The National Work Begins

While it continued to be a disappointment that people on Cape Cod were not coming forward to help with this work, the phrase: “think globally but act locally” made me question the value and correctness of my directing my energy off Cape. Yet I felt an undeniable leading. The way that was opening was toward a national movement. It seemed like a matter of thinking locally and acting globally. Although, a more accurate description would be that my heart remained on the Cape as my energy was moving outward.

To accomplish this, Honora and I were working well as a team. … We shared the beauty and the power of the Clothesline through the words of the women who have made shirts and the comments of both women and men who have seen it. We also asked for their thoughts, comments, and needs. We started by sending a letter describing our intentions and asking for input.

“We hope that each individual and group will take this opportunity to propose new ideas and contribute to the fullest extent of their potential. Within this basic framework, each Clothesline group should operate in whatever manner they are most comfortable with and make decisions that are best for them. Our role is simply to keep in contact with everyone, share ideas, provide information, publicize the project, and coordinate or organize any national displays.

… While some projects owe their survival to the dedication of some men, whether men participate in your group is up to each individual project. This is a project on violence against women. We wonder how other groups have dealt with the issue of men. Specifically, what do you do regarding male incest survivors who wish to submit shirts? Certainly, their pain is just as intense and often heightened by homophobia. Also, men do not have the resources to form effective networks. What would your group do if you received unsolicited shirts from men? Would you hang it but not highlight it, or would you not hang it at all? Would you send a note of explanation to the man regarding your decision and what would you say?…

We feel strongly that we need to stand together, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women committed to challenging our own outward and internalized homophobia, racism, sexism, and other oppressions. We make the connections between these types of violence. Our aim is to stop the war against women. A war waged too long against the bodies, minds, and spirits of women and girls simply because we were born female.”

Meanwhile, we were sending brochures and pictures all over the country  including some comments from people after viewing the “Clothesline”.

“Painful, powerful, and positive. Never again shall we be silent! Thank-you”

“A very moving circle of honesty, love, and support”

“Tell people about violence against women and its devastating effects, and perhaps if their hearts are closed, they can ignore it. Show them, and perhaps they can begin to feel and understand”

“I could not speak for 1/2 hour after viewing it. I was so moved, so horrified, so mad!”

“If women/girls talked about their abuse, these lines would encircle the globe hundreds and hundreds of times.



Reaching Out; Looking in

On 4/20/1992,  there were twenty-six “Clotheslines” around the country. Six months before, there were six. Honora and I felt deeply grateful for the work, support, understanding, and commitment of these distant Clothesline organizers.

We rewrote the brochure and the “Dear Sisters” material that we sent out to groups interested in starting Projects with the addition of the following paragraph describing a process we had been using regarding race.

 “We recognize the connections between all oppressions and the underlying (sometimes blatant) racism in our society. Therefore, we feel that it is very important to ask survivors not to specify the race of the perpetrator if they were of color. We do this on a one-to-one basis as the situation demands. Sensitivity around these issues is important to the success of the project.”

In the newsletter, I asked if anyone had any other questions to be considered by the other lines.  The intention was not that we would try to have or form the same opinions but rather hear our differences. I feel that this type of communication is essential for the building of community.

Far too much emphasis is placed on discussing issues in order to come to agreement. Agreeing with each other and thinking alike is not important. What is important is loving each other. Learning and then actively practicing how to listen deeply to each other with both our hearts and minds is what will make us strong. I hoped that after hearing our different points of view, we would develop respect for one another.

I wanted that the Projects to be a source of empowerment for women. Each woman and each Project was totally free to act on their conscience, have their positions heard, acknowledged, honored, and, I hope, even celebrated. I believed that this would give the whole movement richness, creativity, solidarity, and strength that would encourage the full energy and full potential of everyone. I felt that we had to find ways of reinforcing †he connections between us and thought that this could be one such mechanism.

This project has joined us together from California to Florida to Kentucky to Massachusetts. We are dissolving the feelings of isolation and disempowerment. We are developing a national community of women and a family. When I was a child, my father told me, “You cannot know you have true friendship until you have had a difficult, angry time and worked it through.” I hope that when differences arise between us, we can face them directly with mutual respect. I hope we can trust each other’s commitment, forgive each other when we make mistakes, and sustain one another when the work seems too tough. I hope we are celebrating the aspects of ourselves and others that make us who we are. This way, we can be truly connected to that perfect place within each of us.

I sense that each of us is mightily grateful for the work we are all doing together. Please hear my love, my gratitude for your presence in the work, and my joy from knowing such dynamic, beautiful, and committed women. We are turning our dreams for a world of love, peace, and joy into reality.”



