by Lorie Lewis Ham
In June at the Fresno Pride Festival I had the opportunity to meet some very interesting people, among those people were members of the Fresno Chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Recently I got the chance to chat with Teresa Castillo, who is the Chair of the Fresno branch, about the tremendous amount of incredible things this group does!
KRL: What is WILPF?
Teresa: We are the oldest women’s peace group in the world. We work toward peace, global disarmament, environmental, economic, and racial justice, and human rights and dignity for all. We are an international membership organization with about 35 global sections, WILPF US being one of these sections, plus, within the sections, there are local or regional branches, such as the Fresno branch of WILPF US. Each section works on the organization’s goals utilizing their own regional approach.
KRL: When and how did it first begin?
Teresa: This excerpt from, Generations of Courage, best answers this question: On April 28, 1915, a unique group of women met in an International Congress in The Hague, Netherlands to protest against World War I, then raging in Europe, to suggest ways to end it and to prevent war in the future. The organizers of the Congress were prominent women in the International Suffrage Alliance, who saw the connection between their struggle for equal rights and the struggle for peace. WILPF’s foremothers rejected the theory that war was inevitable and defied all obstacles to their plan to meet together in wartime. They assembled more than 1,000 women from warring and neutral nations to work out a plan to end WWI and lay the basis for a permanent peace ago, was the first President of WILPF. Out of this meeting the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was born. Jane Addams, who also began Hull House in Chicago, became the first WILPF President in 1915.
KRL: What is your position and why did you become a part of this group?
Teresa: I am the current Chair of the Fresno branch, which means that I run the overall business of the Branch. Each of our Issues Committees has a Chair or Co-Chairs who run the business of their committee.
I also held previous national positions on the WILPF US board. I joined WILPF about six years ago because I saw the value in working with other like-minded women who have the goal of bringing peaceful change to our world. I am involved in other human rights/social justice groups but noticed that WILPFers really do want to stop oppression and exploitation of people, animals, our earth, and our world. Many people have been doing this work much longer than I have. Joining them in this dedication to uphold the values of rights and dignity by challenging our Representatives when policies stray from these goals is a lot of work, yet it’s satisfying to know that you can make a difference. I am constantly inspired by the dedicated women (and men) of WILPF.
KRL: What all does WILPF do?
Teresa: WILPF does a lot. The majority of our local Fresno branch’s activities fall under the following committees: Advancing Human Rights – Building Beloved Community – which includes sub-committees on homeless and literacy; Cuba and the Bolivarian Alliance; Disarm/End War; Earth Democracy; Legislative; Middle East and Women in Black. We also are directly affiliated to the Ragging Grannies. Each committee has a Chair and meets monthly to plan their actions, events, and activities. These committees are represented when we collaborate with other groups and their activities. We also host an annual Peace Crafts Faire which issues usually on the first Saturday in December at Fresno City Collage.
KRL: Why do you feel this group is important?
Teresa: WILPF is 103 years old, and the Fresno branch was established 53 years ago, so we offer longevity, a history of activism for a peaceful community. The work we do is centered around supporting good policies and changing bad ones. We bring awareness, education, and change. We all have the responsibility to be as involved as we are able to be and to help others whenever possible. Our peace group does that, across the spectrum from local to global scales. I believe that lifting up an individual by supporting their rights and dignity is just as important as supporting a nation’s human rights and social justice platforms. Hold our governments accountable to the people they represent is a key factor to ensuring our rights are maintained and is key to preserving peace.
KRL: What are WILPF’s primary goals and purpose?
Teresa: This is the WILPF US Vision Statement:
WILPF envisions a transformed world at peace, where there is racial, social, and economic justice for all people everywhere, a world in which:
• The needs of all people are met in a fair and equitable manner
• All people equally participate in making the decisions that affect them
• The interconnected web of life is acknowledged and celebrated in diverse ways and communities
• Human societies are designed and organized for sustainable existence
And the WILPF US Mission Statement:
WILPF members create the peaceful transformation they wish to see in the world by making connections that:
• Provide continuity with the past so that knowledge of historical events and patterns informs current activities for change
• Create analysis and action that reflect and reinforce each other
• Link and challenge root causes of oppression, especially racism, sexism, heterosexism, militarism, economic disparity, and political disempowerment
• Build and strengthen relationships and movements for justice, peace, and radical democracy
As a peace group, we strive to be involved in helping our communities, locally and globally. We believe we can live together with respect and dignity, so we try to bring awareness to educate of the ways to protect human, animal, and environmental rights when they are being compromised or threatened. We use various methods to spread awareness about the issues that arise which threaten rights. Therefore, as a group, as committees, and as individuals, we host and attend forums and workshops, demonstrations and protests, community sharing events, and online campaigns. All of these actions support our goals of protecting varied issues committees which covers the spectrum.
KRL: Can you tell us a little about your focus committees?
Teresa: All information is summarized in our branch brochure. Here is a summary of all nine committees and their contacts.
