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January 23, 2013

Women as Peacebuilders Series - Session 3

Stephanie Locker, Guest

In its current Living Room Dialogue series, Network for Peace has invited women peacebuilders to share the turning points in their lives. What people, events or ideas have influenced the decisions they have made or the actions they have taken? At junctions in the road they have traveled, what led them to follow one fork rather than another?

The Living Room Dialogue guest speaker on January 23, third in the women peacebuilders series, was Stephanie Locker. Like many in her generation, Stephanie's views on war and peace first took shape during the Vietnam War. When it began she was an uninvolved student at Fashion Institute of Technology. By the end of it she was an activist committed for a lifetime.

In 1964, Stephanie hoped that President Lyndon Johnson, who campaigned in that election as the peace candidate, would "take care of everything" and keep the U.S. out of Vietnam. However, once elected by a huge majority, he quickly took the nation deeper into war. A turning point for Stephanie came when an uncle took her to a peace parade down 5 th Avenue. She was so moved that when she found out there was an office of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) located down the street from her school, she volunteered and there began working out her political views while making relationships with others yearning for an end to war.

She later transferred to NYU and became active in the SDS chapter there, participating in demonstrations such as one outside the Foreign Policy Association, a supposedly nonpartisan organization that was supporting the war. She also became involved in investigating the corporate connections of the university's Board of Trustees. This project led her into another significant personal relationship. While she was supporting the 1968 student strike at Columbia University, she met in person Mike Locker, a man she had been talking with on the telephone about her research on the NYU trustees. Stephanie joked, Mike invited her into his apartment "to look at his files." Some years later they were married.

Mike was a founder of the North American Congress on Latin America. Stephanie began working with him on the NACLA magazine, doing layouts. In 1971, they researched the sugar industry in Cuba and spent some time there, a special experience that became another turning point, deepening her political convictions. This was "the high point" of socialism in Cuba, and she became convinced that the country was creating "a better way of life that everybody should have." Then, on September 11, 1973, Salvadore Allende, a socialist and the democratically elected president of Chile, died during a coup that was supported by the U.S. The Lockers became very involved in that issue.

Other relationships have been important in guiding Stephanie's political star: Stephanie became a full-time teacher at St. Columba school in the Chelsea district of New York City. Although it was a Catholic institution, her program was funded by the NYC Board of Education through a grant for non-public schools. She found the teaching atmosphere in the school very nurturing and was an integral part of the Peace Week that was held for several years. She joked that although she is Jew ish, she had to study up about Judaism because the people in the school were always asking her about it.

Around the time of the birth of her son in 1978, Stephanie's time for political activity was more limited but she became more and more aware of ecological issues. However, education-related political work continued. She became connected with Educators for Social Responsibility and served on its Board of Directors. When the city withdrew funding for the non-public school program, Stephanie got a job PS 11, where, in relation to her work with ESR, she was part of the mediation program for children. She also took on the job of UFT chapter leader. This made her eligible for a special training that transformed her from a person tongue-tied when asked to speak in front of a crowd to "someone who can do that." Later she moved on to a librarian job at PS 191.

More political relationships have developed since she took an early retirement in 2002, just in time to become involved in the movement against the war in Iraq. Going to work in the national offices of first Not In Our Name and then later World Can't Wait, she has enjoyed a mix of age levels and intense discussions among people of diverse views. Those discussions might include, for instance, a Catholic Worker, a member of the Democratic party, and a Revolutionary Communist.

Since the election of President Obama, she has been dismayed by policies that have perpetuated abuses of the Bush administration, such as continuing detentions at Guantánamo, the enormous prison at Bagram in Afghanistan, "targeted assassinations" and drone attacks.

After Stephanie's presentation, participants in the dialogue were encouraged to share whatever thoughts about their own turning points were suggested by her talk. Many of the moments of change participants shared revolved around personal relationships – a meeting with an anti-trafficking activist inspired one person to take on issue of "modern slavery," and another to seek an internship with a group working on the issue of trafficking women and children for sex.

One person remembered the satisfaction of tutoring children at an inner-city school in Newark where in the warm and safe school "the children never wanted to go home at the end of the day." A retired woman talked about spending her days taking care of a senile neighbor. Two women in the room talked of extending their common love of going to the movies to creating a film and discussion program in their religious community in which viewers of selected films discussed feelings about "the other," people who were different from themselves.

One organizer of Network for Peace said she believed that her idea of the organization materialized out of her admiration for a literary figure who held exciting evenings of discussion in Paris. A nun in New Jersey who is leading a study of the universe which combines science and mystery led another person to envision working on environmental projects.

At the end of the evening, one participant applauded Stephanie for the apparent joy she takes in her life. Another appreciated her way of being very present in her life and responding actively to the people and events that have come her way. Yet a third saluted all the members of the group for being peacebuilders in their own ways, using their different talents.


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