our collective voice, here and now.
Yes, we all work as a tribe, worker bees who secure nuts and bolts, push for change in laws and voices of diversity. Peace and justice are buzzwords that became the demand for priorities in public policies and much needed vast improvements in human services.
Thank you for all of you who kept those dreams and actions alive—recalling photos and phone calls, those who sorted through the organizational details, so we can sit together and be reinvigorated.
An ancient story, Lysistrata, speaks of the fourth century Peloponnesian War in Greece. The conflict had raged for decades, if not centuries.
Women came up with a plan to end the war and bring the men home. Their leader, Lysistrata, speaks to the men (paraphrased): “If you choose to go to war, upon your return, we women have decided to no longer sleep with any of you!” The men stayed home, and the war ended! How pleasing this story chronicles how sexual politics and peacekeeping dovetails disarmament.
Is this strategy part of the hundredth monkey effect to bring an end to war? What will quiet the lust for men and women to continue the tragedy of killing? Can we humans turn to disarmament willingly?
The American conflict in Vietnam called for more blood and some people woke up. How do we testify and refuse war every time? What can we plan, when do we act differently to have a future of planetary history? No more war? The American-Vietnamese conflict was “just not televised”; it was a tragedy beyond belief.
From WWII, the world leaped into “peace time.” A new day, the 1960s protests, civil rights, draft and war resistance, followed by the liberation of women and children, minorities and LGBQT. Eyes and hearts opened worldwide [to such issues as] social justice and liberation, human rights, health/education, worldwide homelessness, refugee movements, addictions and mental illness and diseases of killing proportions.
Fifty years have passed since 1969. Our former sisters, brothers, lovers and protest buddies continue to carry and nurture an activist spirit, and we translate it onto coming generations. Yes, the music, dance, being together, talking for hours about community organizing, resistance actions and guerrilla theater.
For WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) families and dominant culture, “times were a changing” due to draft resistance and cries for social justice. Families held high their war service, an honor to the country.
My dad, Bruce Morris, worked in WWII in London as an Enigma code breaker. Engineered by Alan Turing, the Bombe machine warned Allied ships about German bomb attacks in the Atlantic. My grandfather, Dr. Frank Morris, a professor at UC Berkeley, was assigned classes to teach machine gun firing to recruits in WWI.
In contrast, at 14 years old in June 1964, I marched in Fresno crowds with Rev. Martin L. King, Jr., to protest racism, housing discrimination and the Vietnam War. First Congregational Church ministers Paul Kershner and Gene Boutillier met us at Fresno High School on Echo Avenue. We marched east on Weldon Avenue and met up with 5,000 folks at Ratcliffe Stadium.
Rev. King inspired us with his protest message of taking activism to the streets. Our church youth group continued with farmworkers friends in Delano. As a White girl, this seasoned and broadened my view of Hispanic life as we found more activists at boycotts and protests led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
My radicalization continued in the summer of 1968 on a European tour with San Francisco State. I bought a short leather skirt and toured universities and museums. From London, I crossed the channel to Amsterdam and walked huge cities until sun up.
Our tour was forced to change direction when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. We were told about the spring 1968 riots in Paris and stood sobered as we looked at the blood stains on Left Bank streets and sidewalks.
In my 71st year, I live alone, comfortable in my own skin and surrounded by activists, friends, family and our great Fresno leftist community. Always lots of work, tasks, chores, connections.
Many new friends don’t ask, however all of you know, “We were present at many of the 1968 rallies at Fresno State!” Those years foreshadowed the woman I’ve become—filled with perseverance and faith. I remained an activist, grown braver through the years and accepted that death is part of life.
Life is full of twists and turns and we join one another in our activism. Friends new and in the past, I admire the work you have done to lighten the load for all of us present and for our future generations to come.
Janet Capella is a lifelong activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.