Starting Over

Christine, Honora, Sandy Crosby, and I met to discuss incorporation. The possibility of creating an alternative type of group within the requirements of the State Laws was very exciting to me.

I saw the possibility of using the structure we had in the Women’s Agenda and transposing it to the traditional way of organizing. For example, we could name a president, vice president, secretary, etc. as required by law but within the group define them as the facilitator, co-facilitator, and note-taker. We could rotate these positions among all group members, filing the appropriate papers with the State every month or two. The treasurer could be appointed yearly to give some continuity and accountability.

I felt strongly that meetings should be open to anyone who wanted to participate. Although we could require that anyone participating had to agree with our statement of purpose. I believed that decisions should be made by this group as a whole without distinctions between people. I felt that anyone who attends a few meetings in this fashion, should be considered a member. This way, the authority would continue to rest in the group as a whole.

I also felt that it was essential for us to use true consensus in our decision-making process. I felt very strongly that to end violence and oppression in our society we had to change the very substance of the structure under which we operate. We cannot rail against a hierarchal system while we use it as a model for our own organizing. We cannot speak out against privilege resting in the hands of a few while we perpetuate it in our own groups. I felt it essential that we continue to remain an organization devoted to personal empowerment rather than individual or small group authority over others. Within this framework, the statement of purpose becomes central. This is the foundation on which we measure all decisions. I thought it advisable to consider reworking this statement to reflect more accurately the beliefs of the people involved.

We desperately need everyone’s full energy and potential. Every person should be encouraged to reach beyond self-imposed limits. The more powerful we are as individuals, the more impact our work will have.  I feel it is vital that we understand that this work cannot be about exchanging one group with privilege, power, and control for another. It is tempting to think that if only our particular group had the power, then we would treat everyone fairly and with compassion and respect. Repeatedly this has been tried and has failed. I believe that instead of feeding into the same old oppressive system, it is useful, to try something new. Our groups need to be built on foundations of love, balance, equality, and harmony. We must build communities based upon true, mutual respect, dignity, and the personal power, influence, and authority of each individual.

True, strong self-esteem is essential for the process of healing ourselves and the world to be successful. Because if we don’t feel good about and love ourselves it is impossible to feel unconditionally loving and totally positive about anyone else. And this negativity zaps our strength and power. Although many of us have learned otherwise, it’s okay to feel good about ourselves. When you are told that you are beautiful, brilliant, and creative, if you find this hard to believe, it is because the system has lied to you, brainwashed you, because it profits from your insecurity. It tells you that you can be cleaner, brighter, and prettier if you buy their product. We live in a system that is afraid that if most people know the reality of their power, then the system will lose control. This might be true.

An inspiration for the Clothesline Project was the artist Christo. He did projects like encircling islands with pink plastic, creating a white wall across California, or putting enormous umbrellas in the desert. I have a similar vision for the Clothesline Project. I see it stretching across the country from Washington to San Francisco. I dream of arranging a particular date on which every Project would go to the spot on this line (perhaps interstate 80/76) that was closest to them and hang their shirts. It’s possible. The distance between Washington DC and San Francisco CA is 2799 miles. Probably one-quarter of those miles, for one reason or another (rivers, bridges, or other safety reasons), would have interrupted empty spaces on the line. Since one mile is 5289 feet and each shirt takes about 2 feet, we will need 553,450 shirts. 1400 Lines, each with an average of 400 shirts will just make it (or 2800 Lines with 200 shirts). It’s possible, someday. We can think big. Let’s not accept limits on our potential for greatness.

While humans have been using violence to try to resolve conflicts throughout our history, it is not the only or best way. In fact, it has proven not to work in the long run. Use of military methods when what everyone wants is peace, happiness, and self-determination is doomed for failure. It is like trying to heal a personal relationship of hate and fear with more hate and fear. It is time that we try methods based on love, compassion, and courage.

Ultimately no one really wants to kill and risk death. We might consider training peacekeepers in making peace rather than simply taking soldiers trained in making war. There are scores of programs throughout this country that have processes and procedures for non-violent conflict resolution. There are peacemakers already among us. Some of these are already, on a very small scale, at work in the former Yugoslavia. Ideally, we should develop a well-organized plan which is given equal resources, energy, and authority.

We started to discuss establishing national guidelines for the Clothesline Projects that would apply to everyone. Others felt that we had let things get very much out of control and that we had to establish authority. I saw a value in having some consistency in our Clothesline, such as using the same color code, for otherwise, the impact would be greatly diminished. But I felt strongly that we had to be flexible. I also felt strongly that control of this project should rest solely in the hands of the individual women gathering to do this work.