1. Advancing Human Rights/Building Beloved Community focuses on stopping the injustice and inhumane treatment of vulnerable populations. The sub-committees under this group are:
Library Committee which supports the Fresno community libraries with annual donations of the Jane Addams Peace Association Children’s Book Award books. The group hosts events promoting reading, literacy and has set up a library for the children attending the Arriaga Community Center in Malaga and partnered with other library related organizations, such as Reforma del Valle Central. Contact Ann Carruthers: acarruthers@earthlink[dot]net
We represent two groups for our homeless focus, Dakota Eco Garden & Eco Village Project of Fresno and Wings Advocacy Fresno. The Dakota Eco Garden, part of the Eco Village Project, is a model for helping the homeless by providing transitional housing and where prototypes of Art Dyson’s designs for small, but uplifting, living spaces and his vision of a self-sustaining homeless community are being tried out. Volunteers always needed for construction, gardening, and fundraising. Contact Nancy Waidtlow: nancywaidtlow@yahoo[dot]com or Gerry Bill Gerry: bill@gmail[dot]com DEG is located at 2231 W. Dakota Ave, Fresno 93705. Wings Advocacy Fresno is a non-profit group which helps the homeless by collecting and distributing household goods to newly housed persons. Contact Bev Fitzpatrick: dfitzpatrick@comcast[dot]net
2. Cuba and the Bolivarian Alliance focuses on the situation in Latin America and advocates for change in US policy- from a role based on exploitation and oppression to one based on mutual respect and justice. Current priorities include ending the US blockade of Cuba and US intervention in Venezuela. Fresno WILPF is a co-sponsor of the Pastors for Peace Frendshipment Caravans to Cuba. Contact Leni Reeves: lenireeves@gmail[dot]com
3. Disarm/End War Committee promotes a nuclear free future through the elimination of nuclear power and disarming of nuclear weapons. We research and educate about the causes of US wars and promote peaceful resolutions of current conflicts, including prevention of future wars. Contact Patty Bennett: patriciajb@aol[dot]com
4. Earth Democracy Committee supports the work to guard our Human Right to Clean Water and Health; the Rights of Nature, Future Generation Guardianship; our Food Democracy and the Promotion of Renewable Energy.
Contact Jean Hays: skyhorse3593@sbcglobal[dot]net
5. Legislative Committee meets monthly to choose a current legislative issue. They then write a detailed, supported, letter expressing WILPF’s views about the issue and present the letter in person to local congressional offices. Copies of the letter are also sent to D.C. offices and to the President. For CA state topics, the State Legislators and Go=enor are addressed. Contact Jean Hays: sky horse3593@sbcglobal[dot]net
6. Middle East Committee focuses on the role of the US Foreign Policy in relation to an end to war and occupation which is just and sustainable. The goal is to seek diplomacy and peaceful solutions, especially between Israel and Palestine. Contact Maureen Walsh: maureencharlotte55@gmail[dot]com
7. Raging Grannies uses music to sing, shout, and advocate through political songs. Contact Patty Bennett: patriciajb@aol[dot]com
8. Women in Black promotes peace and the end to all wars and violence by wearing black (represents mourning) and standing in silence for solidarity of the victims of war and violence. 1st Wednesday of each month 12 – 1:00 p.m. Fresno County Courthouse 1100 Van Ness Ave. Contact Teresa Castillo: taca_03@ymail[dot]com
9. Peace Crafts Faire – 1st Saturday in December at the FCC Cafeteria – join us as a vendor, a musical group, or just visit and Shop. Contact Bev Fitzpatrick: bfitzpatrick@comcast[dot]net
KRL: Do you have events that non-members can attend?
Teresa: Yes! All of our activities are open to everyone. We always welcome all, anyone interested in our organization or simply interested in the activity; non-members can attend all of our meetings, events, actions, and activities. Also, we are always looking for and needing volunteers.
KRL: How does someone get involved?
Teresa: Come to our monthly meeting on the second Thursday of each month, from 7-9 p.m., at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence 1584 N. Van Ness Ave., Fresno. At our meeting, you’ll hear more about upcoming events and updates from our issues committees.
KRL: Where can you be found online?
Teresa: Locally, we have a branch Facebook page: WILPF Fresno
Our Library Committee, Earth Democracy Committee, and Cuba Solidarity Committee also have Facebook pages
Read our page in the monthly publication, the Community Alliance
Listen to our radio program on the 4th Wednesday each month 3:00-3:30 p.m. on KFCF 88.1 FM
Our National website: wilpfus.org
Our International website: wilpf.org (This is the site that opens when WILPF is googled)
KRL: Anything else you would like to share?
Teresa: I believe that we are stronger together! We can only do so much as ‘armchair activists,’ but if each of us does one thing with a group, the dynamics change, and we connect as a community. In this time where division occurs based on surface appearance or situations, we need to support each other and treat each other with dignity…for humanity’s sake.